Category Archives: Blog

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.


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 🙂


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.

When is a Painting Finished?

I have been thinking about this post for a while but I have been asking myself the question – when is a painting finished? – for quite a while!

It first started when I began to paint semi-professionally in about 2004 when a friend of mine asked if I would like a professional artist friend of hers to come and see my paintings and give me some advice. This was at a point when I had just put together a set of around 10 abstract oil paintings. Many of these paintings had only one coat of paint but I was happy with the finished products.

The artist who saw them gave me some good feedback in a very subtle way. She said that most good paintings consisted of lots of layers and that was one thing that helped them become good paintings. I have always taken this on board in my future work and sometimes I take it to the extreme!

Anyway, I digress slightly from the topic as I want to really address that question.

When is a Painting Finished?

The first point I would say in answering this question is that only you know when it is finished. You have to keep asking yourself if you are 100% happy with the painting. You should get a feeling that you are totally happy with it before you stop painting.

One problem that most artists come across is that they are scared to ruin a painting. In fact I know someone who frequently does not do extra work to their paintings because they think they might ruin it and will waste all of the work they have put in so far.

What I would say to this is, never stop a painting unless you are at least 97% happy with it. Sometimes it may be the case that 97% is enough to satisfy you before risking spoiling it – for example if it is a really big painting that you have spent a lot of time on! In which case I would say 97% is good enough.

So this artist has a lot of paintings that seem unfinished, because they did not dare to take them to the level that they could be. If you don’t dare to maybe take a few risks with your paintings then how are you going to progress and try new things?

Only rarely have I messed up a painting that I was 90% happy with but tried to push to 100%. One reason for not messing paintings up is that often the more paint you add, the greater the depth of the painting. I think this particularly applies to paintings with texture in.

If I keep pushing the painting, even if I am not happy with the extra that I have added, I feel that I can still keep adding paint until I am. So maybe I might go from 95% happy to 86% but then back up to 100%. In any case I can recommend to keep on painting.

If it does end up unrecoverable then it is worth thinking of it as good practice. Don’t worry about having to throw artwork away or scraping all the paint off and starting again, it is all good experience and the time you have spent is never wasted.

I had an example of this recently in my studio. I textured up a canvas and I had an idea of what I wanted the painting to look like. I was going to be creamy white with bright colours coming out of the texture. When I had finished it I would say I was 90% happy with it.

I kept going with the same idea but it just wasn’t getting any better so in the end I decided to change the colour scheme completely and went for some blues and purples. However, I was still only about 92% happy with that painting!

I thought that the texture needed something extra so I added in some black and metallic blue but then I was back to about 85% happy. But I did like the elements of black in there. So I painted the whole thing black fading to grey.

I was in 2 minds about just keeping it all quite monotone but then I thought it needed some extra colour so I added some purple.

To cut a long story short I kept adding colours on top of the back until it started looking a bit like a black opal. Eventually I got to about 95% happy when I realised it needed a bit of gold leaf.

Once that was added in I was 97% happy but took the chance to get further by also adding a bit of copper leaf.

Finally I would say I was about 99% happy with it so I decided that was it!

The whole process of this painting took over 6 months as it spent lots of time sitting waiting for me to decide what to do with it but I am glad that I kept going and kept changing it until I really decided it was finished.

So here is the finished painting. Obviously just because I like it doesn’t mean other people will too!

Close up detail of the texture
Finished Painting

New Style of Painting

So after setting up the subscribe option on this website, almost as an experiment, I have been surprised by the number of subscribers that I already have! This makes me question what the subscribers want to hear about (please feel free to share your thoughts below) and hence what to write about.

So I have decided to make this a bit more of a personal art blog, sharing information about how I create my paintings and also any experiments that I carry out into new techniques, and hope that I talk about things that interest, and even open up a dialogue with other artists.

So this post is mostly about a new painting that I have been working on and how I am trying to work on a slight deviation in style. I feel that I am being influenced somewhat by current trends in more ‘commercial’ art and I’m not sure if this is a good thing! I’m a big fan of shabby chic and I felt like I wanted to bring in this kind of influence into my artwork.

Texture is great to use for a shabby chic effect as you can make paintings look distressed using the texture pretty easily and in fact the techniques in painting are very similar to those used in painting shabby chic furniture.

So in my new painting I used the usual mix of stucco and PVA to create the base. I am back in Dubai where stucco is readily available very cheaply so I got hold of a big pot of it. I need to take some back to the UK with me so I need to ditch some luggage!

I had been given a few old canvases by a friend of mine. She had had a clear out of her studio and ditched some of her old paintings. Texturing over the old painting (which had already been gessoed over was a great way of covering it up and resuing the canvas. When I textured up the canvas and divided it into squeares, I went a bit further than normal and created some other marks within the squares using the end of a paint brush. I also decided to sign my name in the texture.

As usual with this texture, I wiped over it with the spatula when it was still wet to get extra roughness to it (you can leave it quite smooth, particularly if you put it on thinly) and left it to dry overnight. I left a few of the squares without any markings in as I was planning on doing some decoupage on them.

I had printed off some old adverts from scanned sheet music and I had been scouring through newspapers to pick out some suitable words and phrases.

I did all the painting first – first layer a wash over the whole canvas, then layers of pastel colours with a dark grey wash to get into the cracks and crevices and then drybrushing with a sponge some white paint on top.

IMG_4130 IMG_4131

I then painted all the lines and some of the marks with a thick gold paint.

Once I had the painting looking like I wanted it to, I started on the decoupage. I actually used PVA for this as I did not have any decoupage medium to hand. This works quite well and seals it too if you apply it on top of the paper as well. However, it does give a bit of a sheen to it so be prepared for that and don’t use it where you don’t want the gloss type finish.

After I had put on the newspaper words and the printed paper I went over some of the edges with some white paint to blend it in a bit more.

The end result was this:


Now I have to tell you that I am not totally happy about the end result of the painting (as I very rarely ever am!) but I can’t put my finger on exactly what is missing or what needs to be done. Also I have to take my paintings to my exhibition tent in 2 days so I don’t really have time to change it much! An artist friend of mine said she really liked it so I’ll see what kind of feedback I get!

Feeling this frequent dissatisfaction with the end result of my paintings reminded my of something I had recently read that had been shared on facebook (as it seems like most words of wisdom are!) so I thought I would share that here too in case anyone is interested:

11 Things That Scare Creative Artists