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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

A Simple Way to Improve Your Paintings

'Dog Days of Winter II'             11x14                ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting on Etsy $165
 It's amazing what a little distance can do. Viewing a painting in progress from a few steps back make make a huge difference. It is such a simple thing. Frequently stepping back from a painting allows us to evaluate our progress. We can better see things that are not right. Issues with drawing, values, color, composition become more obvious when we step back.

But we don't always step back often enough. I know I can get caught up in a painting and forget to stop and back up. I get too focused on one area and don't see the whole picture. Take today's painting. It was a demo for my first winter class. I was painting and talking and totally neglected to step back. When I finally did my students were able to point out things I missed or could improve. I could not see them myself.....until I stood back where they were sitting. Lesson learned!

walking to the dog park in the snow
Stepping back....a good habit to start and such a simple way to improve your paintings. Here are some tips:

  • Set a timer. I love using the timer on my phone. Set the timer for 15 minute increments. Step back to evaluate the painting when the timer goes off.
  • If you listen to music while you paint, step back when a song is over. If you have the TV on step back at the commercials.
  • If you are struggling with the painting...stop. Step back and get a different point of view.
  • As you get close to finishing, step back even more frequently. Make every mark matter. I often make a mark and step back. It helps me from overworking the painting.
  • If your painting space is small consider using a mirror. I have a mirror mounted behind me. I can see my painting reflected in the mirror. Seeing it in reverse and further away helps me see the issues better.
  • If you sit to paint find a way to move back from the painting.....try an office chair  on wheels and roll back without getting up!
Painting notes:  11x14 Uart paper with no underpainting and a mix of Terry Ludwig and Diane Townsend pastels.


Anna Lisa Leal said...

Good advice Karen! It IS hard to remember to step back .I set a timer for progress photos, every 20 min. I have found the photos good not only as a way to go back for learning later ...but they also serve as a way of stepping back. I often see things in a photo that I don't in real life.

Karen said...

Great idea Anna!! Taking progress shots when the timer goes off. I love that! I often see things in photos that I miss. Sometimes when I am doing a blog post I have to fix the painting first!

robertsloan2art said...

I have a couple of tips for others who might be mobility disabled as I am. If you can't get up that frequently or standing back is physically difficult, two things helped me a lot.

One is a reducing glass. It's like a magnifying glass in reverse. You hold it up and look through it so everything seems farther away. Very useful while painting. I can't count the number of times I was noodling over details, especially on pen and watercolor pieces, that glass helped a lot.

The other is taking WIP shots with my phone or Kindle. The whole painting shows up in thumbnail and that's like getting up and going to the next room in terms of how far away from the painting's details. Composition problems become very apparent. So do problems with value or masses.

It's common for beginners to go nuts trying to get details right. There's a natural tendency for it since a patient artist can get good proportion by getting every detail correct in proportion to its neighbor. That won't help overall layout, color harmony or a host of other things though.

I guess the third thing would be thumbnailing or planning the painting with very small sketches that can't be detailed. I do this sometimes and even though I don't actually copy the thumbnails, it's like I needed to work through several mistakes to figure out what I really wanted.

But when I get ready to post online is when my photo of the painting really shows whether it's got strong structure or not. And incidentally whether the colors will work with my camera. A couple of my best paintings just don't translate well to digital photography and look a lot worse online than in person. But at least the values and layout came through.

Sea Dean said...

Thank you for the reminder. I know I don't do it enough and you're right, my new studio doesn't have a mirror to hold it up to. Must rectify that.

I love your work and learn a lot from you although we work in different mediums.

I would like to invite you to post your paintings on my blog in the month of January. I'm having an ART PARTY with posting, voting and prizes. I would love to see you there.