Notes from Art classes with E.J. Gold

As a high school student I considered for a short time to become an artist, and now, almost 30 years later, I find myself attending a most unconventional Art Academy in a small town in California.
Art classes in watercolor, drawing and charcoal are offered at Ben Franklin in Grass Valley. Classes are small, affordable and limited to 15 students per class, which allows for totally individual attention and all levels of of students, beginner to those with prior art experience.

The reason I am considering this as attending an Art Academy or a high level Art School is because of the quality of teaching and the teacher, master Artist E.J. Gold.

Says E.J: My pleasure is passing on what I have learned, passing on my secrets...and you will surpass me.

I started out with watercolor classes, and a couple of weeks later, drawing and charcoal. An important component for me is: I am having fun doing so, even through the challenges of a beginner. I remember my 3rd watercolor class. It seemed everyone had more talent and was doing better work and I was convinced on the way home that I would never really be able to paint anything worthwhile looking at. It was very frustrating.
I actually made up my mind not to go back. There was just no point. Then someone needed a ride to town the next week and I ended up in class again. Much to my surprise, it was fun and I was happy with my pieces, even though I could see they were clearly those of a beginner.
There seem to be folks who have a natural talent for compositions and colors. Naturals as E.J. Gold call them. I am not one of those.

I love that the classes have ended up being fun...every time. Mr. Gold peppers them with jokes and anekdotes and priceless secrets which he is passing on to pay back to his teachers. Some things you hear repeatedly and are important to Mr. Gold. Doing art, there are criteria he insists on. It's got to be: nontoxic, archival and fun. That sounds good. Doing Art on nontoxic materials made to last and having fun.

Watercolor beginner classes

When you first show up for the watercolor class...you get to go shopping for supplies. He has very specific recommendations and while you wind up with great materials, they don't cost you a fortune. So here you are with your #1, 12 and 24 watercolor brush, and your watercolors. The first few times he has you practice on practice paper which he provides until you graduate to watercolor paper, which you buy yourself. The point here is...when you find start out, don't use the most expensive paper. Michelangelo: only a poor workman blames his tools. On the other hand: if you use good tools, you will get better results. To start out, using practice paper is ok. Get good colors though.

Before even getting your brush wet, here a few things on the Anatomy of the brush Mr Gold calls the #24 brush the M1 Garand of brushes. I first started out with a # 12 though...and stayed with it for a while. If your brush is not sabre (saber?), you can touch it and make the point as the oils of your skin will not be taken up and prevent the water/color loading. He says it behaves the same and loves it.

There are several parts to a brush: The wooden handle to which is attached the metal part which keeps the soft part in place. You want this to be tight and not loose at all. The soft part is divided into 3 (actually 4) parts The bottom part is called well and is the part that holds the water The middle part is where you load the brush with color and the tip is for accents.

Ground line practice:
Then he demonstrates making a ground line: This starts with loading your brush. Wet your brush and load the colors. Start with warm earth tones. Don't be timid. Then, at the tip, add dark color and then make your ground line. As he says, quoting one of his art teachers at Otis, Fritz Schwaderer: “It's never just one color” That means, when you load your brush, use more than one color.
Leave yourself a ¾ inch margin around your composition field. It is within that field that you create your painting. The framer will be delighted, you don't have to float-mount. With the loaded brush. go across once. If you are right handed, go right to left. If you are left handed, go left to right.

How much water do you use? Distance formula will tell you, pencil mileage, or in other words: experience. Only time will teach you exactly how much brown, blue, black or other color and how much water to use. Right now you are learning just to get hold of the medium. Experiment, observe, learn.

In the water-color relationship more color means more opaque-> intense more water will mean transparent -> less intense...more watercolory, if you will. How you hold the brush is really important and eventually you will find the balance point. For ground line, hold the brush Neanderthal style, not like a writing pen. “You are going to get this down.”, he says, “Right now I just want you to put a ground line down”.

E.J. demonstrates it right there...and it looks easy. As with all masters, it looks easy and simple. Some of his ground lines are amazingly beautiful. None of us got it looking anything like that right away. Nonetheless, pretty soon you get results that even you can accept, and not too long after that, you won't even believe what you see. There are several possible movements with the brush across the paper: pitch (up and down), roll and yaw(side to side), varying pressure, dragging it sideways.

After a number of ground line practice pieces, it is on to the sky. For the sky, get a little dirty water, dip your brush in like this, nice and wet, and go across in diagonal strokes. Don't overdo it.
Watercolor is more honest than oil or acrylic painting.. You make a mistake, you are stuck with it in a different way. Don't correct a mistake, finish the piece and move on to the next one. Do not through them away, at least just yet. Wait 24 hrs, or a couple of weeks and look at them again and learn from them One of the common phenomena in the classes is that all of us seem to be hypercritical of what we do.
One thing E.J. does frequently is take a piece someone just pained and hold it up from a distance. It is pretty amazing to see that effect. The mind will draw in things that are not there.

Shape, form, content and composition satisfy the mind. Stay asymmetrical but balanced. You will develop an eye for this as you progress. Never put anything in the middle. It splits your painting in half.

Create movement, meaning: get the eye to move around points of interest. We'll work with composition, values, forms, energies later. Light to dark warm to cool intense to gray all produce illusion of distance.

For right now, just get the ground-line and the sky.

At this point I was still faithfully practicing the same thing with the same colors whereas some other were more adventuresome, painting much more creatively. Just seeing that I thought to myself...maybe I could try that too...even that was fun. Actually, today at the class, 2 months later and with some of the same folks as in the beginning, there was much inspiration student to student. We are beginning to learn from each other, we have seen progress in fellow students, breakthroughs that we related to internal blockages which suddenly seemed to have disappeared.

E.J. keeps us at a balance between challenge and overwhelm. Your internal voices and blockages will come up, and here it helps that the classes are so non threatening and fun that we are willing to stick with it and move through obstacles. With the method he teaches, E.J. keeps the learning curve not steep, but like this...(show angles)

But I am getting ahead, so here you are with groundline and sky.

Next, sponge work. This is a tool, and a great one, especially for beginners, to produce the illusion of trees and bushes. Put your sponge in water, fully soaking with water and then squeeze it out, then stamp it, smash it in all different colors, light first, ending with black.

Slowly carefully put that down on paper and see what happens, make a tree No 2 trees are the alike, there is no such thing. When applying it on your paper, potato stamping is "wrong". Try a different sponge and see your trees change.

On your way home, you end up paying attention to what trees actually look like and how the light and shade plays in them. Observe the trees and how they are dark in the middle, much light coming through at the edges.

We are painting not for self expression, we paint as a meditation. Give yourself space, time and distance of objectivity.

Do not judge your own work.

90% of an artist job is recognizing when it actually happens, when to stop, when you have a good piece Miro Story: at an exhibition, a women told Miro: my child could do work like this! Miro: “yes ma'am, but at 65?” the paletter is set up chromatically prismatic breaks up like sunlight would trigger the emotional unconscious through color get the painter to come through you and put the stuff down it is not yours how much of the painter comes through depends on how transparent you are you are no judge of your own work the percentage of painter that comes through will vary you must not be the judge of your own piece if you are transparent to the painter, you will always be objective about your own work relax, do not be self critical you are here to learn you are here for a process, a learning process at the end of class: there is only one person here who totally utterly failed: and you know who you are! You did really good for where you are you cannot expect to be anywhere else than where you are be a learner, not a producer at this point, you are not trying to sell your art ............... In the realm of art, exactitude is not truth. Answering the question: What color is the sky: any color you want!