teaching photoshop

When someone asks me to teach them to paint, I really don’t know what to say.

Perhaps I could teach them what I know of Photoshop. I’ve painted in Photoshop for about eight years now. Every year I learn new things, with every new edition, I have to re-learn many things. Much of what I know is intuitive. It’s not so much skills as it is a work flow: the order in which I use the tools and the position of my hand on the keyboard. It is not eight years of learning every single asset that Photoshop has – it is eight years of painting in a particular program, learning what tools I need, and adapting what the program supplies me with to the work I have to do. It’s like riding a bike in that I rarely give any thought to how my feet move on the pedals or how I tilt my body to make the bike turn in one direction or the other. The trick is to learn enough to make sure the tool is an asset – not something standing in your way.

To teach someone the purely technical things I know about Photoshop wouldn’t take very long at all. There’s the toolbar, there are the filters, this is how you use quick masks. To teach someone the way Photoshop and I work together, how I’ve adapted to the program – and how it’s adapted to me… that’s another matter altogether. I’m not even sure it can be done. What I can teach, however, are ways to make it easier. Paths you can take when learning. Things you might make good use of, if you’re planning to make good use of Photoshop as a painting program. Little inside tips: everything from a good spot to hold your left hand while the right one holds the pen to why the pen’s eraser isn’t really such a good idea. Easier ways to perform certain tasks.

What I can’t dream of teaching someone is what lies behind it all. Not the skills I’ve learned during eight years of constant Photoshop use, but those I’ve picked from a lifetime of sketching, drawing, painting, working in clay and papier mache and all manners of different stuff. These are skills that it would take a teacher well beyond my level to pass down to others. I don’t have the words to describe what I do. If my work in Photoshop is intuitive, it’s still nothing to how I ‘feel’ for the shapes and forms that I paint. Painting is inspiration driven, it is emotional and it is personal. It is a constant dilemma for me, trying to find ways to help with the practical skills – anatomy, photoshop and colour use, for example, without delving into the personal ones that reach a bit deeper and are far more difficult to grasp. To tell the truth, I don’t want to teach someone to paint the way I do. I would be doing a disservice not only to myself but to the person I would be teaching. I can’t even see how it could be done, without that person living my life, spending the same amount of hours painting, having the exact same dreams, interests and views. The things that are still just technical skills – are still technical skills that I picked up while painting almost every day for most of my life. How can you dream of cramming that into a single, simple lesson? And who would want to turn their personal paintings into clones of mine, anyway?

So if I have three hours to spend, handing over some of what I’ve learned to those who want to listen… what will I teach? Not how to paint: that is a lifetime process, not a three-hour-class. I’ll teach ways to make it easier. To avoid the bumps in the road that I’ve encountered. Show things that will, hopefully, make the learning progress faster and tips and tricks on how to figure things out. I’ll try to give you the absolutely-nots along with the musts.

Above all, I’ll hope to make it understood that you can’t get discouraged if it’s hard. It is. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of time, but it’s all worth it. Learning is part of what makes it so wonderful. There is no secret trick you’ll learn – and bam, the next day you’re an expert. For all of us, it’s a matter of honing your skills and you can’t do this if you give up as soon as the going gets rough. Photoshop or Painter are tools of the trade: learn how to use them and you soon forget they’re there. That is the big trick, here – to find a way to work in your program of choice without really reflecting much on the program. That way you can focus, instead, on the work that you do rather than the how of how you do it.