STEP BACK FROM YOUR WORK REGULARLY
(AKA “Stand Back and Squint)
When you’ve worked on your painting solidly for an hour it’s easy to not see “the wood for the trees.”
Critical point....It’s important to KNOW that the viewing distance is different to your working distance.
People will normally view your work from at LEAST a meter or two back from it. YOU need to step back and look at your work often to judge how it is developing from a viewer point of you. What is working? Can you do more of that? Anything not working? How do you fix it? Check your progress.
The “ squint” lets you see your work with similar lack of detail as someone would see it when they enter the room or gallery when it’s hanging. They won’t see much detail from across the room. Ideally, you’d like to intrigue them enough for them to want to see your painting more closely.
Standing back helps YOU NOT get so distracted by details that the composition has twisted out of shape or scale. The ability to ignore detail is a fabulous skill to have.
So that means you should stand back a bit over a meter AS WELL AS from across the room,
Remember, if the general shape & size relationships are wonky, all the most perfect detail in the world won’t fix it or cover it. It will be wonky forever!
How much detail you do is up to you. How faithful you stay to the original reference is up to you. Equally it is OK to change course at any stage of your painting. There is a greater need for you to stand back before and after EVERY change you make.
When your finished painting is hanging you don’t want to realise that something is not quite right with the general look and feel of it.
One of the pros of keeping detail light on is that the viewers without knowing they’re doing it, fill in the blanks from their own visual information. They are engaged if your painting is intrinsically solid! Success!
Something that students often do is compare their finished painting to a photographic reference and can be highly self-critical. So we take a photo of their finished work and guess what? In most, if not all cases, they find a photograph of their work (like the reference) is taken FROM A VIEWING distance and is just as appealing if not more attractive than the original. WOW!
Unless you’re churning out the same painting time after time, every painting you do will be the first time you attempt it. Like a composer writing a story or a piece of music there’ll be a few false starts, but it will be reviewed by the author constantly. As the artist, your painting will evolve but it can to go “off the rails” very easily if you don’t stand back regularly to make sure you are on task, so....
Stand back and Squint!
Always work from the General to the Particular.
BUT What does this actually mean in painting?
The Particular means detail.
One of the most useful skills in the visual arts is the ability to ignore detail.
To my way of thinking, too much detail can make a work of art....well.....more like work, possibly overworked and less like truly creative art.
How much detail you use is entirely up to you, the artist. But if you begin with lots of detail it could be in the wrong place to make your painting credible.
So first - ignore the details and get the general layout worked out.
Organise some of the fundamentals of your painting.
First thing - portrait or landscape presentation. If you get this at the outset it will usually lead to regrets. Next - What is going to be where? What is your focal point? How will a viewer become engaged with the painting? What are your secondary and tertiary focal points? These attract the viewers eyes, encouraging them to wander over and around your painting. Strong compositions will often be based on a geometric form such as a triangle (Michelangelo’s Pieta - most of them) or a rectangle ( Da Vinci’s Last Supper)
Is there a horizon? Do you want the illusion of depth? Or will it be flat, decorative, flat decorative space, cubist or nonsensical? Some folk like to do preliminary sketches, maybe several thumbnail drawings, some will do a drawing, some refer to their visual art diaries. All of these may save frustration at a later stage.
**Even in non-Figurative paintings it helps to have some idea of the GENERAL look you want.
Are you going for natural colours occurring in nature? Will you exaggerate the colour? Will you manipulate the colour for emotional impact? Will your overall colour of the piece be warm or cool? A mix of both? Monochromatic? Will it be low or high key?
Once you’ve blocked in your composition, done your “ underpainting and completed your first layer of paint on the canvas, I feel there’s there’s one more thing to consider...vitality.
This is something some struggle to comprehend yet it is the term we use when we see a painting that moves us emotionally. It could be the subject itself yet we’ve given those eyes an extra sparkle and somehow the painting looks more “alive”. In a landscape or seascape we might love the way light hits a cloud or a wave... it could be dramatic contrasts of colour, energetic brushstrokes, strong line, exaggeration of form, elongation of the subject....it’s something that makes your painting resonate with the viewer.
Using various mechanisms of contrast is a very effective way to inject life into a painting.
You may want to paint a peaceful scene but you don’t want boring do you? It’s a worthwhile exercise to make a list of contrasts that you can use.
Big-small, many-few, busy-still, hot-cold, dark-light, hard edge-soft edge, straight-curved, geometric-organic, painterly texture or smooth.
If you want to put a spark into an otherwise “visually correct” painting it is worthwhile looking for some kind of contrast to highlight....and this might be an option at any stage.
THEN begin refining and adjusting your shapes as you look at the detail
Do you like to paint but suffer from lack of Confidence?
Art is very personal. You can’t control much in life but you can control your own ideas in art. That can be empowering. YOU choose the subject to paint. YOU choose the colours you use. YOU choose what kind of brushstroke to use. YOU are the ONLY ONE you need to please. You decide if you're happy with your work.
If you’re not happy....you’re not finished.
No one gets perfection first time, every time.
X-rays of the work of the World’s greatest artists throughout history have shown how they changed their paintings - often many times. They made mistakes... then painted over them. It took more than a year for most traditional artists to complete a painting and they worked at it full time. Even Rembrandt did not get it right the first time. Proven fact, thanks to technology.
Experienced artists’ confidence can dip and diminish too. You're not alone.
So what can you do to build confidence? It's not foolproof but the answer is:
Practice, practice and practice some more.
But do not practice making the same "error"! As a student, get advice from your teacher or mentor. Tell them what is bothering you and try out suggested alternate techniques, points of view and sometimes exercises. Yep - Your artistic muscle needs exercise!
Compare learning to paint to learning to ride a bike....without trainer wheels. Scary, you could suffer the embarrassment of falling off, hurt yourself, you could crash, damage the bike and damage other things or people. Really Scary!
But you got up the courage, you probably did fall off... but you got back on and you learned to ride a bike, without thinking about it!
Art is more complex...but no different.
Remember that YOU Are the ONLY ONE who can decide if you’re satisfied with what you’ve
done. It is YOUR passion, no one else's. It is YOUR piece, not theirs. It is YOUR creative journey. It's about you and only you! You learn all the time. Sometimes just what you don't like the look of.
Experienced artists suffer dips in confidence. Its important for you to recognise what you like, give yourself credit for it.... then determine what it is that bothers you. Remind yourself that YOU are the only one who matters here. Find the weak spot, then strengthen it.
Art takes time.
Albert Einstein said “ creativity is intelligence having fun. “.
Aim for that - Have FUN!
1. There are no “mistakes “ you are learning. Mistakes are part of learning.
“Mistakes” are also very much part of art history and X-rays prove that even the greatest
masters of art regularly made basic changes along the way, painted out, painted over.
Very rarely do we get things right first time, let alone every time!
2. Your Art today demonstrates WHERE you are as an artist, Not WHAT you are.
Are you having a go? Then you are an Artist. Budding artist, emerging artist - no matter
what you call yourself, if you are Mark-making, you are Art-making. You are an artist at
this particular point in time.
3. There is no “fail” in art. Art doesn't even have to be “Good” it just has to BE. The
nearest you can get to a “ fail” in Art is giving up. And even that Isn't necessarily for ever.
4. Don't judge what IS best Today, PLEASE acknowledge what you LIKE best today.
Leave judgement to art critics and haters, YOU Are the only one you need to satisfy.
5. Non-artists have no idea of the time & effort it takes to create art. Don't let ignorant
(even well-meaning) statements bother you. Don't inhale! Don’t accept. As Georgia
O’Keefe said, let critics and patrons comments go, pouring them all down the same drain.
6. If YOU’RE not satisfied with your work - YOU’RE not finished.
7. Always work from the General ( idea, think about it, explore the options, overall
composition, mapping out) THEN to the particular (detail). Work BIG. to SMALL.
8. Don't take cheap shots at your work. We have a “can’t “ jar. It's like a swear tin but
for negativity. Never belittle your efforts, progress or outcome. Art growth requires a
9. “ART TAKES TIME”. 3 little words widely not understood!
10. This is your (life long) creative journey. It is about the ride. There's no one single
destination for you - there are many directional choices to make along the way. We’ll
encourage you to explore & expand your horizons.
Artists continuously grow, change, detour, re- visit, leap off the rails, go sideways and
spin out....staying curious about their world, real & imagined. ( unless they have hit on a
successful formula and simply do different/ similar versions of the same painting over and
over again for ever. We aim to be more dynamic than that.)
Albert Einstein said that “ Creativity is intelligence having fun”.
Are you stuck in creative adolescence?
We all will have gone through the 5 stages of artistic development by the time we are 15,
according to professor Victor Lowenfeld. It is the same all over the world, it's part of the
1. From the age (stage 1) of 6 months to 2 years old we like the feeling of dragging a
mark-making thing/ substance like crayon, sauce, poo over a surface - such as the
wall, our cot, paper, our faces, our siblings, our toys, anything we can get our little
2. The last recognised natural phase of artistic / pictorial development is in (stage 5)
our awkward adolescence’ where we can be proficient doing what academics call pseudo realism. Artistic Adolescence occurs between 10 to 16 years of age.
3. We naturally develop Artistic ability up until that phase of our lives then it completely STOPS.
4. Our whole lives ( at 10 to 16 years) we’ve got better and better at drawing without
trying, so why doesn’t that continue? That is disappointing for everyone.
5. Most people give art away in their teens when they realise their progress has
6. It is said that artists don’t mature creatively until they are at least 30 years of age.
Don’t get stuck in artistic Adolescence!
ARTISTIC MATURITY: How do you achieve it?
To get better at drawing, you need to accumulate skills. You need to proactively LEARN.
People learn in different ways:
(A) by watching others. If you were/are exposed to a relative who painted or cartooned you inadvertently gain knowledge you didn’t know you had;
(B) by reading instructions; and
(C) by trial and error. Hit and miss.
This can be frustrating to any one at any age.
To achieve artistic maturity, think about this: If you were starting to learn the piano, you wouldn't begin by attempting to play a piano concerto.
You would be playing scales.
Doing boring exercises. You'd get some notes wrong. You’d be learning, not just randomly hitting keys and hoping it sounded okay. You’d be guided by some resource - teacher and/or written instructions.
Later you might want to compose your own piano concerto. Something original,
never been done before. There will be MANY false starts and changes. That is
exactly the same with every painting you start. You are doing it for the first time each
new work you begin.
Scary but exciting.
In some cultures (mostly Eastern) artists are held in high esteem. Traditional art is treasured and admired. Artists and Artisans are respected, admired, even idolised. Art styles exist on long established tradition. Even so called experimental artists are more likely to be seen with wonder in a manner closer to the attitude of more sophisticated western cultures.
Our (Western) cultures tend to be less entrenched in tradition, more subjective, judgmental and we have “ Art Critics.” As with movies, a picture you thoroughly enjoyed may have been given an absolute pasting by movie critics. Their opinion has a certain importance, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the product has no value, whether it is a movie, a book or a work of art.
Fashion in art changes. Art taste varies from person to person and can change over time.
People who don’t do art do not appreciate the time and effort that is needed to create a work of art.
Our Art Studio rejects any art snobbery, elitism and inflicting one person’s taste on another. You Never compare your art to any other student’s art. Your art is as unique as you are. It reflects where you are not What you are and certainly you do not know what you will produce in the future if you are enjoying yourself.
You may uncover a new passion. Why not? But remember that art appreciation is very personal. People who care about us....and who are not artists, sometimes want to help us “ improve.” Nearest & dearest will sometimes be the most verbal about our art. Meaning only to help, they sometimes point out every “ error” or discrepancy in their minds as to what our work should look like. Then there are those who will carefully avoid saying anything at all, for fear of offending you.
You need to develop a thick skin to be an artist....so understanding that
are the only one you need to satisfy is essential.
It’s worth repeating:
The only person who needs to get satisfaction/ pleasure from your art IS YOU!
Please take that on board, it is very important. Artists are often their own harshest critics but that drives us on, always striving for better! ( like golf? ) of course, when someone else loves what you’ve done it is quite a thrill!
On a brighter note, ( non artist ) people in western cultures can regard and often more readily accept artists as plain WEIRD. Happy days!
I personally take that as a licence to colour my hair purple, wear whatever jewelry
I like and as much of it as I like and dress comfortably, interestingly and with as much or as little so- called “ style” as suits me on the day. In fact, people can tell I’m creative by my appearance.
Sometimes we get caught out with paint on my clothes and in my hair, whatever colour it is on the day. Do you know what? It’s almost worth pretending to be an artist just for that!
Anyone can learn Art....SO WHAT FEAR IS STOPPING YOU?
B. Fear of failure.
What is success when it comes to Art anyway? What is failure?
That depends on your mind-set.
Albert Einstein said that “ART IS INTELLIGENCE HAVING FUN”.
Creating Art in our studio is mostly about the process than the outcome although look at what our students have produced! Our number 1 goal is enjoyment. Allow your intelligence to have fun ....with art.
Anyone can gather skills with the right help. Ideally you will be open minded towards art and willing to have a go. You don’t need to have anything more than this.
IF you create a painting that you don’t like:
A. You have not finished it yet;
B. No one will die. You’re not learning to pilot a jumbo jet full of people who will die if you
C. The sun will come up tomorrow;
D. If you’re “over” it, you can paint it out;
E. The worst that can happen is you need to do MORE painting. Happy Days!!; AND
F. If you’re angry with it, you can hose it off (Acrylic paint), cut it up or set fire to it,
we’re cool with that (EDIT: shire fire restrictions may apply);
Art doesn’t have to be “Good” it just has to BE! As long as you are mark-making, you are an artist.
Making and it IS IMPOSSIBLE to fail!
You should never compare your art to others - you need to be immersed in it and don’t even try to please anyone other than yourself.
Being creative is particularly healthy for your brain. And your spirit. You’ll look at the world through your “Artists’ eyes” and enjoy your surrounds in a new way. It’s win - win!
So what is failure? Giving up. Everything else is part of your creative journey.
You cannot “fail.”
Short answer is yes.
When we think of the art of picture making, it is most often a picture that represents something. It can be something from the “real world” like a landscape or a portrait or from our imagination like a dragon or a mermaid.
We begin with representational art in our studio. (You can also learn many nonrepresentational, non- figurative totally abstract techniques here, if that’s where your interest lies.)
So WHAT’S STOPPING YOU?
Usually it’s fear. Fear of lots of things. Sadly, it’s common for human beings to fear things they’ve never even tried! Sad because life is too short to miss out on things that can enrich our lives. Here are our main 3 reasons people didn’t begin art lessons years ago:
(A) I worry that I might “ not be good enough”.
(B) Fear of “failure”.
(C) Other people might not like what I’ve done.
Today I’d like to talk about the first one:
FEAR OF NOT BRING GOOD ENOUGH.
(A) The biggest myth about artists is that you need to have “talent.” That’s plain silly and a little bit insulting to practicing artists. Art is a combination of mind-set and skills. Seeing skills. Learned skills. Acquired skills. That’s not to say that this is easier for some than others. There are many variables that predispose people to learn. We are all different but we can ALL learn if we are interested; and
(B) What you produce in your first class is not what you are, it’s WHERE you are.
If you already knew how to speak Japanese, why would you attend a Japanese Language class? If you could play the piano, why would you begin piano lessons? Art is no different.
Everyone starts out as an amateur, even Rembrandt and Michelangelo! They say it takes 10,000 hours to become expert at anything. Can you see that?
Art is like life: it is not about the destination, thank goodness....it’s about the journey.
What an exciting, challenging, wonderful, interesting, disappointing, thrilling, ridiculous, happy, silly, enjoyable journey it is! The only constant is change.
You are “good enough” if you have interest and persistence.