10 Tips to Improve Your Painting

10 Tips to Improve Your Painting


Recently, I feel like my art has improved. Hallelujah! So with that said, what’s changed? Nothing big but there are several little things that when combined add up to what I guess you could describe as a breakthrough!

As I move into a busy month getting ready for my South Australia’s Living Artist Exhibition (SALA) exhibition in August, I’ve been reflecting on all this and trying to pin-point what has been working well so I can do more of it!

I’ve come up with 10 things and today I am sharing them on the podcast. Some might seem obvious but as a self-taught artist there’s a lot of bumbling through that happens and unknown gaps in knowledge!

Listen to the podcast now!

1. Be selective about your substrate

Tip: Try out different surfaces to see what paper/canvas/panel gives you the best result and consider using higher quality products for work that you are going to sell. For paper I love Canson Heritage watercolour paper (cold press, 300 gsm) and for my canvases I can’t go past the custom service provided by my local framer, Elite Framing.

2. Have plenty of water containers and brushes on hand

Tip: Have several water containers in a variety of sizes (e.g. jars, Tupperware containers, buckets) around you as you paint. Keeping your brushes clean will help you to keep your colours vibrant. When I paint with acrylics I also like to have a large amount of brushes as sometimes it’s easier to just grab a new brush and keep the momentum going.

3. Leave white space around your work

Tip: Surround your work with white space so you can see it more clearly. I do this in a multitude of ways. I have white walls in my studio that I re-paint regularly, a light coloured table cloth and often tape the edges of my watercolour paper with masking tape to create a white frame around the work. I also use framing mats as a viewfinder to test out compositional ideas in larger pieces of work.

4. Have a reference or theme for your work

Tip: Often it is much easier to approach a painting with a loose plan or idea. Have a think about whether there is a concept that you could explore in your work. I have been observing and painting circular shapes in my work for several years now and often draw inspiration from the pebbly beach close to my home.

5. Limit your palette

Tip: See if you can create a painting using only 3-5 colours. I find that doing this brings more harmony into my work and challenges me to mix different combinations and expand my colour knowledge. I also love planning my colour palettes - not for everyone I know - but I enjoy coming at a painting with a colour concept in mind.

6. Boost your contrast

Tip: This tip is my go-to when I am stuck while painting. When I am not sure what do next and the painting feels a bit blah, I always check whether the painting needs more contrast. I check my value contrast first (i.e. whether I have a good range of light and dark colours) and then I look at other ways of adding contrast such as using complimentary colours, adding texture (for this I love Princeton Catalyst Tools) or bringing in a directional or design change in my mark-making.

7. Pay attention to your negative space

Tip: It’s easy to focus all your energy on the active areas of a painting but don’t forget the negative space. The quiet hero of a painting in my opinion! You can completely alter the mood of a painting by changing the shape, quantity or colour of the negative space. It’s such a valuable tool when painting.

In these pieces the negative space is as important as the positive space.

In these pieces the negative space is as important as the positive space.


8. Experiment with mediums

Tip: A great way to make your work and process more interesting is to experiment with different mediums. A medium can change the quality of your paint and bring about exciting new possibilities. You can make paint thicker or thinner, change the texture and impact the transparency. My personal favourite is Golden Glazing Liquid. I use this to build up thin transparent layers in my acrylic paintings.

9. Use quality white paint

Tip: Not all white paint is created equal. A cheaper quality white paint doesn’t have the coverage or luxurious creamy feel of a higher quality brand. I buy 1 litre tubs of Matisse Flow Acrylic in Titanium White. I try not to use too much in my paintings as I find that the work can get a bit chalky if I am very heavy-handed. Mind you it really depends on the type of look you are going for. For my work, I try not to use too much but when I do I go for the good stuff!

10. Present your work professionally

Tip: This is my favourite tip of all because it has been wowing me so much lately! Put simply, your work will look so much better if you take the time to finish it to a high standard. How you finish your art is very personal but for me it involves a fairly lengthy process. For my canvases, I paint my edges, spray the painting with Golden Spray Varnish and then finish with two light coats of brush-on Matisse Solvent Based Varnish. If I am feeling fancy, I will get the painting float framed in Tasmanian Oak as I love the look of a timber frame. For my paper pieces, if they have mixed media supplies in them I will fix everything using a spray varnish but if they are only watercolour I will often leave them unvarnished. While I sometimes buy off the shelf frames to save money, I love going to the framers to get a custom made mat as that gives the piece a more luxurious high-end feel.

I hope you found these tips helpful. It is the sum of many small things that makes for a great painting!


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