Wednesday, December 11, 2019


Steve Martin has a comedy routine about how to make a million dollars without paying taxes. "First," he says, "get a million dollars. Then, don't pay the taxes."

I figured that a "how-to" book on painting from Nathan Fowkes would be similar: First, pick up a brush. Then use your exquisite sense of color, your natural gift for design and your light, nimble touch to make a picture."

As a result, I wasn't expecting that his new book would be much more than a portfolio of his watercolors. Still, that was sufficient reason to order it.  The paintings in this book are quite beautiful and the reproduction is excellent (which is crucial for any collection of Fowkes' art).

But I was especially pleased to find a thoughtful book full of practical, insightful suggestions.

For example, I've always admired Fowkes' ability to simplify complex colors and forms, distilling his subjects to their essence.

On this subject, he recommends "finding a simple statement" by honing in on the quality that made you choose to paint that particular scene in the first place, then editing anything that might distract from that quality.  How exactly are we supposed to do that? He offers tips ranging from squinting your eyes, to forcing prioritization by giving yourself a firm 20 minute deadline to paint a complicated subject, or starting with a basic value statement and adding only a few strategic details.  As another exercise in simplification, he talks about limiting your entire painting to 20 brush strokes.

He also offers personal commentary such as his decision to get rid of his TV: "the TV would call to me from the next room, and when the inevitable frustrations of learning something new would hit, the TV was just too tempting of an escape.  I realized I could never have the level of focus that I needed as long as there was a constant distraction right there in the next room."  The book even talks about  dealing with mosquitoes when trying to paint on site.

An excellent book by an excellent artist.


MORAN said...

Looks good.

Unknown said...

Now I HAVE to get this book. I own the first painting example and STILL can't tell how he did it.


kev ferrara said...

Beautiful stuff, as usual from Fowkes. Will have to get a copy.

Shupshe said...

the book is a great compliment to his classes on Schoolism. He's a great teacher all around.

David Apatoff said...

MORAN-- Wait until you see inside.

Unknown/#wizardsamongus -- If you own that painting you're a lucky person indeed.

kev ferrara-- Yes, Fowkes really is something special.

Shupshe-- I've never taken one of his Schoolism classes but I've heard him speak and read his blog and I agree that he is a born teacher. He has paid the dues to learn the material himself, and has a gift for translating what he learned into words, so that each new generation doesn't end up paying the same dues all over again.

Anonymous said...

It's great to see these Fowkes images up close. I learned about him here and have followed him ever since.


chris bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris bennett said...

This looks to be a delightful book David.

The following is not a criticism of Fowkes excellent practical work-a-day advice on how to go about editing under certain working conditions:

When a painting is seen to have been made swiftly it naturally bears a countenance that renders its 'plot holes' credible and acceptable. The toughest problem is keeping the editing inconspicuous (to maintain belief in the work) when the elements of a painting and their relationships to one another become more wrought and their mimetic properties increase.
In my view, the difficulties encountered in this regard and the usefulness of the devices Fowkes recommends are inversely proportional to each other.

That said, it is worth bearing in mind that Fowkes' advice is (I assume) applicable to painting in front of the motive (what is often called 'perceptual painting') and is not necessarily aimed at work constructed without direct reference.

Paul Chadwick said...

Nathan is well worth following on Twitter. Beautiful, inspiring paintings posted often.

Thomas Fluharty said...

Nathan is the real deal. Talent all over the place a great teacher and a great human being as well. He's worthy of your time. Thanks Davey!