3 Things Every Well-Designed Painting Needs

Painting Techniques You Can’t Go Without

Of course, there are more than three painting techniques that will allow you to create a compelling artwork, but learning how to paint a picture well can certainly start with these elements.

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent | Painting Techniques | Artist Daily
Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent

Rhythm

Painting objects that actually look alive, in the case of the figure, or lively, as in a landscape, is often a matter of visual rhythm. One of the best painting tips I know to prevent figures and scenes from looking wooden and lifeless is by using active lines along edges of forms in alternate contrasting rhythms.

If you set down your paintbrush and the forms you just painted are missing something, try painting accents along the contours.

Paul Helleu Sketching with His Wife by John Singer Sargent, 1889.
Paul Helleu Sketching with His Wife by John Singer Sargent, 1889.

Repetition

As a painter, reinforcing what you want to convey to your viewer is never a bad idea. If you’ve created a landscape painting you want to appear calm and peaceful, using several horizontal lines to mark the horizon, land masses and perhaps a waterway is more effective than using just one line and separating the canvas in two.

Your message will be more dynamically conveyed if you use multiple overlapping lines, and your work will have a sense of unity because you’ve incorporated a design motif and in several areas of your painting.

Rain in an Oak Forest by Ivan Shishkin, 1891.
Rain in an Oak Forest by Ivan Shishkin, 1891.

Contrast

I’m always a little leery of promoting the idea of contrast because a little goes a long way, and I sometimes struggle with combining contrast with subtlety. But that being said, if you want to make the paint texture of an object really pop, surround it with an area that has a smooth surface.

If you want to accentuate a color, use its opposite nearby. If you want to paint a dark nocturne, have a slice of light appear somewhere. Just be aware that contrast can begin to seem like a stark game of “opposites” when really–at its best–you want it to be undetected.

Above the Eternal Tranquility by Isaac Levitan, 1894.
Above the Eternal Tranquility by Isaac Levitan, 1894.

To further explore the techniques and tips that lead to astoundingly lively paintings, consider Paint Along Classes with the well-known and well-loved instructor/artist, Johannes Vloothuis.

In these painting sessions, follow along with hundreds of other students as Johannes walks you step-by-step through an array of expert painting techniques. Check out his latest LIVE online workshop, Paint Along 35: Create Depth with Atmosphere, and register today. There are three sessions in this on-going painting class, but they are all recorded so you can access them anytime you want. Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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