A PAINTING CHECKLIST
(Suggestions and some Common Sense Advice)
This brief checklist - it is by no means exhaustive - of decisions and observations can ensure a positive start and a pleasurable painting experience. Very quickly they will become second nature, and although the list may appear long, carrying out the checks takes only a few moments.
- If working outside, is my painting position likely to remain in the shade?
- Am I positioned at the most suitable distance from my subject? (If possible try to draw your subject sight size, that is, the size you measure with a pencil held with a straight, out-stretched arm.)
- What size paper/canvas is the most appropriate for my subject?
- Where is the horizon/eye-line in my subject?
- Where shall I draw the horizon on my paper/canvas? (I am always surprised how many students discover they have left insufficient space just because they haven’t consciously thought about this problem. And they usually find out too late or after they have invested so much time and effort that they are reluctant to carry out a correction. Usually things are so far gone that it is impossible to carry out a radical change.)
- Have I enough room to fit my proposed subject on the paper/canvas?
- Where is the light coming from?
- Will the light remain constant?
- How will the shadows change during the day? (Students who have not worked outside are always surprised how quickly the sun moves.)
- Is the light sharp or soft and diffuse? (Look at the shadows).
- Is the light warm or cool? (Again look at the colour of the shadows.)
- Is the subject I have chosen too complicated to complete in the time available?
- Where is the focal point/centre of interest? Have I got some secondary areas of interest? Will there be competition from them or are they going to help keep the viewer’s eye moving round the picture?
- Where will I position my focal point/centre of interest?
- Can I make my focal point interesting in the way I paint it? (Think colour, sharp edges, high contrast and paint texture.)
- Am I prepared to forgo other areas of interest for the sake of my focal point?
- Have I sufficient experience to tackle this sort of subject or am I being too ambitious?
- Have I enough time to complete what I want to do in one sitting?
- What shall I include and what can I leave out? That is: where can I simplify my subject?
- By squinting, can I identify the sharpest edge/boundary?
- By squinting, can I identify the lightest and darkest tone?
- What is the range of tones?
- What shapes/tones can I merge together?
- Are there any things that are going to look peculiar if I draw them? (Look carefully for objects that line up in an unfortunate way, for example, a pole that lines up with the edge of a building. We have all seen photographs of brides with aerials coming out of their heads. We artists can move things.)
- Are there any parts of the scene that are going to present me with drawing problems? (In my experience, drawing is the most common cause of problems, and the one we are most reluctant to admit to. As artists we are supposed to be able to draw easily. If only that was true.)
- Can I visualise how certain areas could be painted? What techniques could I use? (E.g. dry brush, transparent wash, broken colour, thick (impasto) paint, wet in wet).
- What colours will I need? Will it be possible to paint with a restricted palette?
- Are there any areas that I can paint in an abstract way?
- What degree of finish am I aiming for?
- Am I going to leave any areas unfinished?
- Can I visualise my subject rendered in paint so that I will recognise when I have achieved my aim?
- Does the subject mean anything to me? (If it doesn’t mean anything to you, it is not likely to mean much to anyone else.)
Finally, and this is the hard part, make sure you remember what you have decided and bear your decisions in mind while you are painting. Keep to your initial idea. Stick to your decisions. Only change them for a very good reason. I have certainly found that a sound start to a painting goes a long way towards ensuring a pleasurable painting experience and I hope this checklist will add to your enjoyment and success. Good luck in your painting.