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Basic Artistic Principles

These ideas are not carved in stone, but they should be.

Chapter One – The information here is my attempt to help the student or collector understand basic principles that help you recognize a quality painting from that of an amateur or less quality piece. These statements are intended for representational art. One example, the new student in a figure drawing class usually sees all the detail like hairs, freckles, moles a model has, even a pimple on the back and draws that instead of seeing the more important classical form of the body.  Where as the master will ignore the superficial, seeing the important color, value masses and put them down in their rightful places simply and add to the painting correcting strokes while viewing constantly the whole form instead of the particular area being painted. 


Artist should follow these basic principles for Landscape painting as well and still life or any other type.  A new art student or collector would do them selves good to look and study these principles from some of histories greatest artists.  Diego Velazquez, John Singer Sargent are good examples to start with. Juan de Pareja’s portrait by Velazquez is a fantastic example of simplicity with only important statements brushed on the canvas. Also studying painters like Iya Repin, Valentin Serov and Konstantin Alekseyevich Korovin.


  For the study and understanding color, realize it’s not the color mark itself, but its relationship and reaction to the whole (Its surroundings). Some of the impressionist brought forward the use of pure color mixing on the canvas which when painted correctly is some of the most beautiful painting for its color alone. 


When viewing a painting on the easel or on the wall, it needs to be viewed from a distance of at minimum of 8 to 10 feet back! That is why the master would constantly step back to see what he had just put down with their brush and see what else was needed.  The wise, educated collector also should be standing back viewing the painting from a distance of 8 to 10 feet to see how the painting reads. Most collectors I’m afraid are looking much too close to see all the detail or whats signed on the canvas. Some are looking for flashy brushwork or bright brilliant color. Those don’t mean a thing with out them reading properly!  Sargent’s paintings aren’t good because of his slimy brush strokes. He was great because his slimy brush strokes read from a distance and that’s where the detail falls in to place. 


It’s surprising how few artist and collectors understand the importance of this principle. A great painting can be filled with detail, but if the detail is not painted in relation to the whole, it’s just detail and not truly a great painting! 


If the collector is looking for a name (well know artist), then he should still understand these core principles to find and example that is of great quality as well.


I will continually ad to these notes as time allows.


Thanks for taking the time to read this. 

Sincerely, Steven Heward