Saturday, June 23, 2012

Common mistakes of the new artist and how to avoid them; Part I

I'm trying to provide plenty of visual examples, therefore this will be a 2 part post.
I've been looking at some of my older paintings and noticing the mistakes I made as a newbie artist. About 6 years ago when I started painting, I had no formal training. I just bought some acrylic paints and sorta went to town. Over the years I have gained some knowledge (both from mentors and formal training, and from experience) and the quality of my work (as well as my style) has WILDLY changed. I won't say that one style is better than the other, but my techniques have definitely improved. Below are some mistakes I made and that other rookie painters  tend to make and how to avoid or fix them.

Note: There are exceptions to every rule and you may choose at some point to commit one of these "mistakes" in order to achieve a specific effect.  However, the important word there is "choose." What I have listed here are mistakes people often unconsciously make when getting started painting. 

Mistakes to avoid:
Mistake #1: Making brush strokes go in all one direction. Check it out: 
Brush strokes should not go all one direction

Vary the directions of the strokes
It is especially tempting to make your strokes go in one direction when you're trying to fill a large space like an empty background. Varying your strokes looks much more natural. While we're on the subject of backgrounds...

Mistake # 2: Making the background an after-thought. Ideally you want to paint the background before the main subject. Especially on the last coat (or, of you work with one thick coat instead of many thin coats, you probably want to add to the edges of the items in the foreground of the picture at the end).  If you completely finish the subject and then try to paint the background, the edges will have a forced feel to them. I usually try to paint from back to front. For example, in the painting below, I painted the yellow and red marbles before the blue, since the blue one is in front.

Mistake #3: Finishing one area of the painting at a time. I know that you don't have endless time to paint and painting a layer over the entire painting at each sitting may not be doable. That's not what this is about. The mistake many new artists make is completely finishing one part of the picture before starting on another part. The result is usually a very disjointed final picture. Below are some examples of working on the whole painting rather than one bit at a time. These pictures show one of my paintings in progress.

See how the entire painting progresses from less detail to more detailed rather than filling in all the details of one part while neglecting the rest of the painting? If you find yourself getting too caught up in one little part of the picture, walk away for a few minutes and view it from a distance as a whole.

Mistake #4: Not using a reference or model (if you're doing a representational painting rather than a non-representational abstract).

Mistake #5: Painting what you think you should see instead of what you actually see.

Mistakes #4 and #5 go hand in hand. Say you're painting a picture of an apple. Your brain will probably say, "I know what an apple looks like," so you either attempt to paint without an apple as a model, or you don't look at your model and you paint a roundish thing with a stem. Even if your goal is not realism, having the subject in front of you and truly looking at the qualities of the model will improve and vitalize your picture. Try to turn off that little voice in your head that applies symbols to objects (example: "Apples are round, doors are rectangles, etc."). If you're working from a photograph rather than from life, it might help to turn the picture (and your painting) upside down so that it is less recognizable to your brain. If something seems off with your picture and you can't figure out what it is, it helps to hold the painting (and reference photo, if using) up to a mirror. By reversing the image, you can often see what is and isn't working.

Stay tuned for part II of this post! Are you having any painting problems that you'd like me to address? I love hearing from you!