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Help! How can I improve for my next painting?

I had only painted landscapes before, primarily with the pallet knife, so this was my first attempt at a still life. I picked up a random photo from the internet, made a basic drawing and started to paint. This is what I wanted to paint:

And this is the final result:

To say it fell short of my expectations would be an understatement...

I got disillusioned with it the minute I started to pain the cup, so I rushed to finish very quickly and didn't bother with the rest of the details.

Disregarding the drawing part of it, it's obvious my main problem lies within my colour mixing. I couldn't get the off-white of the cup right, neither the shadows or the coffee. It seemed like my grey was always in the blue hue, and I used a black straight from the tube.

Are there any tips, besides practice, that anyone can give me regarding this sordid mess I made on this little canvas?

Thank you.


  • Fabrizio, I think you are being too hard on yourself. Painting realism is so different palette knife work. Take a while to check out the painting instructions on this forum. Look at the tutorials on you tube. Did you laminate the photo and mix the paint in steps ?
    It is true you learn more by painting , but in this case,because it is so different from the way you painted previously you will learn so much by exploring the forum. Keep it up :)
  • Fabrizio

    Your text shows you know how to fix the next one.

    More time on the drawing ( Martin provided a great guide on drawing ellipses ). The proportional dividers will be a big help. There are seven nested ellipses and they will all scream if one or more is out of shape or position.

    I agree with Marieb, laminate the photo, premix your values and use the color checker.

    Tube black is hard to control and usually comes with base pigments that create an unwanted cast in the light values. Mark recommends a black made from 40% burnt umber and 60% ultramarine blue, that can be varied to warm or cool by nudging the percentages one way or other. There is quite a bit of blue and violet in the cup's shadow shapes.

    Fabrizio[Deleted User]
  • This is a nice effort, you are too hard on yourself.

    Congratulate yourself for tackling this one, practice drawing ellipses, and matching colors using Mark's tutorials, and start the next one.
    Fabrizio[Deleted User]
  • I really like your choice of subject matter. You have a good eye for what might make a nice painting. Have patience with yourself. Take your time and evaluate as you go. If you get in to big of a hurry you will mess up and be dissatisfied, as you are now. I would suggest that you paint it all over again, taking your time and then see what your results are. Do the other things that have been suggested as well and you will see a vast improvement in your work.
  • Fabrizio, one of my tricks is not to loose hope when it looks like this... my paintings all go through a stage like yours. When I want to rush along and put it in a corner and forget about it because it looks all wrong. Take up your brushes and keep on looking back and forth between the picture and your painting and search for all the differences you can find and paint excatly what you see... it's like these games for kids in newspapers 'look for the 10 differences' =) ...
  • I have to remark also about the picture that you have chosen to paint. I love it! It make me want to become a caffeine addict again. And I'm only two weeks in recovery. :/
  • If you want to get a sense of realism then, you have to take the time to draw the objects in whatever medium you use. Pencil, charcoal, paint etc. Just my opinion.
  • edited October 2015
    marieb said:

    Look at the tutorials on you tube. Did you laminate the photo and mix the paint in steps ?

    I have looked at the tutorials on YouTube, but it was clearly way more difficult than it looked. Well... at least for me.

    I did not laminate the photo, I was working from the computer.

    I measured the cup with a ruler on the screen and then made a crude drawing on the canvas.

    I guess my biggest problem with it was not having any underpainting and having to build everything as they appeared and blend as little as possible. Really difficult to do. And at the end, I tried to blend to fix the mess and it made it worse.
    dencal said:


    Your text shows you know how to fix the next one.

    More time on the drawing

    I could have certainly made a better drawing, but I feel as though having an absolutely perfect drawing of those objects would not magically improve my painting because as evident from the picture, I could not translate the 3D qualities of the elements with paint, and that's (at least I think) the most critical part of it.

    I really feel like I will never be able to paint realism.

    Thanks everyone for the answers.
  • I have selected a photo of a flower that I want to paint... will spend a lot of time on the drawing, although it is not as complicated, but I'm terribly afraid of the painting process itself. I will mix the steps, but I know I will get confused as to where the steps belong. I just want to do this so bad and just can't. Uh... I'll watch the videos again.

  • If you want to paint realistically and you are just starting out, recognize that you have chosen a difficult thing to do and do not expect things to be easy.

    You can shortcut some of the pain by following guidelines you've probably already heard about: use a measuring tool to transfer proportions accurately, even if it's just the tip of your brush, try to reproduce shapes and forms, and get your values. Even if the color is off, values will 'sell' the work.

    You do not have to draw your subject in completely, but at a minimum, transfer some key lines and angles from your reference to your painting. If this is too far out of whack, the realism will suffer. Carol Marine describes her process for this in her book 'Daily Painting'. Basically she blocks in edges and major shapes first with short lines, then connects them to create simple shapes.

    Your values are all over the place compared to your reference. In the photo, the table has a light shining on it along the bottom third of the image, and you painted .. something.. in the top 3rd instead.
    You are missing shadows that provide clues to form, and the color inside the cup appear not to be liquid.. etc. Try not to think about painting a cup, and draw/paint the forms instead.

    Lastly, either keep that painting around until you have 5 canvases, or wipe it off and paint over it.

    Best of luck to you, you've done the hard part by getting started, posting your work and asking for feedback.

    A fellow traveller on the road to becoming a painter.
    [Deleted User]
  • In the photo, the table has a light shining on it along the bottom third of the image, and you painted .. something.. in the top 3rd instead.

    I painted the background all black. What you refer to as "something" is just glare from the light of my room.

    But thanks for the advices.
  • can you take a better picture? it's hard to comment. it's blurry and off center.
  • Fabrizio

    Overlay a grid on your photo and grid up your painting surface. This will help with perspective and proportion.

  • [Deleted User][Deleted User] admin
    edited October 2015
    Two things to keep in mind:

    1) My first painting took me 3 months. My second painting took me 3 months. You're learning. Take your time and don't rush. In our workshops Mark always tells people to slow down.

    2) Don't just take a few ideas from Mark and apply it here and there. Do EVERYTHING as Mark instructs if you really want to learn. For example, you say you're painting from a computer monitor. While you can certainly do that later on if you'd like, for LEARNING from your first few paintings, you should do everything Mark recommends. That's the only way he can teach you. Anyone can learn to paint realism, but they need to be able to follow instruction to the letter. No shortcuts or deviations until you've done a few paintings following his instructions 100%. The only people we have ever not been able to teach, are people who don't follow the instructions. I know it may seem tedious or like a lot of work, and it can be, but if this is important to you, it will be worth it because you WILL learn to paint realism.

    If you go to there is a 10-step Online Course. Start from Step 1 and go through the whole course, ONE STEP at a time, not moving onto the next step until you've SUCCESSFULLY completed the step you're on. Be patient, it may take a month or more to go through it for your first painting, but it will be a HUGE improvement over your current work.

    While you're going through the course, if at any time you have a question or you're having trouble with something in the instructions, come here to the forum and ask for help. Mark, me, other artists here who have gone through the course or one of Mark's workshops — we can help. But it is VERY important that you don't skip steps and that you do EVERYTHING Mark tells you to in the course. If you're having trouble with part of it — let's say, for example, that when you get to Step 6, "Beginning to Mix Colors", you can't match your first color group — do NOT move on to the next step. STOP, figure out what the problem is, ask for help here, and sort it out before moving forward.

    Trust me, if you take my advice you can learn to paint! We've been doing this for over 10 years and have had many many students, and the ONLY people who did not learn to paint were people who simply didn't follow the instructions. After you learn to paint and have done a few paintings, you don't have to keep following Mark's method — it's just for learning — but you need to strictly adhere to it right now.

    P.S. — Next time post a photo before you blend. :)
  • the flower should be easier. from what I can tell it doesn't look so bad. but it would help to break it down into pieces. I'm a little hesitant to do that without a better picture. The cup looks fine. The shape might be a little off, but some people paint like that on purpose. The coffee I think needs work. You put in an intermediate color that doesn't exist. The black might be just the photo. But that's just a technical problem the guys are talking about.
  • Just go very very very slow!
  • Regarding the flower photo that I'm planning on painting, should I treat it like a pink colour group (petals), a yellow colour group (centre), and an orangey/yellow colour group (between the petals and the centre)?
  • what is your goal for this painting? Is it to produce another painting, or are you intending to focus on applying the MC method (general vs specific)?

    Personally, I see two main color strings, red (pink) and cad yellow (orange - yellow), and that black background.
  • Fabrizio, You are just starting, don't despair. I can't draw so I either grid up the photo and canvas OR, If you are impatient to start painting photocopy the photo in Black and White, then get a stick of graphite, cheap, and cover the back of the photocopy with the graphite, lay the photocopy on the canvas and trace the outline onto the canvas. Graphite does not mix well with oil paint,so you can go over your drawing with a permanent marker, or a thin mix oil paint and allow to dry before painting.Pick something simple to start with. Keep it up :)
    Here are a couple of links .
  • Have you seen Mark's drawing video? It's very good.
  • Fabrizio, You might consider just mixing the pedal color first and nothing else. Start by painting only one pedal. Look it over very closely. I see 3-4 values. Consider this a practice because each pedal will get better as you go along. Don't even worry about the center yet. Actually, I would paint in the black background around the flower first.
  • edited October 2015
    Ronna said:

    Fabrizio, You might consider just mixing the pedal color first and nothing else. Start by painting only one pedal.

    That's what I'm going to do. When I was planning this painting I thought about putting the dark values everywhere and then come with lighter ones, which got me confused. It's better to focus on each petal at the time.

    I haven't mixed the colours yet, and I'm unsure as to how am I going to achieve the desired pink. I have Chinese Vermilion, Alizarin Crimson and Rose Lake, but none of those is quite perfect. Will have to work hard on my colour mixing.

    For the background I did a wash with black paint and drew inside.

  • [Deleted User][Deleted User] admin
    edited October 2015
    Have you made a print? Have to made sure the colors are not too extreme for the paints you have at your disposal?

    Painting from life is simplest as far as getting realistic colors go. Most images on the Internet will not have natural color, and even if they do, you still have to have the know-how and the equipment to make a good glossy print which preserves those colors, and get it laminated, etc. Painting from life does not necessarily require a lot of setup. Look at the setup in this discussion:

    And don't be afraid of "dirty" colors, they're the easiest colors to match with practically any decent palette of colors:

    Fabriziorgralesia[Deleted User]
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