GJ Book Club: Oil Painting Techniques and Materials by Harold Speed – Preface and Intro

Yesterday I joined the GJ Book Club at Gurney Journey. This time around we’re discussing the first chapter of the 1294 classic by Harold Speed: “Oil Painting Techniques and Materials”, which actually went by “The Science and Practice of Oil Painting” in its original print. The version I own is a reproduction made by Dover, which you can easily find on Amazon.

The Practice and Science of Oil Painting - Harold Speed
Here are the points highlighted by James at the club, taken directly from the book.

1. “Painting is drawing (form expression) with the added complication of tone and color.”

2. The impressionist movement has required a reformulation of the course of study in art schools because of the new vision that the movement has given us.

3. There are two modes of teaching: hard drilling on technical methods or leaving the student to figure out a technique on his own.

4. Every work of art starts with a nebulous idea.

5. “The best definition of a genius I have seen, is that he is described as the man most under the influence of these mental uprushes from the subconscious.”

6. Conscious / unconscious

7. Practical / intuitive


Here are my 02:

I agree with most of the things Speed says, I admit, especially when he talks about practice and academical study only being useful if subject to the impulse that comes from within.
As self-taught, I often struggle with my lack of academic knowledge, feeling like my limited technical skills are somehow denying the expression of something I would really like to put down on paper (or canvas). This is why I recently bought Guptill’s book on sketching and rendering in Pencil, which will hopefully give me at least some kind of direction, helping me to understand what I am doing wrong (and I am, quite a lot).

I also love the analogy he makes with Golf, bringing up the subject of consciousness/unconsciousness. What I find limiting in my own experience, which is likely due to my lack of practice, is the time I need to think about everything I do when I paint. I guess, or better hope, this feeling of doing something which I can’t grasp yet will become less and less apparent the more I practice.
I did, and do a bit of acting sometimes, and when I was starting I was told that all the things that I was finding so difficult to do, thinking consciously every time I had to do them, I would have been able to master only after reaching the point of not even knowing I was doing them, like breathing. But, heh, I guess that’s the ultimate level of mastery in drawing and painting.

Lastly, I certainly agree with Speed’s quote that James mentioned, although I believe the previous statement: “… and every obstacle should at first be put in the way of the aspiring artist,…” is a bit extreme, as not everyone might eventually become a genial artist, but just a moderate one. And perhaps, although loving art but not possessing enough strength of will, might prevent him/her from becoming an artist in the end, and grow up with frustration.

If you want to read all of the comments by James and others, you can reach his blog here