How to paint better sounds like a simple aim and worthy goal. After all artists look to express themselves through their work. A natural progression in painting skills and technique is desirable. Yet too often beginners get bogged down making the same mistakes over and over. It is time to break this pattern.
Today I want to share three powerful painting techniques you can use to grow your painting skills quickly.
One: Paint Big Paintings Small
First off I know the attraction of painting a big canvas. In fact my first oil painting was on a huge canvas. I was fascinated with the big surfaces used by masters like Claude Monet and other heros I admired.
What happened to my first big oil painting? Cringe! It no longer exists even though I kept it for years to remind myself of my basic mistakes.
There is nothing to be gained by painting large scale for the sake of it. At least when starting out. Just the opposite. This approach will more likely reinforce bad painting habits. This impacts your self esteem and you will doubt your ability to paint well.
The problem with large canvasses:
It takes a lot of planning and skill to pull off a large work. There is the expanse of space that must to occupy with good brushwork, colour and composition. You must resolve all that foreground, middle ground and distant planes. A real task even for experienced artists.
Instead try simplifying the big scene into a few shapes on a small canvas. Even 6"x 8"and 10"x 12"formats can communicate expansive landscapes. The painting above of Plettenberg Bay could have been a large panorama. But instead I painted it on a 10"x12"panel. I have simplified the scene into a concept based on the cool afternoon light.
The other benefits for small formats are:
Two: Make Starts Your End Goal
Too often beginners focus on producing a finished master piece. Every time they do a painting they are hoping for a completed work that will impress. This is not realistic and leads to deep disappointment.
In almost any other human endeavor such goals so early on would seem laughable. But artists figure that innate talent will make it happen. Most times not and that hurts the ego. If this is you then stop this self-defeating approach.
Instead practice your starts. Athletes do this all the time. Make a bad start and you cannot win the race. It becomes a struggle. So take the time to plan a little more.
Sketch little thumbnail drawings. Use felt tip markers and make bold shapes to tune up your composition. Mix paint colours that you expect using. Especially the grey and neutral colours. Get in the zone of thinking your painting through as shapes and colours.
Tone your canvas with a turpsy wash and then set out your palette nice and neat. Your brushes, painting knife and colours arranged and ready. Then begin.
Make sure the ONE thing is working. The one thing is that element that charmed you to begin with. That passage of light through the dark trees? Whatever it may be make sure you have put it in. Not perfected, but suggested.
Then leave it alone. Begin the next painting.
Three: Get to Know Warm and Cool Colour
I know that expertise with manipulating colour temperature is not an overnight thing. I suspect that masters have a lifelong fascination with colour temperature. It is a sublime part of the painting expereince. That is why I encourage beginners to start on this early.
Even a basic appreciation for colour temperature will enable you to make an immediate impact with your colours. In a previous article I go into this in more detail. Also see the above painting for an example of warm and cool colour relationshsips.
The First Rule of Colour
A common error, for example, is to paint shadows dark, but with warm colour. Burnt umber for instance. A good rule of thumb to remember is that if the light is warm then the shadows will be cool. In sunny conditions make sure you use cool colour in your shadows. This usually means adding blue to your mix. Simple, but looks great when applied.
Then in cool light, like overcast or indoors, the shadows will be slightly warmer. These basic rules are easy to remember and worth using when you develop your painting. Even when making starts as suggested in item 2. The results will be a more lifelike and authentic.
Take the time to try out these approaches. You will find a more confident painting style developing. This natural growth will sustain you over years. A better outcome than early frustration and burnout.
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