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Quang Ho: Essential Information for Painters of All Levels

Quang Ho: Essential Information for Painters of All Levels

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Colorado artist Quang Ho’s new instructional DVD series offers a concise version of what students can expect in his workshops, including his eight visual approaches to painting, his views on developing understanding, and a discussion of everything he wishes he had known before he started painting.

Interview by Allison Malafronte

Apples and Plums
2008, oil, 36 x 36.
Collection Jo Cole.

Workshop: What is the title and subject matter of the instructional DVD series you’ve recently finished producing, and what prompted you to create it?
Quang Ho: There are three DVDs in the series: Arrangement With Amaryllis: Painting the Still Life in Light and Shadow, Vi in the Studio: Painting the Figure in an Interior With Tonal Structure, and Nuts Bolts: 30 Years of Essential Information for the Painter. The making of this series was prompted by many requests from artists and students who have taken my workshops and classes over the years. I’ve been told that my teaching approach is unique and that the amount of information I share is rare. (I literally give my workshop students everything I know as clearly and logically as possible in five days.) I’ve considered writing a book, but I feel that I’m better at communicating spontaneously, so video is a logical choice.

WK: Why do you feel it’s important for professional painters such as yourself to pass on their knowledge to others?
QH: Teaching has forced me to find a way to clearly and concisely express my artistic process, so in that way it has been just as helpful to me as an artist as it has been to students. It’s an honor to teach, really—I can’t say enough how thankful I am to those who’ve shed light on my understanding in the past. For this reason I’m looking forward to teaching at American Artist’s Weekend With the Masters in September and to being a part of this traditional teaching legacy.

Harmony of Lemons
2009, oil, 36 x 36.
Collection the artist.

WK: Please walk us through each of the three videos you’ve produced, touching on the topics you covered and what viewers can expect to learn.
QH: In the Arrangement With Amaryllis video, I wanted to get across my entire thought process for painting a still life arrangement: from setup, to lighting, to systematically breaking down the painting as logically as possible from block-in to finish. Viewers will be able to see how I approach composition and the philosophical ideas behind building a beautiful structure, what materials and palette I use, and some basic color mixing and paint handling. They will also see me go back into the painting after a few days to develop a better finish, which is part of the artist’s problem-solving process.

In this video, I focus on the painting approach called “light and shadow”(one of eight visual approaches that I teach), which is what I am most concerned with when I start painting my still life. There are many different degrees and qualities of light and shadow, but essentially it is about painting the passage of light as it washes everything in the composition and the idea that what light doesn’t touch is in shadow. It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how many paintings are unsuccessful because of the lack of understanding and awareness of this process. Vi in the Studio focuses on painting a figure. I’ve had many requests to teach a figure-painting workshop, and in this video I show how I paint a figure in the context of a bigger environment. Viewers will see me explain the “local-tone” visual approach—one of the other eight visual approaches that I teach—in this video, which focuses on the richness of tones (or values) as the concept for building the structure of the painting, as opposed to the shapes of light and the shadow in the still life video. Degas, Van Gogh, Fechin, and many other artists worked in this approach.

Onions in White
2006, oil, 24 x 24.
Collection John Blythe.

Nuts Bolts is designed to give the viewer a complete understanding of painting in a compact lecture. It’s not so much about how to paint something specific but rather an explanation of everything I’ve come to understand about painting over my career. This is the same information that I give out in my five-day workshops and that I have even taught a yearlong class on at one point. It’s basically everything I wish someone had told me when I first started painting.
Part of this is sharing with viewers my concept of how art happens on three different levels and how all the great art movements have always emerged out of analysis, clarity, and an understanding of visual vocabulary. Through a series of demonstrations and examples, I explain the eight visual approaches in painting: light and shadow, local tone, form, back-lighting, dark-light pattern, line, color, and equalization. I also explain the basic knowledge of painting that every artist needs for personal development, which sometimes takes years or a lifetime to accumulate. I tried to give the viewer my complete understanding of what makes a painting work, explaining the dynamics of a good composition through analysis, as well as comparisons to science, nature, music, literature, and philosophy.

WK: What specific concepts or ideas make a painting work for you?
QH: The most important thing is being clear about the structure and visual concept of the subject before I start painting. Artists talk about the idea of big shapes, but they seldom talk about the context big shapes have to fit into—that’s where the eight visual approaches come in. So, if I’m not excited at the very start of the painting—that is, if the big shapes are not working together in a beautiful way—I won’t be excited enough to finish the painting. If the structure (the big shapes) are sound, it’s almost impossible to destroy the painting and, in fact, it allows for tremendous freedom and expression.

Mizuna Chefs
2008, oil, 36 x 36.
Private collection.

Sometimes I will work on a theme that I find interesting at the moment—such as a snowy creek bed that I came across or my recent series with the Colorado Ballet—and will challenge myself by playing with different color ideas, or high and low value keys, or various paint applications. Staying with the same theme helps me familiarize myself with the drawing and subject, and then I can forget about the subject matter and concentrate on expression.

WK: Is the information you provide in your instructional videos similar to the instruction you offer in your workshops?
QH: The information that I share in the videos is the same information I teach in my workshops, just in a concise form. The advantage with instructional DVDs or videos, however, is that you can watch the demonstration over and over again until it sinks in. That alone is worth the money, not to mention the invaluable information the artist imparts. If I’ve had instruction like this available to me at the start of my painting career, I would have undoubtedly advanced much faster.

My style of teaching is less about “how to” than it is about understanding. I do everything I can to impart ideas and knowledge in such a way that every student can understand. Once you understand the concept, once it’s clear in your mind, then rules are unnecessary, and there’s a chance for real expression.


2007, oil, 49 x 49.
Private collection.

WK: Why do you think it’s important for artists to develop understanding?
QH: Understanding in art is essential to making meaningful paintings, in the same way that Beethoven couldn’t have possibly composed his great symphonies without a deep understanding of how music works. He was also a very skilled musician, yet there were—and are—many skilled musicians who didn’t have depth behind the music. As an artist, you are both the composer and the musician. I was a highly skilled artist, but I didn’t become a good painter until I developed an understanding of what art is really about. Before that, I could only paint the physical appearance of a subject.

I would venture to say that there is no great art without understanding and intention. After all, the great artists that we admire throughout history have always been the ones to take understanding about painting to a new level, not the ones who were necessarily the best at rendering. My understanding about painting has been directly affected and illuminated by my search to understand life, science, music, literature, and so on. In the Nuts Bolts video, I attempted to share these ideas in more depth with viewers. There is no doubt that there is a beautiful corresponding thread that unites all disciplines of life.

Here is the real reason why understanding is important: To learn a bunch of rules about what to do and what not to do in painting doesn’t necessarily bring artists to understand the how and why of what they’re painting—in fact, holding on to rules will certainly restrict one’s ability to be free. Understanding will always set you free. If you don’t feel free as a painter, or as a person, then there’s something missing.

2001, oil, 20 x 16.
Private collection.

WK: Which Old Masters do you look to for inspiration, and which contemporary masters do you admire?
QH: The artists that I admire are as varied as my thinking about painting: Sargent, De Kooning, Fechin, Wyeth, Diebenkorn, Rembrandt, Degas, Sorolla. Sargent for his incredible virtuosity; De Kooning is the same as Sargent for the abstract movement; Degas and Diebenkorn for their endless quests to be better artists; Wyeth, perhaps, is my favorite artist of all time if one could be named, for his exquisitely poetic and passionate heart, his love for everything he saw and painted. I’ve often felt that if Wyeth couldn’t paint, he would have had to try to write it down or express it in some other way. In addition to admiring his ability to paint on a level that is uniquely his own, I also love the fact that Wyeth’s work is both realistic and profoundly abstract at the same time.

WK: What are your personal goals as an artist?
QH: One is to continue developing my skills and ability to paint better and more effortlessly—to achieve the highest level of ability at the craft that I can—and the second is to find out what I can personally achieve and discover with lines, shapes, values, colors, textures, and edges (the basic visual elements), regardless of what I’m painting. Because of that philosophy, I don’t adhere to any particular technique, style, or genre. I literally will go from an abstract painting or near-abstract painting to a very classical still life or figurative work in the space of a week. My next solo exhibition in November at Gallery 1261, in Denver, will showcase these various paintings more clearly for the first time.

Scarlet Silk
2008, oil, 36 x 48.
Collection Reid Figel.

The most important thing for me is to paint well and to paint with clarity and intention. I’m having more fun painting right now than I ever have—and that’s what it’s really about for me: I don’t want to go to sleep at night because there’s still so much left for me to create.

About the Artist Quang Ho was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the United States in 1975. He began drawing at the age of 3 and continued to develop his artistic interest and skill throughout high school. At the early age of 16, Quang held his first solo exhibition at Tomorrow’s Masters Gallery, in Denver, and from then on continued to have commercial success and recognition as a painter. He attended The Art Institute of Colorado, in Denver, on a Scholastic Art Awards Scholarship, and it was there that he studied with one of his greatest mentors, Rene Bruhin, who was the head of the drawing and painting department at the time. “Rene gave me a set of vocabulary and tools to build on,” the artist says. “Half of what I teach now is based on the information he imparted to me.” Quang’s work is in both national and international collections, and he has won numerous awards at important art shows throughout the country, including those organized by the Oil Painters of America, Northwest Rendezvous of Art, The Artists of America, and the Colorado Governor’s Invitational. The artist is represented by Claggett/Rey Gallery, in Vail, Colorado; Gallery 1261, in Denver; and Jack Meier Gallery, in Houston. For more information, visit his website at

Weekend With the Masters Instructor
In addition to teaching a full day and half-day master workshop, Quang Ho will be sharing his tips on “everything I wish someone had told me when I first started painting” in his “Nuts Bolts” lecture during American Artist’s Weekend With the Masters Workshop Conference September 10–13, 2009. For more information, visit

To see the Table of Contents for the Spring 2009 issue of Workshop magazine, click here.

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