Monthly Archives: August 2013

Things I Have Learned From Painting

One of the most important lessons I have learned from painting is that I learn more from my mistakes than I do from my successes.  When a painting works out really well I tend to admire it, appreciate it, etc etc.  But not much more.

However, when a painting doesn’t work out it bothers me.  It’s like having a sliver, it irritates until I do something about it.  With a painting this involves analyzing why it didn’t work out: composition, value, technique, colour.  What is the problem(s).  Then I need to figure out a way to correct the problems.  Then I redo the painting with a better plan.  Almost always the new version is an improvement and always I learn a lot by doing this.

I was reminded of this important lesson at this week’s Art In The Garden show and sale.  I did a demo there and this year I thought I would work plein air by choosing some scene and painting it live.  Normally I would work from a photo.  There are many more potential problems painting live but it also can be a much richer experience.

I chose a scene with some people sitting under an awning.  I started by doing a quick thumbnail sketch to bring some order to what I was seeing.  This is the thumbnail I created.

Rex Beanland, Art In The Garden Thumbnail

Thumbnail Sketch












The paper I took to do the painting on was 9 x 12 so when I did this thumbnail I used a little viewfinder set to 9 x 12.  So far so good.  This is the painting that I did.  I started it on location and finished it in the studio that evening.   Since I didn’t take my camera I only had my thumbnail as reference for the painting when I got home.


Rex Beanland, Art In The Garden Original, watercolour, 12 x 9

Art In The Garden (Original Version)














While I think there are a few positives about this painting I’m not happy with it.  I like the sense of light behind the left side figure.  However, I don’t think the composition works.  The 12 x 9 format doesn’t seem suited to this subject.  The main part (the figures) are more horizontal.  The big problem with it, for me, is that it isn’t really a watercolour.  There is none of the luscious glow that watercolour is famous for.  It’s too busy and over worked.   I got caught up in seeing all the things in it as separate objects, ie the people, the individual leaves, flowers etc.  I wasn’t seeing things just as shapes and connecting those shapes to create a pleasing composition.  In other words I wasn’t seeing the bigger picture.  This is a very common problem with beginning painters but we can all be subject to it from time to time.

I decided to redo it and began by making changes to the format.  Instead of 12 x 9 I squared it up to 12 x 12.  I also tried to see everything as just shapes that have a  certain value and colour and as much as possible I tried to connect these shapes.  I was also determined to be bolder in my use of paint so I could get those glowing washes the first time instead of glazing  them over and over and losing that luminosity.  This is the result.

Rex Beanland, Art In The Garden , watercolour, 12 x 12;

Artists In The Garden

















I’m much happier with this version.  As always I can see changes and improvements I would like to make but it does capture a nice sense of the scene.  I has a much nicer composition and it is definitely a better watercolour technique.  It was fun to do whereas the original version was work.

Normally, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to post  a painting that didn’t work out but I felt that there was something very important to learn from this entire process so I said, “What the heck”.

The important point of this whole experience was that it showed that, indeed, we can learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. For me I have found that this lesson applies to the rest of my  life and not just my art life.