Just putting the stuff you hear me say a hundred times every week in one convenient place. 🙂
- Form and value are the most important concepts in creating a successful representational painting–get these right at the beginning.
- Forget “what” you are drawing, block in the basic geometric forms that make up the elements of your composition, then focus on the values and their relationship to one another–constantly ask yourself is the area next to the one I’m working on darker or lighter?
- Practice drawing from life at least 10-20 minutes each day, it will help you to see and understand the relationship of form and values, proportion and perspective–there is no “formula” for learning these things, you have to just constantly do them until it becomes second nature.
- A successful composition is based on balance. Colors, values and shapes repeat throughout the composition and keep the viewers eye engaged. A composition can be contemporary or traditional, neither is better than the other they are just different. A contemporary composition has multiple focal points and encourages movement and an overall essence of the elements contained within, a tradtional composition is more formal and relies on a strong focal point to tell a specific story.
- Color variation is an important factor in a succesful painting. Don’t just lighten your colors with white, use complementary colors to create your darks, this will heighten the intensity of the brighter, lighter areas. Burnt umber and cobalt or ultramarine make a beautiful dark neutral.
- Try working with a limited palette, it really helps to create strong color harmony and will ensure that your colors don’t fight with one another on the canvas. Three primaries + a dark neutral + white make an excellent limited palette. My favorite is: cobalt + alizarin + cadmium yello + burnt umber + titanium white. I will also frequently add cadmium yellow to this palette to make a bright green in landscape paintings. A limited palette does not limit your range of colors–it simply gives you a head start on color harmony and ensures that your colors will relate to one another without conflict. If the colors don’t work on your palette, they won’t work on your canvas.
- You can always pull in a color from the tube if you need it for a certain element in your painting. Just make sure it works with the colors in your limited palette and be sure to use it in at least three places in your composition, even if it is just used as a color variant in your darks.
- Use class time as practice and experimentation time–don’t expect to produce a masterpiece in a 2.5 hour studio class! Allow yourself the leeway to make mistakes and learn during the time you spend in class.
- Paint what interests you–not what you think will sell or get into shows. You will always do your best work if you are working on something that you want to paint. Work from life whenever possible, using photos is perfectly ok when necessary but use them only as a departure point–remember, you are not a copy machine, you are creating something new not replicating a photo. Always work from only your own photos, particularly if you plan to put them in a show or sell them–plagiarism or copyright violation are serious offences.
- Take ownership of your artistic goals–know what you want your work to say and how you want it to look. Realize that figuring those things out take time and that they are the type of things only you as the artist can do on your own–an instructor can’t do that for you. Look at art from the past, visit museums, become acquainted with many different styles of art. Learn to identify and focus on your strengths, and make every effort to improve those areas you feel are weak. Be open to new ideas, techniques and mediums–enjoy the process of creating and growing as an artist.