Ten Painting Tips

  • The following are ten steps I encourage all of our students to consider as they paint.

    1. Start with a Value Sketch. Break the scene into large shapes based upon values. This is the time and place to solve problems with your composition. If the value sketch doesn't look like a great painting in the making, then fix the compositional problems in the sketch, or do another one from a different vantage point.
    2. Trace out your composition onto your painting surface using your value sketch as your guide. Resist the urge to look at your subject while you do this, as there will be a temptation to add new things  into the composition.
    3. When you begin painting, rough in your focal point first and then establish your other major shapes based upon the focal point.
    4. Assuming your goal is to paint loosely, paint with a big brush to stop you from wasting your time and draining the energy from your painting. A 3/4" brush on an 8x10 canvas, 1" brush on a 12x16 or 16x20. Go bigger if you work on bigger surfaces.
    5. Learn to paint with your arm, not with minuscule movements of your fingers and wrist. By painting with your arm, you use the energy of your body vs the energy of your fingers.
    6. Watch where the light is coming from and what it does. Where are the highlights and where are the shadows? If you're painting plein air, capture these in your value sketch, and don't chase the light and shadows all over your canvas. Establish them in the beginning and stick to them.
    7. Start with your foreground and mid-ground shapes. Finish by cutting in your background. By doing the background last, it has two effects. It allows you to finish and refine your foreground shapes. And, the resulting painting will automatically look more "painterly".
    8. Vary your brushwork. Unless you are trying to achieve a specific effect, use different (appropriate) strokes for different areas. However, don't get too complicated either so that your brushwork becomes the subject of the painting. Do this for effect, not for it's own sake or to show off your technique.
    9. Make sure you balance your accent colours. Usually a good approach is to use your accent in three spots on the painting. The main accent, secondary and a tertiary spot. 
    10. Finish your painting by placing your final highlight and deep shadow marks.
    Try these ten steps on your next painting and see if they help you keep out of trouble and produce stronger, more cohesive work.

    Keith Thirgood
  • John Christie
    John Christie Catherine Gibbon an instructor here in Dundas taught us to write down the first three words that came to mind when we decided to paint a scene and to keep referencing them while we paint.  She also taught us  to do a sketch while looking at the scene and ...  more
    November 17, 2013
  • John Christie
    John Christie Oops! I meant to add that your tips are all important steps that I often stray from at my peril.
    November 17, 2013