The art world is one that reeks of freedom, expression, no boundaries and no rules. Art lessons weren’t like Maths or English Language; there were no rules or formulas to follow as you experimented with shape, form and colour as you pleased. To say there is a right or wrong way to practice your art would be absurd, of course.
However, as much as I hate to admit it, there are certain practices in art that are not vital, but will be very beneficial to you if you’re serious about your art.
Learn the basics.
This is an important first step for all artists, especially painters. However this step is probably one that we have all already taken in school, college or any other art lesson. These basic artistic methods are vital to our experimentation phase, which is what we were all doing in out first art lesson by either mixing paints together to see what colours we’d create, deciding whether watercolours or oils would achieve that look we were after or playing around with scaling and composition.
But how many of us, including myself, forget the very first things we were taught about these important methods and then got immensely frustrated when the results weren’t as expected.? (Not just me…right?)
After school, for example, I was completely set on moving on from experimentation and creating my own series of paintings. I was so hyped up to begin this collection of art which included everything I’d learned about light contrasts, portraiture and creating texture in paintings to create a more 3D effect. However, as I began my first piece, I was left feeling impatient and defeated. I’d spent 2 hours on one painting and had barely painted a corner of the canvas. It just didn’t look right; the colours were all off, the reds were too brown and the yellows were too yellow.
I’d forgotten about colour theory.
If you’ve been at all involved in art, you will have seen something similar to this before. This basic guide can tell you which colours compliment which and which colours can be mixed with other colours to create more muted tones and I think it’s so helpful for those who paint regularly, particularly those who paint in a more realistic style.
Now, I have one of these in front of me every time I paint because I now value this basic lesson more than some of the more complicated tricks.
So, don’t forget what your teachers told you about colours, shading and line work!
Track your progress as you work.
As you are making your piece, it is super important to document your progress as you go along by taking pictures or even filming yourself in the creative process.
Here, I took pictures as I continued to paint “My Desk” and it really does help in terms of tracking where I may have made changes and what techniques I have used to advance this painting.
For example, the eyes became much brighter and less beady, the nose shape was changed and the skin became more pink in colour. The assisted me well later on as I thought “I need o do something else to this bit. Well what did I do over here to create that effect?”
It also helps if you were unsuccessful though. Some paintings start off well but then go downhill from there, so they can act as a reference if you do wish to start from scratch.
Finally, it’s just super interesting to watch yourself in action! If you have one of those fancy phone devices, take a time-lapse of yourself from start to finish of a piece; it’s almost mesmerising to watch yourself in the zone.
ALWAYS use a reference photo…
Now, these are from back in school and I’m aware that they’re not masterpieces, but my most successful pieces of work were created with the help of a reference photo, whether that be from a printed out image from the internet or a selfie on your phone.
I think some people may feel like they’re cheating if they use a reference picture as they want to feel like their piece is 100% authentic, however, there is no shame in using another image as inspiration or as a guideline for your proportions or a certain technique.
I just cannot imagine ever trying to draw someone I know or a building or a certain type of flower from memory. Personally, it just never looks right.
And you at the back, shouting about expressionism and surrealism- I can almost guarantee that Dali had a clock or two in front of him and had to practice the hell out of drawing them before they finally melted at this fingertips.
…Even if it’s not a photo. (Use your own drawings as a reference!)
Okay, so a lot of people can draw the fruit bowl in front of them without any issues which I envy very much. However, I find it much easier to actually create a quick sketch and use THIS as my reference photo.
Above are some examples of reference sketches that I have recently created which I intend to turn into paintings, and I have a whole book full of these yet-to-be-painted doodles. It’s usually a rough pencil sketch, then perfected/tweaked with a black marker but after this I will not touch it- that means no colour, not to heavy on the shading or backgrounds, just a basic guide to painting the subject.
Because it’s so much harder to get a reference picture when you have something very specific in mind or if the thing that you want to paint may not always be at hand, (such as a bird) it is really useful to you as an artist to make a habit of making your own references when you don’t have a camera at hand.
And of course, not just as a reference. Making a rough sketch of anything you might want to create in more detail and higher quality is a must-do.
Save the rejects too.
This last one, for me, is the most important.
So many times in the past I have torn, crumpled and binned the end result of a failed painting. If it didn’t look how I wanted in my head, it went. I couldn’t bare to look at something I’d made that I didn’t like- it would sit there mocking me, reminding me of how little I had accomplished that day until I gave up and said good riddance.
Now, I take a picture of every painting I do, even the rejects.
This reject is a perfect example of art that laughs in the face of my insecurities. First and foremost, I consider myself to be an expressionist, a doodler and someone who is most comfortable drawing people. However, I wanted to give realism and nature a crack and so spent two hours redo-ing and redo-ing until this was the only result I could get.
To be honest, I was pretty pissed. I just couldn’t get those highlights right.
Despite the frustration and hatred that I feel towards this painting, I keep it for three reasons.
1. I can use this as a reference by picking out the things that I did do well, e.g, The colours were mixed pretty well, I’d say.
2. Other people may see this painting in another way and help me to see its perks when I can’t see any. I mean, a painting done by Maud Lewis was recently found in a bin at a second-hand shop. One man’s gold is another’s garbage.
3. I can track my progress. One day, I’m sure I will master the art of the wave, so it’ll be really nice for me to look back on this painting and know that I’ve improved.
Plus I can laugh back in the face of that stupid, shiny, smug water.
Thanks again for reading. I hope this was at all informative.