Getting rid of bad habits with your painting technique


“The Sanctuary” – 2002 – digital painting

by Robert Conway

    My approach to completing a painting is the direct opposite of the way I used go about it in my earlier years. The look of the stuff I am doing now is a complete 180 degree turn from these early attempts simply for the fact that I do not want to replicate any mistakes of the past, it is a complete overhaul especially in regard to time consuming mistakes, I am trying to streamline my craft and these paintings sometimes take a lifetime to finish. I swear you would think that I was writing a freaking opera every time I started working on another canvas. This lead me to the realization that possibly always sticking to the same particular style is could be what was holding me back, I had to make certain decisions in order to keep functioning as a painter and what I decided was is that I had to let go of a lot of the old time stealing stylistic practices that I had always relied on that had gotten me complements in years past, it was time to move on. As an artist, I believe it is important to always be improving with your craft, learning new techniques, new applications and new ways of approaching your art. The other part of your artistic evolution I would have to say is that you should also should just start ‘throwing out’ certain elements in your style that may be hindering your progress and wasting your valuable time. It is like you are always trying to set a certain style in the beginning that is going to set you apart from other artists, but in the long run your outlook changes over time and you make many adjustments to your technique, it is like your style finds you. Just as it is good to question authority, it is also a good thing to question yourself. “How come I always do it this way?” I always ask myself when I get stuck and the answer is always “don’t panic, just rethink your approach, you’ll get there, just go about it a different way.” Maybe it is time for you to do a little house cleaning where your standard operating procedure is concerned and leave some of those old conventions that had previously defined your style on the curbside, maybe it is better to explore other visual avenues? you may find that you will surprise yourself by going about things a little differently.

    When I first attempted to paint back in the eighties, I tended to over stylize every thing, I was so preoccupied with making my acrylic paintings so much different from everyone else, that I would eventually end up with one big tangled bird’s nest of fancy brushstrokes and confusion. They were just a casserole of frustration and insecurity, I never once felt in control for a moment, I was just moving along with the small hope that accidentally I may make something that I would like to hang up in my room. Yep, that was indeed a lousy plan from the start, these compositions lacked any kind of cohesion, none of the elements on the canvas was working with one another and they were so busy there was nowhere for the viewer’s eye to rest, so you know where this is going, yes, they would all eventually end up in the trash heap. Now, I try to concentrate on a painting as one whole thing, that is to say a singular cohesive composition rather than just a collection of detailed elements crammed together battling it out for the viewer’s attention. It wasn’t just heavy detailing that I was obsessed with in the early stages, it was also the fact that I had to outline everything with a hard line, there was no subtlety, I was trying to over sell every element in the field of play and cram all my bag of tricks into one composition. Now I have a definite plan before I start painting and feel that I have matured with my style now that I can dismiss all these attention grabbing bells and whistle for a visual style that involves more effective compositions and more cohesion as a whole image.

One other thought is I having been blogging for a while now has exposed me to a lot of other artists out there and seeing their works has most definitely improved my approach to my craft, my goal is to become one of these artists who somehow manage to whip off a painting everyday, why can’t I be one of these guys? It can be a little intimidating seeing so many great works out there, I mean these people are your competition for goodness sake, however there is an endless opportunity there to really pick up on a lot of tips and information.

February 15, 2014


12 thoughts on “Getting rid of bad habits with your painting technique

  1. It can be different for differing styles. I work very spontaneously, and too much planning can kill a work for me. So can too much looking at other art. I rely on so much unconscious spontaneity that planning things out is rare. Not unheard of but rare. Just goes to show you that there are lots of ways to do it.

    • I have always wanted to do a painting with unconscious spontaneity, it sounds like a lot more fun. anytime I have ever painted that way it never came out to my liking, or I never knew when it was finished. maybe someday I will try to paint that way again. great to hear from you Cindy.

  2. You pretty much covered the journey, descriptively. Every once in a while we get to another level and can rejoice. Glad to hear you are uplifted and positive. I think I’ve made some good progress recently – will post in a day or 2.

  3. I think trying to push it to another level almost daily really has value. I am constantly getting annoyed with myself, and my painting, and my desk, and the cat, and the tea that is not quite the right strength. Gosh, it’s exhausting! But in it is a sort of restless striving to get better and improve, and sometimes, somehow, it works. Keep going! I will too.

    • ok trudi, I think I am improving with painting all the time, all that practice I guess, and with that familiarity also comes I think feelings of fearlessness. It is exhausting, that is the main reason I use acrylics, to get rid of that cleaning up part of the ritual. great to hear from you. 🙂

  4. Robert, when I view your work, both in art and writing, I am looking at a master-artist and teacher. Your article was helpful, I remember my struggles as a beginning artist. This article will no-doubt help many artist, both beginners and seasoned.

  5. I can relate to your statement that you would like to be able to just whip out a painting a day…I thought about that too, especially when there are so many artists on Facebook, for example, who do just that. But as time passed, I realized that, just as Popeye used to say, “I yam what I yam”…I think my eye is just not as good as those rapid-fire artists, and if it takes me a week, or even a month, to do a painting, well, so be it.

    • oh I am so glad you wrote that, I am the same way things take a long while to soak in when I am working on a painting, my eye takes a long time to figure out glaring mistakes. figuring out the big picture in like a day totally blows my mind I don’t know how people do it, I would be terrible a plein air for sure even though that looks like a lot of fun. yep I’m a Popeye too. 🙂

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