Shape up a painting

     For beginning artists, the most difficult part of a painting or drawing is often the beginning.  When you look at a subject, it’s hard to decide what should be included in the artwork.  There are usually a lot of complicated things that beginners (mistakenly) think must be drawn and painted with perfect accuracy.  You can get bogged down in the details and spend a long time trying to draw and arrange everything on the paper or canvas.  But there’s a much easier way to begin.

     Instead of looking at the details, look for the big shapes.  Good shapes are often the foundation of a successful painting. (Squinting your eyes might help you see the shapes.)

     Begin by looking at the subject and determine the general shapes of the individual objects as well as the background.  Think only in terms of shapes, not “things” or objects.  Step one is to look for “bad” shapes that are too symmetrical.  You want to know if you have an obvious circle, square, rectangle, triangle or straight line in your drawing, because if you do it should be altered to make the artwork more interesting.

     If you find you have a “bad” shape in your painting, there are several ways to change it.  1.  Alter the shape (even a slightly awkward shape is better than a perfectly geometric shape).  2.  Overlap or combine two shapes together to make a new, more interesting shape.  3.  Cut out or cover up the bad shape.  4.  Stylize or make the shape abstract.

     Now look at all the shapes as a whole.  Your aim is to have a variety of sizes of shapes in the overall design.  One way to remember this is to think of the three bears:  papa (large), mama (medium) and (baby) small.  You should have at least one shape of each size in your picture.

      Whether you’re using a reference photo that you took, or painting on site, don’t be afraid to change the shapes if this will improve the design.  You can crop out some things and add other things (either out of your head or from another reference photo) to break up boring areas and eliminate straight lines.  Even if you’re painting a picture of a building, remember that the only time you would ever want perfectly straight lines is if you are doing an architectural rendering.  If you’re making fine art, ruler-straight lines make your picture less interesting.  Your goal is to avoid making everything 100 percent realistic and predictable.     

      Remember that you are not taking a photograph; you’re making a piece of art.  Your viewers want to escape the real world for a moment through your art.  They want to enjoy your creativity.  Therefore, don’t make your paintings completely accurate and realistic.  If the shapes you see in your reference photo or view are bad or boring, don’t follow them. 

      Enhance your paintings by making the shapes and their arrangements more interesting and enjoyable than what you’d see in real life.  Vary the sizes of shapes; vary the spaces between shapes, and eliminate perfect geometric shapes or straight lines.  Avoid static shapes; give your work a little movement and interest.  You’ll have more fun being creative with what you see, and your viewers will look at your paintings longer and with more enjoyment.

By Kay Sluterbeck/AAPJ

Published by on December 2012. Filed under Art-to-Art Palette Journal, Paint Box Section, Tips&Techniques PB dept. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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