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Anyone can Learn to Paint

There seems to be an assumption that artistic talent is a gift, present from birth. However, we’re also told that the more you practice the better you will become. Together these views form one of the major psychological arguments, Nature vs Nurture. ‘Nature’; the idea that our interests, talents and flaws are inherited genetically, or ‘nurture’; the idea that we learn and change in response to our environment and upbringing.

Gallery exclusive artist Peter Spence, whose work can be seen above, would argue that the ability to draw and paint is nurture; it can certainly be learnt. Over the course of the year he will be holding group workshops and ‘one to one’ sessions to prove that anyone can paint! Of course, he is not alone in this belief. Let’s take a look through art history to see if we can shed some light on the nature nurture debate surrounding artistic ability.

Let us start with (a bit of cliche but with good reason) one of the greatest artists of all time, Pablo Picasso. Born into a modestly successful family, Picasso’s father was a teacher of drawing at the  local art school. He encouraged Picasso immensely during his formative years, allowing him to finish off his own sketches of the pigeons that flocked in the square outside their home. This drawing entitled ‘Bullfight and Pigeons’ is one of the earliest examples of Picasso’s work, drawn when he was just nine years old. The work is undoubtedly impressive for a nine year old, but a nine year old whose father encouraged him hugely and was an artist himself? We’ll leave that for you to decide.


As he approached his teenage years, his father enrolled Picasso in various classically taught drawing and painting classes. With all of this practice, his artistic skills grew exponentially. This piece entitled ‘The Barefoot Girl’ was painted when Pablo was just fourteen. This early talent is undoubtedly incredible, which could explain why so many are determined that Picasso’s artistic genius was at least in part, innate. However, by this stage in his artistic development, he had probably undertaken many more hours of training than a lot of people complete in a lifetime. It is no secret that the most effective way to improve a skill, is to practice and if there is one thing that we know from Picasso’s childhood, its that he was a prolific young artist, spending all of his time honing his skills.

There is an unfortunate tendency within the arts to label skill as a ‘gift’. The implication that people are simply born with artistic or musical ability. However, if we apply this to other professions, then the thought can appear utterly bizarre… Skills are learnt over time and as one can learn the skills necessary to perform dentistry, so can they learn the skills necessary to paint. The problem arises as we reach the age where we become self critical, we create drawings that don’t live up to our expectations, we lose confidence and then we stop painting.

Another myth that puts people off, is the idea left brain vs right brain. ‘Right brained’ individuals are creative and artistic, whereas left brained individuals are logical, good at scientific and mathematics. Peter Spence worked for most of his career as a maths teacher, making complex concepts easy for young people to understand. During this part of his career, he headed a research teams who produced maths text books as well – this would, in theory, make him as ‘left-brained’ as they come! However, now he works as a successful artist, which has to lead even the strongest believer in the left brain/right brain idea, to question their beliefs. Like Peter, a very famous actor also believes it is possible for anyone to paint…

For his role in ‘Mr Turner’ Timothy Aspall undertook two years of training, in order to be able to emulate the paintings of the great JMW Turner; one of the most celebrated painters of the 19th century. Aspall learned about methods, materials, colour theory, perspective and drawing from life. Of course, not all of us have the luxury of being able to take two years off to devote to painting, but not all of us aspire to be able to paint something imperceptible from an original by a great master. In the scene pictured right, Aspall stands not in front of an original Turner, but by one of his own pieces!


Like Aspall, Peter’s has honed his artistic talents enormously since his retirement from mathematics. He now works often in his studio space at Bailey Contemporary Arts, where he is always happy to discuss his current piece, as well as potential commissions. His work is very varied and draws inspiration from many different sources, including Pointillism and Aboriginal Dream Painting; the latter of which was the basis very successful workshops held at the gallery as well as  a 10ft community painting that involved 360 Brighton residents and visitors.

These workshops will now run regularly, from Saturday 3rd February (with a taster session on Saturday 27th January, apply here). These workshops aim to increase people’s confidence and  skills, whether they are already a capable painter, or are just beginning.

The workshops are very informal and involve working each on individual canvases, with the guarantee that you will take home your own finished painting. Some group workshops can also involve collaborative painting, as seen on the right. Sharing brushes and paints, keeping the mood light and encouraging creativity creates a comfortable space to work in and a stunning outcome!

Alongside these group workshops, Peter is also offering lessons tailored specifically to you. Perhaps you know a friend who loved to paint but has lost some confidence? Or you’re a complete beginner who feels that they don’t have a creative bone in their body! Treat yourself (or a friend) to the gift of painting. Gift vouchers are always available to buy at the gallery. You could be painting like Picasso in no time!