1. Do You Consciously DECIDE What to Paint?

When you start a painting, do you consciously decide on an idea and its design?

Do you ask yourself, "How can I make this painting better than reality?"

Do you then arrange the elements in your scene and the colors and their values to get the most interesting and exciting result?

Or do you take a photograph of something that interests you (like the landscape below) and then paint whatever is in it and paint it the way it looks in the photograph?

I will be the first to admit that in my beginning years (and beyond) I too often followed this latter course.

Over time I discovered art is so much more satisfying when you put your creativity and imagination to use and produce something unique, something that reflects your own feelings and viewpoint…

…when you consciously DECIDE what you will paint.

Take the photograph I just showed you. It is a scene I photographed in Ireland and I'll admit it's a pleasant enough scene.

It might even make a pleasant enough painting, but the thing is, with a few changes, it could be made much more interesting.

Now at this point you might be asking yourself, "Wait a minute, what's wrong with the way it is?"

"What's wrong with the way it is?"

Well, if you wanted to make a strong painting using it, there are quite a few things wrong with it. Take another look at it.

1. Look at the large expanse of water with only one tiny boat in it to add interest. The water gets boring, because it's practically all the same flat color and value. The human eye likes variety.

2. Our eyes also like to see variety in size. The area covered by water in the photograph is very similar in size to the area covered by the hillside. Look at this diagram and this point may be easier to see.

3. When we simplify the elements, we also see how the sky, the hillside, the cloud shadows and the water all create distinct horizontal bands across the picture. The only thing partially breaking up these bands is the mast of the tiny boat.

4. What's the star of this picture? The white boat stands out from the darker background, but is small and too weak to be a strong star. The hillside is larger, provides much more variety and interest, but there isn't one part of it that stands out.

5. The cloud shadows on the hillside, the shoreline and the sharp edge of the ridge line all try to lead your eyes out of the picture. As an artist, you want to keep the viewer's attention within the painting.

6. Disregarding the boat for a moment, notice there's not much contrast in the photograph and certainly not much drama in this scene. You can see this more clearly now that I've changed the picture to black and white.

If all you do is copy this photograph, you simply transfer all its flaws to your painting.

And unfortunately, that is what often happens.

I've done that. And this is one reason aspiring artists struggle with creating art in their beginning years. They become so dependent on their photographic reference that they don't recognize the flaws in it.

They also haven’t yet learned to recognize these flaws as an opportunity to use their imaginations to change the flaws into something great.

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