I’ll admit that I’ve had some painting sessions that ended with me being unhappy in the last couple of days. I was tempted not to share anything from those days on social media until I remembered a book I’d been reading called Show Your Work, which Ali Abdaal recommended on his Youtube channel.
Of course, I had been showing my work long before I read this book, but what stuck out to me was “think progress, not product.” It hit me that even the stages in my pieces I consider ugly, that even embarrass me a little, are part of my progress and teaching opportunities. If I only share my work when it’s in a favorable stage, I’m doing my audience a disservice.
The key phrase here is teaching opportunity. I don't put myself or my art down in these posts. Instead, I objectively explain what I think is wrong with the piece, what I think I did to make it that way, and what I might try to fix it. Even if you don't share your work on social media, I encourage you to look at your own pieces in the same way.
What I hope you take away from this, whether you share your work or not, every part of your process is equally valid. Don’t get discouraged because maybe your piece suddenly looks worse to you. Keep working on it, and eventually, it will look better again.
Below are a couple of examples of pieces I was unhappy with and how I improved them.
I recently ordered a Fredrix Red Label canvas. This canvas is rougher than what I usually work on. I bought it because I'm planning to do an impressionistic piece. I learned from Lisa Clough of Lachri Fine Art that this particular canvas is more suited to that style than the Green Label I'd been buying. This is because I'm probably going to want to use heavier globs of paint when working in this style, which the Green Label, which is linen, wouldn't be able to take.
You want to select a lightweight, smooth canvas for realistic pieces that rely on fine detail. Some cotton canvases work for this, and linen is excellent. Go with a rougher canvas for more impressionistic styles, impasto techniques, or painting with a palette knife. Anything that says heavyweight is your best bet.
It’s difficult to do fine detail on a rough canvas. Your lines won’t be smooth. On the other hand, a smooth canvas may be too lightweight to take all the globs of paint required for certain impressionistic styles. I’ve also heard it’s hard to blend smoothly on a rough canvas but easy on a smooth one. Blending isn’t such a concern when doing impressionistic work, but it’s a big concern when doing realistic work.
Below is Lisa's video on which Fredrix canvas is best for your painting style, which is where I got most of these tips.
I watched Youtube vlogger Nathaniel Drew attempt to follow Pablo Picasso’s routine from when he lived in Paris for two weeks. He gives a summary of the routine starting at 1:06 in the video.
Drew comments in his video that starting his day at 11:00 am, as Picasso did, made him feel sluggish. I can see myself having a similar experience if I try this routine. I’m rarely still in bed after 8, even if I’ve been up late. Some people left on the video that Picasso’s schedule wasn’t necessarily out of the ordinary Spanish culture.
While I do really like the idea of painting when it’s quiet and no one’s around, staying up until 3 is out of the question for me. I also would find it difficult to go to bed right after working. I’d be too amped.
Picasso and I have in common that we both like to ease into our day instead of getting to work immediately. We know Picasso wanted to ease into his day because he gave himself three hours of leisure time before getting down to business. I hope he included some exercise in these hours because I don’t see it anywhere else on his schedule!
Unlike contemporary artists, Picasso wasn’t obliged to do social media or keep a blog or YouTube channel to promote his work. Most contemporary artists couldn’t devote as much time as Picasso did, even if they wanted to paint. Picasso probably also didn't have to do laundry or cooking.
When I'm drawing, I can find myself making the wrong line over and over sometimes. This usually happens when I spend more time looking at my paper, then at my reference photo or model. Looking at your paper while you’re drawing is logical. After all, we need to make sure everything is where it should be, right?
But your paper doesn’t show you what you should be doing. Your reference photo or model does. This was brought into sharp focus for me when I drew from a live model in a free class last week. I struggled with her left cheek. I would look at the model for a second and then try to recreate what I saw. I’d be unhappy with it, erase it and try again. I must have done this three or four times at least.
Then I decided I was going to look at the model as I was drawing. What do you know, it turned out right this time. There have been times I’ve had my eyes fixed on a model while my pencil is on the paper and I just quickly glance at my paper to make sure I’m in the right place, which is the complete opposite of what I described before, which is just glancing at the model and then keeping my eyes on the paper.
This is especially beneficial when you're working on small details. I only recommend doing it for a few minutes at a time, though, as staring at fine detail can hurt your eyes. At least, it hurts mine.
Sometime ago I made a video for my youtube channel about changing the color in a painting from what it is in a photo. Now, I’m faced with changing how things are laid out.
I have this photo that I took of some crows.
There are three crows in the frame, which fits with the “rule of odds”, but one of the crows is off away from the others. I’m thinking, bringing him in between his friends and slightly down, will make for a better painting. Just because you have a subpar photo doesn’t mean you can’t have a pretty good painting.
Take this painting, for example.
The photo includes another goose, but I chose to leave it out of the painting. When I started to make the drawing, I thought it looked better with just the one goose. Your painting doesn’t have to be an exact copy of your reference photo. Do what you think will make your painting look the best.
If you’re like me, you put a lot of pressure on yourself to get your color right when mixing skin tone for a portrait and, if you’re like me, you fail a lot at first.
I should note that things like the type of light the person is under will affect how the color of their skin looks, so, technically, there’s no such thing as a perfect or “correct” skin color.
Nevertheless, you’ll probably find that something’s look off to you. What now? Do you just throw the whole painting out and start over? Of course not. There’s always something you can do.
Most art teachers, and I agree, would probably tell you to add color in slowly a little at a time because, well, you can always add more, but you can’t take the color out once it’s in there, they say. They’re right, you can’t take a color out once it’s mixed in. But you can neutralize it by mixing it with its complement. Red is an easy color to mix too much of, because it’s so strong and when that happens, I mix green in with it. I do agree with trying not to add too much in the first place, but mistakes do happen despite out best efforts.
If you mix too much blue into your skin tone, the effect it can have on it is making it look gray. To counteract this, I mix a bit, just a bit, of red, to liven it back up.
What if you don’t notice anything wrong until your paint is on the canvas? Don’t worry. You can still use complementary colors via glazing.
If you’re looking at your reference photo or model and just can’t figure out what colors to use, I encourage you to just come up with the best approximation you can. Once you see what you’re working with, it’ll be much easier to know which of the tricks above you need to employ to improve it. You can edit a rough draft, after all, but you can’t edit something that doesn’t exist.
I ordered a set of Derwent Inktense pencils from Blick Art Materials and I’m doing my first project in them. Inktense are water soluble ink in pencil and block form. This makes it easier to work with than traditional ink in liquid form. I’d worked with India Ink a while back and really enjoyed it.
Since Inktense is a water soluble medium, I'm working on watercolor paper. Inktense pencils should not be confused with watercolor pencils, however. Inktense will not lift like watercolor. Once it's dry, it's permanent. Don't worry, though. If you don't like a color you put down, you can always go over it later.
For best results, I’ve learned that it’s best not to apply the pencils directly to your project. If you do this, the pencil will appear gritty even after you blend it out with water. Instead, rub your pencil on a separate piece of paper or board, add water, and apply that mixture to your project with a brush. To mix two or more colors together, layer them on top of each other and do the same thing you would do to blend out one color.
I’ve recently dove back into oil pastels. I’m reminding myself that most of the same principals I’ve been practicing when it comes to color use with acrylics and watercolor will apply with these.
One of these principles is to layer multiple colors in one place. The grass will have a yellowish green base, darker green strips and brown spots. Besides being blue, the lake will have the green reflections from the bushes that are above it.
Another one is to use less of "strong" colors, like red and purple, and more of "weak" colors", like yellow and orange. For some of the green in the grass, I put red down first and then green on top, because I knew the green could not overpower the red as easily as the other way around and so I would get a nice, muted green color.
When you start with another medium, you don’t have to start from zero.
I made a video about what I was learning when I first started using oil pastels. You can watch it here.
I had been looking at the grass for a while and feeling overwhelmed by all the detail. I told myself I would just find one aspect of each section to focus on. These were the slightly lighter green marks on the grass across the street and the tiny yellowish blades in the grass on the opposite side of the sidewalk from the goose.
While I was working on those sections, I only allowed myself to focus on these things. This made the process far less daunting. My brain doesn't get as tired because it's not trying to figure out half a dozen things at once. Later I can look for another type of detail to add, or add more of this one.
I made my strokes somewhat follow the reference photo, although, since there is a lot of detail close together, I didn't put pressure on myself to copy it exactly. To paint the yellowish blades of grass, I used my smallest filbert brush and just put paint on the tip. This process didn’t take long and after doing it, the grass was coming to life.
The goose’s body has dark gray patterns on his wing. I was careful to follow the pattern in my reference photo as closely as possible while painting these.
I started by my first layers of color on this painting by glazing over the grass with a green made my mixing permanent green with yellow. I mixed a bit of magenta into this so it wouldn’t be too bright. I was careful to keep my paint transparent so that the detail I'd painted in my underpainting would show through.
I mixed more magenta into the green for the grass across the street, because it’s darker in my reference photo. I’ll probably go over this area with more green when I go back to the painting because it needs to be brighter.
Telling myself I'll go back to the grass later, I started painting the first layers on the bird. I mixed zinc white ivory black and burnt umber to make a grayish brown. I mixed my gray first and then slowly brought my brown into it. There are varying shades of this color on the goose’s neck and wings, so I’m starting with a very light shade and I’ll layer darker shades over it.
While doing my underpainting, I added black where the edge of the grass met the sidewalk. This gives the effect of the former being up slightly higher than the latter.
Painter of portraits and wildlife