Problem Solve Your Paintings

Untitled © Beth Cole | Oil on Canvas Panel | 10 x 10

Untitled © Beth Cole | Oil on Canvas Panel | 10 x 10

One of the things I have come to realize on my painting journey is that painting is all about problem solving. When you begin to think of each painting as a puzzle to be solved, it makes the process less about you and your self-talk (I’m no good at this, I want to break this brush, why am I even trying…..etc. sound familiar?) and more about the painting and its potential.

Here are some very general things I have said about my paintings many times and what I have tried to solve the problem.

Problem: It looks too blah.

If your painting is dull you might not have an obvious focal point or your values may not be working. I’ve heard it said that values do all the work and color gets the glory. This is so true! Try taking a photo of your painting and turn it to black and white. Does the painting stand on its own without color? This is a great way to diagnose a blah painting.

Problem: It’s just not working.

You know that photo you fell in love with and couldn’t wait to paint? Uh huh. I’ve done the same thing. The photo might have a little of your heart in it, but the composition is too weak for a painting. If your painting isn’t working, check out the composition and see if you can tweak something here or there to get back on track.

Problem: I don’t like it.

There could be many reasons why you don’t like the painting, but color harmony may be the culprit. Try using a limited palette (google it – there are different variations) and you might just win that painting back. If you are painting with oil, remember, you can always scrape it off and start over. I have done this many times and it always makes for a better painting.

Problem: I want to throw it away.

If you don’t see one redeeming part of the painting and you seriously want to throw it away, I say heave ho. Chalk it up to a learning experience and start with something fresh. Every painting teaches you something, keep a loose grip. You will know when you have a winner.

Problem: I don’t know what to do.

If you are stuck with a painting, here are a couple of ideas. First, set it somewhere where you can stand waaaaaaay back and look at it. I set my paintings on the ledge on my back deck and walk out to the middle of the yard. The distance helps me see strong and weak areas and if the values are holding together. If you still don’t see anything obvious that needs to be corrected, put it away for a couple of weeks. When you pull it out again, you will be surprised at the insight you will have. Time can really be your friend when it comes to painting.

There are other more technical problems, i.e. do I need more warm or cool colors, do I need to adjust the chroma, hue, value, am I following the golden ratio, etc….but that is a post for another day. I hope you feel encouraged that you are not alone with your problem paintings. Don’t give up!

--Beth Cole
Soli Deo Gloria