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Art Masterclass   

                        January 2010

Each month presents a feature from either The Artist or its sister publication, Leisure Painter.     

Art masterclass       

from The Artist, the monthly magazine for amateur and semi-professional painters, giving practical instruction in painting and drawing in watercolour, pastels and oils, as well as news of art events, exhibitions and competitions open to leisure artists;  




This Month:

How to improve your paintings

by John Patchett

Criticism: some of us can take it but most of us, let’s be honest, cannot cope with it in any shape or form. As painters we are fair game when it comes to criticism.

Georgian window box

Georgian Window Box II, pastel, (43x32cm)

It’s part-and-parcel of being an artist and it seems any Tom, Dick or Harry, regardless of their knowledge of art, is perfectly at liberty to express their opinion.

However, criticism – and particularly self-criticism – should be an ongoing process from the moment you begin a painting.

Analysing and evaluating your work is not always easy. After all, you’ve just completed your latest creation and you desperately want it to be the best thing that you have ever painted! You ask family and friends for feedback and nervously hang on every word. However, their opinions are often quite subjective and are not always helpful or constructive.

Constructive feedback

Being objective about your work is very important as criticism can all too easily have a negative impact and cause you to lose heart. Try to look for things in your work that you are pleased with and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. Then, and only then, move onto areas that could be improved upon.

If you are a member of an art group, you should be able to have your work appraised by other members of the club or by guest speakers. When I conduct weekend art courses, one of the important and popular aspects of the course is to conduct a constructive ‘crit’ at the end of the final day. Sometimes, after careful scrutiny of your painting, you are able to make the necessary changes that you think will improve the overall appearance of your latest piece of work.

Here are five examples where I have taken a painting out of its frame and radically changed it, trying to rectify the perceived problem areas.




The pastel painting, Summer Days I, had been painted on location and I faithfully recorded the scene as I saw it. In fact, I was perfectly happy with my efforts until I exhibited it. Against some of my other work it looked slightly pedestrian and lacked a bit of ‘oomph’!




summer days 1

Summer Days I,
pastel on Sennelier pastel card, 17x21in. (43x53cm)



Summer days 11

Summer Days II,
pastel on Sennelier pastel card, 17x21in. (43x53cm)
the amended painting

I took it out of its frame and put in a more lively sky; one that would add drama to the scene and look as if it was causing those flags to really flutter about. To make more of a visual impact, I lowered the horizon and added highlights to the beach. The finished result is Summer Days II



It was almost the same scenario when I painted Georgian Window Box I.

I had painted it from direct observation and, as before, was quite happy with the results until I got it back to my studio. I felt it looked rather empty and appeared too simplistic.

I made some small pencil studies in my sketchbook, mostly playing around with the composition by adding louvered shutters.

Georgian window box 1

Georgian WindowBox I,
pastel on Sennelier pastel card, 17x121⁄2in. (43x32cm)



Georgian window box 11

Georgian WindowBox II,
pastel on Sennelier pastel card, 17x121⁄2in. (43x32cm)


As the small architectural moulding above the window was a monestial green hue, I painted the shutters the same colour to match. As you can see from the amended painting, Georgian Window Box II, I added further interest by making the shadows cast by the window box more intricate and added similar shadows over the surface of the right-hand shutter.

Subtle glazes of pale mauve were added to the building to make it appear more weathered and helped the allover colour balance of the painting.





The small pastel painting, Morning Light, Walberswick was again painted on location and had not only been framed, but also exhibited. Upon analysing it, however, I felt that the colours were slightly muddy and the picture was in desperate need of some inner light.



Morning light 1

Morning Light I, Walberswick,
pastel on Sennelier pastel card, 93⁄4x123⁄4in. (24.5x32.5cm)



Morning light 11


Morning Light II, Walberswick,
pastel on Sennelier pastel card, 93⁄4x123⁄4in. (24.5x32.5cm)


I softened the background, which helped create a sense of atmosphere and started to apply pointillist marks over the surface of the water so that it sparkled with sunlight. I put stronger highlights on the masts, posts and rocks in the foreground and lightened parts of the shoreline.



I felt that the final result was much more lively and impressionistic,
and the illusion of depth really enhanced.




When I had finished painting Al Fresco I (below), I felt that I had been too literal and had included everything I had seen. In hindsight, I wished I hadn’t painted the fairly grotesque drainpipe. I also felt that it needed a narrative of some sort so the picture told a bit of a story. I put in a seated figure but that resulted in a very crowded composition. I then set about eliminating parts of the background.

Al Fresco 1

Al Fresco I,
pastel on Sennelier pastel card, 171⁄4x13in. (44x33cm)


Al Fresco 11




Now, as most pastellists will tell you, there are only a limited number of layers that can be placed on top of each other. To overcome this, I applied the pastel using firm dots and dashes, using a pointillist technique. As you can see from the amended painting , the entire surface glistens with the light and colours of a Mediterranean holiday.

Al Fresco II,
pastel on Sennelier pastel card, 171⁄4x13in. (44x33cm)





Originally, I painted The Blue Door I for the person who lived there. The doorway had always attracted me. Its Victorian grandeur was made even more impressive by the marble stone steps and the potted shrubs, strategically placed in front.

By the time I had completed the painting and was ready to present it to its new owners, they had moved address. Consequently, I was left with the painting to dwell on its pictorial merits.

Blue door 1

The Blue Door I,
pastel on Sennelier pastel card, 163⁄4x121⁄2in. (42.5x32cm)


Blue door 11

The Blue Door II,
pastel on Sennelier pastel card, 163⁄4x121⁄2in.

A few doors away was a completely different doorway but one with a wonderful wisteria growing around it. I felt my painting needed something to soften the austere façade of the building, so I set up my easel a few doors away and added the trailing wisteria to the original painting. The result was to transform the painting, The Blue Door II

By the way, when I was painting the wisteria, of all those people who stood and watched me, no one appeared to notice that the door in the second location wasn’t blue but was natural oak!




When analysing and evaluating your own work, consider the following:

  • Is your composition ill considered?
  • Have you overworked areas and lost freshness?
  • Are tonal values correct?
  • Are there areas that look dull and uninspired?
  • What about the quality of your draughtmanship?
  • Have you used artistic license to the best effect?
  • Have you produced muddy colours?
  • Is there a focal point?
  • Does the handling of the materials look confident?
  • Does it have the ‘wow’ factor?



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