How changing my instruction style helped me teach oil painting for beginners better. WAAAAY better!

posted in: Painting workshops | 3

First things first. Let me give you a little history. I started my workshops in the following format: 4 students, each choses their own picture, I give personal instruction and show what to do using their canvas. It’s pretty unique concept for an art class and it worked because:

  • It’s pretty cool to be able to choose your own picture THE FIRST time you are painting. Usually art schools start you off with tons of theory, drawing, colour mixing exercises and you need a lot of time, patience and money to get to the point where you can actually paint a painting.
  • You are able to start with what you like and what you want on your wall – waves, trees, fall trees etc.
  • You WOW all you friends and family coming out of your first art class with a good looking painting (yes, good looking, like art. Seriously)

As great as it sounds, there is a downside:

  • Since you are the only one in the class painting that subject, I have to show you stuff on your canvas. That means I actually paint parts of your painting. That means it’s not 100% your painting.
  • Since it’s your first (or second or third) experience painting I have to explain A LOT to every student individually trying to cover the basics like colour mixing, cleaning the palette. It can get overwhelming at times for both of us.

Why I still want to keep teaching painting workshops where you go home with a painting even the first time around? Because IT’S FUN!! It’s rewarding, good for self-esteem, creative spirit and more. And because I was bored out of my mind during 80% of art classes I took. Painting 23 colour charts, grey scales, drawing 50 boxes – can anyone survive this? What if art is a hobby? Do I really have to draw 50 boxes (it is an actual assignment – I’m not kidding you!)? My answer is NO! The only thing you really have to do is to love your life when you are painting. That’s all.

So I tried a different format trying to keep the fun, but reduce the amount of new material you have to battle with and my involvement in your painting.

This is how it goes: we collectively select a theme and I select a painting for each class. Last class students wanted to paint sunset and water, I found a picture of a beautiful beach sunset. I paint the same picture on my canvas and you repeat after me. So we gather around I start the painting and do a few first steps. Then you go and recreate it on your canvas, while I’m walking around and helping you, addressing individual needs that arise. Then we go back to my canvas and take it to the next step. Here is what we manage to improve doing the new way:

  • Instructions first shown and repeated when you do it were clearer and taken in faster
  • My hands on involvement in your painting reduced A LOT. I will still show you, if the concept doesn’t want to sink in, but it’s a lot less than before
  • The quality of students paintings went up – my opinion
  • Overall atmosphere is more relaxed, because nobody is overwhelmed (or almost nobody)

Here is the paintings from last class. One of them is mine, but not everybody can correctly guess which one. Can you? Put your guess in the comment!

photo photo 5 photo 4


How challenges of my art journey helped me become a better artist. Part 2. The happy ending.

posted in: My art journey | 1

If you haven’t read the beginning of this story, it’s here.

In the fall of 2012 (2 years after the situation described in the last post) I found a person who broke that I-m-not-an-artist barrier in my head, got me creating and believing in myself. The funniest thing about it – I have never met this guy in person, believe it or not. The power of the Internet!

I don’t remember how I came across his video lesson, but it was very inspiring and I decided to try. Here is what came out of it:


Lilacs, Oil on canvas, 20*18, SOLD
Lilacs, Oil on canvas, 20*18, SOLD

I was blown away and bought a couple more lessons and seminars. Oh, by the way, his name is Igor Saharov – he is from Crimea, but currently lives in Moscow and considers himself Russian (that bit might seem political, but it isn’t). The way he speaks about art is absolutely unbelievable! If I have to sum up in two lines, he thinks: almost anybody can make a painting (which is not the same as “be an artist”) and that traditional artists are often boring and unhappy, because they treat their art like a marriage and beginners and armatures treat it like a love affair and that gives their art spark and emotion that people respond to. Controversial, but pretty cool, huh?

I just couldn’t stay unresponsive and closed anymore. He inspired me to play with paint, “to make a gesture”, “to demonstrate the taste”, “to make it sound good” (these are his exact instructions on the video lessons!). If you compare it to traditional “plan your values”, “do your colour studies” and “have a strong composition” it sounds unprofessional and even crazy. But with those goofy instructions I made more than 70 paintings in two years.

Flower field, oil on canvas, 24*18, SOLD
Flower field, oil on canvas, 24*18, SOLD
Sunny fall, Oil on canvas, 20*16 in, SOLD
Sunny fall, Oil on canvas, 20*16 in, SOLD
Poppies, Oil on canvas, 16*20, SOLD
Poppies, Oil on canvas, 16*20, SOLD

I still use key elements of his very special technique in my painting, but I change a lot in other aspects. I moved on to using some other techniques and tricks as well. I believe, artist’s technique and style are constantly evolving as well as his/her views and concepts about art, but I will always be grateful to this man, who got me creating and inspired after so many others failed and I myself almost gave up. Thank you, Igor!

So to sum up: I fell in love with painting, then was strongly discouraged by a professional artist, spent 2 years in non-creative place (not a nice one), but finally was able to overcome that (with a help of a genius) and moved on. Sounds like I wasted two years, but really it helped me become a better artist. How? Here:

  1. I learned not to listen to everybody’s opinion about my art – very useful skill
  2. I tried harder!
  3. I learned to appreciate good teachers
  4. I learned not to miss an opportunity when the good teacher is around and learn from them. You never know when you are going to part ways.
  5. I did not give up. And neither should you! on whatever it is you are doing 🙂

And most of all, I realized that my life without art is sooooo boring and sad, there is really no other choice for me, but to create.

How challenges of my art journey helped me become a better artist. Part 1.

posted in: My art journey | 2


Recently I learned that it is very important to tell not-so-happy parts of your story as well as happy ones as it adds honestly, sincerity, and even vulnerability. It helps others to see you as a person, whole package, with feelings and everything as oppose to just a maker of a painting.

So here is the part of my story that I have been holding back for more than 5 years now.

As you know the beginning of my art journey was very happy in encouraging, I discovered the whole new side of life – being passionate about what you do (If you missed this part of the story, read it here). I had an amazing teacher and was seriously considering a career in art even though I could barely hold a brush. Shortly after this I met the love of my life, got married and moved to Canada.

Trying to figure out my new life, fit into this country, change my habits, language and mentality altogether was not an easy thing to do (and yes, you do have to do it partially if you want to fit in). I know it sounds big, but that’s because it is. Sometimes I couldn’t make a conversation or be a part of one because I simply did not know the context be that politics, old movies or even restaurants – famous in Toronto, but unknown to me. This is a very simple and seemingly small thing, but it makes you feel like you don’t belong.

Another part was to keep making art, find new teacher, peers. It looked promising because our friend had an artist friend whom he happily introduced me to. Yay! She had a long career in art and is quite successful and even though she genuinely tried to help, she severely damaged my self-esteem and discouraged me from making art. Sometimes we do that to people, just being insensitive or inattentive to other person and simply not noticing the effect of our words. I’m not angry or upset (anymore) as it was unconsciously done with good intentions. That encounter set me back a couple of years, because I stopped making art the way I was taught, I didn’t learn a new way yet and I was constantly indulging in criticism and self-doubt.

I was attending art-schools, taking classes, but there was always her voice in my head saying: “Professional artists don’t do that” and it was like a red light. I worked on school projects, but I wasn’t creating my own work, because I wasn’t considering myself “a professional artist”. I think I spent the whole year without painting a single oil painting… can’t think of it without goose bumps. Until one great artist fixed that damage! Wait for the next post (like a few days, really soon, I promise).

Here are some paintings from that time. I think they look pretty sad and lifeless.

painting6 Cool water water lilies

“How did you do this?!” – step by step description with photos

posted in: Creative process | 0

This is a peek at my painting process. The piece that I made here was a commission painting which I sold 🙂 Yay!

Katherine liked my style, but wanted a bigger piece then anything I had and ever done. I said “Why don’t I try making a big piece? If you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy it”. She decided to go for it. We agreed on the size, vertical orientation and the fact that it’s going to be a seascape. I sent her a bunch of reference photos. And I only use them to get an idea, mood and inspiration. I don’t do close direct copies.

She liked these two:

4 5

On first – sky, turquoise water, sunset lighting. On second – the wave, she likes waves. Ok, now I have an idea of what kind of painting she would like.

So I get a HUGE canvas (24*36 inches) and get cracking.

FIRST. Get rid of the white. Block main colours.


Looks scary. Well, hang on.

SECOND. Work on the sky.


Starting to see something there. Evening sky with the last ray of warm sun on the clouds.

THIRD. Horizon line, darks into the water and wave – no lights yet, just darks and basic shapes. Block the sand – show horizontal plane moving into the painting and away from the viewer.


NOW, starting to approach light places of the painting and work on some details.


Looks like sunset on the ocean to me. I’m not going to go much lighter then this since it’s an evening scene, but I will add warm reflected light of the sky into the lightest parts of the water. Also I’m going to fine-tune foam, back waves, sky – think of all the details I want to bring out. Finishing touches. And, most importantly – SIGN IT!

TA-DA! finished painting

IMG_7910 (2)

Although it came out darker then reference photos, I didn’t want to change anything – it makes the last ray of sun look more dramatic on the waves and sky.

I liked it. And so did Katherine!




Choose a perfect photo – get a perfect pet portrait!

posted in: How to | 0

I haven’t met anybody who would ask you to sit your pet still while they are painting them 🙂 – majority of us paint/draw from photo. There are two parts of success with commissioned pet portraits – artist’s talent and a photo you provide. Some will say it’s 50:50 ration, some will say 70:30, but even if the good photo is only 30% of success, do you really want to get 70% good portrait? no, I want a solid 100, please. Yes, of course! you have every right to!

There are a few things to think about choosing a photo:

1. Quality.

I’m not going to bore you with resolution math. Think about it this way – less detailed photo means artist has to guess all the details: eyes, eye lashes, nostrils, whiskers – I mean isn’t the essence of cuteness? Strict guidance is this – NO MOBILE PHONE PICTURES. Grab a digital camera, doesn’t have to be fancy professional gear, just not the phone. Yes, I’m aware of some great mobile phone cameras, that’s why there is less strict guidance – if you blow your photo up to fit your 15′ computer screen and you are still able to see all the eyelashes and whiskers as lines (not little chains of squares), you are probably good.

2. Pose.

I know how adorable they can be all rolled up in a fluffy ball or stretched out on a loan on a sunny day – it’s very moving. Very cute. But portrait is a classy thing, don’t you agree? So think about a human portrait pose – HEAD AND CHEST is your strict guideline. But again if you want to be less classy, suggest a few photos, discuss with the artist  – we are always open to ideas! just make sure both eyes are visible and looking at the cameraman. And that head occupies more then 1/3 of the whole picture.

Here are some good examples:

11 111image2

3. Lighting.

Lighting will affect your pet’s fur colour. Electric light or outdoor light on a sunny day will make it warmer, luminescent light will make it cooler, flash is pure evil and will change the colour dramatically! Strict guideline – take the picture outside in a natural light on a cloudy day. It will give us most realistic colours and make our life so much easier! you can’t imagine!

If for some reason the above is not possible (sometimes they are no longer around, for a sad example), send what you have but include DIFFERENT LIGHTING situations – indoors, outdoors, on sunny days and not so sunny.

This is the same cat, but pictures taken in different light:

100_1058 1

Notice how different she looks! fur colour, eyes, contrast… If I have never met your pet and had to guess based on a photo, there can be two very different results here.


I do my best to accommodate every client and work with what we have. I had positive outcome working from very bad low resolution photos, combining a few photos (colour from one, pose – from another) etc. It is possible! But there is a risk that likeness will be compromised. So if you are stuck with not so great photos choose your artist carefully, ask their opinion and be prepared to pay a little more for all their hard work putting all the pieces of the puzzle together.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to go ahead and do it. In my experience portrait usually exceeds the expectations anyway and if it’s a gift, they will be head over hills in love with it!


Penny, 11*14, pastel on paper
Penny, 11*14, pastel on paper
Kensie, 11*14, pastel on paper
Kensie, 11*14, pastel on paper




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