September 26th, 2015 – the day we hosted our first monthly Member Painting Critiques webinar – the first of dozens now available to out members in our replay library.

Members can click the image above to view webinar replay

Time flows like a deep river – from a distance the surface appears quiet and slow, yet when we dive in the current moves us along with breathtaking speed.

Since that first webinar we have had an incredible number of artists from all over the world join our community, and though the swift current requires much of our attention right now, we have developed relationships with many artists as they’ve shared their artwork with us. The world has grown more beautiful!

The monthly webinars have given us a chance to see hundreds of paintings – from seasoned pros who want a fresh eye to spot out of harmony nuances and patterns that elude the best of us, to fresh off the block ‘just picked up a brush for the first-time last week’ up and comers who are eager to advance their skills and fulfill newly designed dreams of mastery.

Endless possibility is what breathes life into the soul of art and helps it rise to the dizzying heights of imagination’s powerful capacity – hence the supremely subjective nature of painting.

How do we determine what artwork is good or bad, stylized or incompetent, advanced or amateur?

That is a debate that fuels critics’ careers and never leaves us with a satisfactory answer. And I’m grateful there isn’t a simple or formulaic response. The elusive nature of art gives greater facility to our faculties for growth and invention. Art would lose its savor if we were required to follow step-by-step in the footsteps of another.

So, is our best course a careening ‘free for all’?

To answer that question, we can simply turn to Google, type in ‘oil painting’ and click the images tab.

After doing that, does anything appeal to you? Why?

Was it something like this…


What about this…

Do you think it’s the amount of money we spend that makes a difference on whether it’s considered good art?

What makes Clyde Aspevig’s paintings sell for tens of thousands?

Or Clark Hulings’ work cost hundreds of thousands?


Or a de Kooning fetch hundreds of millions?


Is it the time it takes to create them?

Maybe it’s the school the artists went to or how cool their signature sounds when we say it out loud?

Most will agree that it’s not simply how real it looks.

With how difficult this first question is, let me ask another-

What is it that drives us to paint?

If it’s about the money, we could just content ourselves with replicating what’s already been done – at least it seems to work well for the factory artists in Dafen where tourists can pick up a handmade historic classic for their walls.

Most in the Master Oil Painting community don’t think it’s about the money, and I wholeheartedly agree.

Let’s discuss a more revealing question then – what causes you to catch your breath and go still as you wonder at the mastery and majesty of an artist’s creation?

Distraction abounds in this world of shiny commodities commanding that we look – not to mention an ever-encroaching online world teeming with images designed to detour us down a slope so steep we slip and struggle to grasp handholds or slow our pace long enough to see if the destination is desirable.

We are artists – we can create those handholds and scenic byways that give respite to the weary traveler and allow them to catch their breath and look around.

With imagination and determination, we can withstand the current of consumerism and be a gentle reminder that life is finite and swift – we must not be pulled along by compulsion – rather we can forge ahead with inspired intention and create paths for others that allow them to revel in the majesty of God’s creations and walk in sunlit streams of thought and gratitude.

So, again I ask-

What stirs your soul?

The greatest of paintings rouse emotion – if not, it would be a simple process of learning to paint lifelike images of nothing in particular – not as difficult a task as it often seems during those first few art school semesters.

Think about this – when we see photographic paintings, we are immediately impressed by the ‘talent’ exhibited and the time it must have required, but what then? Do we feel a desperate desire to grasp hold of our overflowing emotions, bottle them up and release them in our studios with the hope that they will flow into our own creations? Or do we instead say something like “wow, that was cool, must have taken a lot of time to do”.


Tom Blackwell. Coffee Break at Barnie’s, Sarasota. 2009. Oil on canvas, 34 x 48

Now, this is not a slur against photographic work, some is certainly moving. It’s to demonstrate that masterful realism is more than impressive draftsmanship and color rendering. It’s poetry – sometimes sloppy, other times careful, but always it affects us!

So, does the creation of poetry require anything beyond our unique way of seeing the world?

If you’ve beheld paintings that tangibly touch your mind and heart, can you go right now to your easel and produce something like that – with the intent that you can help someone else feel that way?

If not, why? Do you feel inadequate, like most all of us do at times.

How then do we acquire poetic painting mastery?

There’s something magical available to each of us that transforms our stumbling inadequacies to confident striding before the easel. It’s study and work And then more study, and more work, and more work, and then more study and then… on and on!

Kristie barrel racing in high school – she was always 1st and 2nd in the state of Colorado – she also rode every day of her life from before she could walk! See that focused determination – that’s what makes champions in every field of endeavor!

A quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed but that our power to do has increased.”

But what if we persist in doing the thing incorrectly?

When we paint from, and ponderingly observe, life as much as possible I don’t believe we can persist in “doing it wrong.” Over time, we gain such a friendship with our surroundings that our observations become enhanced by tender appreciation which imbues our abilities with increasing clarity, vision and direction. We get better, not because we increasingly want to prove we’re good, but because we are so moved by our now familiar friend (life) that we want to share what we experience.

My first landscape oil painting attempt – 1985


Breakfast is Ready | 24×36 | 2012

That’s when the inadequacy heartwarmingly humbles us, not from fear that others won’t be impressed – rather, the cloudy veil of vanity vanishes from view, engulfed joyfully by the radiating and penetrating light of gratitude. We begin to paint with passion – we yearn to express through paint the feelings that have filled us up and enrich others as we have been enriched.

That desire and our poignant introduction to our insufficiency compel us to seek the richest sources of knowledge to learn from which in turn fuels our confidence to risk failing as we leap longingly toward our vision.

Which brings us back to those hundreds of paintings from the critique webinars and a few timid tendencies that inevitably stifle the poetry – that most of us suffer from at one moment or another, and that can unquestionably be conquered.

A few weeks ago, during one of our webinar critiques preparations, Kristie and I discussed a few of those all too familiar traps and that’s when she came up with an idea and the title Extreme Painting – Paint to the Edge.

I think it would be best to let her describe it in her own words – next week!

What do you think makes a particular painting great art?

And what tendencies do you have that might be holding you back right now?