General Art Tips

Use Basic Shapes to be a Better Artist

Basic Shapes Clafiy difficult problems

When I was young I had strange misconceptions and ideas of how to draw. I would pick up books and see artist describing things into basic shapes and I would think to myself that’s not how you draw. You just draw. Little did I know how much I was wrong!

After years of training and a twenty year professional career in illustration and fine art  I know it is “the key” to drawing and painting regardless of style. Whenever I am having troubles drawing I always use basic shapes to make my drawing better and more accurate. Whether I am drawing a portrait, wildlife or still life everything can be broken down into basic shapes. Here is a basic representation of the concept but I use this in much more complex to draw a pear

Thumbnails The Key to Better Drawing and Painting

Art Tip
Using Thumbnails for Planning Compositions
Thumbnails are small quick sketches. These sketches aren’t to record details, forms or depth they are for planning out the elements of your compositions and designs.
Design and composition are terms that people use a lot and they have a lot in common. Design is used to express the overall ideas of you image. Will your image be symmetrical or Asymmetrical. These basics ideas of balancing you objects. To balance something on an see saw or older day scale you need at least two objects. It’s the same with an image you need more than one shape or group of shapes to achieve some type of balance. This is the basic idea of design
Just like before building a house or writing a book you need a planning stage. For artist this planning stage takes the form of thumbnail sketches.
These need to be done quickly so we can move onto execution of our painting or drawing. We you are outside painting or drawing landscapes this can be especially important, because the light changes so quickly.
Thumbnails are very primitive. They contain only the most fundamental information about our subject. They could even be a basic as squares, ovals, triangles just enough so we know what these shapes represent.
When deciding on a design they are four decisions to make. Should my drawing or painting be
1. Analogous – Where the vertical and horizontal movements or lines are used.
2. Complementary – Where Diagonals are emphasized
3. Symmetrical – Where the main shapes are of similar size on either side of the picture plane.
4. Asymmetrical – Where the main shapes are of very different sizes. Such as Large shapes on one side smaller on the other.
By making these decisions on how to design your art you will have stronger and more interesting artworks. Below I have included the four examples of Design.
Analogous Design

Complementary Design

Symmetrical Design

Asymmetrical Design

These drawings are very simple but more importantly they tell me how I am going to approach the drawing or painting. Next time before you start on your drawing or painting start by using thumbnails to plan things out do 4 or 5 and pick out your favorite. Then do it! You will enjoy your results even more by creating a plan.

To Find Other Drawing Insights click Drawing Tips

Painting: How to Buy the Right Colors


Why is Buying Oil Paints So Confusing

If you have ever had a to buy paints, gone to the art store and found yourself staring at the paints wondering why so few have the same names for their paint colors. It’s a problem that has plagued the art world since they began manufacturing oil paint over 150 years ago. Companies are more interested in great sounding color names than accurate color descriptions. So let’s demystify some of the ambiguity.

Here are some ways of buying the correct colors

1. Every paint color lists the pigment or pigments used to make that tube color(it’s required by law). Not only the pigment name is listed but also the color index number. So for instance I need to find a paint color Phalo Blue, the problem is the manufacturer paint names for this color varies. Here are some of the common names across manufacturers : Thalo blue, Monestial Blue, Winsor Blue, Monastral Blue, Phthalocyanine Blue, Phalo Blue, Heliogen Blue, Intense Blue, Old Holland Blue, Rembrandt Blue. I however know the color pigment name is Copper Thalocyanine and that color index number is PB15 or PB16(either works but one is greener and the other slightly bluer). By looking at the pigment name or the color index number listed on the paint tubes you can be sure you have the right color no matter what.

Below I list some of the paint colors whose names vary the most between manufacturers

The paints that vary the most in terms of paint names are the following:

Thalo Blue – copper phthalocyanine – PB 15 or PB 16 Hansa Yellow Light – arylide yellow – PY 3 Hansa Yellow Medium – arylide yellow PY 74 Hansa Yellow Deep – arylide yellow PY 75 Thalo Green – copper phthalocyanine -PG7 or PG36 Thio Voilet – quinacridone – PR122 Thalo Rose- quinacridone – PV19 Dioxizine Purple- carbazole dioxazine – PV23 ]

Be Aware of Color Hues

“Color Hues”- Cadmium, cobalts and Chromes are all paints made with metals. Many companies make paints that look similar to these colors they are less expensive but don’t mix the same as the real paints. These are named “hues” such as Cadmium Red Light Hue. These paints don’t actually contain any cadmiums, cobalts or chromes. Don’t buy the “hues” if you can avoid it. They are harder to control as a beginning or intermediate painter.

Metal Paints are Always named Accurately

The good news is the Classic metals paints are always named by their pigments names. So for example it will says it’s Cadmium Red Light or Cadmium Red Light Medium, Cobalt Blue or Chrome Yellow and so forth, you will know you are buying the actual metals based paints. Use these tips and save yourself  a headache at the art store.

How to Make an Inexpensive Drawing Board

The Drawing Board


The Foundation for a Great Drawing

Drawing Boards are great supports for doing solid drawings. You can go to an art store to and purchase one for 10.00 – 25.00 or you can save a little money and have the board cut to any size you want. Almost all drawing boards are made of masonite or MDF a compressed wood product. Thanks to the convenience of Home Depot you can purchase a 2′ x 4′ or 48″ x 24″ of MDF for between 7 – 9 dollars. They will also cut the board to your specifications. The is a great way to get you a great drawing that will last for years.

If you would like to know more about drawing Classes visit

Creating Depth in Your Artwork

Creating Depth in Your Artwork


Looking at many of the paintings of the great masters, I am amazed at the feeling of depth. Rembrandt painted scenes which appear as if you could reach right into them, or step inside and wander the countryside. Many artists have tried to discover the secret of painting pictures with that kind of depth. They pour over books looking for the secret recipes, just the right technique, or paint pigments. There is no big secret; it all comes down to the four laws of atmospheric painting: Size, Value, Detail and Color.

Whenever a painting of mine feels flat and without depth, I stop and go back to the basics. I ask questions about my painting. How are the relationships in size, value, color and detail working together? The answers to these questions often solve the spacial problems with my painting.

The Four Laws of Creating Atmospheric Depth in Painting

1. Value– In landscape painting the value relationships need to be consistent. They usually fall into two categories:
a. The darkest objects/values are in the foreground and will fade to the lightest in the background
b. The lightest objects/values will be in the foreground and fade to the darkest in the background
2. Size– This is very important. There is nothing that will flatten a painting more than to have a tree a mile away larger than the trees 50 yards from you. Larger objects advance while smaller ones recede. The most amazing painting I ever saw was of grasslands and some very distant mountains. The blades of grass in the foreground were taller than the distant mountains. That contrast in size really gave the painting a feeling of depth.
3. Detail– The most amount of detail should be in the foreground and fade to become very simplified in the background. If you are trying to paint the individual leaves on a tree a mile away it will advance into the foreground and flatten your painting.
4. Color– The most intense colors should be in the foreground. If you have the most intense colors in your background it will feel like it is trying to advance to the foreground which will flatten your painting.

Also your painting should have an overall color temperature, warm or cool. Look at the temperature of the light. The light will change from warm light to cool during the day. Is the lit side of your objects cool in temperature and the shadows warm in color temperature? Or is the lit side of the objects warm and the shadows cool in temperature? It’s all about the temperature of the light source (the shadow side will express the complimentary color to the light source. Example; If you have a yellow light source the shadow side of an object will be slightly purple)

When your painting has very clear and consistent relationships in value, color, size and detail, you will have a power painting that creates the illusion of atmospheric depth.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Next Painting Workshop

Choosing the Art Workshop that’s Right for You

Plein Air Painting in Kevin McCain's painting workshop

When I was a student in college, I took two very different workshops. Both were taught by established, talented artists and I learned something from both instructors. One of the workshops, however, stood out from the other. The artist conducting this workshop was not only a professional painter but an amazing teacher. He connected with us as students; it wasn’t just about him. He lectured, of course, but more importantly he gave personalized instruction, along with plenty of demonstrations about the techniques or painting approaches we were studying. I learned then, not all workshops are created equal.The right workshop can give a huge boost to an artist’s skill level. Now after twenty years as a painter and instructor, I know what to look for in a workshop. Soon you will too.

Do some research on the artist teaching the workshop. Find out how they run a workshop. While it can be great to watch a master painter create a painting, you don’t learn as much unless you’re painting yourself and getting feedback from a more experienced artist. Try to find artists who interact with their students as well as demonstrate techniques. You will learn a lot in those workshops.

Know what you want out of a painting workshop. If you want to go for a few hours and copy the painting and color mixes of an instructor, with everyone else in the class doing the same thing, then don’t get into a workshop where you paint on you own from life or photos. That would be very discouraging for you as an artist. Likewise, if you want to learn techniques you can apply in your own work in the future, a paint-by-numbers workshop will only frustrate you. If you want to learn to paint portraits, find a class that teaches it. If you want to paint from long poses don’t enroll in a workshop comprised mostly of gesture painting. You get the idea. Know what you want to learn, whether it be composition, color theory, landscape painting, or color mixing, then find a workshop geared toward your goals.

Be willing to get out of your painting comfort zone. Take a workshop about a style or technique you’ve wanted to learn. While you are in the workshop, try hard to follow the instructor’s guidelines on painting, using his particular approach. Once the workshop is over, see what you might incorporate into your established way of painting. It’s amazing how much you can learn this way. It will open new doors to your way of thinking and strengthen your ability to create a successful painting.
Read the fine print. This seems like a no brainer but I remember spending my last dollar on a workshop only to discover I needed to purchase another $200.00 to $300.00 in materials. Being the broke college student I was, I had to make do with what I had. As a result, I couldn’t recreate many of the techniques in the class because I didn’t have the right supplies.

Workshops are a fantastic way to challenge yourself artistically, improve your abilities, and push your artwork to greater heights. Participate in a workshop that’s right for you and it will help you become the artist you want to be.