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Don’t ruin your art! 10 ways we ruin our paintings and how to avoid them.

Stephen Lursen

  1. Are you using enough paint? (dry brushing and leaving the canvas showing through your painting.) If you are stingy with your paint, then viewers will think your paintings aren't worth much. The biggest difference between professional and beginner artists is that beginners on average don't use enough paint.
  2. Are you using the right materials or medium for your desired effect? (Understand how each type of painting medium works best.) Don't jsut settle for what is convenient. This is the path to little success. Find out what you favorite paintings are made out of and use that artist's media. Do you love watercolor paintings? Don't try to make that type of imagery with acrylics or oils! Also, if you love oil paintings, then don't waste your time using watercolors or acrylics. Just get what you need and you will set yourself up for success.
  3. Are you using the right substrate? (Understand the pros and cons of each popular substrate. Paper, Wood Panels, Canvas, Metal, etc.) For instance, a stretched canvas is great for painting on, but only for Acrylic and oils. If you’re interested in encaustics, then you must use a cradled panel for stability and rigidity. Also, watercolor is meant to be absorbed into your substrate, so use watercolor paper. If you use watercolor paint on a primed canvas, it can be washed off or run off when wet.
  4. Are you working harder and not smarter? Don’t rush and plow through your process. Trust that if you relax and enjoy the process, the result will be far better. For instance, allow drying time between layers. If you like bold complimentary colors such as reds with greens, blues with oranges, or purples with yellows, then you need to do one color first, let the first color dry to completion, and then add the second complimentary color. This slower method is how you achieve bright complimentary colors in your paintings. Mixing wet compliments will mute one another and turn varying degrees of brown.
  5. Are you practicing self sabotage? “Letting fear be your leader”? If you stop prematurely because you’re afraid to mess it up, then you’re stunting your growth. It is better to go too far and have to edit back than to never know your limits.
  6. Are you pushing your painting as far as it needs to go? For instance, If you’re using a pointillism style, but none of your dots overlap, then you haven’t done enough to even approach the desired effect. If you’re going for a Starry Night Van Gogh effect, but none of your dashes of thick paint overlap? Then you haven’t done enough to get close to the desired style. Don’t half A$$ your process because it shows.
  7. Are you over thinking it? Sometimes you just need to work intuitively for a while taking a break from the mental back and forth. Listen to an audio book or music to help get your mind to relax. Many call this the flow sate. Then later, at a good stopping point, turn your analytical side back on and evaluate how the work can improve based on the elements and principals of art and design.
  8. Are you judging your work inappropriately? We judge constantly when painting by asking ourselves “Do I like this? Or that?” Let that inform your next step. Don’t just quit because you judge it as “bad” before you’re finished. Typically paintings go through multiple ugly phases before completion.
  9. Do you know how to edit or fix your painting when you make a mistake? Do you lack the skill set to accomplish what you want to achieve? This is common and every artist starts out as a beginner, so don’t be discouraged! You can and should overcome this gap in learning by education, experimentation, and practice. Everyone is learning – or should be, no one is perfect at anything so don’t beat yourself up.
  10. Have you collected a pin board of inspirational imagery and artists? Do you have a lack of research or willingness to learn from experimenting where others have gone before. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to paint beautifully! But when you don’t have a clear vision, you must search out artwork you love and artists you admire. Learn from what other artists have to offer.

Good news! If you have a problem with one or all of these areas, you can easily find the solution! If you have a question, leave it in the comments below and I will try my best to answer them asap. Happy Painting!



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  • Jen on

    are Windsor and Newton oil bars good for mark making over acrylic paint? Thank you

  • oscar jensen on

    i know what your problem is #leslie. what you’re doing wrong is that you press too hard. you need to let it fleet on your paper (just like the you makes shadows, if you’ve tried my way) if you press too hard on the pencil, the coat gets curly. if you’ve used it too many times like that, i would suggest a new.

    i hope you understood my english, and then i hope you could use my advice.

    to Leslie :)

  • Leslie on

    I’m an art newbie and when I’m watching artist paint online, the paint on the brush brushes in a lovely flowing way across their paper, canvas, etc. When I paint the paint on my brush tends to make a space on the canvas where the middle is light, sometimes showing the canvas, with the sides of the stroke ridged with paint. I thought perhaps I was to heavy handed, but now I’m wondering if I may just be using the wrong type of brushes. The more I watch videos (Donna Downey, Tam Laporte, Iffy Wild, Jane Davenport) I’m noticing my brushes don’t seem to function as theirs. Any pointers? I’m so excited to be starting Peter Pan soon in Ever After! I love what I’ve seen on your website. Thank you!

  • Rachel on

    I am delighted to see you sharing your wisdom. I am even happier that I have number one LICKED. I love paint and I am super liberal with it!

  • HAifa on

    Thank you

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