Painting Tips


Tip 1: Have everything out and ready before you begin painting.

A messy studio is fine, but a messy work station is not.  You do not want to interrupt your creative flow by having to look under things to find the right palette knife or put out paint colours as you need them.  Your painting palette should have all the paints you use out and in the same order all the time.  The palette knives and brushes you need should be readily available.  Mediums and solvents need to be out and open.  Paint rags or paper towels at the ready.  Painting surface primed or toned and your painting reference (from life or photograph) needs to be in position.

Tip 2: Do not start a painting with a bad drawing.

I use a burnt umber oil colour thinned with solvent to sketch out my composition.  Sometimes it can take a couple tries to get the right perspective or composition, that is ok.  Just breathe, use some solvent on a rag to erase it, concentrate and start again.  It does not need to be too detailed, when painting in an impasto style you will be covering it all with thick paint anyway. Just sketch out basic shapes, shadows and lines.

Tip 3: Block in colour before adding thick paint.

In thin layers fill in your sketch with the general colors you see, including shadow colours.  This will help you see how your colours will relate to one another and give a glimpse of the finished product.  This is the time when you can adjust colours to get a certain mood or make other colours stand out.

Tip 4:  Remember to view your work from a distance.

This is why I like to paint standing up.  I often back away from my work to see how the  painting reads.  When painting with lots of texture, it looks very abstract and messy up close.  From farther away, everything begins to focus.  You can see where you need to make changes or what your next step should be. Do this often!

Tip 5: Keep your colours clean.

It is very easy to get muddy when painting with a palette knife.  Always clean your knife between colours.  After mixing your desired colour, scoop it into a pile and set it aside on your palette.  You do not want that colour to taint any new mixes.  Clear your palette often.  Scrape off old mixes with a bit of solvent and a rag or a paint scraper.

Tip 6: To avoid your colours turning pastel, add a tiny amount of white at a time.

Achieving brighter colours doesn’t always mean add white.  But if you are looking mix a bright pink, purple or violet you might need a little.  Take a colour like French Ultramarine, Magenta or Crimson Alizarin and add a teeny amount of Titanium White until you achieve the right tint.  Pay attention and check the colour against the other colours on your canvas before adding more white.  Once you have added too much it is hard to bring it back and you will have to start over.

Tip 7: Squint!

Avoid getting wrapped up in too much detail by squinting at your subject in order to blur out the noise and reveal the elements that need your attention.  This works very well when painting cityscapes, gardens and landscapes en plain air or from a photograph.  Also, take a step back from your work and squint, if you wear glasses take them off…really study it and think; what isn’t reading right, what is too light or too dark, where is my focal point?  This can save you from your painting heading towards the point of no return if you catch it early.

Tip 8: Know when to quit, self edit.

There is no need to explain everything you see, leave a little to the imagination.  The viewer’s eye will fill in the rest.

Tip 9: Relax!

Remember, this is supposed to be fun!  Negative thoughts and nervousness will lead to a very frustrating painting session.  Unless you are painting out in the elements (in which you have no control over the environment) try to make sure the environment you paint in is peaceful and quiet.  Surround the room or studio with things that make you happy and inspire you.  Play music, drink a glass or two of your favourite tipple, send everyone out of the house on random errands, anything that will help you relax and focus on creating a great work of art.

Tip 10: There is always a next time.

So, that painting turned out awful.  Don’t worry about it!  Acknowledge the things that worked and make note of where you went wrong and try it again!  It happens to the best of us.  Embrace the creative process and keep at it. 


10 Replies to “Painting Tips”

  1. Many thanks for the tips – really more of a tutorial to me! Including how to prevent failures – simple things like ensuring you wipe your palette knife hasn’t always occurred to me. Tip 10 made me smile. Too often I’ve been so disheartened when something has gone badly wrong.
    Again many thanks. I’d like to get my palette knives out right now I’m so enthused by what you’ve said – however it’s now 23:15 and the house has settled down so I wouldn’t be very popular.
    Liz T.

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