A Quick Fix Guaranteed To Improve Your Painting

Ok so you finish your painting and that’s an achievement in itself. But is it finished or have you a tendency to just add one more finishing touch?

I know I do. I say to myself, ‘right, that’s it, finished, definitely finished.’ And as I’m saying it I find myself just adding a little dab of paint here and there, and then a bit more until I find I’ve messed up what I just had and have to start again. Sound familiar? I’m sure it does.

Then what happens? A few days later you look at your painting and something doesn’t look right. It seems flat and one-dimensional. It doesn’t jump out and grab your attention. It’s just not striking enough. So how can you improve that? How can you make your painting stand out and be noticed?

Well look no further, here’s a sure-fire proven method used by painters such as Holbein, Stanley Spencer and Winslow Homer, to name a few.

If you are painting a landscape add some cloud shadow. OK so it may not have been there on the day you started painting but you are the artist, you can change the canvas to suit yourself. Imagine there was a big cloud overhead and a large shadow has been cast across maybe one-third of the field you have just painted.

Winslow Homer. The Fog Warning
Winslow Homer. The Fog Warning

Look at Winslow Homer’s The Fog Warning or Stanley Spencer’s view of Cookham where if you look at the right hand corner of the painting and you will see exactly what I mean. You may be unsure about painting a layer of burnt umber or ultramarine over your bright green field but be adventurous, give it a go and I’m sure you will be pleased with the results. One tip though is to dilute the paint with a glazing medium, that we you will still be able to retain the form and original colour underneath.

The same applies to a portrait. Maybe there wasn’t a light shining on the day you painted but add your own shadow and suddenly you will see how you have given your character depth made them real. This may seem obvious but I don’t think it is.

What I don’t mean is, there’s a tree, there’s the sun add a shadow. I’m thinking of something a little more subtle that the observer of your painting might not at first notice. Take a look at Holbein’s painting of Jane Seymour and better still, Christina of Denmark. See the shadow on the right and on the left? Both are pretty much identical and both give a 3D quality to the painting that tends to turn the sitter towards you. Have a look at the Merchant Georg Gisze too. There is an almost identical use of shadow by Holbein. It’s the same thing.

North Sea  Anchor crew
Pete Davies Art. North Sea – Struggling With the Anchor Brake

I used the same effect on my picture of the two offshore deck crew struggling with the anchor brake.

I put the shadow in to add drama and to emphasise the huge chains which overshadow the characters. I’m also using the same effect on a painting of Sebastian and Harlem Eubank.

Boxers Harlem & Sebastian Eubank
Pete Davies Art. Boxers Harlem & Sebastian Eubank

Not quite finished yet but you get the idea. Next time you are painting try it yourself, then put your paint brush down and reap the rewards!