Keep your painting focused: less is more!

Artist Retreats with Mike Snow and Timothy White

One of the most important part of creating a great painting is editing.

You must learn to step back from your painting, look at it with a fresh eye, see what works, see what doesn’t work, see what is clear and strong and see what is confusing to the eye. A good piece of art should be CLEAR: it should tell a story, and it should be easy to follow with the eye. Your eyes should come into the painting and not want to leave, there should be a circulation and a movement that wants you to stay with the painting. You must create interest, focus, harmony, strength and calm.


You must have a subject that you find interesting, hence my reason for saying "paint what you want, paint when you want, and paint how you want." If you do, you will find that you have energy for the subject, making the painting exciting to you, bringing the viewer into the story and helping them to see and feel what you see and feel. Create that interest by exaggerating the things you like the most, helping the viewer see what you see. For the things not important to you, simplify, make them smaller, make them less important. The things that are important to you, exaggerate, make them larger, stronger, bolder and help the viewer to see what you see. If five people look at a photograph, there will be five different pictures seen: each person sees something different, and we are all drawn to things differently. Help your viewer see what you see; tell your story to the viewer in your painting. Create the interest for the viewer.


Keep your painting focused. Too many things going on is confusing to the eye, the viewer can not work out everything, and their eyes are bouncing all around the painting. It will be difficult to see the painting, because it is not clear where to focus. There needs to be a strong element in the painting to draw the viewer in, and then details are added that bring it together without clashing. The viewer must focus on the main element, and then want to wonder through the painting and discover what it has to offer.


There must be excitement and energy in the painting, but there must also be harmony. Clashing colors, odd movements and mixed messages will make a painting hard to see. You must draw the viewer into the painting with your focus, and then keep their eyes in the painting with harmony. This does not mean make the painting "matchy-matchy", where everything looks alike. On the contrary, you want interest and variety, different brush strokes, different movements of color and pattern, but without hardness, oddness or something that pull your eye away from the subject or makes you want to go away from the painting because you see so much you can not see anything. Your eyes must be at peace with the painting. There has to be a movement, a softness and a strength to keep us with the painting, but there must be Harmony!


Always something strong helps a painting, something bold, something unique, something different. Strength is the weight that holds us in a painting. You have to create the anchor to the painting. The reason to view the painting, the message to the painting. The stronger the message and the stronger the subject, the more strength the painting has and the more reason we want it on our wall. It is the element that draws us in and keeps us there. Be strong, be bold, and show the viewer what you want them to see and experience. Your painting needs the WOW factor, the reason for looking at it, the element that draws us in and keeps us with the painting.


You MUST have quiet in your painting as well as strength. There has to be part of the painting that is easy, relaxed, soft, calm. A painting can not be 100% energy, there has to be a subject and a story or movement, but there has also got to be some easy, soft, calm with it to keep us from being too shocked. Some paintings have so much going on, so many different things going on that we can not stay with it. Our eyes can not handle it, our brain can not process it, and we have to live it quickly, never really seeing the painting. The calm counters the strength, and you have to have both in a good composition. You must excite the viewer, peak their interest, but also make them feel at home and wanting to stay inside your painting.


This may sounds like a lot of work, but it will slowly become more natural to you with time. Just remember that it is important to step back in the process of your artwork and ask: What is the strength, is it strong enough? Where is the focus, am a drawn into it? Where is the harmony, what is holding the work together? And is there calm to keep me with the piece? Do I have movement, what is shocking, is it a good shock or are my eyes confused? Does the painting tell the story I want it to tell, do my eyes move and want to stay with the painting? If your eyes want to leave the painting, it is NOT finished but remember: There is always more paint!

You want to create a flow, your eyes are drawn in, your eyes then want to move around the canvas, your eyes want to discover, to see more, to find out what is going on. You have harmony, you have calm, you have strength and there is a subject focus. So when you step back from the painting, look subjectively, what is working, what is not working, what is interesting, what is clashing. EDIT, take away the things that are too shocking or upset the eye. Edit the things up or down to make it stronger or calmer. Add more strength to the things that need it, and help the viewer to see what you want them to see. And how do you make it interesting and keep the viewer with you wanting to discover more. Editing is the most important part of a good painting and the best way to edit is with more paint.

Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Inventive, Be Unique and then; Make your painting STRONG, make your painting work, bring power to your work, EDIT!

All My Best, and Happy Painting!

Copyright © Mike Snow & Timothy White 2024.

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