Forget About What You Think You Know Something Looks Like
I'll repeat that, forget...about what you know something looks like. We all have these preconceived notions of what shapes and what colors things are, usually from cartoons. You need to get those notions out of your head while you're painting. A cat's ear is not a triangle.
As you can see in the drawing above, I drew this cat's ears with folds and a rounded shape at the top. We might think we know a cat's ears are triangular shaped, but only cartoon cats have truly triangular ears.
A parrot's beak is not solid black. Or orange, for that matter.
For these parrots, I used mostly shades of gray, and very light gray at that, to paint their beaks. As an aside, nothing that's black, assuming it's three dimensional, is really going to be totally black. Not only that, but you're really only going to use black for the darkest shadows. See my post video, "How To Color Something That's Black" for a demonstration of this principal.
Take a look at the bird's beak I'm working on now.
I didn't use any black or orange on it. I used a pale yellowish green as the base color and then mostly blues and purples. That's why I say, forget about what you think something looks like.
Look at everything as an abstract shape and not as what it actually is.
Look At Every Rock, Tree Branch, Etc, Like It's Unique, Because It Is
When you paint an object, you're not only painting that object, you're painting the lighting on that object. That means the colors and patterns you paint on it will very, depending on that lighting.I will tell you, though, that in my experience of taking pictures outside in natural daylight, rocks, tree branches, and even animal’s fur, tend to have bluish and purple shadows on them. You can see examples of this in my paintings, “Monkey Eating Leaf”.
and “Squirrel Among The Palm Branches”
While we're on the topic of rocks, I feel I might as well bring up my latest painting again.
Note the big rock in the upper right hand corner. You'll see that I put streaks of turquoise on it. As a result of the way the light was hitting the rock, that's what appeared. Now, no other rock I've painted so far had those, so this is a perfect example of why you need to forget about what you think you know something looks like and look at every individual thing like it's unique. If I went into this with the idea that I know what a rock looks like and that all rocks look the same, I would've completely missed those turquoise streaks. Look at things like a child who's seeing something for the first time when you paint or draw.
Believe me, when you see these colors, you’ll think to yourself, those colors can’t be there. I must be seeing this wrong. If I paint blue on this gray rock, anyone who looks at this painting will think I’m crazy. I’m telling you, ignore these thoughts. Paint those colors anyway. I promise, you won’t regret it. On the contrary, you’ll love the results. There are a couple of caveats, though.
First, don’t use bright versions of these colors, mainly blue and purple. Always mix them with gray or brown to mute them. This will make them more natural looking. To make them even more realistic, apply them transparently in glazes, rather than opaquely.
I think this would be a good time to point out my article, "I Use Lots Of Colors" as it's very relevant to this topic.
But this all comes down to one specific thing and that's look at your freakin' reference photo, or your subject, if you're working from life. That's why I say to number one, forget what you think you know something looks like, and number two, to look at every individual thing like it's unique, because the biggest mistakes that will keep you from seeing these like an artist, are, to think you already know what everything you're painting looks like, and thinking every rock looks the same as every other rock. Trust your eyes, not your brain.
I asked in a Facebook group about things I could add to this article. A couple of suggestions were watch proportions and pay attention to composition. I'd like to direct you to my video "2 Tricks For Drawing Better Proportioned Figures", and, for more help on the composition front, my videos, "Subject As The Focal Point: Making It Happen" and "How Do The Elements Of A Painting Work Together?
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Painter of portraits and wildlife