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4 Things I Wish I Knew as a Beginner Oil Painter

1. Painting from life really does make a difference

When I first started painting I made the tragic mistake of painting from photos. Eventually I was able to correct the bad habits I learned, but I wish I had never used photos in the first place. I thought it was fine because that's how I first started painting.. With time I understood how big of a difference there was between my work and that of the old masters. That's when I decided to start painting from life. Soon after I noticed major differences in my work and I realized just how big of a difference painting from life can make.

The problem with photos

Photos are completely flat. Even if there is depth to the photo, it will be different from really seeing a live model. Therefore, your painting is going to end up appearing flat. There are certain qualities about the depth and your perception of the form that can’t be observed from a photo.

Movement is to your benefit

A real person is living and breathing - not still and flat. This sense of movement is to your benefit. You will have to focus on the essence of the subject rather than always having the exact same photo right in front of you.

2. There should be a purpose to your painting

If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable." - Seneca

When you have no purpose or a vague sense of purpose then no 'wind' will be favorable. You can never arrive at a destination or feel that you have made progress if you lack purpose.

Don't be aimless

You should know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Having clear goals will allow you to actually judge your progress. Without any goals you will be completely aimless and unsatisfied with what you’re doing.

Modern & Classic Don't Mix

Many painters have a tendency to ‘combine’ realism and abstraction. The truth is that they just have unclear values. You should decide whether you want to make classical paintings or modern art. There is a clear distinction between the two.

Have a canon

You need a canon of works which represent the highest level that you hope to achieve. These works will give you a point of reference to judge your work off of. These will also confirm or deny the philosophy that you are practicing in reality. If your gold standard is Rembrandt's 'The Return of the Prodigal Son', but you make paintings that resemble Picassos.. You have a problem. Either your canon is off or your philosophy is off.

3. Don’t rush into big projects

Excitement turns to grief

Although it is very exciting to start a new project, you must remain grounded in your practice in order to actually execute. Having an idea for something new and exciting can be difficult to contain and restraint is hardly fun.. but jumping into projects that you're unprepared for isn't very fun either!

Push your limits.. but be prepared!

It is important that you push yourself out of your comfort zone and try to work on increasingly more challenging projects. Just make sure you have done plenty of preparation! I've had to restart life size compositions due to lack of planning. It's definitely better to prepare as much as possible beforehand!

4. Quicker is Usually Better

Going blind..

When I first started I painting, I would spend an extremely long amount of time on the same piece. I usually didn't even take breaks. I would just remain focused one painting for many hours.. sometimes even a full day.

The problem

Getting stuck in a painting for too long leads to what I call 'going blind'. You will start to lose sight of the painting as a whole and eventually just ruin it. I’ve destroyed many paintings by spending too much time on them.

The solution

I’ve always been the type to focus on projects for many hours, but it’s actually better to give yourself a time limit. Now I don’t paint for any longer than 1 hour without a break. If you go much longer than that you will start to become unfocused. So it’s best to have short painting sessions with lots of focus.

Rotate Your Paintings

Work on multiple paintings - each for a short amount of time. This will keep you fresh. It will be easier to make improvements on each painting. When you're done working on one painting for that day, then you can just set it aside and put a new painting on your easel.

Fresh look

By the time you've gone through your full rotation of paintings, your first painting you started on should be dry and fresh to the eye. It's just as important to take distance and not see the painting as it is to study it closely.

For More Tips Watch my video:

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