Top 3 Artist Mistakes (no matter your experience level)

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Top 3 Artist Mistakes

There are 3 common mistakes artists make that can easily be avoided...wanna know what they are?

Want to avoid the mistakes artists make?

If you get anything from this article after you've read it, remember these 2 things and you won't make any of these common mistakes artists make:

#1) Duration and effort are not the qualifiers to identify whether a piece of art is done.

#2) Check your ego

Now, are you ready for the top 3 mistakes artists make? Here we go!

The #1 Mistake Artists Make is giving up on the painting too soon.

The most popular question I see is “how long will this take?”  This is like nails on a chalkboard question.  Let me drive this home with a previous quote "Duration and effort are not the qualifiers to identify whether a piece is done.”  

Leonardo DaVinci “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”  Well for DaVinci, this is definitely true, he hardly finished anything he started…but that's a story for another time....(look I didn't finish that thought :) _)

So how do I know when I’m finished?  

For me, I know when I feel it.  I’ll explain: Sometimes I just know because I can look at the painting, relay the story I want to portray in my head and I get emotional - I’ll physically cry or smile or dance or jump for joy.  If the painting doesn’t spark emotion for me, it is not done.

"Protector" 16x16" Oil on Panel

For example: In the painting “Protector”, I recall why I started the painting, I was angry, I felt like I had to constantly be on guard and ready to fight (it wasn't a good point in my attitude). When I look at it and the renewed anger is back, that's when I knew - it is finished.

What is also interesting to me about this painting, is that now when I look at it I think "I never want to feel that level of anger again."

If your painting is not about invoking a feeling but instead a vision of what you want to achieve, you will know when it is done when it has achieved your vision.

YOUR ACTION:  How do you know when you’ve finished a painting? Ask yourself: Does it invoke/portray the story or feeling you want to say? Or does it achieve your vision?

Each painting is an evolution of who you are at that point in time. Enjoy the journey, reflect on the path, see the steps you've's an amazing visual journey.

The #2 Mistake Artists Make is trying to make the painting look like a photograph

When artists begin to paint they are more focused on making it look like the photograph.  If you wanted a photograph, get a darn photograph!  Instead, use the photographs as tools to achieve your vision.

There is nothing freeing about painting uber-realistic, there is not an opportunity for you to express your thoughts/emotions/style/creativity if you try to make it look exactly like the picture.


HOWEVER, IF you expand on what you see in one photograph and combine it with others to create a vision of what you'd like to see - well, now that is when art and creativity take hold. Then the realistic artwork takes on new meaning and new purpose and is fascinating to see that level of detail....

When I see a painting that is a combination of scenes and the details are so real, then it is beyond a photograph - it is a vision of what the artist's world looks like in their head. You can tell from that painting the artist is in love with the process and what they are creating.

YOUR ACTION:  Begin your paintings by defining what feeling or vision you want to achieve.  Then begin building your vision using reference photos as tools to help you see the pieces of your vision.

The # 3 Mistake Artists Make is Not Looking For Lessons Learned

Understanding technique should be the #1 priority when first learning how to paint.  Once you understand technique, then you can marry the technique with your personality.   The only way to understand technique is to paint a lot, get good teachers and mentors, AND don’t give up on a painting! I hear so often “well, I think it's good enough”. Two things strike me about this statement: 

  1. “I think"
  2. “Good enough"

Let’s break down that statement: “I think”.

There is a big difference between I think and I know. If you are just getting started painting and haven't fully developed a style or a voice of your own, then you need to get the opinions of others, a teacher, a more advanced artist.  

To me, “good enough” means it is not finished: it means there is something off but you're not sure what it is yet.

The world is full of people who settle for mediocrity “good enough", is that really what you want?  Don’t give up on the piece! Instead, change the words from “good enough” to “it's a good start”.

When you get frustrated with the piece and declare it “good enough”, put it aside, start something new and come back to it when you are ready.  I’ve put aside a finished piece 10 years ago and got it out again and started painting on it again.  This is the beauty of a painting, “it is never finished, only abandoned”.  

WORD OF CAUTION: be careful who you choose to get an opinion!  

Look for someone who is an artist as well, because your mother, brother, best friend, aunt, uncle etc., who have never painted, do not understand color theory, or composition or other aspects of painting, so they will not provide helpful critiques.  

YOUR ACTION:  If you don’t like something about the painting but can’t quite figure it out, write down what you don’t like, get an opinion of one or more artists.  

If you still are not satisfied, then put the painting aside, start a new one, but ALWAYS evaluate the one that is unfinished.  With each painting, you learn something, and each time you learn something you’ll be able to apply what you learned to the unfinished piece.

Take the Challenge

YOUR CHALLENGE. In a world that wants fast deliveries, fast internet, fast food, paint and sip for 3 hours to complete a painting - break the mold.  Take the time to:

  • evaluate your work,
  • learn - paint - repeat,
  • discuss your work with others,
  • journal your thoughts about your work
  • recognize that each piece you create is a learning experience, it is part of the path to doing something great.  

Enjoy the journey, enjoy the painting process, and STOP RUSHING to an imaginary finish line!  

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