Task 13: Learning from an Artist

Learning from an artist is a practice we should engage in early on when learning to draw and paint. Not only for technical reasons, but to see their practice as a process of conceptual enquiry and of making meaning.

Seeing the practice of an artist is not just to see which media they use, but more about the approaches that they take; it is about learning about the methods of investigation. The kinds of questions you can find yourself asking are then about what you want to find out when starting an art project.

Interrogating the concerns that preoccupy you, rather than simply becoming a maker of images is important for the development of an artist. You may not identify yourself later on exclusively with a particular medium or technique, but see how you can engage in creative investigation and problem solving, a process that culminates in artwork. Whilst you may be proficient at ceramics or digital photography, you will learn to utilise your skills in order to articulate ideas.

Skills and expertise of an artist includes active questioning and enquiry.  Playfulness and risk-taking are central and this has been explored in our previous tasks, but also now become increasingly mindful of accommodating the unexpected. Many artists value curiosity, imaginative response, open-mindedness and the freedom to explore concurrent strands of interest. They see that productive failure occupies an important place in their practice and the spontaneity of what they do, and also using intuition, are important. Looking, reflecting and critical thinking are equally significant.

I tell my students often to slow down. Not pushing forwards just to consume and move on, but to notice and reflect on what they see and feel and begin to process it. Art develops over time, and students of art need to adopt an approach to artworks which allows them to move from recognition to analysis. This will encourage visual and intellectual interpretive processes to happen as you are working. This task is going to support you with learning how to do this even more.

So to tackle this task, multiple ideas are going to be brought together to build your skills, confidence and knowledge to interpret art for yourselves. Looking at an artist’s work enables you as learners to draw on your own personal experiences, gain understanding, develop new knowledge and articulate your individual ideas.

Think about the different ways you may approach your art. Students doing an art history degree vs somebody who was doing a fine art degree.

The art historian may want to collect meaning and take it to the work whereas the fine art student may want to go to the work and unlock what was there standing in front of them.

It is this understanding of art which enables us to go through the process of an art project.

So, choosing your artist to learn from! There are just so many! One of the first articles I posted was of the many artists that could give you a starting point:

Inspiring Artists

Another idea could be to write to and meet a living artist from your area. Ask them questions about their process and techniques. This kind of first hand research will teach you so much about how art can be approached.

Look at these very famous artists to get some basic understanding of what they do:


Vetheuil in the Fog (1879)

Claude Monet

His Vetheuil in the Fog is among his finest works, offering a subtle, albeit distinct impression of a figural form. As was characteristic of many of Monet’s paintings, he applied his brush rather quickly to the canvas in order to capture the exact image he wanted before the sunlight shifted or faded away altogether.


The Scream (1893)

Edvard Munch

Expressionist artists often employed swirling, swaying, and exaggeratedly executed brushstrokes in the depiction of their subjects. These techniques were meant to convey the turgid emotional state of the artist reacting to the anxieties of the modern world.


Starry night, 1889

Van Gogh

The iconic tortured artist strove to convey his emotional and spiritual state in each of his artworks. Each painting provides a direct sense of how the artist viewed each scene, interpreted through his eyes, mind and heart.


Now I want to take Van Gogh further as an example of how to truly begin to gain inspiration, and to further your skills, by looking at his art. Before engaging in painting, read up online about his works, where he got his inspirations and why he used the technique he did. In learning about the artist, we truly can appreciate the artworks that have become so famous.


If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.

Vincent Van Gogh



Here is a starting point with some facts on the artist Van Gogh:

Click on the link below

Van Gogh


Getting the Style:

It seems the individual artists now labelled as Expressionists largely made it up as they went along, following their instincts as to what colour to use, when and where.

The ‘breakthrough’ was that colour didn’t have to be realistic. While reference is made to colours having symbolic value, again it seems to me that this symbolism was largely determined by individual artists, and not governed by a rigid set of pre-existing rules.


This detail from Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait With a Straw Hat and Artist’s Smock clearly shows how he used pure colour with very defined, directional brush strokes.

When you view the painting from close up, you see the individual brush strokes and colours; when you step back they blend visually. The ‘trick’ as a painter is to be familiar enough with your colours and tones for this to be effective.


To build up to producing an artwork/portrait in this style, first replicate and learn from what you see in front of you. Here are some close-ups of Van Gogh’s work to draw ideas from. You will expand on your knowledge of the style, Van Gogh’s technique and also understand the process of creating your own artwork as a result of investigation.


When this experimentation is complete, take on a full scale artwork or portrait of your own, utilising what was learned throughout this process. It doesn’t matter which artist you use, the process is always the same!

The final job will be to anlayse and compare your own works to that of the artist you have investigated. This is a big task here, but it is worth the time as this process is one you will return to again and again in your own artistic development.


So TASK 13:

  1. Find an artist and learn about them and their style – get into their head!
  2. Do some experimental trials of their style. Learn their technique and approach to an artwork
  3. Complete a final artwork which is influenced by what you have investigated
  4. Analyse and compare your artworks.  Reflect on the process you have been through to see how your own individuality and spontaneity is progressing


Have fun!


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Why not have a go at this and post your artwork for me to see. Maybe I or the community can offer support, encouragement and helpful feedback.  – share your work on TWITTER and INSTAGRAM – POST  using our hashtag #ONLINECOLLEGEART


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