1. This may be the most important habit of all. Leave your easel and paints out and ready to paint at a moments notice. I find I can easily talk myself out of painting at all if I have to lay out my materials before I can get down to work. It’s so easy to put off making my art when I have to set up, take it down and clean up afterward. If your space is limited find a small corner somewhere to leave your easel and a small table. A TV tray will do. I’ve also used a plastic storage bin, which makes a great place to store extra tools and supplies when they aren’t in use. If you’re always ready to create, you will paint much more often.
2. Keep your work-in-progress in plain sight. Out of sight is out of mind, you know. My current project sits in the living room even if I’ll be painting it somewhere else. I like to watch my painting while taking my breaks, having dinner or during television commercials. Much of the work of painting involves just looking at your canvas. Really study it. Take notes. Then when you pick up the brush you’ll know exactly what changes you want to make or problems you need to fix. Whatever you do, don’t hide it in the closet or the garage where you never see it.
3. Keep your paint, palette, knife, brushes, and water or solvent jar in front of your dominant hand. That will be on your right side if you are right handed. All you lefties need to reverse this and put everything on your left. I see so many people reaching across in front of their painting to clean brushes or to pick up paint. This causes accidents not to mention physical strain. Your body and your clothes will thank you. Oh, and for safety’s sake, put your drink on the opposite side. You’ll be less likely to wash your brush in your root beer.
4. Position your photo reference on the opposite side of your canvas from your paints and brushes. That is the left side if you are right handed and the right side if you are left handed. It should sit upright at the same angle as the canvas. This will prevent many drawing mistakes. If the angle of your photograph is different from the tilt of your canvas it causes a false perspective. Most of my students use a small stand or easel for their photo. A stand made for typists works quite well.
5. Check your values by squinting when you look at both your subject and your painting. This makes contrast more obvious and color less distracting. Squint often. Get those darks and lights right if you want a strong picture.
6. Step back from your work. Do this often. It will allow you to spot patterns, mistakes, and relationships between objects. You will see the overall composition instead of the details. You can’t see the painting for the brushstrokes when you are working up close. Keep in mind that we normally view finished paintings from a distance. The stretch feels good if you usually paint sitting down too. Here’s a tip for those of you who have physical problems that make it difficult getting out of your chair. Get one of those peepholes like you install in doors so you can see who’s outside. Keep it in your paint box and use it to look at your painting while you work. It gives almost the same effect as viewing your work from a distance. There is some distortion but it’s better than never stepping away to look at your picture at all. Looking over your shoulder through a mirror helps spot problems too.
7. Stand or sit directly facing your canvas. If you are sitting at a table arrange the easel so that it is parallel to the edge of the table right in front of you and comfortably within reach. If you need more distance use longer brushes. You shouldn’t have to lean across the table to work. Your back will be grateful.
8. Last but not least, paint on location as often as possible. There is no substitute for painting your subject in person. Photographs cannot convey all the information from the original scene. Colors are fewer and incorrect, and depth disappears. Contrast is lost and values skewed. Many details don’t show in the photos.
These ideas (when used) will give greater enjoyment to your painting experience and improve the quality of your work. See you in Class. Until then, Happy Painting!