When I first started to paint, I was taking classes and I was really confused by all the advice I was getting. I remember asking the instructor: ‘what makes a good painting?’. Well, wasn’t that the mother of all questions?
What makes a good painting?
While I still ask myself that question regularly, and I don’t have the definitive answer, I can certainly tell you ‘what makes a good painting FOR ME’.
After years of painting, taking classes, talking to people and looking at art, I have come to a place where I can look at a painting and know why I either like it, or not, or what I think is missing, what could be done better, what would give that painting the wow factor (in my opinion anyway).
Here are some of the elements of a good painting; I’m sure there are many more.
First would be technical proficiency and an interesting subject, with a strong focal point where most of the contrast is located. It should have good balance, movement, unity and colour harmony. It should have a feeling of freshness and not appear overworked. And finally, it should have an element of surprise. Suzanne Northcott told us, in a workshop that I took with her, that a painting should have a surprise. It’s like the cherry on the sundae.
So now, when I’m approaching the final stages of a painting, I ask myself ‘where’s the surprise?’. It can be an unexpected shape, or colour, or element, but it should catch and please your eye. If that element of surprise isn’t there, I try to add it if I can. It can take your painting from ‘well done’ to ‘wow’.
“If the painting process is to be successful, we need to be able to apply paint expressively, to compose originally, and to maximize color as well as design.” (Stephen Quiller)