Above is one of my early paintings from February2009, two and a half years after I started painting with oils. I remember painting this piece because the day before working on it, I had made a decision to purposefully practice specific painting techniques with each small painting I completed.
Initially I identified three areas of technique I felt were important to master. Color, values, and edge quality were classed in my mind as the painting fundamentals that needed special attention and practice if I wanted to improve rapidly.
It was with this painting of a lemon on a checked cloth that I made the commitment to work on color every time I painted, as well as either edge quality or value nuance. By narrowing my focus to these specific technical skills, I found it easier to concentrate and make improvements in my craft.
Prior to this painting, I would always simplify my value shapes into three main values— light (local color), mid-tone, and shadow. This was the first painting in which I actively explored value nuance. I remember that I asked myself to seek out ten value gradations in the yellow of the lemon and to express them with color and value.
The painting is not a masterpiece, however I still have it because it reminds me of when I began to actively pursue painting mastery on my own and in my own way.
I believe it is very important to engage with your painting in a thoughtful and methodical way. By purposefully deciding on what I would focus on before I began a painting, I could then analyze the finished work through the framework of the technical skills I had practiced. If I had chosen color and value nuance to be my main technical push within the painting, I could then look at my results and see whether or not the focused attention had improved my skills in those areas. If the painting still lacked the effect I was aiming for -- for example if the lemon did not look rough and round in shape -- I knew I would need to repeat the painting exercise.
There was a time when I was painting a lot of lemons. However, the repeated practice paid off, and a few years later I was able to express the level of color and value nuance that intrigues me.