The anatomy of a painting

After preparing your paper, the creation of an artwork generally goes in a number of steps. For me the initial process is;

Select the subject of the work which maybe a scene, portrait, still life, realistic work from your imagination, abstract or indeed any other type. This process might involve;

  • Framing or altering the subject matter to emphasise the important aspects of the subject and/or to improve the composition. Using the rule of thirds is a simple way to produce a pleasing painting.
  • Deciding on what style of painting best suits the subject. For example: I often use a vignette (fading the picture out towards the center of a painting) or I decide that drawing and painting very quickly and loosely will produce a more pleasing final outlook. Or it may be that I decide that the background can be painted loosely or wet in wet while the foreground or focal points require a greater degree of detail.

Simplify the work by deciding what is important in the subject and what can be left out. You may choose to leave out major parts of the scene, which jar with you or which affect the composition or which don’t contribute to what you are trying to say with your painting.

Suggest – It is not necessary to paint all aspects of your work in the same detail.

Amsterdam1 Slider

If you look at Rembrandt’s masterpiece “The Night Watch” you’ll find that the main characters brilliantly detailed while the less important and peripheral aspects of the work such as the dog are painted loosely with broad brush strokes.

 Suggest– In many parts of a painting it is not necessary to do anything more than suggest what is present. Perhaps in shadow areas where it is hard to understand what is present in the original subject it will be better to just suggest, or in textured areas it might be best to just spatter some paint on the work to suggest stones or sand. Another way to suggest texture might be to use the natural granulation (I’ll try to write about granulation in a future post) of the paint as it dries into the hollows in the paper.


So a good starting point for a painting is to remember.


Select – Simplify – Suggest

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