Tag Archives: learning to paint

Paint small, paint often

Have you ever wondered what is the fastest way to learn to paint? What is the best way to make a major leap in your painting abilities? Well, here is one answer to those questions…

Paint small and paint often!

When I began painting seriously many years ago I felt that I needed to work BIG in order to really learn the craft. But each big painting took a long time to complete and I’m not really sure how much I learned during the process.

I think there is a law at work here. I am now pretty sure that we only learn one thing (or on a good day, perhaps two things) from each painting we do.

So, if this law is real, and I truly believe it is, then the more paintings we produce the more we should learn, and the better our paintings will become! And the best way to produce more paintings is to paint small and paint often.

Think about it…
one large painting that has taken days, weeks or even months to produce = one thing learned.
one small painting made each day = one thing learned each day.
Which one gives the fastest rate of growth?

What did I learn from doing these tiny paintings? I learned about the power of tonal values, I learned about the amazing effects of colour, I learned about what makes a good composition, I learned about simplifying a scene to it’s bare minimum, and I learned that I could create a decent painting in about 15 minutes! Now that’s not bad for one day’s work!

So here’s my challenge to you…

Set aside a week and make the decision to paint just one small painting a day. They don’t have to be as small as these, but just make sure that you can finish in under an hour. Then at the end of the week, look back and see how much you have learned. I’m sure you will be impressed!

Have fun!
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Composing with Rabatment

Have you ever heard of Rabatment? I confess that I had never come across this term until I watched a Youtube tutorial last week by the incomparable Diana Mize (her channel is called: In the Studio Art Instruction). She was talking about a way of composing paintings that has been used down the centuries, but was one that I had never seen before. And then when I looked at some of my own paintings I realised that I was automatically using it without knowing!

Take a look at my video and see what I mean :

Have fun!

How to focus on your focal point

Every good painting should be about something. And this something should be communicated to the viewer. Paintings are about communication, and we want our viewers to understand what we are trying to say. So we need a focal point – something that we home in on and that says what the picture is about.

But how can we do this when we are painting a scene from life or from a photo and we are confronted with a mass of details, shapes and colours such as the one below?

I visited an exhibition this week of watercolours by the Spanish painter Alfredo López, and he has found a way to answer this question in a powerful and yet atmospheric way.
Take a look at his handling of a similar New York street scene.

Alfredo López

Can you see what he has done? He has simplified everything right down so that we are forced to look at his mounted police that are the subject of the painting. Everything else is just a background wash. He hasn’t attempted to put any detail whatsoever into the background because it simply isn’t important. However, by carefully creating the silhouette of the buildings, he has still let us see that this is New York. And by painting in monochrome he has avoided any temptation to overcomplicate the background with colours that might distract us.

How we see

This is very similar to the way we see. When we are in a busy scene like this we might feel that we are taking it all in and processing all the information. But in reality we are not counting the windows in the buildings, we are not seeing every person or every car in detail, we are not really seeing much at all. At any one time our focus is on one thing or one small area and that is all. Everything else is a an out of focus blur.

Try it out – look directly at something around you right now and focus your attention on it. Without moving your eye from it, take a look at what is around about. It should all be out of focus, soft edged and a bit more hazy. That is how we see the world! It’s one bit at a time.

When we come to paint the scene however we don’t choose to see in the same way. Suddenly everything is clamouring for our attention and we feel the need to put in all the details. And the result? Our painting loses it’s focus and it’s power and we fail to capture what we intended. We fail to communicate.

Alfredo López

Less is more

So, next time you are painting, decide what your focal point is. What is the message you want to communicate? Where do you want to draw the viewer’s attention? What is your painting about?
Then paint this with more detail, more colour, and harder edges, and leave the background and the supporting elements much looser, suggestive, and soft edged. See how little you need to communicate your point.

Here are a few more watercolour paintings by Alfredo López for you to enjoy. See how he has simplified so much information, and made his paintings really speak!

Quick and Easy Pen and Wash

pen and wash 1 Here’s a quick and easy way of painting a picture or capturing a moment in a sketch. I saw these paintings hanging in a hotel lobby and snapped them on my camera, so unfortunately I don’t know who the Spanish artist is. However they immediately appealed to me for their simplicity and freshness.

The artist has used waterproof ink and a pen to sketch out his drawing in a very freehand way. He has then used the same ink to create the really dark areas. Then, either with the same ink watered down, or with a watercolour paint, he has loaded a large flat brush and has applied the mid tones.

And so with great simplicity he has created three tones – white of the paper, mid tone and dark.  Why not have a go at this yourself?

pen and wash 2

How to Loosen Up

This guest post is by Annette Raff.

Many students complain that their watercolor paintings are too realistic. “How do I loosen up?” they ask.
I believe watercolor paintings look better with less detail. Too often we try to put in everything we see in an effort to improve our painting. We labour over our paintings adding detail, texture, refining edges and making things more definite in an effort to improve our work. It is as though we ‘cannot see the woods for the trees’! Usually the more we add … the worse it becomes!


First of all, we need to see things in a completely different way. If you wish to paint looser and simpler, you must be prepared to let go of your usual painting habits. What do you have to lose? Why not give it a go?

Simplify right from the beginning

If you wish to improve your painting through the ‘less is best’ approach, then you will need to simplify, right from the very beginning! Even before you put pencil to paper! Yes … strange as it seems, good paintings begin with really looking and seeing ‘as an artist sees’.  Most of us as Artists wish to create a painting, not to create another photograph! This means we can be ‘in charge’ of what we want the viewer to see. We can edit and change and emphasise certain elements within our painting. If we try to do everything in our painting to exactness, then it is often too much for the eye to absorb and enjoy. A strong painting usually focuses on only one or two aspects, leaving the viewer to complete the rest.  A little mystery goes a long way to keeping our audience entranced!

Painting the Figure with Annette Raff

Annette RaffFor the past fifteen years Annette has been teaching watercolour painting and has helped others discover this wonderful medium. Annette’s paintings are displayed in private collections throughout Australia and Europe. She has won many awards and has been feature Artist in Australian Artist Magazine. She paints a variety of subject matter, her main focus being to capture the play of light and shadow, eliminating all unnecessary detail to reveal the essence of her subject.

portrait 1She says, “There is nothing like the exhilaration I feel when watching intense pigments merge and flow across wet paper! I see beauty in the every day things around me and I paint them. The way the light falls across a surface or the colorful shadow patterns are more important then the subject itself. Simplicity and strong design is what makes a watercolor painting successful for me.”

portrait 2I have asked Annette if she will write a course on ‘Painting the Figure’ for ArtClassPro.com and we look forward to developing this in the near future. Would you be interested?

Check out Annette’s work on her gallery.GirlinCafe

How to learn from the Real Thing

I read somewhere recently that banks train their staff to recognise counterfeit banknotes. They do so, not by pointing out defective notes, or letting them study bank notes which contain mistakes, or with lists of how to spot a counterfeit, but by showing them hundreds and hundreds of real notes. The bank employees get so used to seemoneying the real thing, that when a counterfeit note appears it just jumps out at them.

How does this relate to art? Well, I think we can spend too long looking at the wrong sort of painting! We can study our own mistakes and those paintings that haven’t turned out particularly well, we can look at the paintings of others in our evening class who are at our same level and ability, and we can begin to assume that we can then spot a good painting.

However I think it is much better for us to spend our time looking at the Best of the Best in order to understand what a good painting is – immersing ourselves in galleries, looking at books of paintings by famous or professional artists, cutting out and keeping paintings from magazines that we really admire. And as we get used to seeing the ‘real thing’ I believe our own art will improve in leaps and bounds.