The Secret to Painting a Masterpiece

Historically speaking, the term “masterpiece” referred to a piece of work done by an aspiring apprentice or journeyman wishing to ascend to the status of master craftsman. If the submitted work of art was deemed worthy, the applicant was given membership, or guild certification. The apprentices put everything they could into this project. Painting a masterpiece was, essentially, a showcase of all they had learned as well as all they were capable of.

Fast forward to the 21st century and art instructor Richard McKinley guides us to what he believes are the secrets to painting a masterpiece, starting with the most important!

Painting a masterpiece: Landscape with Rocks by Edgar Degas, pastel over monotype
Landscape with Rocks by Edgar Degas, pastel over monotype

Know Your Purpose

“Being reminded of the purpose, or concept, that motivated us to paint a specific subject, or scene, is key to evolving as an artist, once technical mastery is achieved,” says Richard. Without purpose, it’s easy to fall prey to technical perfection that’s devoid of feeling. It may look exactly like the scene, but it says very little. Practice may get an artist to Carnegie Hall but it is passion that produces rave reviews.

La Toilette by Edgar Degas, pastel
La Toilette by Edgar Degas, pastel

The Three Ws

To help with this, Richard likes to employ the three Ws: Why, What and When. If we know the “why,” the emotional connection to a subject/scene, it can answer the “what.” That is, what to put in and what to leave out, ultimately creating an air of mystery that engages the viewer. This helps with the “when:” When is a painting done? The painting is done when the main purpose/concept behind the painting is achieved. It is a full circle.

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Answer Your Question

Ask yourself, what attracted me in the first place? What did I love about the subject/scene? Then dig deep as a technically well-trained painter to go beyond the literal surface content and communicate intent. It is paramount to elevating a painting from merely being well rendered to being considered a masterpiece. As the writer and art critique John Ruskin said, “When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”

Paint the masterpiece you are meant to paint alongside Richard McKinley. You’ll find him at Artists Network TV!

Making of a Masterpiece

Richard delves even further into the makings of a masterpiece in his full-length article. Click here to read or download — we’ve made a PDF of Richard’s insights for your convenience!

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