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Help! Having trouble getting started.

I’m going through Mark’s on-line class step-by-step but can’t get past shooting a still-life photo I’m happy with. I’ve chosen to paint from a photo due to work schedule and wanting to paint perishables. I’ve set up MANY still lives and every time I think I am happy with one, I follow Mark’s instructions on processing the image and print it out actual size, tile it together, sit down to draw it and STOP. I always find something in the image I don’t like…something is not in focus, a shadow running across an object that obscures what is unique about it, or the composition could be better. I know I will be spending a lot of time mixing paint and painting this first piece and I don’t want to start on something I won’t like in the end. How do you all get past critiquing your still-life photo and getting on with it? What am I doing wrong?


  • Shoot your setup (still life) and before going to all the trouble of cropping and enlarging just look at a print and study it carefully to see if it has all the elements of placement, light-dark shadow and high lights and contrast. Adjust your lighting or items and shoot again. Mark shoots several. sometimes changing the light or moving an object. It's all trial and error or try, try again. You are obviously exercising great care with this and have a concept of what you want to convey so don't get frustrated you're already ahead of the game. 
  • BOB73, thank you for response. Yes, I think maybe I am anxious to get started and moving to fast trying to make something work that isn’t good from the beginning. Do you think if I set up my camera so that I could see the image on computer screen DURING the shoot, rather than afterward, this would be helpful?
  • @PAretrunedtoart, I agree with all BOB73 said.

     I find setting up a still life and coming up with a pleasing composition one of the most difficult things in painting. It takes time. Consider simplifying your setup if you have lots of items. It might be too complex for a first learning piece. In the beginning I think simpler is better so we can get on with the actual drawing, mixing and painting and the learning that flows therefrom.

    Good luck with it. Enjoy your lessons with Mark.  :)
  • Thank you.  I will edit out some of the objects. I think I’m holding on to some objects that are interesting and I want to paint but don’t really add anything to the composition. Kind of like over filling your plate when you're really hungry. LOL.
    Also, i worked from larger computer screen while I was shooting today and found that to be very helpful in composing and adjusting lighting. A lot to learn!
    Thank you for the input. Nice for a beginner to have this forum! :)
  • I wouldn't care too much. In the past I always worked from black and white prints that I got from my old A4-Printer. A good experiment is to make a drawing first with the right values in B&W and then just add colour. What I learned from Marc is to give up FEAR: the painting won't bite you. Just go ahead.

  • It sounds like you have a problem with procrastination. It's something I've suffered from and still do, I can find lots of excuses to not do something: I need specific brushes, need a certain paint, need a particular surface, etc etc. You don't need a great source photograph to get started - you could paint smaller and spend less time and paint direct from life. Paint small colour studies until you've found the composition you're looking for. 

    Perhaps you're putting too much pressure on yourself that this painting has to turn out great, if so you need to get over that because it will stop you from ever getting started. I know Mark says "always be trying to paint your masterpiece", but for me that is the exact opposite of what I need to be doing. "Always be trying to improve" works far better for me.
  • edited June 29
    I agree with @gar3thjon3s. Which great painter arrived at mastery with their first painting? That's a completely unrealistic expectation. That's like saying,  I want to learn piano and I intend to give a stellar performance of a Chopin ballad or a late Beethoven sonata at the conclusion of my first lesson. Ain't gonna happen!

    Putting demands and expectations like that on ourselves is bound to end in disappointment/disillusionment.

    To continue with the piano analogy, to play a late Beethoven sonata well, pianists need years of grueling practicing of scales and studying smaller, simpler works to acquire the necessary technique. It's hard work. They need to love the music and  be dedicated. Similarly, great realist painters, especially the old masters, studied drawing, perspective, and colour for years and honed their skills on simple still lifes before producing their great masterpieces in oil. In realism, raw talent is mostly BS, a myth. In that, I do agree with Mark. As with piano, mastery in painting is acquired by doing. You can be as talented as the best but if you don't study and work at realist painting you'll get nowhere fast. What's important is to get started and keep learning.

    Instead of telling ourselves that this very painting has to be a masterpiece, (or else?) a better approach might be:  let's make this painting the best I can make it and see what I can learn from it to apply in my next one so that it will be even better.  If we do this consistently, developing what talent we have, we will keep improving until one day we actually do paint that masterpiece. But there's no fast, easy way. Although a good teacher can certainly help. Mark is one such. I'm sure he doesn't really expect masterpieces from his beginners. It's more an aspiration he wants to instill in them.. :)
  • edited June 29
    All good advice those above
    A similar analogy I think is writing, many who want to do it think of their favourite book/author and compare it with their own efforts starting out. Naturally they become disheartened and tell themselves they can not to do it.

    But that favourite book that they so revere probably went through rejections and likely many drafts before it became what it did.

    I think it is good to remember to be ok with mistakes, they help us.

    The failures that we learn from help us make our successes.
  • MichaelD is right! Nevertheless: compare yourself with the artist you adore! It will make you get further. But allow yourself to begin and allow yourself to fail. Because there is no such thing like FAILING in fact. You are laying foundations for later work. 
  • Thanks for the idea of connecting your camera to the computer. It does help a lot and saves print paper.
  • It doesn't matter what you paint at first - just put something on a table, take a photo and paint it from the print doing colour matching. An easy simple object, on a table, against a flat wall/background sounds perfect.

  • Paint from life....simple set up....minimal pallette....and minimal time frame....two hours...or so.
  • I use photos from pixabay - creative commons, no copyright photos
  • edited July 2
    Just put an apple or s cup on a shelf, light it from one side so you've got some nice shadows then go for it. Or use a photo as a reference.

     You dont have to produce a masterpiece. You just have to get started. Once we start painting we start learning.  :)
  • Thank you so much, everyone! Such wonderful input and insightful advice.  So very helpful to me...from so many perspectives. You have helped me sort out my issue/road block. So glad to have you all here and appreciate your experienced advice. Thank you again! Wish me luck then. I am starting to put paint to canvas. Enough procrastinating already. :)
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