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December 17, 2008

Choosing a How-To-Paint Book -- 2

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

As long-time readers might recall, I majored in Commercial Art in college. Required courses included drawing, oil painting and watercolor -- the same ones regular art majors had to take. Actual instruction was almost non-existent, the students simply dabbed away and occasionally the instructor would offer a criticism. I never did practice art professionally, so when I retired I thought it might be interesting to take up oil painting just to get some idea as to how good I might have become if I had had better guidance.

My schedule is too erratic and my income too reduced to sign up for studio classes at local schools that offer traditional training. I simply buy how-to books from time to time and do some dabbing when I find the time and inclination. In this post I mentioned that I prefer to buy how-to's by artists whose styles I like. My example was David Curtis who lives in England.

Another artist with books and a nice (from my perspective) style is David A. Leffel. Internet-based biographical information is pretty thin. Some sources have him born in 1931, others say 1934; from circumstantial evidence, I'm inclined to accept the latter. He's from New York City, taught at the Art Students League, worked as a painter in the city for many years and now lives just outside Taos, New Mexico.

This is the book I have. It contains a foreword by Leffel, but is really a compilation of class notes by the book's author, Linda Cateura.

A few years ago, Leffel himself came out with a book, but it's pricey and I do not have a copy.

Cateura's book is a mix of practical tips and philosophical musings. At first, I found the latter something of a turn-off. But a recent re-reading was much more useful; maybe I've made enough progress that Leffel's thoughts and instruction make better sense to me.

If his work interests you and you're thinking about getting the book, there are plenty of readers' comments on Amazon that might help give you a more rounded picture; click on the first book link above.

Below are some examples of Leffel's work that I found on the Web. They aren't necessarily his best, but indicate his style (influenced by Rembrandt and Chardin, among others). The book has plenty of good illustrations.


David Leffel

Millenium Portrait
Apparently in homage to Rembrandt.

Nude in White Chemise


Peaches and Yellow Finches

Of Rembrandt and Pushman



posted by Donald at December 17, 2008


At the risk of saying the obvious: painting, more than most pursuits, will unlock its secrets to you only by doing doing doing and then doing again. Best of all is to set up a still life in a room with good light, and then set about painting it, using the simplest pallet possible. It will soon become clear to you that the ten thousand colors we see are all, every last one, variable combinations of red, yellow and blue (and, of course, white). It will also become clear after your first few failures that a thin monochrome underpainting (usually in dominant blue) is of immense help as a foundation on which to build. Anyway, my point being that this is a much better way to start and gain both confidence and competence than to sit yourself down in front of a Rembrandt (even with accompanying tips about how he did it) and be so overwhelmed by its formidable seeming wizardry that you throw your hands up in despair and defeat at the very outset.

Posted by: ricpic on December 18, 2008 7:19 PM

That painting book is okay, but the best ones I have seen are "Alla Prima" by Richard Schmid and "How to See Color and Paint It" by Arthur Stern, which is the best beginners book out there.

I agree with ricpic that the best way to learn to paint realism is from life and with still life set ups.

If you can't find a teacher, or its too expensive, then you can also buy a video or two of experienced painters cranking out a painting in front of your little blues--check out the videos at Liliedahl Publications. They have a few nice ones there. Its about as expensive as a good art book.

Good luck! Painting is hard but fun at the same time.

Posted by: BTM on December 19, 2008 3:30 PM

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