A painting can be a replication of what is seen, or it can be something more. The difference is in the design. And the best way to strengthen your design skills? Spend more time planning than painting.
You can develop a structure to planning easily by considering these ideas:
Understand concepts in your own way. In art, many approaches can seem vague and esoteric, and artists are not always effective in explaining what they mean, or even demonstrating it in a way that the student understands in his own mind. It may take you months of study to finally gain your unique understanding of color harmony, the function of pattern, light versus shadow interest, or the idea of orchestrating a painting, but until you have that understanding, your work will continue to feel uncertain.
Understand the conflict between emotional and logical thinking. Logic comes first. Emotional is last. Think Sargent, wearing a hole in the carpet as he walked back from his canvas to check sight size, then forward for one stroke of paint, and then back again, before giving the final flourish. As addicting as the emotion can be, save it for the end and remain disciplined as you build your structure.
Know the risks in combining too many visual approaches. You can blend painting styles to create your own visual vocabulary without confusion: but when you try to combine too many ideas the viewer gets lost. As you plan out your painting, decide your visual approach and maintain that throughout. If a subject is better expressed with Impressionism, keep your style and the principles of Impressionism consistent to the end. Check yourself: we don’t often realize when we’ve slipped into a different approach because, halfway through the painting, another idea occurred that seemed better than the first. If going for a chiaroscuro instead of the close value/color harmony idea is actually better, rework the entire painting, or start a new one. Just don’t flounder between hot and cold.
Return to the basics. Use thumbnail sketches, grids, and compositional structure ideas to plan the placement of your shapes and center of interest. Determine what the finished surface quality of your painting will be before you start painting, and build up the paint, decide on mediums, determine brushes and knives accordingly. Be clear in your mind what the painting is about, and how you will emphasize that – center of interest, color contrast, linear elements or abstract shapes – no matter what your style of painting, it is important to successful design planning to know clearly what you intend to accomplish. And be methodical in the steps, once you have decided.
It may seem like planning takes all the fun out of painting. Certainly painting can be fun.
But it can be a whole lot more.
If you are struggling with painting concepts, devise a method of study that works for your temperament. Find two or three artists whose work exemplifies what it is you are trying to understand. Write about what you see them doing, mark up copies of paintings with directional lines to determine placement and possible grids, keep exploring the ideas that seem most compelling to you. Where I could not wrap my mind around the musical analogy many artists use to describe orchestrating a painting, I did eventually develop my own way of understanding the concept and to put it into practice. It is always an ongoing process, no matter where you start you will never stop finding nuances and higher understanding - and that is what makes painting a lifelong exploration.
It means a lot to me that you have taken my words, and my art, into your lives. So I would like to thank and welcome the new subscribers to this blog, and those who have also subscribed to my newsletter. In my newsletter I write more about art technique, my motivations behind specific paintings, and occasionally offer paintings for sale at special prices. Here is a convenient link to subscribe to my newsletter .
I would also like to thank those of you who have purchased my book, Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist, over the past month. I hope this book helps you with the intrinsic motivation, as well as offering practical ideas and a bit of humor at the end of the day.