After repainting this orca painting from 19 years ago, I started thinking about the things I’ve learned over the past 20 years that really made a difference in my work.
#1 – This is just my style
I’m not sure why so many of us use this excuse when we first start off painting and drawing but its a bad one. I’ve heard people tell me that they didn’t want to take lessons or classes or get tips from other artists because they didn’t want to have their “style” changed by someone else. Style does not come from a lack of knowledge. Quite the opposite actually. The more techniques you learn, the more skill you gain, the more control you’re going to have over your actual style. Limiting yourself because of your pride and stubbornness isn’t going to help your work evolve into something amazing.
#2 – Wet into wet blending
Given I started off focused on acrylics and painting marine life, this was HUGE. I was lucky enough to have met artist Jaime Jimenez who did a demonstration on how to do this. For those of you who are unfamiliar with wet into wet blending, don’t worry, I’m going to be doing a tutorial on the subject this Wednesday. This technique really helped my work to look softer and more realistic.
I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this one out but it’s pretty important. This goes for working in any medium. Once I get my background painted in, I tape a piece of tracing paper to my canvas and draw my subjects onto that. This allows me to erase and move things around without messing up my background. Why tracing paper? Because you can see through it, so you can see where you want to place the subjects. After I have the images drawn out, I use transfer paper to get the image onto the canvas.
#4 – Slow down!
I used to have this idea that if I used the perfect paint brush, the right sponge, or some other magical item, that I would easily have all the detail I wanted in just a few brush strokes. I held onto this belief for YEARS! Turns out there aren’t normally going to be short cuts like that. You have to slow down, and actually paint in all that tiny detail by hand if you’re going for realism. I would try and have an entire coral reef painted in 15 minutes. Once I realized it may take an hour (or more) for a single piece of coral or a single fish, my work started looking WAY better.
Also, don’t worry about how long it takes another artist to do something. It may take one artist 15 hours to do something, and you 80 to get the same look. If your end result is good, that is what matters. Don’t feel you have to work at the same speed as anyone else. Speed generally increases with time and practice, but don’t rush yourself.
#5 – Contrast and color
Your lighting will make a bigger impact on your piece than just about anything else. What little contrast I had in the first painting was all in the wrong places! I had left the whites of the whales flat white. You rarely want to leave things white white. You will want other colors mixed in with it. Save the straight white for highlights to make different areas really pop. In my first painting there was little contrast between the water near the surface down to the bottom. The water surface itself had NO definition. All of this contrast makes for a giant difference.
#6 – Vary your angles
Notice in my first painting how all the fish and whales are side view only? Yeah, that doesn’t look natural. No matter what your subjects are, vary their positions. Angle some looking at you, some sideways etc. Variation is really important in getting a natural, realistic look. Everything looks stiff if they are all side views.
#7 – Don’t let your frustration stop you from painting
We ALL hit points in our artistic careers where we feel we aren’t good enough and consider giving up. This is normal, and can be a really exciting point in your work, because these feelings usually precede an explosion in your work. Realizing your work isn’t where you want it to be is the first step in figuring out what changes you need to make to get it where you want it. Look closely at the artists whose work is where you want yours to be. Figure out what is different about theirs from yours. I don’t mean “well it’s better”. That isn’t helpful. What EXACTLY is better about their work. Is it their detail? Their accuracy? Their lighting? Figure out what makes yours different from theirs, then work to make those adjustments on yours. Spend a week or so looking at at their work, really study the things about their work that make it great. 🙂
I talk a bit more about all of these things in this weekend’s vlog 🙂