30 Painting Tips To Keep You At The Easel
Do you find yourself getting stuck on a colour? Are you scratching your head as to why that particular painting didn’t work? Well I’ve been there, and I’ve found that getting the hang of a few basic tips and tricks really helps settle the artistic nerves, and can help make you a more confident and better painting. I’ve collected various ideas from living and past artists that I thought I’d share in one handy (and possibly long) blog post, so hopefully you won’t have to go searching through three different notebooks and internet links like I do. Each one of these tips has helped me immensely, and I’ve realised just how many lessons I can learn from one painting to the next. I can’t write credits for every item on this list, as I’ll be honest I don’t remember most of them. If you see a tip and you know who said it or where you found it, please let me know in the comments!
Note – most of these are about oil painting but can be useful for other mediums too. 1. Fat over lean
So, this one is written in every Art 101 book, every how to blog and practically every video I’ve seen. But I’ve got to admit, tip #1 is definitely one I’ll be sticking to. I used to, back before I had a clue, paint pretty much all the layers in the same consistency of oil paint, which resulted in heavy work on the top layers and eventually, cracking paint. Start with a thin base layer, then gradually thicken with each additional layer.
Painting my sister’s amazingly fluffy cat, Cali needed some nice thick brushwork.
While it can be tempting to plunge straight into a painting when inspiration hits, don’t. Things work better with a plan, and a glaring composition error could show itself too late. Create a few thumbnail sketches before you start: move and change elements until you’ve got a few variations. Then you’ll be able to see where you should take the idea.
Don’t work on just one area
Don’t focus on a small area of your painting, particularly during the early stages. Working on the whole painting at once lets you harmonise your colours and your strokes (ever accidentally changed brush half way through and realised the brushstrokes look different?), and will unify the painting, particularly during the earlier stages.
An element in the background of a painting can be repeated in the foreground and/or the subject. Whether this is a particular symbol, line or brushmark.
Interject similar colours in one area to add texture. The Impressionists were particularly fond of this technique, and awesome at it.
Adding touches of blue just felt right!
Save your brightest whites
I’ve learned this lesson a good few times. If you’re painting white areas, go darker than you think. That way, you’ll have more of a tonal range of white to work through to really bring a bright highlight to the fore. – Andrew Tischler
I have to whole-heartedly thank Andrew, this painting wouldn’t have been the same without his advice!
Don’t go too dark…
…too early. In the first layers of painting you want to establish tones while giving yourself the option to adjust. If you go too dark too soon, you may find it too difficult to correct if you need to later on.
Get the values right
You’ve laid down an awesome composition, blocked it all in, but then you realise that some colours aren’t right. Take your time mixing (and re-mixing if you need to) to get the right colours from the get-go. You’ll save yourself plenty of time (and paint and wasted canvas). – Chuck Black
Shadows thin, highlights thick
Make your shadow colours more transparent, perhaps with a bit of medium, to make them look more realistic. Save your fat paint for your brightest highlights.
Small and large shapes
Whether it’s rocks, trees or abstract shapes, varying the sizes helps to create visual interest and looks more natural.
Your darkest darks or your lightest lights should be dominant, not both.
Change direction of your strokes
If you’re looking for a loose, textured painting that creates visual interest, vary the direction of your brushstrokes. You can then leave them visible or gently softening them with a blending brush.
The blending brush is your best friend
Speaking of blending brushes, this cheap soft eBay brush has saved me on many a painting. Getting a smooth blend without one is almost impossible. And the trick to a smooth blend: a very soft brush (some artists even use makeup brushes), a light touch and a gentle back-and-forth u-shaped motion. – Wilson Bickford
One abstract focus
When painting abstractly, focus on colour or shape or texture or line. Don’t try to combine them all into one: that’s why painting in a series is so much fun.
Pops of colour
Little tiny pops of a vibrant colour will encourage the eye to travel around a painting.
‘The hump’ is real
Every artist gets to a point in a painting that Chuck Black affectionately calls ‘the hump’. This is the messy, ugly stage of a painting where things may be starting to go wrong. You’re not sure what to do next, and you’re scared to touch the painting for fear of making it worse. Well, oil paints are forgiving. So push on through the hump and keep painting with confidence!
Don’t rush an area
There’s often an area of a painting we don’t enjoy. Maybe that big patch of grass will look amazing, but you don’t have the patience. But don’t rush. An area that’s been rushed will look rushed, even to the untrained eye. Stick it out, take a break, turn up Spotify, but take your time.
Blue is your best friend
Blue is an amazing colour. Blue allows you to instantly add depth to a 2D surface. The further away an object, the more atmosphere stands between you and it. Add some more blue into your mixes for distance objects and watch how they recede.
Any line longer than two inches should be ‘interrupted’. Painting must look ‘random’ and ‘natural’ even if you’re painting modern architecture or man made objects.
Thick foreground, thin background
Apply your thickest paint in the foreground to move things foreword and the thinnest paint in the distance, not forgetting tip #1 of course. – Johannes Voothuis
Don’t throw your old, knackered brushes
Old, twisted, dry and generally unloved brushes shouldn’t be resigned to art history just yet. These brushes can be used for everything from sgraffito to creating interesting textures.
Use your fingers
While Iris Scott might be the master of finger painting, we shouldn’t be afraid to get our hands dirty. Finger blending can often achieve a much softer and controlled blend than a brush.
Planning is becoming my best friend. At the half-way point and various points before and after, I’ll stop, look, take some photos, and analyse. Take a step back and write down what needs fixing before you pick up your brush again. If you’ve gone awry with too much shadow, got an angle wrong or slightly mucked up the accuracy of your drawing, now is a good time to make those corrections. Also write down anything you need to bear in mind for the next stage.
Use the Rule of Thirds
An almost universally touted principle in art as well as photography. If you divide a composition into thirds along the vertical and horizontal, you should place the main elements of your painting on the junctions. Similar to placing a corner bet in Roulette. It’s much more pleasing and creates a more interesting composition.
Don’t use black
Or Payne’s Grey for that matter. Lamp black and others are just too dark, they look fake. Mix your own delicious darks using my favourites: ultramarine blue and van dyke brown or burnt umber. Same goes for Payne’s Grey, it’s a weak transparent colour that doesn’t hold up to much. You can create greys from almost any other colour in your palette.
There you have it, I hope you have taken a few useful tips from this list. I know I’ll have most of these if not all of them in my head when I’m next at the easel.
What tip/tips did you find most useful, and why? Let me know below 🙂
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