22 Mistakes to Avoid When Painting

From Brian Simons

This list of commonly made mistakes in paintings comes from Canadian artist Brian Simons, who works in acrylics. Brian says: “I first began to paint approximately 20 years ago, when we moved from Alberta to Vancouver Island. Prior to that I focused mostly on drawing and sketching. Being a self-taught artist, I have derived much of my inspiration from the ‘Group of Seven’, the French Impressionists, and the writing of Baha’i Faith. From the regular workshops I teach I’ve seen how beginners (and not-such-beginners) repeat the same mistakes, time and again. My hope is that this list will help stop you making these mistakes in your paintings.”

1. Using repetitive brush strokes: these put the viewer to sleep. Use a variety of brush strokes.

2. Applying scratchy, dry, scumbled strokes: these look cheap, afraid, stingy, not masterful.

3. Tippy-tapping paint and poking it on the canvas: this is not bingo and your brush is not a bingo dobber.

4. Concentrating on one area of the canvas while neglecting the rest: the whole of the canvas is important.

5. Mixing paint on the canvas: finalise your colours on your palette.

6. Not taking the time to study your subject: if you don’t know your subject, how can you paint it?

7. Using too many colors: use three or four with white and see how many variations you can arrive at.

8. Adding detail: this cheapens the work and you end up talking down to your audience.

9. Painting what you know and not what you see: remember mistake number six.

10. Stealing small pockets of time: allow yourself ample time to work, otherwise you may lose your initial inspiration.

11. Listening to admirers: paint alone as much as possible and avoid seeking others opinions until you find your own.

12. Being stingy with paint: use lots and, yes, you will waste some.

13. Changing to small brushes: stay with the larger brushes as long as possible.

14. Using too much white: this makes paintings chalky and cold.

15. Adding bits and pieces in your composition: keep things in larger groups.

16. Putting paint on simply because you don’t want to waste it: you’ll waste your painting this way.

17. Scrubbing the paint on: instead, lay it on and leave it.

18. Fixing every ‘mistake’: good paintings are full of wonderful accidents that the artist refused to ‘fix’.

19. Thinking too much: painting is a doing, feeling thing and not a thinking, intellectual thing.

20. Losing the ‘big shapes’ and values: remember mistake number six.

21. Trying to paint like somebody else or another painting you saw: be yourself and be honest. You can’t hide anything in a painting.

22. Worrying about the results: trust your instinct and trust yourself.

This list of commonly made painting mistakes is an extract from Brian Simon’s book 7 Steps to a Successful Painting, and used with permission. Brian says the book evolved from his years of teaching people from all walks of life to paint with acrylics. “It represents the heart of my 18-hour workshop program and is enormous fun for young and old.”





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