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Can I learn paint? Ellen Michel |Sept 2, 21|

Updated: Dec 6, 2023



When I started I had no knowledge of painting, nor did I consider I had any artistic ability but the passion was there.

My aim is to pass-i-on, the passion of painting because I know what learning to paint has given me over a lifetime.

I have been teaching oil painting alongside practicing the craft for over 40 years. Learning to paint has given me an interesting life, meeting people, painting on location in different parts of the world, and on reflection the paintings I created have continued to hold indelible memories, long after the trips, even after the painting is sold.

Over a long career studying, teaching, and talking with students, I have developed a philosophy, that everyone is a creative being with a right to a creative life. This remains the motivation for me continuing to hand on the knowledge I have gained.

At school I did not particularly excel at drawing or any art form, but I found myself daydreaming about the aesthetic of the visual world. I had a desire to get inside these visions of the world and make them concrete, but I had no vehicle allowing me to do that.

I distinctly remember being given the opportunity at high school art class to do my first oil painting. It was a profile portrait of my friend who sat beside me. I remember the feeling I had when the oil paint on the brush slid across the canvas. It was a significant moment in my life and from then on, I was compelled to pursue that feeling again and again.

After attempting to experiment to learn to paint I decided to take lessons in painting, and it was the best thing I ever did. It empowered me, gave me confidence to continue practicing and improving. When I was given an opportunity to teach, I jumped at it because I wanted to pass on the knowledge to more people so they too could discover what I had experienced in ‘picking up the brush’.


Over the years when prospective students have contacted me, there is a consistent theme in their enquiry.

They have had a similar experience as I did in school and say they have had a desire to learn to paint as far back as their school days, but for many reasons they have not pursued that desire. Many also say they were not a top art student at school and lack confidence in their artistic ability to learn to paint.


The artist has a mystique surrounding it, inferring artistic ability as the gift of the few, the genius with copious amounts of talent. This is partly true in the sense, we are all born with creative ability, however there is an artificial construction encouraged by institutions to elevate some above others. We are taught this way at school, and it is not helpful for your own artistic ability. We need to educate and know that we are all creative beings and have our own unique voice in the world.

It’s about going through the world with a sensitive eye and intuition with the passion and dedication to pursue the ambition.


Prospective students tell me that they cannot draw, and they cannot draw a straight line.

I say to them that’s excellent because a line or a straight line is something we don’t want in a painting. This means you have no bad habits to break and can be taught to be a painter, not necessarily a drawer. Although your drawing skills will improve as you learn to paint.

Drawing and painting are two very different things and end in two different outcomes. We only make rough compositional marks on the canvas before starting to paint because once the paint covers the marks, they are rendered useless.


Knowledge is power and confidence building. With some simple but powerful knowledge you can learn to paint, giving you many benefits in your life far beyond painting.

With carefully crafted step by step instructions, you are taught the fundamentals of constructing a painting and at the same time learn greater observational skills of all facets of the visual world, as you become more confident.

The simple step by step instructions give a clear path to ‘the next step in the painting’, and before you know it you have produced your own beautiful work in a short time frame. Although I recommend continuing to learn the nuances of painting. Remember practice makes progress.

And each painting is a step towards the next one.

The fundamental thing I teach is to ‘see’. To see the nuances, light effects, the colour, the shapes.

Students excitedly say to me –

Before I learnt to see I was merely looking, now a new world has opened to me. It’s an exciting and alive view of the world giving me endless possibilities and confidence to paint.

In conclusion, I would add, learning to paint is a worthwhile journey for you to take, empowering you to go far and see the world with new eyes. It’s as hard to learn to paint as making the decision to start.

Ellen Michel.

Welcome to Ellen Michel Art School 2021 by Ellen Michel | Feb 19, 2021 | Art Blog | 0 comments

Welcome to 2021 everyone, it is good to be here. There is much to be grateful and optimistic about. Even though the pandemic is still a threat, our island home has protected us from much of its effects.

I hope you and your families are all well and the worsted of the pandemic has not impacted on you.

We can probably all say we will never forget 2020.

My 2020, was a crazy year of new and old experiences brought into sharp focus as the turmoil unfolded. There were moments of complete joy and other moments of anxiety and sometimes unimaginable sadness. All of which has brought me here, to 2021.

While I am not advocating breaking the rules, I think it was hard for some people to accept the rules of social distancing and isolation and by the end of 2020 I was struck by how unnaturally these rules run counter to the laws of everything – physics, chemistry, biology, consciousness. Connectivity is constantly happening whether we like or not. No wonder it was so hard for some people to do this.

Connectivity is why the universe and everything in it, exists. On a chemical, biological, energic level life is bound together with a series of connections that have reactions or act upon connecting with outcomes which are not necessarily predictable or desirable. The crisis of Covid-19 was a result of connectivitybetween two animals and demonstrates how a chance connection with the right variants creates something new and not so desirable.

‘As Nadeem Aslam put it­­­­­­­ ‘Pull a thread and you’ll find it’s attached to the rest of the world.’

Yes, connectivity is the theme that won’t let me rest. And I have been working on unravelling the idea and have become so serious about it I have now decided to let it all go, heeding the wise words of T.S. Elliott:

‘For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.’

So for now it’s on to Morocco

Losing my connection to Home. Gaining new connections

2020 started out as a fairly genteel excursion to Morocco with a group of Artists and Writers for a three-week sojourn from you, my students with a promise to return with great gusto and new insights and stories of the colourful fascinating culture.

There are many examples of writers and artists drawn to Morocco’s shores for inspiration and to find a connection? It’s culture which is influenced by the Berber, Arabian and European cultures inspired such artists and writers like Painter Henri Matisse and Eugene Delacroix to leave us timeless colourful images that we can connect within our imagination; and writers like Paul Bowles who spent a lifetime writing about Morocco and collaborating translations into English with Moroccan writers like Mohamed Choukri.

My intention for the trip was to tread lightly but immerse myself and connect in a gentle way with the culture, the art and the landscape. To wander the narrow-cobbled streets of the old medinas. Explore the work of today’s artisans, the glazed ceramics, textiles, spices, metal work, jewellery and oils. To see the exquisite art of mosaic in humble and holy places. And experience the natural landscape, its agricultural practices of crops and herds, desert life with its vast, mind opening drifts of sand rolling on forever.

Connecting the gamut of visceral experience

It was true, it was a wonderful trip and I loved every moment of the creative journey with fellow artists to the final bang at the end which brought dimensions of anxiety, drama and great sadness: in a sense a connecting catalyst, rounding off and heightening my awareness, that chance connections are either fortunate or unfortunate.

When I left for Morocco on 29 February 2020, Covid was barely a subheading in the news in Australia. I met with the little band of writers and artists, numbering eight, in Tangier, then onwards, through the blue city of – Chefchaouen, then Fezand the Riff Valley, to the eastern edge of the Sahara desert where we stayed at Cafe Tissardmine, an artist’s retreat situated in a small oasis village in Rissini, in the south east corner of Morocco finally ending in Marrakech.

Read more bout the art and the artists I travelled with Goat’s teeth and rusted wire

Arriving in the vibrant flourishing culture of Marrakesh, from a high, totally visceral experience in the desert oasis at Café Tissardmine we were confronted with the devastating news of the monumental advancements of the pandemic Covid-19 around the world. I and my fellow travellers were flung into a state of emergency being brought back to reality. Shocked out of our creative dream so to speak. And from then on, we spent the evening and night contacting home to arrange new flights home as the Moroccan government had decided to close the borders at midnight the next day and that we could not wait for our original flight home. Further adding salt to the wound the original flights were cancelled too.

The original plan was to spend three days in Marrakesh in the Chambres d’Amis, a lovely little riad in Morrocan/French style. Such a peaceful tranquil environment, a retreat from the bustling marketplace of the city centre outside its walls.

Having finally secured a ticket home my trip was only cut short by 2 days, so I was very grateful for that as has been demonstrated in more recent times there have been many Australians stranded for many months in very uncertain situations overseas.

The hasty retreat from Morocco was very dramatic and tragic compared with the wonderfully festive atmosphere of our arrival in Marrakesh. Arriving just after sun set the city square was alive with dancing, music, street stalls and crowds of happy people.

On leaving at midday the next day it could not have been more of a contrast. I felt the heavy cloud of uncertainly. It was an eerie feeling of doom and that I was a participant and witness in a pivotal moment of history. It was a solemn walk, the same square now so sad and weeping. Traders packing up their stalls watched by police who wanted them off the streets in a hurry. The atmosphere was so heavy with grief and lose. I could hardy breath and the only relief I had was to shed a tear as I walked the last steps to the taxi. I felt for the Moroccan people, who are not the wealthy merchants of the silk road but ordinary people eking a living on a day to day basis. So uncertain was this moment, it made history in the mind. Arriving at the departure airport there was more turmoil this time it was Australians rioting and demanding they get a flight home. It was so dramatic and confronting to navigate through them to present my flight ticket at the desk. And then the flight home was longer than normal as the only way out of Morocco was by Air France, who still serviced Morocco, which meant we had to have a spot over in Paris. Arriving home exhausted it was not difficult to sleep and isolate for 14 days.

The final dramatic ending was a bonus for creative material and I went into 2020 fuelled with so many questions, thoughts and links to explore. Which has always been a driving force as a painter, teacher and art theorist.

Embarking on a new way of teaching painting classesa new way of connecting with my art students

Another positive and new way of communicating was discovered in 2020 when I connected with my students by Zoom, running Oil Painting Classes. Amazingly the experience now has developed my teaching style as more articulate and accurate in demonstrating painting, explaining theories and corrections to paintings. While it was new to all of us, I have great admiration and am grateful for students who persevered to work out how they could manage the zoom classes from their homes. Between us we have had very successful classes, which will continue in the new year. And depending on the Covid situation we will also resume studio classes in 2021 starting on Saturday, 20 March.

  • The benefits of Online Zoom Oil Painting Classes.

  • The new mode of communication with the Zoom classes has shown there are great benefits in working remotely for students. Students learnt to be self-sufficient, managing their painting experiences and painting equipment which in the end has led to students gaining more confidence in their own abilities. Now they feel they can set up and paint with confidence on their own.

  • When students go on holidays, they can have a remote, on location class. And if I travel to a remote location, I can share the experience in a Zoom class.

  • We don’t have to be in the studio to have a connection. Our connection can be a wider world on the World Wide Web.

Connectivity in practice and theory

Unable to remove the teacher in me I realize what I teach is all about connectivity.

I teach the natural order of perception. The method teaches using patches of light carefully observed in the Order of Perception that is everything is connect and edges will only appear when the patches are different tones. Essentially the visual world never has a smooth hard cold edge between objects even when there is a change of tone . Even the physical edge of precisely engineered steel is pixelated under a microscope. The building blocks of our world are the atoms, like a sphere but with a fuzzy edge in varying degrees of density. The outer layer of the atom composes entirely of the electron orbitals, which are like a cloud of different densities at different times. Learn more What is the shape of an Atom?

The first photograph ever taken was so grainy that the impressionist painters connected with the idea and started the Impressionist Movement . Below photograph made by a camera was taken in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce The World’s First Photograph Photographer Studio 1893 Visit: 20 First Photo from the History of Photography Connecting to old friends in 2020 Also, I encourage students to listen to what the subject is saying and respond accordingly.

  • I have taught for many years painting is a language of connectivity. And in my own painting career I have many ‘go to’ motifs which I have developed a deep and abiding relationship with to which I return time and time again using the language of painting. In 2020 this practice seemed even more poignant than ever.

  • One of these motifs is my blossom tree whose inspiring floral display over 20 years, reassured me that the seasons come and go and will return, like a miracle at the exactly right time. Every year I feel compelled to communicate with her. I want to honour her, preserve her in perpetuity, admire her intellect in knowing when to flower and when to lose her leaves. I want to thank her.

  • Another reassuring connection in 2020 is that my Blue Tongue Lizard returning with her young. And again I marvel at this little creature, her wisdom and knowing so connected to the rhythm’s of her body and her environment on which she relies for her survival. I find poetry is my way of connecting to her. In 2020 I have slowed to her pace and have spent more time in her company communing throughout the day when she feels the right conditions prevail. I know she comes out at night because there are often silver snail trails leading to her perfectly air- conditioned snail trap-hide away, where they suddenly disappear. It’s pretty obvious too, since my lizard has made her home at my home, she has impacted on the snail population in my garden as I am not crunching on snail shells on the path to my front door in the dark anymore. I am grateful for her presence and I have learnt so much from her. My writing is a physical language by which to make a connection helping me to feel closer to her, to honour and thank her for the joy she brings to my life.

Even though I promised myself I would not be the teacher today I am afraid I slipped into old habits. But the main thing is I have made the connection with you and I send you much love and happiness for the coming year. And I look forward to seeing you either in Online Classes or in Studio Classes in the first week of February, all being well.

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