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To Sketch or Not to Sketch

Painting is about creativity. The question artists often ask themselves is, “Should I plan out my painting or simply follow my creative instincts?” The answer is not an easy one, but here are a few things to consider the next time you find yourself staring at a new canvas.

What, or who, is your subject?

In many ways, you decide this unconsciously before beginning a painting, but you might find that mapping out what you want to say before putting oil paint to canvas is helpful in creating a meaningful piece of artistic expression.

What is your layout?

Will your vision be expressed horizontally or vertically? Do you want the feeling of space or of height? There are many different canvas sizes and shapes, so consider how the piece should answer these questions when choosing your acrylic or oil painting layout.

What is the scale?

Much like layout, the size of your piece is critical to adequately conveying your ideas. If you want to paint a small ship at sea, a postcard sized canvas might help give the impression of looking through binoculars and seeing a man in a rowboat far off, defying the frothing whitecaps. Or you might want to paint the breathtaking hugeness of a stadium where athletes are competing for a college title. In that case, a much larger venue might be appropriate to reach your desired results.

What medium will best present your idea?

If you want to paint that man at sea, will you show the texture of the water? In that case, the right medium might be something that offers proper three-dimensional power to the waves. This in particular has bearing on your choice of acrylic or oil paints, where painting in layers is very different. Using paints thickly or thinly is also a conscious choice best made before beginning, as getting viscosity right can be a time-intensive task.

Choose your surface

Deciding on the right surface depends on the type of texture of your final product. If a rough texture works well, choose a rough canvas. If you want something smooth, perhaps linen would work better. Again, this is an important part of the planning process that will aid in your creation of a great painting.

Will you sketch or not?

After having gone through the above planning process, it is probably wise to do a fine pencil sketch of your piece. This will give you a great idea of how well you have planned, and the final outcome. If you have chosen a canvas that is too small, sketching can help you determine that early on before you waste time, energy and materials.

Many artists buy several different canvas sizes and do several sketch versions before deciding on the best layout. This is much like playing music at different speeds until a song is just right. It doesn’t undermine your creativity; it just focuses it so that you can end up with the best piece of art possible. After all, you spent a lot of time and money to get to this point. Make your final piece of artwork the very best it can be!

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