While it seems like there’s a lot of mystery that surrounds some of the most iconic artworks in the world, there is also a lot of skill, talent, and technique required to create such a painting. Here are five famous art tips that will help you improve your art.
For aspiring artists, and even those who have established themselves in the field, it is important to have a solid art education. Vincent van Gogh was aware of how important studying the masters was and even copied some of the paintings by Eugene Delacroix and Rembrandt; these copies turned out to be brilliant and unique artworks themselves: The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix) (1890) and The Raising of Lazarus (after Rembrandt) (1890).
An education in art history is for everyone, not just artists. A single image can tell us much about the culture of the past, what they believed was important or how they wanted to be remembered. As an example, let’s look at Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq, also known as The Night Watch. Rembrandt paints a militia company who, in the hand of the commander, is the key to the city, showing the city is in the safe hands of the militia.
Above: The Night Watch By Rembrandt (1872)
Claude Monet once said, “Colour is my day-long obsession, joy, and torment.” You don’t have to be obsessed with colour like Monet was, but you should know some basic rules.
One of the rules for mixing colour has us looking at the technique ‘complementary colours’. This doesn’t require paint from tubes being mixed together, not on the palette at least. Rather, it asks you to place the paint side by side causing the two opposing colours to stand out. These colours should be on opposite ends of the colour wheel. For example, green and orange or yellow and blue. This method of painting was used by the likes of Eugene Delacroix and Vincent van Gogh.
In The Night Café (1888), see how van Gogh used the complementary colours of yellow and blue in the stars and the sky to paint a night-time scene. Speaking of blue and yellow, Vermeer uses these same colours to contrast one another in The Milkmaid (1658-60). He also uses these colours on the bread and the cloth on the table, making the foreground pop off the canvas rather than having it blend in with the bland background wall.
Claude Monet was obsessed with documenting the change of light and colour, something you can see in his artworks, notably in the famous water lily series. He completed many series of artworks on a single subject in order to study the way light affected the colour of objects. Earlier in his career, in his ground-breaking painting Impression, Sunrise (1872), Monet uses the colours orange and blue to show the strength of the sun rising through the blue sky.
Above: Impression, Sunrise (1872) By Claude Monet
Sketch and Draw
It’s one thing to know how to draw an eye or a nose, but the key comes with knowing how far or how close these two features are on the face. This is where sketch drawing comes into play. A simple piece of paper and pencil can take you a long way in helping how to explore an idea as well as practice perspective. You also won’t get attached to a sketch.
Museums tend to allow people to sit and draw in front of the artworks for hours on end. There’s nothing wrong with sitting in a museum and copying the artworks of the masters. Sculptures are great as subjects for a sketch, which will help with perspective and keep your drawing from looking flat and cartoonish.
The renaissance masters knew the importance of pencil and paper, notably the genius Leonardo da Vinci, who sketched in his notebooks. Da Vinci was such a renaissance man that his ideas went beyond sculpture and painting, and he sketched out inventions that were way ahead of their time. Michelangelo’s studies of the human body have been redistributed as posters and postcards because, although they could be considered as throwaway sketches, they are beautifully and artistically executed.
You may have heard of the composition in music and writing, but in visual art, composition is the arrangement of elements within the work. To break it down, it’s how line, shape, form, colour, texture, space, and value are laid out. Leonardo da Vinci’s The Vitruvian Man is perfect for looking at composition as he illustrates the ideal proportions of the human body.
Above: The Vitruvian Man By Leonardo da Vinci
Sitting in museums and copying the artworks of master artists is certainly a good step into learning composition. You may also notice how some compositions in paintings look like shapes. The biblical figures centred in Raphael’s Canigiani Holy Family (1507-08) form a triangle. Raphael has used the lines of a triangle to guide the viewer’s eye across the painting in a steady flow without distraction. Nicolas Poussin’s A Dance to the Music of Time (1634-36) uses a circle to depict a group of dancers, and a large triangle to make the overall composition a dynamic one, which includes the angel playing the harp and two children at the bottom, and at the top of the triangle, the opening heavens. This rule of composition wasn’t left behind over the centuries, and Henri Matisse uses it in Dance (1910).
Finally, one vital tip is to stay determined. This is something you should keep in your toolkit, no question. Artmaking is hard work and requires patience, time, and determination. It’s not overnight that you will learn how to paint, draw, capture an image, or create a sculpture. Practice and error are detrimental to artmaking and is essential to reaching perfection. Be patient with yourself and remain determined—this is key.