4 Ways to Paint Without Preconceptions

1 May 2012

Short of lobotomy, we will always have the equivalent of mental trails that our brains follow when we are painting. Artists develop these based on painting techniques that they've learned along the way, or they can be expressions of inherent ideas that each of us has about how to paint. Motivating oneself to wipe the slate clean of these ideas can deliver exponential benefits to an artist interested in raising his or her awareness of what they are seeing and how they see it. Because being wise to those tendencies and having ways to paint without preconceptions means an artist has more control over their vision, and not the other way around.  

Nelson Shanks sees color and pushes it in ways that are powerful and seemingly natural as well. Above, Salome, oil painting, 28 x 44.
Nelson Shanks sees color and pushes it in ways that are powerful and
seemingly natural as well. Above, Salome, oil painting, 28 x 44.

This is no time for subtlety. When I want to get over my mental hurdles, I remind myself that subtle can be overrated. When you are trying to break free of seeing conventionally, you have to push it. If there are interesting lines in a composition, accentuate them. If the colors you see are more neutral, push them to their extremes. This trains the eye--and eventually the hand--to make big statements in a fine art painting.

Bronze, silver, and gold. When you want to learn how to paint a picture in a new way, don't let a lot of ideas crowd you. This is tough because you can't actually put blinders on, but you can think like an Olympian. Look for the top three elements in a composition that catch your eye and keep your focus trained on your subject.

Don't fall for stereotypes or generalities. Looking out in the natural world and to the people and places around us, we often think along conventional lines about how forms and functions relate and what certain objects are supposed to look like. Don't be swayed by the idea that a floral painting "should" just show gorgeous flowers in full bloom. Or that a figure painting in oil should always be about the aesthetic beauty of the body. Because chances are, any other painter looking at the subject would see it that way too. Eke out the specifics so your work is an indicator of your unique vision.

Ron Hicks' Petit Femme (oil painting, 14 x 11) is an exercise in how to see specifically, not stereotypically. The model looks like a unique individual.
Ron Hicks' Petit Femme (oil painting, 14 x 11) is an
exercise in how to see specifically, not stereotypically.
The model looks like a unique individual.

Take three steps to the right. If you really want to see as you see and not what your well-oiled brain is telling you, in any given painting art situation, take a few steps to the right or left of your composition. Look at it from a different angle and stay there to do a quick painting study. You might discover something about the focus of your attention that you missed before, and literally see things in a new way.

Painting without preconceptions can also be an opportunity to relearn many of the fundamental lessons that practicing artists can take for granted because they have become second nature. The Artist Daily store has several resources, including Ron Hicks' Mastering Oil Portrait Painting, that are meant to show you how to hone and further develop these abilities. I hope you'll give yourself the opportunity to utilize them and "see" in a new way. Enjoy!


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Comments

Addie2 wrote
on 2 May 2012 12:10 PM

I just wanted to say, I really enjoy your articles.  They are easy to understand, I feel what you say, and they teach me something knew every time.  They offer so much insight and I am always inspired to pick up my paint brush.  Your articles always make me feel like I can do it...when I am feeling that I can't.  They are inspiring.

thank you so much!!

on 2 May 2012 5:45 PM

Addie! I'm so glad! Keep picking up the brush!

Merrie M wrote
on 12 Jun 2014 11:24 PM

Thanks,  I needed some encouragement and to drop a few preconceptions today!