The Complete Painter: Lessons from the Masters

Course No. 7788
Professor David Brody, Professor of Painting and Drawing
University of Washington in Seattle
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Course No. 7788
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What Will You Learn?

  • See and understand the structure of classic paintings.
  • Create focus by use of color, value, and composition.
  • Use techniques and tools to achieve your desired mood and texture.

Course Overview

Many of us have the mistaken idea that only “born artists” can paint. But the truth is much more exciting—with the right training, anyone can learn the skill of painting! In The Complete Painter: Lessons from the Masters, an award-winning art instructor teaches those skills in 34 easy-to-follow lessons.

The novice will learn the fundamentals of oil painting, from choosing paints and brushes to composition, to a wide variety of specific painting techniques. The experienced painter will gain greater knowledge of oil paints, mediums, lighting, color, and structure. The course includes hands-on experiences for all students, from making your own pigment and paint to copying the methods and compositional choices of the great masters.

In The Complete Painter: Lessons from the Masters, you’ll learn to paint using the same steps taught at the best art schools around the country. Your teacher, David Brody, award-winning Professor of Painting and Drawing at of the University of Washington, begins with the basics, taking you on a fascinating deep dive into the physical properties of oil paint itself, including how to work safely with hazardous materials. From there, you’ll move into the study of marks, lines, brushstrokes, and edges; value, color, and palettes; and how to prepare your canvases and rigid supports—including how to transfer the required underdrawings that are provided in your course guidebook. Next, you’ll study techniques by copying from some of the world’s most iconic paintings.

Throughout this course, your professor guides you in your work, painting right along with you during the exercises—illustrating everything from how he mixes and thins his paints to paint application and removal. But this is not a paint-by-numbers course, nor will you see your professor start and finish paintings in real-time. This is a course for those who are motivated and energized about learning to paint, for those who understand that acquiring a depth of “behind-the-scenes” knowledge will be more valuable in the long run than mimicking every stroke of a teacher.

Course Organization

The Complete Painter: Lessons from the Masters includes several, distinct types of lessons, all of which come together to provide college-level expertise about the history, materials, and techniques of oil painting:

  • Materials. You’ll learn about the real “must-haves” for your workspace—paper, pencils, additives, brushes, and the six specific tubes of paint you’ll need for your first palette. You’ll learn the difference between flexible and rigid supports, how to work with proportional dividers, and how to best light your workspace.
  • Palettes. Just as a chef can’t include every spice in any one recipe, a painter must limit color to create a unique work. You’ll learn to work with some of the classic restricted palettes—grisaille, brunaille, and earth-tone—as well as a more expansive palette toward the end of the course.
  • Exercises. You’ll have many opportunities to practice basic painting techniques such as lines, marks, and shapes, as well as skills related to ground, balance, space, and more.
  • Projects. Once you have your materials, understand your palette options, and have practiced a great variety of techniques, you will move on to larger projects. Your professor leaves you with some suggestions for creating projects of your own. And, you’ll certainly be ready for the challenge!

In the Grand Tradition of Copying the Masters

The idea of “copying” someone else’s work can carry a negative connotation. But for many hundreds of years, painters have known that if they wanted to paint like the best, they needed to study the best. The Louvre opened its doors to copyists more than 225 years ago and continues a formal and tightly regulated program for copyists today. Cézanne is quoted as having said, “The Louvre is the book from which we learn to read.” Chagall, Dali, Degas, Picasso certainly agreed—Louvre copyists, all.

Continuing in that grand tradition, this course will take you on a deep dive into some of the most iconic works of Western art. You, too, can discover how the masters worked, studying characteristics of their paintings from composition to value to brush strokes. You’ll consider:

  • The Ballerina by Degas. You’ll analyze a great range of mark making, from brushwork to scratched hatchings. You’ll learn first-hand the value of both adding and removing paint to achieve a desired texture.
  • Still Life by Morandi. You’ll study depth and focus without the highlight of chiaroscuro, as Morandi hovered between two and three dimensions. As you explore how some of his objects seem to “dissolve,” you’ll learn new ways to work with edges.
  • The Scream by Munch. You’ll see that even very representational paintings are not mere assemblages of rendered objects. Instead, they’re highly organized groupings of interlocking shapes. And although many assume this was created in a fit of emotion, you’ll learn how meticulously Munch planned this work—over a period of 19 years.
  • Guernica by Picasso. You’ll learn how powerful even the most limited of palettes can be. In this large and formidable painting, the drama is enhanced by the ancient monochrome technique known as grisaille. And although Picasso’s individual elements are moder—and even shocking—their composition is classical and symmetric; almost every element on the left is answered by a specific element on the right.
  • The Last Supper by Leonardo. By studying the intricate geometric composition of this work, you’ll begin to see the underlying formation that binds its elements together—the rectangle’s armature. You’ll begin to appreciate the way the armature directs the painting’s composition, a composition that artists have used for many hundreds of years.

Make Your Own Materials

Beyond the paintings and technical exercises, The Complete Painter: Lessons from the Masters gives you many opportunities to dig in and create the tools and mediums that painters have been making for centuries. Although you can certainly buy all the materials, by learning how to make them, you’ll develop a deeper understanding of their functionality, as well as be able to create them to your exact specifications. Among many other materials, this course provides step-by-step instructions for making:

  • Damar varnish. You can easily make this varnish from damar crystals and turpentine.
  • Flexible supports. Learn how to make your own supports from the purchase of the linen and stretchers to stretching the linen over the frame, and making your own rabbit-hide glue to size the linen.
  • Gesso. Making your own traditional gesso from chalk, white pigment, glue, and water takes a bit of time, but it provides a beautiful, very smooth, white surface for painting on rigid supports.
  • Painting table and brush table. Step-by-step directions for building these two tables from ¾-inch plywood can be found in the course guidebook. While they take some time to build, they’ll provide all the support you’ll need for your work. They also provide the convenience of having your materials protected, and having them exactly where you need them every time.

The Complete Painter: Lessons from the Masters is a robust and energetic guide to oil painting for those who have always been enamored of this skill, but were afraid to give it a try. With your professor’s easy-going manner, calm and clear instruction, and obvious love of the subject, you’ll be painting in no time!

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34 lectures
 |  Average 28 minutes each
  • 1
    The Grand Tradition of Painting
    Humans have been painting for more than 40,000 years and creating pigments for more than 300,000 years. You'll join that great tradition by making your own pigments and paints in this lesson. Learn why the masters began their careers by copying others and why this is the best time in history to learn to paint. x
  • 2
    Health and Safety in the Studio
    Oil-based paints are considered the most versatile medium for painters today. But with pigments, oils, and solvents comes the potential danger of toxicity and combustion. Learn how to take proper safety precautions—reading the Safety Data Sheet and product label for each item you buy, ventilating the room where you paint, and properly disposing of hazardous waste. x
  • 3
    Basic Painting Materials
    What are the “must-haves” for your workspace? Learn about necessary supplies, including paper, pencils, additives, brushes, and the six specific tubes of paint you’ll need for your first palette. You’ll also learn why so many painters rely on the mahl stick—and how to build your own. x
  • 4
    Studio Setup and Brush Care
    Make sure your workspace meets your specific needs and preferences. Explore your lighting options for both natural and artificial light and learn how they impact your painting, palette, and subject. You'll also learn how to set your paints on the palette to allow for greatest efficiency and flexibility, and how to clean everything at the end of your session with brush cleaners you'll build yourself. x
  • 5
    First Exercises: Line and Mark
    Studying John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame X, you’ll learn how the placement of the brush in your hand affects the types of strokes you can make. As you test various options with your own brush placement, pressure, speed, and dilutions, you’ll experiment with a variety of lines and marks—and examine those of Van Gogh, Cézanne, and many others. x
  • 6
    First Exercises: Value, Edges, and Texture
    In this lesson, you’ll experiment with many ways to change value by changing opacity, hatching, stippling, and more. You’ll also learn a variety of ways to create an edge, making it hard or soft. You’ll experiment with many different ways to both apply and remove paint, and learn about the relationships between thick and thin layers—and what will stand the test of time. x
  • 7
    Creating Basic Forms: Lines, Shapes, and Solids
    As you study line, texture, contour, space, and proportion, you’ll learn how painters can start with a flat shape and create a three-dimensional solid. By examining Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and other paintings, you’ll learn how artists build upon simple geometric figures to create highly organized groupings of interlocking shapes. x
  • 8
    Value: Making a Value Scale
    With the goal of painting grisailles and brunailles—paintings executed entirely in shades of gray or brown, respectively—you’ll learn a step-by-step method for developing two appropriate value scales. In the process, you’ll explore paint mixing, assessing the value of those mixtures, identifying and correcting mistakes, and understanding the effects of simultaneous contrast. x
  • 9
    Value: A Simple Still Life
    Before creating a brunaille based on Norman Lundin’s Simple Still Life–Three Cups, you’ll learn how to transfer the cartoon files—the underdrawings in your course guidebook—to your surface, as well as options for using the grid system to scale up or down. You’ll visually take the painting apart to carefully identify the work’s shapes, and then use your value chart to guide you through the painting process. x
  • 10
    Value: Mood, Palette, and Light
    Learn how value affects the mood of a painting—with a greater range of values bringing higher energy and a smaller range bringing a softer, calmer mood. Explore how value also can be used to create pattern, a focal hierarchy, and the illusion of space and three-dimensional volume. You’ll also examine the way light can be used to give a flat effect or to produce greater drama with a chiaroscuro. x
  • 11
    Value: Block and Sphere in Grisaille
    By painting a chiaroscuro block and sphere in grisaille, you’ll apply value mixing skills—with 17 different values in this exercise—and explore the way light affects rectilinear and curvilinear forms. You’ll practice blending edges, experimenting with a variety of brushes and the use of horizontal and vertical strokes. x
  • 12
    The Figure and a Portrait in Brunaille
    In this lesson, you'll experiment with using value intuitively, leaving behind the numerical references you used previously. You'll learn how the illusion of a complex three-dimensional form is created as you work with value and shadows. And you'll learn to see the planar structure beneath an object, considering both value and edges as you bring life to the structure. x
  • 13
    Working with the Earth Tone Palette
    In this lesson, you’ll explore the full palette of earth tones, black, and white—a palette that has been used for millennia in every geographic area. As you experiment with a color-mixing exercise, methodically developing a chart to reveal the full range of this palette, you’ll observe the way the colors seem to change depending on their context. x
  • 14
    Ensuring Accurate Proportions
    Explore the benefits of the gridded velo, calipers, beam compasses, and even tracing paper. These tools have been used from da Vinci to the modern age for developing precise proportions when painting. Specifically, learn how to work with proportional dividers to help the accuracy of your work, whether you're copying from another painting or painting a still life. x
  • 15
    Composition: Shape, Ground, and Format
    Nothing is more important to the success of a painting than composition—the organization of elements that brings cohesion to the work. Learn how to look deeply at paintings to discover compositional patterns and to improve your own work by examining format, simple and compound aggregate shapes, the box strategy, the crucial role played by “background,” and more. x
  • 16
    Composition: Leonardo and the Armature
    Learn how to develop and work with an armature, the structure that determines the organization of elements in your painting and guides the viewer's eyes through your work. Whether it's the placement of a large figure or the angle of a hairline, generations of artists from diverse cultures have depended on the armature to bring visual power into their works. x
  • 17
    Composition: Balance, Focus, and Space
    Learn how to construct your painting to control the viewer's path through its visual information. What do you want the observer to attend to first, second, next? You'll explore the elements of compositional weight and balance, space, hierarchy, focal considerations, color, and more to understand the ways in which each of these factors affects your viewer's experience. x
  • 18
    Degas, Hammershøi, and Other Projects
    In this lesson, you’ll practice the elements you’ve learned—from value to composition—with several painting assignments. In addition to a still life, you’ll work with cartoons of paintings by Degas and Hammershøi, and numerous specific suggestions for painting groupings of geometric solids, fabric, and maybe even a room in your own home. x
  • 19
    Materials: Oil Paint Brands and Quality
    Two tubes of paint with similar names—or even the exact same name—can appear and behave very differently depending on their chemical composition and the processes used in manufacturing. In this lesson, you’ll learn how to glean information from paint labels and how to utilize the Color IndexTM, often abbreviated CIGN, the international classification system for dyes and pigments. x
  • 20
    Materials: Oil Paint Characteristics
    Learn how opacity, tinting strength, permanence, and consistency affect your paint's performance, and how to identify these characteristics from the paint's label. You'll also learn how to make sure your paint is safe, how to proceed if the label does note a health hazard, and how to care for your paints once in your workspace. x
  • 21
    Color: Theory and Exercises
    Learn the difference between additive and subtractive mixing, how those processes impact the colors you'll see when you mix your paints, and why formal color theory doesn't always reflect how paints work in the real world. You'll begin to create your own color chart in order to experiment with the value, hue, and saturation of your particular paints. x
  • 22
    Color: Painting with Limited Palettes
    Examine the limited palettes used by some of the great masters throughout history—monochrome, dominant hue, analogous, split complementary, and more—and explore how they strategized color usage to create a particular mood in a painting. You’ll build your own palette as you explore an exercise on color mixing, trying to match your paints to a specific color on a print. x
  • 23
    Materials: All about Medium
    All painters would love to find a medium that would cause the exact result they want with no negative effects. Instead, it's all about compromise. Learn about the pros and cons of linseed oil, oil of rosemary, odorless mineral spirits, hydrocarbon resins, balsams, yellow beeswax, and more. You'll experiment with making damar varnish and find recipes for numerous others. x
  • 24
    Materials: All about Brushes
    Although almost all artists today paint with brushes, painters have experimented with an enormous variety of tools—from fingers to squeegees. In this lesson, you’ll explore the two main categories of brushes, their variability in price, and how to best care for them. You’ll also learn why hog hair is the best natural bristle and why “sable” brushes are almost never made from sable. x
  • 25
    Materials: Flexible Supports
    With step-by-step instructions, you'll build your own flexible support, starting with purchasing the supports and linen, and then stretching the linen over the frame. To create the needed barrier between the textile and the paint, you'll make a rabbit-hide glue solution and then prime with a lead white ground. You'll also learn a great variety of options for future experiments. x
  • 26
    Materials: Rigid Supports
    Many artists choose to paint on rigid supports—wood, metal, or even glass—which preserve paintings for much longer periods than flexible supports. Learn why plywood and composite panels are today’s popular choice for those who paint on wood, how to prepare wooden surfaces before painting, and step-by-step directions for making your own gesso. x
  • 27
    Materials: Carpentry for the Studio
    Many artists want their own supports, studio tables, stretchers, and strainers made to custom specs to best meet their specific needs. In this lesson, you'll learn how to build chassis for canvases and panels, a painting table, and a brush table. Step-by-step instructions for the tables can also be found in the course guidebook. x
  • 28
    Project: A Modigliani Portrait
    In this lesson, you'll experiment with painting Amedeo Modigliani's Portrait of a Young Girl. In this work and others, Modigliani worked with the ratio of the canvas itself, as opposed to the natural proportions of the figure. You'll learn to see and paint those unusual proportions in his orange-blue complementary system. x
  • 29
    Project: A Degas Ballerina
    By painting a study of The Ballerina, by Edgar Degas, you'll work extensively with washes in a red-green complementary-analogous palette. You'll experiment with a great range of mark making, both positively with your brush and negatively with scratched hatchings, and work with several tools to remove paint as you emulate Degas' texture. x
  • 30
    Project: A Corot Landscape
    Painting a study based on Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s Bridge on the Saôn at Mâcon—with its palpable illusion of light and air—gives you the opportunity to work with a greater depth of space than in any previous painting in this course and with brush strokes you haven’t used before. You’ll be challenged also by using his double complementary palette. x
  • 31
    Project: Derain's Portrait of Matisse
    In this lesson, you’ll paint a study based on André Derain’s iconic 1905 portrait of his friend Henri Matisse, using highly saturated color that modulates from light to dark and warm to cool as you move around the head. In copying Derain’s style, you’ll use hue, value, and brush marks to make sure the head is the focus of the piece. x
  • 32
    Project: A Porter Self-Portrait
    In this lecture, you'll paint a study based on a Fairfield Porter self-portrait. Porter focused on observational figure painting with works that relied on strong abstract shape relationships. In this painting, you'll work with opacity and density as you create all the large and small, positive and negative shapes that come together as a type of grid of interlocking puzzle pieces. x
  • 33
    Painting's Evolution: Indirect Painting
    Explore the significant differences between indirect and direct painting. You’ll learn which tools and techniques to use depending on which type of work you want to produce—the historical indirect method of using thin translucent paint on top a smooth white panel, or the more modern method of using opaque paint on the rougher, less reflective surface of canvas. x
  • 34
    Nighthawks, The Scream, and Other Projects
    In this lesson, you'll study Edward Hopper's Nighthawks and Munch's The Scream. While viewers often think the Munch was painted in a moment of emotional outburst, both paintings were highly premeditated and meticulously created with numerous advanced studies. By examining the many steps these painters went through in preparation, you will improve your own artistic process as well. x

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Your professor

David Brody

About Your Professor

David Brody, Professor of Painting and Drawing
University of Washington in Seattle
Professor David Brody has been a Professor of Painting and Drawing at the University of Washington in Seattle since 1996. He did undergraduate work at Columbia University and Bennington College and received his graduate degree in painting from Yale University in 1983. Professor Brody has lectured or been a visiting critic at Carnegie Mellon University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The University of Chicago,...
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