Work of Artist Paul Foxton
Today we conclude our interview with Paul Foxton, the man behind the blog Learning to See. I urge my readers interested in art to look at this remarkable resource. It can be found at: http://www.learning-to-see.co.uk.
Learning to See is an amazing public document. What inspired you to chronicle your return to drawing in such an exposed manner?
Narcissism probably! Who doesn't like to bang on about themselves all day?
It's been a useful record for me though, I'd recommend anyone to do it. You can look back and see your progress, see where you followed dead ends. It's an effective way to learn from your mistakes, because you can't hide from them. You can't edit and rewrite your history in your mind (as I believe we usually do) when it's right there in front of you and lots of other people have seen it too.
I remember when I came back to painting, I was hunting around for good websites that could help me learn. I found some step by step articles that left out more than they described. They seemed to me to be largely about artists showcasing how good they were, these articles were useless as learning tools. It made me angry. I resolved to make the most useful posts I could about my own practice, to describe everything as fully and completely as I could, leaving nothing out. I suppose I've tried to make the site I couldn't find for myself six or seven years ago. It's different now, a lot more people are blogging about painting, there's a lot of videos on YouTube that weren't there then. There's a lot more good information freely available. It's a positive thing.
The site has also helped me to connect with people, that's been a wonderful experience. It's reason for being now, what I want from it most, is to help people like me who are struggling with teaching themselves to draw and paint, if I can. I want it to be less about me and more about other people who are learning too. What I hope for more than anything is that I might be able to help people to have happier and more enriching lives by helping them to draw and paint better. I want to make their struggle easier for them if I can, because I know how tough it is to teach yourself. That seems to me to be about the best thing I could aspire to right now, much more important than how good I get at drawing and painting myself.
You detail many techniques on your site – sight-size, Old Master copies, loose sketching – which is the most appealing to you? And which has taught you the most?
I'm not sure I could pick one, and if you asked me this question again in a year, I'd probably have a different answer anyway. Which method you learn most from will depend on your personal goals and how close you are to achieving them I think. I've learned a huge amount from sight size but I'm moving away from it now. Dependence on the visual effect has become a straight-jacket for me, something I feel the need to break out of. It's stopping me create.
I think if you want to get better at drawing the main thing is not to worry too much about this or that technique, it's to put aside some uninterrupted time every day and practice. Don't beat yourself up, enjoy it, or else what's the point? Don't be afraid to explore. Keep an open mind. Don't take anyone else's word for anything, test things for yourself. Practice till your fingers bleed if you like, but enjoy it. If it becomes a chore, you progress more slowly and the love dies.
Do you really believe that anyone can be taught to draw?
Yes, beyond question.
But what about talent? Isn’t talent essential?
I don't believe in talent, at least not in the usual definition. I don't believe we are born with gifts, I believe they develop. I've written about why here:
What materials would you recommend for a beginner?
It really doesn't matter what you use I don't think. What matters is the thinking and the feeling behind what you do, not what you do it with. Anything that can make a mark can become a vehicle for expression.
What essential piece of advice would you offer someone who is staring at that blank sheet of paper for the first time (or after a long absence)?
Relax. Make a mark. All you have to do is start, and then keep going, the rest will follow in time.
That's easy to say and much harder to do, no-one knows that better than me. But procrastination is your worst enemy. Give yourself something simple and easy to do to start with. Make a regular appointment with yourself and keep it. Put aside a little time every day, ten, fifteen minutes, and progress from there. Take joy from small achievements, and they'll build into something much bigger over time.
Finally, to get a little philosophical, how do you define artist?
I don't. I'm too busy drawing, painting and writing in what little spare time I have to worry about such unproductive questions.
Anyone interested in the serious study of drawing, and in the journey of a gifted autodidact, should visit Learning to See. It can be found at: http://www.learning-to-see.co.uk/