Five Ways to Make Your Next Painting Stronger

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What happens when you take a break from routine to go back to school, if even for a short time? Learning and growing, then turning around and teaching it — it’s a metaphor for life, and certainly for art.

I spent the last two weeks — joyfully and gleefully and sometimes frustratingly — learning. Robert Burridge, Sterling Edwards and, most recently, Don Andrews, have been some of my mentors and teachers. (Google them — you’re bound to be thrilled and delighted by their incredible talent.) There have been many more teachers and fellow artists who I’ve learned from through the years, and through all of these experiences and encounters, I have found many universal truths.

These things really make a difference in my own work, and they keep coming up. I hope by sharing them, they can serve as reminders to you, too:

1. Play, Play, Play: Just pull out a piece of paper and see what paint does. Art is play when we let it be. Experiment and detach from outcome. This is your time to delight yourself, go ahead and make a mess, or discover something new. It doesn’t matter because it’s about the process.

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2. Be Bold: To paraphrase the famous quote, they say “well-behaved women never made history,” and the same is true of art. Don’t be afraid to stand out; it gives your viewer something yummy to experience, holding their gaze and supplying intrigue vs. ho-hum.

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3. Start Your Painting Loose: My mentor Bob Burridge used to say that behind every great painting is a really great abstract painting. The beginning of your painting is not the time to get into detail — it’s your playtime. There will be plenty of time for detail down the road. If you get too caught up in detail, too soon you become caught up in protecting the area and sacrifice the unity of the painting.

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4. Rule of Opposites: Think contrasts: Light needs dark. If you want to make something look lighter, put something dark next to it. If you want to make something look darker, put something light next to it. Soft edges need to be balanced with hard edges. Vary your line quality. Warm colors need cool colors; it keeps the eye moving around the composition and keeps the viewer entertained.

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5. Break up with Fear: This is probably the most important lesson of all.  Fear is the biggest killer of creativity. To paraphrase the author Elizabeth Gilbert: Tell it to go sit in the backseat; it’s not driving the bus. The minute you let it into the driver seat, your art becomes careful and calculated and that edge, that thing that makes you you, is stifled into trying to be like everybody else. So stay in the backseat, Fear: We are not listening to you today. Today, we will make our art, bravely and courageously.

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If you make art, these things are not new to you, but they are the things we need to constantly remind ourselves. So go, dare, play, create, and make whatever it is that floats your boat. In the age of technology, art is something that still needs a human, and each creation is different and unique — that’s the beauty.

As always, I love hearing from you in the comments. Is this information helpful? Do you want to learn more about the process? Your feedback is the most important part of the conversation. Thanks for reading, and cheers!

About Stephanie Schlatter Art

Stephanie Schlatter is an Artist who draws from the world for inspiration. While she calls Grand Rapids, Michigan, home she’s often off on new adventures. For more than a decade, her journeys have taken her across the globe. She has studied art both locally and abroad, including time in Mexico, where she decided to shift her focus from photography to painting. Stephanie's travels led her to found Absolutely Art: A Project for Change in 2006. Through this non-profit organization, she brings art instruction to the children of Ethiopia while supporting their education. Stephanie's work reflects an expression influenced by other cultures which resonates a variety of influences that have given her work direction.

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