Painting and Problem Solving

Sep 15 / Dan Schultz
“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.” – Edgar Degas


You weren’t kidding, Edgar. The more we learn and practice, the harder certain aspects of painting seem to become. It may take years before we feel like we’re improving in some areas. But don’t think of those unsuccessful attempts as wasted canvases. With each try, we’re steadily developing our ability to solve problems. It’s critical that we progress in this area because our solutions to problems are what inform us to make better choices as we improve. It’s a process that takes time, but here are a few ideas to help us develop our problem solving abilities a bit more purposefully.

Develop Your Problem Solving Abilities

-Realize that problems in your paintings always fall into one or more of the following categories:
       Drawing accuracy
       Value
       Color
       Paint application (including edge handling, texture and brushwork)

-Spend time with an artist friend and critique each other’s work.

-Do your best to critique your own work to discover what problems exist. (Tip: try looking at your paintings in a mirror. Seeing the image reversed is like seeing it for the first time, which can make problem areas more apparent.)

-If you can identify a recurring problem that you just can’t get past, find exercises to help you focus on that particular area. (A web search should get you started.)

-Tackle all sorts of different scenes. For example, you’ll get better at painting meadows (or trees, rocks, water, skies, etc.) after you’ve painted them a few dozen times.

Don’t be discouraged when you’re struggling to solve problems. When something goes wrong, identify it using the above list, then come up with the best way to solve it. Problem solving may put the “pain” in painting, but over time you’re developing a growing arsenal of solutions.

Apply Your New Knowledge