• malcolm jarvis

“What style of painting would be best for me?”

Updated: Jan 26

This question from a student arrived in my email this morning.

How do I answer the question? How can I know what motivates this person to want to paint in the first place?

I know why I paint. Not to create great paintings, but because I want to. Because I enjoy the process of painting. Because I enjoy the challenge of establishing a satisfying composition, choosing a harmonious colour scheme, crafting the value masses, defining a centre of interest, physically applying the paint. I paint because it gives me the opportunity to express my personal vision. The process of applying colour to a flat surface enables me to explore, to discover, to share my view of the world.

Is that why this student paints? Or is wanting acceptance into open exhibitions the motivation. Or are sales or gallery exposure or some other commercial consideration the motivator?

And what of the student’s painting knowledge and skill base? Does the student have a sound grasp of the elements and principles of painting, an appreciation of composition, an understanding of colour, an awareness of value, and so on?

I have found this question is usually asked by the student who is struggling to take on board and apply some of the basics and is seeking some sort of short cut to success or, alternatively, by the student who can’t be bothered to learn the basics at all.

These people seem to believe that “abstract” painting is the style they should adopt but, lacking the courage to say so, are looking to me to steer them in that direction so that their daubs might have some degree of justification.

For anyone seeking to hide behind the term “abstract expressionism” or “self-expressionism” as a way of covering up for their lack of knowledge, skill or application I remind them of the words of the creator and master of abstraction, Wassily Kandinsky:

"Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for colours, and that you be a true poet. This last is essential."

This is usually enough to persuade them to knuckle down, to learn the fundamentals and to work - the sure and certain way of eventually finding their own style.

There is another, humorous quotation that I was tempted to use on one occasion but before I could, the student walked out telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about. It is from Fran Lebowitz, an American author and public speaker. I would like to share it with you now:

"Very few people possess true artistic ability. It is therefore both unseemly and unproductive to irritate the situation by making an effort. If you have a burning, restless urge to paint, simply eat something sweet and the feeling will pass."

Be in touch again soon,





I'm Malcolm, a painter, tutor, lecturer and workshop instructor living in South Norfolk.

My years of painting experience have taught me to loosen-up, let go of fear and paint spontaneously.

My philosophy is ‘less is more’.

  • Fewer brushes for livelier, quicker painting.

  • Fewer paints for easy, straightforward colour mixing.

  • Fewer techniques for optimal results.​

But that doesn’t mean I ignore the basic fundamentals and principles upon which I believe all good painting should be based: shape, value, colour, edges and centre of interest.

​These foundations underpin all my work. If you want to paint portraits, abstracts, still life or landscapes, the same foundations apply; they will give you a solid basis for anything you choose to paint, regardless of subject or medium.

It is my intention to talk about these fundamentals in a straight-forward, no-nonsense, jargon-free way in this blog and to encourage you incorporate them into your work.

Thank you for visiting!

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