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3 Things a Painting Can’t Live Without

Common Characteristics of Good Paintings

Good painters don’t merely recreate what is in front of them. An experienced artist knows how to create a successful painting, no matter what situation or model he or she is presented with or the materials being worked with. Of course, this often comes after years of practice and experimentation — as well as the development of a unique artistic voice. But there are some basic characteristics that all good paintings have in common. As you are thinking about just how to paint your next composition, keep the following three tips in mind.

1. A Strong Focal Point

A focal point is not like the big, bold “X” that marks the spot on a treasure map. It can take on any shape and size. It can be bold but it can also be subtle. A dappling of light, a pop of color, an expression or emphatic gesture — any of these can become a focal point in a composition. Regardless of how it is created, its purpose should be to engage the viewer or act as the culmination of the momentum built in the work.
Johannes Vermeer | Old Masters | Art History | Painting Characteristics | Good Paintings | Painting Tips | Artist Daily
In Johannes Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance, the focal point of the painting is accentuated with nothing more than a glance and delicate hand position.

2. Layers of Color

When it comes to painting characteristics, color is key to keep in mind. Color makes a painting tranquil or vibrant, dramatic or stark. And, this comes about not only in your color choices but also how you build passages of color over one another or side by side. Warm and cool colors in a sky create a sense of atmosphere and space more than any one swath of color — no matter how perfectly matched it is to the sky above.
Pablo Picasso | Art History | Painting Characteristics | Good Paintings | Painting Tips | Artist Daily
In Pablo Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein, the colors are muted but quite varied — establishing a quiet and introspective mood.

3. Changes in Direction

In many great paintings, the image is realistically rendered, but brushstrokes are clearly visible. You are aware of how the painting is painted. Think about how the paint application of Jan van Eyck versus Vincent van Gogh perfectly reflects or resonates with what the artists painted. The way a brush moves paint around makes a statement that should be taken advantage of. You can start by being mindful of your brush’s changes in the direction, literally working on a painting with different strokes and from various angles.
La reine dans Hamlet by Edwin Austin Abbey uses color contrasts and a slight diagonal contrasting with verticals to grab the viewer’s attention.

Remember What You Respond To

When you look at works of art that you respond to, always ask yourself why. Keep those characteristics in mind as you develop your own pieces, too. And, if you’re like me and enjoy a lesson or two from the Old Masters’ playbook, then watch this preview trailer of artist Mark Menendez’s video workshop, Painting Techniques of the Masters.

If you’re intrigued, you can stream his entire video workshop with Artists Network Membership. Happy painting, artists!

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2 comments on “3 Things a Painting Can’t Live Without

  1. Larry Russo says:

    So true- there are so many layers of learning – just as so many layers in a painting to really achieve the depth and understanding of whats going on in any work of art.

  2. Esther J. Williams says:

    Courtney, thanks for posting these 3 things a painting can not live without. I especially liked how you state that a focal point can be subtle, building colors into the painting and how to leave the brushstrokes as an indication of confidence in paint application. I am working on focal points lately and now I can try to be a little more subtle than in your face, here it is.

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