Let me show you my best painting secret!
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It is You, Not Your Materials That Count
Pretty heady stuff. Painting genius? I know there is a big chunk of work involved in producing world class paintings. But let me ask you this. If you worked on your painting consistently for an hour every evening would your paintings improve quickly and consistently. Of course you must agree, because this should be self evident. Time is something we can manage if we want to. But what is really holding you back?
The Real Reason Your Painting is Not Progressing
It is not talent. You have that already. It is not lack of time, because we all have the same hours in a day and the ability to manage what we do with our time. It is also not the quality of your materials. Not to go too far here, but cavemen produced fantastic work with mud and blood. Many of those cave paintings are lasting better than Da Vinci’s last Supper painting. Makes you think doesn’t it?
From what I can see over the years observing many artists is that it all comes down to commitment and confidence. The two work together, because with commitment comes the confidence to keep trying things. As you see your steady progress your confidence grows too. Your commitment becomes easier to maintain.
If You Want it You Will Try
Recently I watched an artist, who had not painted for many years, try to resume her painting. She had forgotten all the tips and tricks of oil painting, but after a quick refresher course she picked up her brush and tried her first oil painting in ages. Her first painting was a little muddy in colour. This was the warm up. Then she picked up a new painting panel and produced a lively, warm and juicy still life painting. She used thick paint where appropriate and took real risks when doing so.
Instead of worrying about exact drawing and cautiously painting “between the lines” she laid on the paint with confidence. Fortune favors the brave and the painting was a joy to see. Her confidence brimming she could not want to paint her next one.
Paint the Painting You Really Want
So often new artists follow a formula and expect that the end result will be good art. Sadly this is seldom the case. The formula is not about technique, but rather exectations about how the painting should look.
The approach is: Get a nice looking photo.
Draw out the photo onto a canvas so that everything is captured in lines.
Then paint in the lines to get a painting that matches the photo, more or less.
End result? Deep sigh! Of course that is not what any artist really wants. But what to do?
Observation My Dear Watson
My first tip is to start seeing with intention. Often termed “to see like an artist”. Sherlock Holmes made his deductions seem elementary because he was a master of observation. This includes observing other artists you admire. Watch carefully to see how they begin a painting. How the brushwork is carried out. What do the brush and bristles actually do to each shape they make? Look closely. Can you make similar shapes with your brush?
Also look at the colours not simply as pretty hues. Observe the light and dark colour and the temperature of the colour. Why is the light yellow so vibrant? Because it is alongside a deep violet colour. And so on. Try to put similar variations in your shapes of colour. Build the puzzle brushstroke by brushstroke.
Forget the Lines
Yes drawing is important in the sense that your objects need to look like what you intend. Proportions and perspective and such things will look correct if you follow the observation method. What is important is that you think of drawing something with shapes. Not lines. You have a big brush in your hand not an architect’s propelling pencil. Use the brush to make bold shapes.
Compose for the Prize
To be honest composition is more important than accurate drawing. I think digital cameras are teaching us to click away at any old thing. But when you had a spool of only thirty-six shots you soon learned to compose a picture well before wasting money on a boring photo. Why not have the same attitude to your painting? Paint is not cheap. Take time to compose for bold and powerful paintings. Learn the craft of composition. Crop your reference photos until you are satisfied with the best composition. That approach will reward you much more over the long run.
Commit to Learning by Trying Things
This is why I love the loose approach to painting. Frankly I do not have the patience to paint transparent layers for weeks on end to pursue photo realism. To each their own. But many artists and collectors seem to feel the same way. This is because there is an engaging mystery in a loose or painterly impression. The power of suggestion draws you in and you are rewarded with little discoveries as you observe the painting.
This is why you need to try things with your painting. The light in those trees near the house? How can you describe all of that with a few brushstrokes, a smear of paint and a number eight bristle brush? The challenge and the delight when you pull it off is very satisfying. But it means taking a risk. Yes you can scrape it off and try again and that is fine too. Keep at it.
It is Available to Everyone
Painting well is achievable for everyone. It is a decision that needs action. Simply commit to painting consistently over the next month. Learn and try out things without fear of judgement from friends or family. This is just painting so let us relax and enjoy it. I am confident that you will move into the next month and go forward from there with increasing confidence and pleasure.
In the video below I briefly discuss the concept of loose painting and why I am confident that you will enjoy this approach too. You can find out more from my course on the topic. Happy painting!