You Teach Best What You Most Need To Learn

A dear friend of mine gave me a wonderful book called, “Illusions” by Richard Bach. Among the many stellar quotations included in the book was this: 

You teach best what you most need to learn.

I began teaching because I had figured some stuff out about oil painting, and I thought some other folks might want to know about that stuff. 

As time has gone on, I have figured out more stuff and try to share with students each new thing that I learn. What I realized while I was talking about all the stuff is that I knew the stuff conceptually, but I still had lots of room for getting better at my own painting.

As I have learned to explain my process through verbal language as well as visual language, I have stumbled on to new and better ways of approaching painting and therefore new and better ways of teaching what I know thus far.

One thing that has taught me so much is an exercise I learned from my friend Colin Page (you can check his paintings out at The exercise is, you have to paint a painting in 40 brushstrokes (speaking of strokes, most students almost have one when they realize they are going to have to do this exercise). 

As I practiced this exercise myself I realized how I could be of help to those learning to find their own artistic style. I could use it to get even a novice to understand what it feels like to paint loosely because the process puts you in a specific, controlled (yet free) line of thinking.

Below are examples of 40 stroke demos from recent workshops. You can see dots of color on the sides which represent each stroke completed. This helps you remember to count. In my earlier demos I stopped sometimes even before the 40 strokes because all the shapes are filled in. In the most recent demo (oranges and little green pot) I took it a little further but then stopped at 40. 

Yes, all the paintings have a level of “un-finish”, but this is what the painterly painter is after: to know how to loosely fill in shapes while not going too far into tedious detail. In that sense the 40 brushstroke challenge is brilliant. 

This is one example of the many ways and reasons my painting style continually evolves. The more I demonstrate this exercise the more I understand shapes, value, and how to make a brushstroke count. I seem to be teaching myself at the same time I am teaching others.