What Makes “Good” Art?

What do you believe art is? What is art’s purpose? In many ways your beliefs will determine whether you think a certain piece of art is good or not. Since artists and experts don’t always completely agree on what good art is, answering these questions may be difficult, and any answer may seem subjective.

FOUR VIEWPOINTS.

1.) If you think that art should be an imitation of reality, then your definition of good art would require realistic light and shadows, accurate perspective, and proper proportions. 

Rosa Bonheur’s Painting – “The Horse Fair” (1852-55).

2.) A more formal interpretation of art would require good art to employ a traditional use of line quality, color, composition, and the other academic elements and principles of art. 

3.) Others might believe that good art must communicate a message. Good art has something to say to an audience and may try to convince or share commentary. Such art is often thought-provoking, having a moral or political theme.

4.) Finally, some people are of the opinion that good art must express the artist’s emotions and evoke an emotional response in the viewer. Creating an emotional connection is a goal.

Most people believe art ought to emphasize one or several of the above ideas. In What Makes Great Art  Andy Pankhurst and Lucinda Hawksley also discuss several other categories of good art ( for instance, art that focuses on beauty, movement, distortion, or symbolism). 

Joaquin Sorolla’s – “Walk On A Beach” (1909).

EXPERT OPINIONS.

Artists and art experts have offered their own individual definitions. One expert explained, “I have trouble describing exactly what good art is, but like pornography, I know it when I see it.” 

According to actor/director Michael Chekhov, great art has “a feeling of Ease, a feeling of Form, a feeling of Beauty, a feeling of the Whole.” (Note the repeated mention of the word “feeling.”) 

On medium.com, the author notes that good art is at least in part determined by “the clarity with which the artwork’s central idea or concept shines through.” 

Don Stone’s Painting – “Midwinter”.

The writer of artgoda.com says “good art has 1.) a strong emotional impact on the viewer, and 2.) leaves a long lasting, unforgettable impression.” Thus, great art evokes strong feelings and is not boring, but memorable. 

The art consultant Alan Bamberger feels “good art is an effective combination of concept, vision, and mastery of medium (the ability to get the point across). Good art is also uncompromisingly honest, unselfconscious, bold, ambitious, enlightening, original, challenging, and a feast for the senses. It doesn’t necessarily have to have all these qualities, but at the very least it has to keep you coming back for more… and never ever bore.” 

Artist Lauren Brevner has said “ I tend to have a visceral reaction to the piece… that’s how I know it’s good… It could be a quickening of my pulse, or butterflies in my stomach,… such a rush of emotion that I can’t help but feel drawn to it.”

For visual art specifically, another expert claims that the best artwork “shows a mastery of drawing, composition, color, and technique,” and that larger works, as opposed to tiny works, naturally have more impact. 

Andrew Wyeth’s Painting – “The Cummer’s Light Wash”.

 COMMON CHARACTERISTICS OF GOOD ART.

There is some general consensus, however, about what matters in creating good art, no matter what the style. Good art tends to have:

1.) Good composition and design.

2.) A feeling of the emotions of the artist (shown perhaps with liveliness, vitality, boldness, fearlessness, verve).

3.) An expression of originality (a new way of seeing or an unusual viewpoint). The artist is able to create an impression or interpretation that is their own. 

4.) Beauty. (The image is pleasing to the eye.)

5.) Unfussy, economical, fresh brushwork (not overworked or overwrought). Every part of the image is essential, necessary.

6.) Clear central idea or concept.

7.) Magic (a memorable, emotional impact).

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Painting – “Lake George” (1922).

FOLLOW GUIDELINES WHILE CHOOSING YOUR OWN STYLE.

Each of us identifies with or gravitates to certain types of art. We have our preferences, no matter what the experts say. Your inclinations will dictate the elements you will strive to include in your own paintings and that you prefer to see in any art you might buy. What are your preferences? Don’t merely follow trends; decide for yourself what you like.

At the same time, your style choices should not ignore the characteristics of good art. “Good” art is, in fact, NOT completely subjective. If you want to create your own “good” art, you cannot just do your own thing with no regard for generally accepted guidelines like those outlined above in the previous section. Aim to incorporate into your painting the important components of good art as you paint, whatever your chosen style. 

In summary, get a good grasp of the basic techniques in your chosen medium, incorporate some of the guidelines for good art into your artwork, then concentrate on making art that expresses your own personality and feelings.

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Try Plein Air Painting This Summer… Get Outdoors!

Summer and the longest days of the year have arrived; it’s the perfect time to get out for some fresh air, to relax, and to paint. Painting outside in nature can be fun and different, whether you make it a field trip to the woods, a park, a nature preserve, or just sit out on your own doorstep. If you’ve already planned a trip to the beach, gather your sketchbook and paints to take along. Take a few painting supplies when mountain climbing. When you reach the summit, you could rest while doing a quick sketch and painting of the view. Or sit on the dock at the lake to paint the clouds and water. A change of scene can encourage close observation and inspire us.

Ocean view inspiration.
Summit View Inspiration.

MATERIALS.

Before starting out, consider your supplies. Keep your art kit on the small and lightweight side since you’ll be carrying it with you. Pack it in a bag ahead of time, so you’ll be ready to go when the time is right. 

In my kit I include a small sketchbook (that I use to record color and weather observations, to create thumbnails, to make sketches and contour drawings, to experiment with color matching (i.e. as a test sheet), to make notes of ideas). I also pack a small ‘block’ of watercolor paper (which is easy to hold on my lap for painting). I suggest including a watercolor travel palette like this one from amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Winsor-Newton-Cotman-Water-Colour/dp/B000PD3LY4/ref=sr_1_23?crid=1T41EILMKX301&keywords=winsor+newton+watercolor+set&qid=1656615455&sprefix=winsor+neton%2Caps%2C128&sr=8-23.  (When the paint in the small half pans has been exhausted, I refill the pans from watercolor tubes in my choice of colors.) The above set includes paint, a travel brush, and small water pots as well as a water container. If your paint set doesn’t include a brush or two, water in a container, and a water holder (for painting and cleaning your brushes), you will need to add these to your kit. If you prefer, water brushes (which have a water reservoir attached to a nylon brush) are available, so added water would not be necessary. I have some water brushes, but personally I don’t find their quality to be very good. A pencil, eraser, paper towels (or tissues), a viewfinder, perhaps some water-soluble drawing pencils, and watercolor pencils are also good to bring along. Depending on how far I will be going, I might also bring a hat, a folding chair, and something to drink. 

I enjoyed making my own small accordion sketchbook to take on outdoor sketching trips recently. I cut a full sheet (22X30″) of watercolor paper into three strips, attached them to each other, and used two pieces of leftover mat board for a cover. I keep it closed when not in use with a covered elastic headband. The finished sketchbook size is 4X6″; it opens into a continuous painting area of about 6X72″, or 18 pages on one side, and 6X64″, 16 pages, on the opposite side.

Handmade Sketchbook With Mat Board Cover.
Handmade Accordion Sketchbook Opened.

HOW TO CHOOSE WHAT TO PAINT.

When you arrive at your destination, look for a comfortable, interesting spot. The first part of your process involves looking around to get familiar with what’s in front of you. Look closely and think about what draws you in. Take your time. If you have a viewfinder, use it to help you pick your subject for painting. (You can make your own viewfinder by cutting a rectangle out of white card stock.) Looking through the hole, move the viewfinder closer and farther away from your eye to “zoom” in and out.  Wait for a composition to come into the frame that appeals to you. 

Wood Pile Inspiration.
Bare Trees Inspiration.

You can also plan a composition by drawing several quick thumbnail sketches in your sketchbook to begin to translate what you see into two dimensions on paper. See this blog post for more information on the advantages of thumbnails: Hold Your Horses!, (7/17/2020), https://leemuirhaman.com/2020/07/17/hold-your-horses/ . Sketch out various viewpoints or arrangements of the scene to find your preferences. Pick one of your thumbnails to paint, without overthinking.

TIPS.

There is no need to include everything you see in your painting. In fact, your picture will be stronger without including every detail. Observe the scene closely, but allow yourself to improvise, be spontaneous, even play, using what you see as your starting point. Feel free to paint smaller and quicker than you usually do, since the light will shift and the weather can change unexpectedly. If desired, use your smartphone to snap a couple of quick pictures of the light or colors just in case you need the information later.

Notice big shapes and a range of lights and darks. Look for patterns, color combinations, or shadows, for instance, to focus on. For more information about how to think about shapes in your artwork, look at Simplify Your Watercolors By Focusing On Shapes!, (7/16/2019), https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/07/16/simplify-your-watercolors-by-focusing-on-shapes/

Barn Shapes Inspiration.
Purple And Green Cabbage Color Inspiration.

YOU GET TO CHOOSE.  

Outdoor painting is a good way to start moving beyond copying because you don’t use others’ photo references. You get to decide your own subject and your own focus during your painting session. Paint what you find most interesting. You can choose to include or leave out whatever you wish. Since you will be in control of determining your main concept, edit out anything that is not important to the story you will be telling in the painting.

MANY APPROACHES.

There are many ways to approach outdoor painting. Generally, outdoor paintings tend to be done more quickly and loosely than studio paintings because time available is limited. So, simplify and try not to get bogged down with details. Instead, one way to begin painting is to use light washes to block out the main areas of color on the paper. Then work on the lightest areas first. You can gradually build up and intensify colors as you proceed to create depth and detail. 

One artist I know begins by loosely painting colored shapes first, then drawing line and detail later when the original colors have dried. She uses various materials for these later layers, sometimes choosing more watercolor, or perhaps Pigma micron pens, Faber Castell Pitt pens, or Caran D’Ache Neocolors. Another artist friend will start with a loose, very light pencil sketch before applying any paint. Yet another artist I know makes a lot of separate watercolor marks (squiggles, dashes, dots, lines, blobs), but no washes of color to describe the scene, much like pointillism. When the color on the paper has dried, this artist lightly softens marks to merge colors, fill in white space, and create shadows.

FINALLY.

Give plein air painting a try, especially if it’s new to you. You may just fall in love with it. It can be fun to experiment with something new and different. 

Paint what inspires you. And when your painting session is done, your outdoor painting can stand on its own or become the basis for a later studio painting.

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Find Your Inspiration And Create Original Work!

When first learning to paint, I wanted my paintings to look exactly like the references I used. I desperately hoped to acquire skills and technique so I could recreate the work of other artists. I searched for watercolor instructors to take classes so I could learn how to copy! After all, isn’t that how we learn? We copy and practice, taking advantage of another artist’s suggestions about color, style, and composition. Over time, I became an excellent copier, and I became more confident in my painting skills. However…

MOVING BEYOND COPYING.

Copying started to bore me. Ugh! My paintings were technically well done, but there was not much of me or my personality in them. For instance, my painting of a luna moth on tree bark was accurate, but now it seems a bit flat and static to me. At some point I realized that there had to be more! 

Luna Moth On Bark Watercolor Painting.

Things definitely got more interesting to me when I began to alter and interpret references. In a painting of Boston Marathon runners, for instance, I removed some runners and transformed one into one of my sons, who ran cross-country. I painted my first granddaughter as the young girl on a carousel. Another granddaughter I painted with a pile of gingersnaps that she had absconded with. This was a much more satisfying way to paint!

Wren and Gingersnaps Watercolor Painting.

I really began to want to move beyond copying. I soon yearned to learn how to design my own work and tell my own stories in my art. At the same time I continued to study watercolor technique and composition, knowing that I still had more to learn.

PERSONALIZE.

I don’t think anyone can tell you how to create art work in your own style. No one can tell you what issues are important to you. You have to do that for yourself. We are each unique individuals who see the world based on our own experiences and interests. Your style, like your handwriting, cannot help but come out. But style is more likely to emerge when we stop copying every last detail of an image and begin to interpret references.

Listen to yourself (notice your feelings) to better understand how to create work that has meaning for you. Worry less about whether your art is ‘good enough’ or what others will think of your work.

HOW?

Sometimes you don’t know where to start to create ‘original’ art. I remember not knowing how to design a painting or even what I wanted to paint. I felt at a loss and uncertain. I had to get to know myself better and become more confident even while I was learning more about art. I needed to reconnect with my own intuition and become more aware of my own preferences and feelings. And trust myself. That kind of growth is not likely to happen all at once – it certainly didn’t for me. I often felt that I knew better what I didn’t like than what I did like. Gradually, though, I noticed being drawn to some topics, some compositions more than others. I found myself wanting to eliminate certain parts of a reference or to combine two reference photos to build a scene more interesting to me. I was even excited to take some of my own photos to use for reference. With time, I began to acknowledge my own independence and value my own opinion. It remains an ongoing process; it isn’t always easy. I continue to wean myself from over-dependence on others’ photo references. 

LOOK INWARD.

To begin to reduce a dependence on copying and using other artist’s ideas, start to look inward. Look for your own inspiration. What  interests you? What excites you? What gives you joy? What kind of painting do you enjoy seeing or creating? 

Your heart knows the way. Run in that direction. (Rumi)

Experiment and try new things. Notice where you lose track of time and fall into the enjoyment of painting. Are you fascinated by landscapes and paintings of the outdoors? Do you prefer flowers, or a still life? Could you spend all day exploring colors? Does it thrill you to see paint flow? Or would you rather paint lots of details close up?

There is no formula. What do you want to create? What would you paint if no one was looking? What makes you happy? What do you always return to in your art? That is your inspiration.

What do I like? I find I really enjoy painting landscapes, the outdoors, or scenes relating to the disappearing traditions of New England. I seem to be searching for the forgotten, the lost, the answer that’s always right around the corner – I always seem to be searching. I’m drawn again and again to images of dirt roads, doorways, windows, streams and rivers moving on, distant hills, fog and mist. 

Flowing Forward Watercolor Painting.
Tristan’s Fall Road Watercolor Painting.

DON’T FORCE.

You cannot force insight or creativity or intuition, but you can be open to them. Find a place of calm inside yourself, not of fear, self-doubt, or anxiety, to better notice your thoughts and intuitions. In other words, a fearless open mind will invite creativity in. 

Personally, I find it hard to ‘let go’ of striving, to create a place of acceptance and calm in my mind. My tendency is to keep pushing, to produce results, which doesn’t always end very well. I have to keep telling myself that things happen in their own time, on their own schedule, sometimes when you least expect it. After all, some of my best painting experiences happened unexpectedly when my hand and my brush took off and left my ego behind; then the painting somehow flowed and took on a life of its own. 

Pitcher and Pears Watercolor Painting.

You could describe this letting go and being open as Annie Dillard did in Pilgrim At Tinker’s Creek. She describes one way of seeking not “as actual pursuit” but as putting “myself in the way of“ what is being sought. She adds “Something might come; something might go.” Roger Ebert said it another way. “ The muse visits during the act of creation, not before. Don’t wait for her. Start alone.” In other words, keep on painting but don’t try to force anything.

Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working. (Pablo Picasso)

HOW COULD I DO IT?

A helpful resource to build for yourself is a FILE of inspiring images. You can cut out pictures from magazines (of colors you like, shapes that might work in your art, interesting people, beautiful vistas). Photos taken on a walk could be added to your inspiration file. Gather online images from Pinterest, Facebook groups (such as ‘Landscape References Photos For Artists’ or ‘Free Reference Photos For Artists’ ), or websites of copyright free images (pexels.com , unsplash.com , https://publicdomainarchive.com/index.html , watercolor world (https://www.watercolourworld.org/), Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/), British Library Copyright Free Images (https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/albums)) . Check museum websites for copyright free images ( for example, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/the-collection ).

You can file or organize images by topic to make later retrieval easier.

I look for inspiring images from my photos taken on walks, by scrolling various online copyright free sites, in books, and compiled images from  several of my photographer friends. I search for shapes, colors, themes to adapt for my art.

You could visit museums near you to look for inspiration. Start sketching, whether everyday objects, shapes, or the view out your window, to create images to inspire your art work. Go for walks (and snap your own photos) in the woods or parks, around your town or city. Notice and take note of what interests you.

IN PRACTICE.

Be open to new ideas. When you choose to adapt a reference, use your intuition and imagination to create something original. A reference can be a mere starting point for your painting. This approach often works for me because I think of each painting as a kind of puzzle to be solved. I enjoy the ‘detective’ work of figuring out how I might approach and create a painting. 

Try to notice your own reactions as your work progresses. Does it feel right when you eliminate parts or simplify details? Do the changes make your statement stronger? Could you combine several photos into one painting? Rearrange objects to emphasize your center of interest? Make sure to include both soft and hard edges, maybe lost edges, to encourage the viewer’s imagination? What if you change the mood, season, or time of day? Try to include some visual energy in the painting. Varying the quality of light can create contrast or a glow so that you are not recreating a flat, dull scene. Change the viewpoint by zooming in for a closeup or pulling out to create a distant vista. Altering your color choices can also give a very different feel to the work. Or you can totally shake things up by taking only colors or shapes from your reference to create abstract paintings. You can even paint completely from your imagination, without any reference.

FINALLY.

Experiment. Ask yourself, is this painting working for me? Take credit for taking action even if it doesn’t work. Then keep going! Finding your own inspiration can be exhilarating!

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After Watercolor Basics… What Next?

STAGE I. THE BASICS.

Anyone with desire and focus, can learn to paint with watercolors. The process, however, can take a very long time, even years, and true artists never stop learning (nor do they want to). But let’s assume that you have learned what materials you need and the fundamental techniques you need to use those materials. What comes next?  When I began to paint in 2008, I didn’t know. I don’t think I even knew that I was considering such a question. What was important to me at the time was improving! I wanted to get more proficient. In this post, I intend to share some of the steps I’ve taken in my process of learning watercolor, a few questions I’ve asked myself, and several concerns I’ve had along the way.      

Red Bumpers Watercolor Painting.

STAGE II. COPYING & CLOSE OBSERVATION.

Beyond the elementary techniques, I found that what I wanted was to portray my reference images as accurately as possible. I quickly learned that close observation was required. But as an artist, I found ‘seeing’ isn’t simple.

Most of the time, we look at things with only part of our attention.  We see only what we expect to see, often assigning a label to every image.  For instance, if what we are looking at is a ‘tree,’ we may not explore carefully what is really there.  This habit of not paying close attention keeps us from actually LOOKING at things.  In the everyday world, we quickly categorize and move on, perhaps in part because there seems to be so much information.

When I started painting, I would choose an image to paint, and the first thing I’d notice was a lot of detail. I was distracted by details, as perhaps you are, too. What do you do with all that detail? How do you know which details are important? Those questions overwhelmed me. I had been told to ‘look carefully’ at a reference, but the more I looked, the more confusing detail I saw. Over time, however, I began to believe that the trick had to be focusing on something else, not trying to capture every tiny detail.  Focusing on small details, like individual leaves, or trying to include every tree trunk or grass blade in a painting, didn’t work well.

Thus, to paint more successfully, I forced myself to slow down. I tried NOT to look at small details first, but instead to examine and study the shapes, values, and colors that made up the larger framework of each scene. ‘Seeingdoes mean focusing attention, looking closely, but especially at the arrangement of shapes. For example, where is the light hitting the tree branches?  Can you see through the branches?  What is the overall shape of the tree?  Are branches straight, upturned, crooked, rough?  Is the tree lopsided or symmetrical?  Are the highlights a different color from the shadows?  What is the weather, and how does it affect the appearance of the ‘tree’?  By asking such questions and looking carefully, I began to more accurately paint what I SAW, NOT what I THOUGHT I saw.

As I became more familiar with and practiced at painting, I began to see more subtle color, more nuanced detail, more understated tones. It seems that ‘seeing’ cannot be forced and may only develop gradually over time, with experience, and when one is ready. With practice, however, we can expect to notice more and sooner, perhaps even noting details that others miss or take for granted.

Forsythia In Vases Watercolor Painting.

DRAWING HELPS YOU OBSERVE CAREFULLY.

Drawing trains the mind, hand, and eye to work together.  Many beginning artists may avoid drawing altogether if they can, feeling that their drawing skills are not good.  However, you should not feel obliged to render precise drawings of what you wish to paint.  Do not let your concerns about drawing ability or drawing technique deter you. I found that even sketching a quick, rough thumbnail required me to consider what was important in a scene. One of the main purposes of drawing is to TRAIN yourself to see shapes and spaces more accurately – to ‘see’ like an artist and keep the big picture in mind.  By keeping details to a minimum, just getting some information down without stressing, you can help yourself to see.  

More specifically, you should look for basic SHAPES and notice how they are connected.  Find larger shapes first; then fit smaller shapes into them.  See the image as a whole; and only then concentrate on individual components.  Distracting details are only decoration on the surface of these shapes. Squinting your eyes often helps you to see beyond any unnecessary detail. Concentrate; work slowly and intently.  Give yourself the time to observe and take in information before rushing to produce an image.  Ultimately, the goal is to be able to perceive what you see as totally abstract forms, values, lines, and color, as in a jigsaw puzzle. You must shift your perspective. Remember that shadows are shapes, as are reflections.  Backgrounds have shape and should act as frames for the subject of a painting.  Only when you can ‘see’ in this way will you begin to be able to suggest three-dimensional reality on your flat, two-dimensional paper.

Frederick Franck, artist and philosopher, says in The Zen of Seeing/Drawing:  “I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle . . . .”  So do not hesitate to sketch and draw what you intend to paint.  As you draw, you will notice which details are important and sharpen the mind/hand/eye coordination necessary to improve your painting skills.  Drawing is a skill that requires practice and time, just like any other ability (including learning the techniques of painting).  The skills and mental processes necessary for drawing are the same as those you use when painting with a brush.

White Primroses Watercolor Painting.

STAGE III. BEGIN TO DESIGN, PLAN, & SIMPLIFY.

When I began to feel more confident reproducing an image before me, I sometimes found myself wishing I could improve a composition; the reference pictures I found weren’t quite satisfying. Occasionally I wanted to combine two photos instead of having to copy one. In other instances, I wondered if some of the components in a picture might be better relocated to another section of the picture, even left out. A tree or a building might have been blocking what I thought was the most interesting section of the picture.

At this point, I also began to take some of my own reference photos, to create a view I desired. I essentially inched my way toward DESIGNING my paintings, seeing what was in front of me but arranging and modifying the information to actually improve the picture, making it something I liked better and felt was more effective. 

Eventually it dawned on me that this desire to improve a reference might be the start to a new stage in painting for me. To improve a painting, I could forget about ‘reproducing’ nature. I could start to REARRANGE it! I could take what I liked and ignore what I didn’t want to include. Definite rules about design and composition existed and could greatly improve a painting. I wanted to learn them. 

Mastering Composition by Ian Roberts is a comprehensive guide and excellent resource that can help you learn more about composition. 

These blog posts might also be of interest if you want to know more: “Composition!?!”, (5/7/2020), https://leemuirhaman.com/2020/05/07/, and “Designing A Strong Painting With Good Composition!”, (10/16/2018), https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/10/16/designing-a-strong-painting/.

Red Geranium Watercolor Painting.

I found that this designing and PLANNING need to be done BEFORE any paint is put on the paper. Again, you will need to study your subject for a while. Think about what it is that attracted you – that should be the primary statement or BIG IDEA in your painting. Consider what you will emphasize in the picture. Eliminate anything that might compete with or distract from the ONE focal point and main idea. You shouldn’t try to include every daunting detail in a scene. Instead, it pays to NARROW your vision (even to crop an image) and SIMPLIFY your subject. 

Ask yourself what your focal point is. What will your painting be about? Is there a lead-in to invite the viewer into the picture? Think about what you want to say before you start. WHAT do you hope to achieve, and HOW are you going to achieve it? Establish some clear objectives. 

While drawing or sketching develops necessary observational skills as mentioned previously, drawing also helps you to plan and condense information into a simplified format. This clarification will strengthen the message of your final painting.  With a drawing you are more likely to end up with your focal point being prominent, because you concentrate mainly on that particular feature.  Your drawing will be streamlined, easier on the eye of the viewer, because you collect only the information that counts and leave out extraneous material. Thus, drawing trains the brain to think about and analyze what is essential to the picture.

High Jinks Watercolor Painting.

IV. EXPRESS FEELINGS & EMOTIONS.

A later stage in improving my painting skills grew out of the wish to have my feelings and emotions come across in each painting. When establishing the IDEA for a painting now, I try to think about how I feel. We all interpret a scene in our own way – WHAT you want to emphasize and WHY will probably differ from what interests me or another person. That is to be expected – we all have different experiences, reactions, thoughts, and feelings that affect our impression of our world. These factors will affect our chosen focal point, our ‘big idea’ for a painting, even the style in which we paint it. (Our own particular concerns and perception directly determine the painting style we choose.)

In other words, I try to consider MOOD when planning my painting approach to a picture, and then work to express it. It seems easier for me to achieve some success at this in some paintings than in others. I contemplate how the scene makes me feel. Happy, sad, excited, nostalgic? I strive to determine what it is I want to show and what the meaning of each topic is to me. Why did I choose to paint this picture? Why was I drawn to this image? Does the scene remind me of a favorite place?  Does the picture make me feel calm? Do I feel like laughing when I look at or think about this subject? 

I believe great artists are able to paint their feelings about a scene, as well as an impression of its actual appearance. (Think about Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, for instance, or Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring.) They make sure they don’t copy the details so faithfully and precisely that there is no room left for life, mystery, or emotion in a painting. Instead, such artists paint their interpretation and memories, share what they feel are the significant factors behind what may be a commonplace scene, attempt to translate emotions aroused in their hearts. They often reveal their skill at rearrangement and invention in the scene.

T’s Fall Road Watercolor Painting.

Emotion can be conveyed in a painting in a number of ways. The mood of a painting can be created or altered by hard, soft, or lost edges; light and dark values (contrast, high key, or low key); line and arrangement of masses (lyrical, angular, curved, open, closed-in, a preponderance of verticals or horizontals); light (overcast, ominous or threatening, nighttime, bright and sunny, glaring, or late afternoon); and color choice and color proportion (warm, neutral, cold, cheery, drab, soothing, jarring, or balanced). For more in depth information on emotion and mood in painting, see “Get In The Mood!”, (9/4/2018), https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/09/04/get-in-the-mood/

Choosing and combining so many variables appropriately and successfully to express your emotion takes experimentation and practice, yet is the ultimate goal in art.

Take note of and respond to your own emotions – these feelings are what you will try to get down on paper and share with viewers of your art. Think with your heart. People will connect to YOUR art with THEIR emotions! 

V. BECOME YOUR OWN TEACHER.

After painting for ten years, I lost my beloved mentor and watercolor teacher, who died in 2018. Before he died, he asked me to take over the teaching of his watercolor classes. While I didn’t feel at all ready for that, I really didn’t want to let him down. For that reason, I started teaching others what he had taught me. However, I couldn’t help feeling that there was still more for me to learn. If I had questions, though, who could I ask? My solution was to study art books, seek information online, and continue taking occasional workshops in person and courses online. 

I also began writing blog posts (in 2018) to share with others the information I was learning about watercolor. I studied and wrote about things I was struggling with, or topics I found especially interesting. In order to write about a subject, I had to consolidate, understand, and make sense of it for myself. Writing has helped me know my own thoughts.

I think we can all work towards becoming our own best teacher. Always keep learning on your own and for yourself. I’m not suggesting you avoid taking classes or working with watercolor instructors you enjoy and are learning from. Instead, I’m asking you to treat yourself as a good teacher would, by being supportive of yourself, allowing yourself to investigate and learn more about the art topics that you might be struggling with, and searching out information about your art interests. (One of my recent investigative searches has been about how to paint light, create the glow of light in watercolor.) I hope that you take an active part in your own art education.

If interested, the following blog post will explain more about creating the best possible attitude toward your painting: “How Can I Become My Own Best Teacher”, (7/21/2021), https://leemuirhaman.com/2021/07/21/how-can-i-become-my-own-watercolor-teacher/.

Crossroads Watercolor Painting.

WHAT’S NEXT?

For me, I want to continue to write and to paint with watercolor. I hope to freshen up my website, perhaps even adding an option to purchase directly from the site. I would like to improve my skills at designing my own pictures more creatively, and to spend more time painting my own compositions. I will also, of course, persist in studying, learning, and researching what intrigues me about watercolor.

What’s next for you?

Join me and get painting tips, inspiration, and the latest news about classes, new art or products for sale, sent to you by email. Subscribe here. I’ll give you a free copy of my Color Blending Tips pdf. that you can download and print.

What do you think about this quote by Martha Beck who has said, “An artist’s real contribution isn’t what he paints, but the way he sees.”? Let me know in a comment below.

Jumpstart Your Watercolor Painting!

Several articles I’ve read lately have made me aware of the great benefits of ‘daily painting.’ Painting every day develops creative habits and greatly improves your art. You become more skillful, productive, and successful as an artist, according to the many painters who have tried it. Wait! Don’t, like me, immediately dismiss the idea of painting daily as impossible for you.  Try to keep an open mind as you read the following comments, and you may find that you are excited and inspired to begin to paint more consistently yourself.

Artist Mary Gilkerson explains: “Before you tell me you just don’t have time, let me point out a couple of things. Consistency over quantity. Consistency matters. Doing a small painting daily is better for your growth than 5 big paintings a month. 20-30 minutes a day can make a huge difference.

“The rewards: 

   1.  Your work improves.

   2.  You stay motivated because ideas flow easily.

   3.   Small daily steps move you closer to your goals.

   4.   Muscle memory takes over and the difficult things become easier.

   5.   You paint faster with more ease.

   6.   You paint more intuitively and responsively rather than consciously.

   7.   Your own personal style will develop without you even having to think about it.”

Chris Krupinski agrees and has said she knew she wouldn’t be a really good painter by painting only on weekends, so she committed to painting two hours every day no matter what. 

Duane Keiser, who is often credited with initiating ‘daily painting’ (as in completing a small painting a day) in 2004 and posts his work for sale on a daily blog, states that his daily small paintings “are about the pleasure of seeing.”

Simple Red and Green Watercolor.

Simone Nijboer, a Dutch artist, talks about her art journey, sharing this: “For many years, I wanted to paint but did not dare to start. When I had gathered enough courage, I started painting, but dropped it again quite soon, since I had lots of insecurities, doubts, and unhelpful thoughts around painting. 

“This all changed when I started painting on a more or less daily basis. I loved it so much! It might sound exaggerated, but I personally feel that daily painting changed my life. 

“Creativity became an indispensable and joyful ingredient of my day, and this joy spread over to the rest of my life.”

Carol Marine, artist and author of Daily Painting, rediscovered the joy of painting when she began completing small (mostly 6”X6”) works daily during her son’s naptime. “Painting small and often gave me the freedom to experiment – every day I got to start on an entirely new project. No longer did I feel overwhelmed by the large number of things I wanted to paint – I could do them all. And I could do each one fifty different ways (or more)! If one subject or one style didn’t quite work out, well, I didn’t sweat it. I had only invested part of a day’s worth of work on it, after all.”

Two Fruits Watercolor.

Stephen Berry, a watercolor artist who writes the blog Seamless Expression, has written (3/11/2022) a most compelling description of how the daily painting process has affected him. “I’ve been doing a daily painting for each of the last 32 days, and it’s been a wonderful learning experience.  I can’t recommend it enough!  I’ve gotten to stretch myself in a lot of ways, and although it’s been daunting at times (and logistically complex!), it’s also been a great deal of fun.  So much fun, in fact, that I intend to keep going….

“At first, the painting experience was just like normal for me, but slowly, as I began to paint each day, it dawned on me that I was going to paint again, and soon.  That can be very liberating!  Paintings become less precious, failure less demoralizing (although still totally irksome), more chances get taken.  And that means growth….

“Painting daily has provided me a space to try out new approaches— high key paintings, or new color relationships, new pigments, new compositions, etc…. I need to pick subjects I can easily simplify— and that means strong shapes and bold contrasts.  And that is often very good for creating compelling composition.”  Berry says he works hard to recognize what is really essential in an image and to decide just what it is he wants to paint. What is not essential, he discards. “There’s a bold, graphic quality to the final product, which I like….The changes in my compositions have been so compelling to me.” (See  http://www.seamlessexpression.com/blog/2022/3/10/daily-painting-for-a-month-and-longer to read more of Berry’s blog post.)

Lily Pads Watercolor.

I’m inspired! Are you? Will you choose to complete a small daily painting, or decide to commit yourself to regular painting every single day (not necessarily finishing one work daily)? Perhaps you’d like to really commit yourself to getting good at your art by painting consistently, not just on the weekend! Promise yourself to paint for 30 minutes to an hour every day, whether you finish a painting during that time or not. Return the next day to paint for the same amount of time, and the next day. By the third day maybe you’ll have a finished painting. The main thing is to figure out what works for you to get you painting more regularly, painting more than you used to.

Let me know how you get yourself to paint consistently. Do you have tips that you would like to share with others who struggle to find the time to paint? Let me know in the comments.

Join me and get painting tips, inspiration, and the latest news about classes, new art or products for sale, sent to you by email. Subscribe here. I’ll give you a free copy of my Color Blending Tips pdf. that you can download and print.