Sometimes it takes years on end to master something. For painting, there’s no difference. But when you’re there, years into it, you realise that some of the things that make paintings look professional can be boiled down to a few recurring aspects. In this article, I want to share three ways, or aspects, that I’ve found to be effective thinking about over the years.
Let’s get to it!
#1: Find a flow + Rule of Thirds
When making a conceptual artwork, it’s very important to guide the viewer’s eyes properly through the concept. This is particularly true with landscape paintings, especially if there are story elements involved – such as a main character travelling, or inside of a town. It can be a skill in itself to nail this down, and is acquired through years of practice, but there are some ways to go about doing it simple and easy.
Guiding the eyes of the viewer requires you to decide what should be important in the painting. There shouldn’t be too many story elements, otherwise there is simply too much to look at and the eye can’t flow relaxed across the painting. Having a few key elements, placed out in a pleasing way (rule of thirds!), with a direction in the painting guiding the viewer, is really the key to it. Let’s look at an example:
See how the eye sort of wants to go in this way. The focal points are placed out according to the rule of thirds, there isn’t too much going on in the scene other than what I’m focusing on and things are pointing inwards and following where I want to guide the viewers. It doesn’t have to exactly land on the intersections of the rule of thirds, but around those areas are great to place important focal points.
#2: Less details – Simpler execution
This one is very important to understand, because it will save you time and headache when figuring out what’s not really working in your painting; a lot of times it can be that there are just too many details going on in the image. You would be amazed at how much it actually does to remove/simplify 80% of all the crap that’s around a lot of beginners’ paintings. Decide on 2 or 3 important focal points in your painting, 2 or 3 interesting parts that you would like to be the central subject or focus of the painting. Either they tell a story, or they just look awesome being in the focus like that.
Compare the following two images:
Artist: Jadrien Cousens
Artist: Jacek Irzykowski
I don’t know about you, but I sure think the first matte painting looks better than the second one and, in my honest scrutiny, think that is mostly thanks due to the use of a simpler execution; adding in way less details. Don’t overwhelm your audience with too much or too many focal points to look at. The second example is good, but it’s simply too much stuff. The more you paint, the more you realize this – I am still realizing it each year I improve.
Just to make it clear: your paintings can be highly detailed and well rendered, but then do it artfully and with proper thought to the painting as a whole.
#3: Do studies
I can’t stress how powerful of a technique this is. Every single professional artist takes hers or his inspiration partly from their idols. I am a huge fan of Albert Bierstadt for example, so I take a LOT of inspiration from his paintings; how he pushes mountains back in the distance, how the weather interplays with the scenery, contrasts with lights and shadows, and more. I do studies of his work to really get a grip of how to build up similar vibes and get a similar sense of scale.
Studies are a way for us to test ourselves, improve and learn from the very best. You must undoubtedly have works of art from artists that you think highly of – make studies of their work. Paint their exact paintings yourself! You will learn so much from doing this, and your paintings will be a lot better the more you understand how to get your paintings to become what you want them to become
I once wanted to learn more how to do epic paintings in acrylics and oils (I still want to know that actually), so I took one of Albert Bierstadt’s paintings, and I made a study of it in acrylic, and some of it I decided to apply myself and deviate a bit from his original (that’s OK to do!). The original is in oil:
Albert Bierstadt, Indian Spear Fishing
And here is mine:
I learned A LOT from doing this. It was my very first acrylic painting (the original Bierstadt painting is in oils). I learned how to set up a sketch from something in my head (or in this case, something I saw previously on a painting), how to make a ground color, build up the color palette, and MUCH more. This is an invaluable way to become a better artist – do studies, learn and forever prosper.
Try to use one or more of these in your painting and you’ll become a better artist!
Until next time, guys!