What Makes a Good Painting?

This is more of a rhetorical question or a throwing about of ideas with anyone else welcome to pitch in, but I find sometimes writing about things brings out more ideas myself in what I can do in future.

So, what makes a good painting? I have been thinking about this after I got an email from someone who had seen my work online and who asked me a couple of questions about it that made me think a bit.

Most weeks I have a 2 hour drive to do and in that time I tend to think about a lot of stuff and this is one of the things I was thinking about today in particular!

There is one thing that sticks in my mind about making a painting good, and it is something that I learned in a course I did about 10 years ago. The course was run by a German man (I confess to have forgotten his name) who was taught by the masters of the Bauhaus (he was quite elderly and only spoke German so he travelled with a translator!).

Anyway, what he said has always stuck with me ever since, and he kept emphasising the point,  that a good painting must always have some really good contrast. As soon as he said that and I started implementing it in my paintings I really felt my technique improve.

This painting by Franz Marc is one of my favourites and has lots of contrast.
This painting by Franz Marc is one of my favourites and has lots of contrast.

I have also looked online for some of my favourite paintings and definitely think that the ones I like best have some really good contrast somewhere in there.

I’m actually going to do some of the exercises in the book again to refresh some of the things I originally learned from it.

I think this is one point that lead me to do my squares and shapes paintings which also had dark brown lines to highlight all the colours and give more contrast. I liked to use prismatic colours too which also gives a lot of contrast.

hatem1

Another key point in making me think about what makes a good painting is the colours to use – I guess this is quite a personal thing in terms of people having favourite colours that they use more often than others – but a few years ago I picked up a really interesting book that made some great points about use of colour.

The book goes through a lot of colour theory and discussion of hues etc and makes some really salient points about when to use particular hues and what colours and intensity of colours do to each other when they are side by side. Obviously colours can be used a lot for perspective but also about how a painting is perceived. This is the book:

Another thing that I think makes a good painting, and I think I may have written about this before, is the depth of the paint. Personally I think that a good painting needs lots of layers of colour. It doesn’t even matter if that is the same colour but just lots of layers of it, or in terms of the abstract paintings that I do, often it is the case of adding in lots of thin layers of paint in slightly different colours which really give a great effect. Actually one of the paintings I did a few years ago encapsulates all of the things I mention above:

'Night' - textured abstract painting
‘Night’ – textured abstract painting

It has quite a bit of contrast, uses monochromatic hues with a dash of a complementary hue but also uses lots of layers of slightly varying colours of the blue to give some depth to the painting. Although you can’t see it that well in this picture, it also has a fair amount of texture in to give a third dimension to the painting.

I guess the thing is that everyone has a different idea of not only what makes a painting good, but also what is a good painting and if we all had the same taste then the world would be a dull place and there would not be the plethora of widely differing artists that we have in the world today.

So if anyone has any ideas about what makes a good painting then I would love to hear them as it would be great to spark some thoughts that might make us all better artists!

Thanks for reading 🙂

EDITED TO ADD:

Of course I forgot to mention one very big thing that I had been thinking about which is composition and using the golden mean/golden ratio or any of the other names it goes under.

I could also mention the rule of thirds but I think in terms of my own paintings I tend to follow the Golden mean more. Positioning key elements in the right place in the painting can definitely improve the overall composition.

Also using odd numbers of certain elements (I almost always use odd numbers of gold squares in my squares paintings) seems to be the done thing and actually does tend to look better.

Obviously there will always be exceptions to these rules for particular paintings but I do find these things help the overall look.