10 things I’ve learned about painting

Over the years I have learned a lot about painting, and it didn’t always make sense. I had professors telling me one thing and friends and family telling me another. However, there is no teacher better than experience. I’ve finally reached the point where I am confident in my artistic direction and ready to tackle the world as a professional. For those who are still on their way, here are 10 things I’ve learned on my journey so far.

1. Stretch your own canvas

Buying stretched canvas from the store is convenient, but the quality suffers as a result. There is nothing worse than spending a fortune on canvas only to find that it is wrinkled or loose. Stretching your own canvas can save money in the long run and ensures a high quality product every time. There are plenty of online demonstrations if you don’t know how.

2. Scale affects your audience

I recently discovered that I love painting on a large scale. The strokes are more gestural and there is more room to experiment with color. Everything about it feels great. But then I realized that the framing costs for a 30×40 inch painting were huge, and there were few people with a space big enough to accommodate artwork this size. When you are first starting out, it may be wise to create smaller paintings so they appeal to more people.

3. Practice drawing

If you are asked to commission a painting, odds are good that accuracy is a key goal for the work. You will save yourself time and a headache if you draw out a plan on your canvas before you begin painting. It is easy to get excited and want to apply paint right away, but think of the drawing as the spine that will form the support of the painting.

4. Learn from other people

If you are looking for inspiration, the best place to find it is by looking at art. When you paint, think about the qualities you admire in your favorite paintings and try to incorporate them into your own work. There are also plenty of demonstration videos online you can watch to master a new technique.

5. Don’t rely on shortcuts 

It may seem enticing to try shortcuts that make a painting evolve faster, but a real art aficionado will be able to tell. To make art that is great, you simply have to put in the hours of hard work.

6. Sketch from life

People today are constantly using their phones to get information, but avoid doing this when painting. A picture on a phone loses its range of color and is flattened even before it gets painted. To make paintings that are true to life, paint them from life. If you can’t bring your easel to the subject, at least get in the habit of sketching on location and use the drawings to inform your painting. You gain an entirely new perspective when you get to see how something moves and looks in its entire surroundings.

7. Paint what you love

If you want to make painting a life-long endeavor, you need to paint what you love. This will keep you excited about your work and keep it looking fresh.

8. Contrast 

Perhaps the biggest struggle for new painters is showing contrast. A great solution for this problem is to paint using only tints and shades of one color for the first layer. This will help imply depth in the piece, and the actual colors can be added later.

9. Give yourself prompts

When you are really struggling with a work, sometimes the best solution is to take a step back and try something new. Brainstorm prompts for yourself such as working monochromatically, adding a pattern or flipping the work upside down. The prompts should force you to make dramatic changes to the piece which will either solve the problem or simply add depth to the work. Remember, you can always go back to painting in your normal style to finish the work.

10. Passion means persistence

Painting is not easy. It is fun to look at art, but sometimes good art needs to be studied deeply to be understood. You will have supporters, but there will be plenty of people with a negative attitude throughout your career. In order to succeed, you have to be persistent. Your dreams are yours to follow, and no one can take that away from you. As long as you paint what you love, success will find you.

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