Painting is complicated, right? So many concepts to think about at one time. Off the top of my head: composition, perspective, proportion, shape, line quality, contrast, palette colors, color temperature, color saturation, complementary colors, tinting strength, underpainting, brush size, paint viscosity, light source, canvas type, surface texture, edge quality, brush handling, painting wet-into-wet, glazing, etc.
So, how do we manage all of that while developing a strong foundation as painters? Is there a simple way to guarantee our improvement? Yes!
Regularly practice copying what you see.
Very few of us can excel without regular practice. Yes there are a few geniuses out there who just have the natural ability. But the rest of us require regular practice to develop our skills. Nothing to be ashamed of here, we just have to put in the work. Once you’ve reached 1,000 paintings you’re well on your way. All of that repetition sorts out much of what’s in the above list, by the way.
Improving our ability to copy means working through a process to train our eyes to see more accurately. I think the two main areas where this is needed are:
1. Drawing Accuracy
Faithfully measuring greatly improves our drawing accuracy over time. Click here to read my previous post about measuring.
2. Color Recognition
Our color recognition can be developed by regularly painting from life. (Still life, plein air landscape, portrait, figure.) Do your best to take the time necessary to mix your colors to match what you see. Don’t be lazy and say “oh, it’s close enough.”
As you practice the above two areas, work hard to identify problems you encounter. Ask yourself: “Why doesn’t my drawing match what I see?” (Wrong perspective, incorrect distance between shapes, faulty angles, etc.) “What is different about the color I’ve mixed compared to the color in my subject?” (Too light or dark, too intense, too dull, too warm or cool, etc.) Then take time to correct those mistakes.
I think no matter what style of painting you’re wanting to eventually do, this simple approach can guide you. Once you can confidently copy what you see, you’ll have a strong foundation from which to take your paintings in any direction.