The Ultimate Secret to
Making Better Paintings...

Before subject or the visual idea or composition, before values, shapes, edges or color, before you pick up a brush you must first know what the emotional content of your painting will be.

 The occasional artist discovers how to breathe life into the canvas and the painting sings with a pure voice. (Robert Bissett)

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside awakens. --Carl Jung

"An art which isn't based on feeling isn't an art at all ... feeling is the principle, the beginning and the end; craft, objective, technique - all these are in the middle." -- Cezanne

Art is one of the sources through which the soul expresses itself and inspires others. But to express art thoroughly, one must have the inner emotions opened thoroughly. (Meher Baba)

All painting should be emotional painting. (Judi Betts)

The state of our heart at the moment of applying paint to canvas gets into the mix somehow. What our audience actually 'gets' when they regard our work is simply how we felt while we were doing it. (Eleanor Blair)

Emotion should not be rendered by an excited trembling; it can neither be added on nor be imitated. It is the seed, the work is the flower. (Georges Braque)

A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art. (Paul Cezanne)

If the emotion is strong enough, so is the painting. Orgasmic painting? I think, if truth be told, we all know what that is. (Jane Champagne)

One makes use of pigments, but one paints with one's feelings. (Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin)

Our full range of emotions is our palette with which we bring color to our lives. (Anne Copeland)

Never lose the first impression which has moved you. (Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot)

First of all move me, surprise me, rend my heart; make me tremble, weep, shudder; outrage me; delight my eyes afterwards if you can. [appeal made to artists] (Denis Diderot)

A painting is good not because it looks like something but rather because it feels like something. (Phil Dike)

In art the hand can never execute anything higher than the heart can inspire. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I want to touch people with my art. I want them to say, 'he feels deeply, he feels tenderly.' (Vincent Van Gogh)

The greatest artist is one who expresses what is felt by everybody. (Lama Govinda)

Paint from your soul. Paint what touches your heart and paint it in a way that lifts your spirit. Then not only will you be sharing a part of yourself with others, you will stir the viewer's emotion. This is what people remember – not how cleverly you have painted something... (Susan Harrison-Tustain)

If you are not going to get a thrill, how can you give someone else one? You must feel the beauty of the thing before you start. (Charles Hawthorne)

Once we artists have completed all of our formal art training and mastered our skills in drawing, composition, color and the rest of the technical foundation needed for creating good art, it is then important to look inward... we must paint what we feel. (Sidney Hermel)

It is now an accepted fact that the expression of emotion through painting... is a source of deep psychological satisfaction... It is a system which can also in some measure, even compensate for the lack of emotional fulfilment in human relationships... (Mervyn Levy)

When I feel what I see, I paint what I feel. (Dick Lewis)

The mood you see in my paintings was never there. It was superimposed from another place. (Tom Lynch)

Art is the concrete representation of our most subtle feelings. (Agnes Martin)

Works of art are made of concept, material... and feeling. (Kenneth Martin)

The painter doesn't try to reproduce the scene before him... he simplifies and eliminates until he knows exactly what stirred him, sets this down in color and line as simply and as powerfully as possible and so translates his impression into an aesthetic emotion. (David Milne)

Science strives to achieve unity of fact. Art strives to achieve unity of feeling. (Stephen Pepper)

A landscape painting is essentially emotional in origin. It exists as a record of an effect in nature whose splendour has moved a human heart, and according as it is well or ill done it moves the hearts of others. (Walter J. Phillips)

What I want is that my picture should evoke nothing but emotion. (Pablo Picasso)

The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a passing shape, from a spider's web. (Pablo Picasso)

Throw your heart into the picture and then jump in after it. (Howard Pyle)

Color is the most emotional element that we, as painters, have. And if it is used well, color can go a long way toward expressing an artist's intention or enhancing a mood. (Stephen Quiller)

I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions. And the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate these basic human emotions. (Mark Rothko)

To make an artwork good enough to enter people's hearts is like what ancient Chinese called "making stone into gold". It is alchemy. (Li Shan)

People don't necessarily want to learn from art. They want to connect to it emotionally. (Aleksander Titovets)

Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously by means of certain signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that others are infected by those feelings and experience them. (Leo Tolstoy)

I love the way art moves people emotionally. I love the fact that when someone purchases art it is the one thing that will last for generations. (Jack White)

The artist must conceive with warmth yet execute with coolness. (Winkelmann)

A climax in a painting means coming to light, a center of interest, a delicate part, a colour surprise, activation, sudden insight or rebirth, etc. In the same way that other art forms build a case, foreshadow, anticipate, disclose and darken before the light, so should paintings. (Robert Genn)



More Painting Secrets:

The Secret of Values New
The Secret of Emotion

The Secret of Critiquing
The Secret of Composition

The Secret of Visual Idea
The Secret of Borrowing
The Secret of Tonalism 
The Secret of Style
The Secret of Maxfield Parrish

The Secret of Plein Air
The Secret of No Solvents
The Secret of Water Mixable Oils

The Secret of Thumbnails
The Secret of the Process
The Secret of Knife Painting


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Recommended Books

Learning to make art is a life-long process.  These are the best books on my shelf for that purpose.  Some are more advanced.  No particular order.  These links will take you to, new or used is your choice.  You might also check your local library...ask about interlibrary loans, or a used book store.

Emotional Content: How to Create Paintings That Communicate

"Too often emerging artists focus on nuts-and-bolts techniques--form--as the key to creating powerful paintings. Here author Gerald Brommer reveals that emotional content is the most vital consideration."

A must have for anyone who wants to make real art, beginner to advanced.  This is the part of picture making that is almost never discussed in depth.  Here is a whole book about it.  Many professionals know this, but may not be able to articulate it.

The book is in three parts:  Selecting Elements, Sketching the Scene and Using Color to Evoke Emotion.

Highly Recommend.

 Tom Lynch 100 Watercolor Workshop
Lesson Charts

His major theme is "think like an artist".  He makes that point from every angle imaginable in an entertaining way.  Great paintings, colorful, inspirational, clear.  Intended for watercolor, but very useful for any medium.

 The Creative Artist: A Fine Artist's Guide to Expanding Your Creativity and Achieving Your Artistic Potential

 Painting More Than the Eye Can See

 60 Minutes to Better Painting: Sharpen Your Skills in Oil and Acrylic

How to Make a Watercolor Paint Itself: Experimental Techniques for Achieving Realistic Effects

Painting Techniques of the Masters

 Composition: A Painter's Guide to Basic Problems and Solutions

 Norman Rockwell Illustrator

 Work Small, Learn Big: Sketching With Pen & Watercolor

 Paint Red Hot Landscapes That Sell: A Sure-Fire Way to Stop Boring and Start Selling Everything You Paint in Oils

 Harley Brown's Eternal Truths for Every Artist

 Conversations in Paint

 The Pleasure of Painting: Three Mediums, Oil, Watercolor, Acrylic

 Painting by Design


How to "Read" a Painting

Elements of Visual Design Explained

Watercolor Sunflowers on Yupo Paper a demo

Artist's Toolkit

The Elements of Art - good

Elements of Art

Painting Critique Checklist

How to Critique a Painting

Mr. Picasso Head

Cybernetic art program - amazing

Dip 'n Daub - abstract art generator 358k

Cityscapes - artificial creativity, good one

Generative Art - program <300k

“There are mighty few people who think what they think they think.” So wrote Robert Henri, author of The Art Spirit, 3 speaking of the various answers to the question, What do I do when I paint?    Beginners in art usually think of themselves as “painting that ” – say, a landscape.     So they include every visible cow, barn, tree, and cloud.    In reality, their first artistic impulse sprung from a rather quick glance, which is something far different from a photographic visualization of everything stimulating their retinas.   What attracted them to notice this landscape was the massive, quiet dignity of a weathered-red barn surrounded by wind-shook acres of grain.    In their original glimpse, they never saw the cows, they didn’t notice the clouds, and they barely registered the trees.    Later, upon reflection, they think they did, and that mistake in thinking accounts for many an ineffective painting.

Accomplished artists do not think of themselves as painting the total landscape seen after inspection.   Rather they feel moved by some image, and they lay paint on canvas in a way that they hope will create a similar reaction in a viewer.   They will leave out the cows and rearrange the clouds to enhance the impression of the majesty of that barn rising from those fields.   They often remind themselves, “I am not painting that – a visible figure over there.    I am painting this – a mélange of paint that expresses my disposition when I see that and promises to evoke the same disposition in someone else.”    This image may be something in nature, a sitting model, the memory of several experiences, or even the pure image of colors in a pattern.

...the specific symbol most significant to us is the human face.    Infants, in their earliest differentiations of consciousness, learn to notice faces.   I am always amazed how they spontaneously look at our looking organs – not our ears extending out from the sides, not our noses sticking out in front, not our lips that sing them lullabies and smooch them with kisses -- but our eyes.    They “read” a frown far earlier than they understand a word.    This image of the face and eyes is loaded with feeling and remains at the core of their sensibilities for the rest of their lives."

What Do I Do When I Paint?  by Tad Dunne, PhD
Highly recommended reading.

"Nature contains the elements, in colour and form, of all pictures, as the keyboard contains the notes of all music. But the artist is born to pick, to choose, and group ... these elements, that the result may be beautiful."  Whistler

...the artist's job is to home in, investigate and synthesize. "There's something there," the artist says, often without knowing just what will come of it. This is a learned skill and a way of life. Properly exploited, it's why we're so highly rewarded.

Valuable stuff can happen. One is "style opportunity"--things you just know you can inflict your style on--the lens through which you see and interpret the world. Another is the chance encounter that can breed a new direction. For me, this often comes as a surprise in areas of otherwise slim pickings.

Nothing beats taking the time for a full stop--what I call the "spiritual pause"--time enough for the creative viewer and the creative viewfinder to do their job. It sounds nuts, but I find that writing down potential titles, no matter how ordinary, goes half way to making the paintings: "Mt. Churchill from Malaspina Strait." Then there's the "idea list" to jog the memory back in the studio. I prefer to compose these like brief haiku. It's a minor literary habit that enriches the looker whether you use the ideas or not. "Incursions and abstract weathering of voluptuous sandstone at water's edge." "Patterning of a white clam-midden against black sand among shining beach boulders." "An all-seeing eagle minding his business and waiting patiently until we're outta here."  Robert Genn

(One of Genn's brief haikus above is a visual concept, can you find it?  It's the one that easily converts to paint on a two dimensional surface.)

From his 7/8/5 newsletter "Eagle Eye"
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"Pencil sketches, color sketches, photos, even nature itself...the real purpose of all reference material is to arrive at a beautiful, compelling way to arrange paint on a canvas."  Robert Bissett

"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.  Art is knowing which ones to keep." - Scott Adams

"Good artists borrow, great artists steal." Pablo Picasso

Picasso also said, "to search means nothing in painting.  To find is the thing".  He was getting at the same idea with that.  He meant something more like this: copying another painting vs. stealing the idea of the painting and creating something new with it.  Stealing the idea doesn't mean the composition for an artist -- that's copying.  You steal the feeling from the painting, and use it to create something else.

Diego Riviera, Mexico's greatest painter relates that when he was in Paris, Picasso would visit his studio frequently. Diego would have to hide his newest works because Picasso was an inquisitive fellow who would poke through Diego's rooms, always sniffing for new ideas for inspiration. Some of Picasso's best works are derived from the paintings of others, reinvigorated by his creativity.

'The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.'  Albert Einstein

"One always begins by imitating." (Eugéne Delacroix)

"He who resolves never to ransack any mind but his own, will be soon reduced, from mere barrenness, to the poorest of all imitations; he will be obliged to imitate himself, and to repeat what he has before often repeated." (Sir Joshua Reynolds)

"If Picasso drips, I drip... For a long while I was with Cezanne, and now I am with Picasso." (Arshile Gorky )

"I remember one day when Juan Gris told me about a bunch of grapes he had seen in a painting by Picasso. The next day these grapes appeared in a painting by Gris, this time in a bowl; and the day after, the bowl appeared in a painting by Picasso." (Jacques Lipchitz)

"Good artists borrow. Great artists steal." (Picasso)

"Copy from one, it's plagiarism; copy from two, it's research." (Wilson Mizner)

"Ideas cannot be copyrighted; images can."  Mary Klotz

"As for piracy, I love to be pirated. It is the greatest compliment an author can have. The wholesale piracy of Democracy was the single real triumph of my life. Anyone may steal what he likes from me."  Henry Brooks Adams




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