8 Things An Artist Should Never Do

Cape Buffalo Head Study (collection of the artist)- done in about two hours from an ok photo with constant interruptions at an art festival. You just never know...

1, Don’t be too happy with your work. Too much self-satisfaction will stop your ability to improve and learn.

2. Don’t be too discouraged with your work. Being too down on yourself makes it impossible to evaluate your work objectively.

3. Don’t think that detail=quality. It doesn’t, despite what too many people believe. Less really is more most of the time. It takes much more work and experience to see large shapes and masses than to paint blades of grass. That’s easy. Saying “grass” in two values with a large brush is, by comparison, hard because it requires abstract instead of literal thinking.

4. Don’t excuse bad drawing by saying it’s an “interpretation” or it’s “expressive” or it’s “impressionistic’. You can fool yourself, but you can’t fool others. Use a mirror, show your work to another artist, anything it takes to get the drawing right.

5. Don’t reject criticism by telling yourself that “it’s all subjective”. It’s not, especially if you are a representational painter. There are principles of the craft which have been well-established over time. Professional accomplished artists all share a body of knowledge that is not in dispute.

6. Don’t believe that if it’s in the photo it must be true and you must paint it that way. Photos lie, flatten, distort. Cameras “see” in a particular way which is different than how the human eye sees. Use YOUR eyes.

7. Don’t start a painting without knowing why you are doing it. And there must be one idea only. All other elements must be subordinate to that idea. If you get into trouble, ask yourself if getting away from the idea is the problem. Be ruthless, wipe/scrape/remove anything that distracts no matter how great it is by itself. You have to be willing to kill the thing you love.

8. Don’t “practice”. Do or not do. There is no “practice”. However, one might choose to do “studies” to work on specific things. But the same focus and attention is still desirable. Everything you do is “real”.

Next week: 8 Things An Artist Should Always Do

Improve Your Paintings! Today’s Tip

I thought that I would start to share some of what I’ve learned over 13 years of painting in oil and almost seven years of picture-making as an illustrator through a new on-going series, Improve Your Paintings!.  We’ll start today with…


There really isn’t a better or faster way to check your drawing or composition for accuracy. Almost any decent mirror will work. I happened to have an old full-length mirror that I found for $15 at a yard sale many years ago. I mounted it onto my old easel, which lets me roll it to different positions and also out of the way.

A mirror is particularly useful when you have to get two sides of something that are similar to match up and need an “extra eye” to evaluate it. Do those butterfly wings match? Are the eyes of that wolf lined up properly?

It is also very valuable for checking the overall drawing. Do all the parts fit together accurately in that 3/4 view of the mountain lion’s head? Have you compensated correctly for the foreshortening and flattening effect in an image of a bighorn sheep, also in a 3/4 view? Is the body of that horse too big for the head or vice versa? In the example below, I’ve used my mirror to get a fresh look at the relative value pattern between the horses in the foreground and the background landscape.

Do you use a mirror? If so, what do you find it most useful for?

(And yes, you’re getting a sneak preview of my newest painting, “Mongol Horse #5-Afternoon Romp”. It’s almost done and I’ll post it next Friday)

Coming up soon! North Coast Open Studios. I’ll be doing Weekend 2, June 12-13.