How to make a good picture

There is something intangible and unexplained in an excellent work of art. We can spend hours analyzing a work of art and still not come to any conclusions as to why it is so good. In many of these extraordinary works of art, the artist has broken some aesthetic or compositional “rule,” which only adds to the mystery. One erroneous assumption would be that we need to stop religiously following the rules if we will be successful at creating a good picture.

The talent myth

If we want to make a good picture, knowing the rules is very important for every artist.  In other words, we first need to understand and implement the rules before we start breaking them. This is one reason why we often see works by self-taught artists that not only appear clumsily constructed but poorly painted as well. Making art is not a “talent” or something we are born with.

Knowledge is king (or queen)

Making a good picture is not easy. We first need to understand the science and chemistry of painting and understand the mechanics and composition of the picture plane. Unfortunately, the beginner cannot completely learn this advanced knowledge in an eight or ten-week class. This knowledge can only come from years of hard work and actual painting. Like the great Robert Genn said, “you first need to think of yourself as a factory.” What do factories do? They mass produce!

Other ingredients for making a good picture

Another regularly overlooked ingredient in all of this is regular interaction with other artists, and I don’ mean just through social media. No, I mean having regular face-to-face encounters and intelligent dialogue. If you don’t see its importance, you are missing out on a huge part of your process as an artist. I discuss my work regularly with people in my inner sanctum. It is vital to the work, and there can be no excuses. Every successful artist has worked within a group with other artists.

Enough with copying photographs already

Stop working from photographs, even those you take yourself. Please take out your sketchbook and start using it instead. Painting without drawing is like a day without sunshine. You cannot call yourself an artist if you can’t draw from life.  Photograph “copyists” cannot draw from life. They may appear to be skilled, but they are only skilled at copying photographs. From my own experience as an art instructor, they fail miserably at working from life. I have witnessed this time and time again. Their drawings and paintings do not impress me at all, especially when you discover that so many of them use projectors to trace the photograph onto their paper or canvas.

Use the process

Remember the process and procedure I have taught you: Sketches, drawing, value study, colour study(s) and then and only then your final painting. These rules are the ones you shouldn’t break. These rules are the ones that support that final good picture. Never stop using the process. The only rules we can break are the ones linked to the principles and elements of design.

Be a factory. Do more than one of. Try variations and different mediums.


Quote of the day:

“An art factory is a place where unmarked supports enter on one side, become caressed with the physical manifestation of human imagination, and are subsequently pushed out the other side. Whether these modified supports are commercially destined or not, it’s a process that needs to take place.”

~ Robert Genn ~

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