What Makes a Good Painting? - Art Tips

Updated on November 29, 2018
Robie Benve profile image

Robie is a self-taught artist who loves sharing what she's learned about art and painting in the hope that it might help other creatives.

All the great artworks, no matter the style or the medium, have these essential elements in common. - The content of this article is copyrighted by Robie Benve - Image: Eduard Manet, The Rue Mosnier with Flags, 1878,
All the great artworks, no matter the style or the medium, have these essential elements in common. - The content of this article is copyrighted by Robie Benve - Image: Eduard Manet, The Rue Mosnier with Flags, 1878, | Source

What Makes a Good Painting?

Though there isn't one single right answer to that question, there are definitely some common elements in every successful painting.

A. Technique and technical aspects

B. Personal and emotional involvement

C. Novelty

Sometimes those elements are not readily recognized. Many paintings considered masterpieces, were not well received when they were first created (think of all the Impressionists or the modern artists) but changes in society, culture, and tastes gave them the aura they have today.

So rule number one should be: be true to your guts and be original. Don't worry too much about what others think. :)

That said, let's take a look at all the elements that make a painting good.

Essential Elements of Great Artworks

At the end what makes a painting successful is that compositions, colors, and subject matter, all work harmoniously to deliver a unified and well-executed artwork that is pleasant to the viewer.

There are a couple of main elements that typically come together to make a painting successful.

A. Technical Aspects

The outcome of a painting will depend on many things, but most of all it is determined by your choice of colors and how you choose to apply, arrange, and group shapes in the picture.

Composition, choice of colors, focal point, and how you choose to arrange shapes are crucial for the success of a painting.

A1. Composition

A2. Focal Point

A3. Patterns and Groups

A1. Composition of a Successful Painting

An armature, or composition structure, is a structure that will determine the placement of the main masses in the painting and help guide the eye's movement through them.

There are many rules and tips on composition schemes. You can study them all and work hard to apply them. Or you can use just your guts and compose the way that looks good to you, disregarding the classic designs.

I recommend that at the beginning you simplify the decision-making process of painting by skipping the formal composition rules and just follow your instinct. Compose your image the same way that you would take or crop a picture with your camera, letting your instinct decide what looks best.

Look at the scene you want to paint and crop it with L-shaped cardboard strips in front of your eyes. Position them to form a rectangle proportional to the size of your canvas. They will help you see what looks best and choose how to crop your subject.

A2. Focal Point of a Successful Painting

The focal point of a painting is the area of major interest, where the eye of the viewer is naturally led.

What is the painting about? What are you trying to say? That should be your focal point.

Avoid placing the focal point in the center of the canvas, both horizontally and vertically, or too close to the edges.

The ideal positions for a focal point are on the lines of thirds – obtained dividing the canvas into thirds horizontally and vertically. Most often artists place the focal point on a sweet spot, identified by the points where the lines of thirds intersect.

The focal point is usually the area with

  • Highest contrast of value
  • Sharpest edges

In addition to the focal point it is good practice to have a couple of more secondary elements of interest, better yet if placed to form a triangle.

"Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida - Rocas de Jávea y el bote blanco" by Joaquín Sorolla - Museo Carmen Thyssen, Málaga.
"Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida - Rocas de Jávea y el bote blanco" by Joaquín Sorolla - Museo Carmen Thyssen, Málaga. | Source

A3. Patterns and Groups in a Successful Painting

Our brain automatically looks for patterns in a picture.

Create value patterns by grouping darks and lights into bigger shapes. It makes the painting more pleasant for the viewer. To do this, simplify differences in colors and values. For example, if painting a tree don’t paint every single leaf, but a shape of the tree canopy with a unified value. You can variate the colors within the shape but you should keep the value within the mass uniform.

Also, our brain, even if we are not aware of it, tends to pair up elements. A picture with two very similar objects, like two trees or two pears of the same size, becomes static, almost boring. Odd numbers are always more interesting, it keeps the viewer’s eyes moving.

Keep the number of similar elements odd, and you’ll keep your viewer more captivated.

B. Personal and Emotional Involvement

It is very important that you enjoy the process. If you paint with enjoyment and inspiration it will show through in the finished painting.

Personal and Emotional Involvement

B1. Freshness in a Successful Painting

B2. How to Stay Fresh and Inspired

B3. Start When You Are Ready and Be Ready To Start

B1. Freshness in a Successful Painting

When you first start a painting you have a lot of enthusiasm for the scene. You are inspired by what you want to paint and you put a lot of energy into it.

Chances are that when you are into the painting things don’t look as you expected, you see some mistakes that you are not sure how to fix, and you lose your optimism.

Keep the freshness and enthusiasm up. If you get tired, take a break.

Tiredness causes lazy and unnecessary brushstrokes that more than advancing, ruin the painting.

Remind yourself continuously what captivated you about that particular scene, what was so exciting that enticed you to paint it. Keep your focus on what you are trying to express.

B2. Tips on How to Stay Fresh and Inspired:

  • Take regular breaks.
  • Work on several paintings at the same time, switching from one to another when you are in a rut.
  • Work on varied subject matters.
  • Change point of view: look at the painting in a mirror or upside down. A fresh perspective will let you see better what needs improvement.

B3. Start When You Are Ready and Be Ready To Start

I find that one of the worst enemies of artistic productivity is wasting time.

It’s important to start painting with things ready to go.

Your space should be set up to keep distractions to a minimum, with what you are going to need (paint, brushes, rags, water, etc) all easily reachable. For this, it’s important to keep your space decluttered and organized, keeping all your tools handy, including your reference material.

But before you can start, make sure you have a plan.

Analyze the image/scene before you begin

  • Light source
  • Shadows
  • Dominant color
  • Focal point or main focus

Preliminary observation allows starting with a plan. What are you going to express?

What characteristics inspired you and you want to make sure you express?

With a clear plan, it’s easier to stay focused and to react when things go wrong.

November Sunset, oil on gesso board
November Sunset, oil on gesso board

C. Novelty

Elements of a Successful Painting

Creating Something Never Seen Before

Novelty in art can be an original approach or idea that departs from traditional or previously established forms.

It sprouts from a new idea or approach. It can be found on the subject-matter, style, size, materials, presentation, and many other elements of art.

Novelty is synonymous with other terms such as innovation, originality, and ingenuity.

Any new artwork requires some degree of novelty to be successful.

Heads Up:

Unfortunately, the public sometimes has a hard time accepting or understanding original works that break with established and accepted traditional forms.

In general, human beings do not like change, and this applies to the art world as well.

So when something that departs from tradition is presented, at first it might not get the appreciation that it may gain later, once people have had time to adjust and absorb what is really being placed before them.

Don't let lack of public appreciation stop you.

Follow your inspiration.

Be daring.

Enjoy the Painting Process and Learn from Your Mistakes

Painting landscapes (or anything else) is a continuous learning experience.

Every painting presents different challenges and many times those challenges can become amazing opportunities for experimenting and self-improving.

It may not be in the current painting that you see the results, but the next ones will definitely benefit from the struggle and the problem solving that you went through today.

Keep painting.

Enjoy every step of it.

Learn from your mistakes.

Paint some more.

Have fun! : )

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Robie Benve


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

        Robie Benve 

        3 years ago from Ohio

        Thanks Glimmer Twin Fun, I did not plan it to be a thought-provoking article, but if that's the case I am very happy. I try to write hubs about concepts that I learn in my art journey, in the hope that it may help someone discover them a little faster than I did. Knowing some of the basics, like what makes a good painting, is surely nothing to take for granted. I learn every day from things I read. :) Glad you found the read interesting.

      • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

        Claudia Mitchell 

        3 years ago

        This was interesting to me. I came into thinking that a good painting is one that someone likes, but never thought about what else goes into it. And thinking about my favorite pieces that I've seen over the years, they all have many of these characteristics. Thank you for this thought-provoking article.

      • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

        Robie Benve 

        3 years ago from Ohio

        Well said Denise, it's hard to know what kind of art the public wants and likes, and trying to paint chasing the thread of what sells can be very stressful and frustrating.

        I rather paint what ignites my inspiration, and if other people like it too, that makes me happier, but I find that when I paint only for myself, enjoying the process, I get better results than when I paint for an audience. For example, knowing that I need to paint for a show, I have in the back of my mind that the piece will be in an exhibit, and that influences the way I paint.

        Even knowing that I will post a photo of the painting on my social networks does something to my brain.

        Best of all is painting for the joy of painting, having the luxury of saying to yourself: "no one needs to see this, I'll show it only if I like it, and definitely only if I want to".That frees your mind from worries about the outcome and really opens up opportunities to experiment and learn with each painting.

        Thanks a lot for your Thoughtful comment, Paintdrips.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile image

        Denise McGill 

        3 years ago from Fresno CA

        Great information. I always love it when someone tackles the age-old question. I think there is an element of chance to any painting too. Something about being in the right place at the right time with the right composition to strike a cord with the populace. Think about Grandma Moses. Totally uneducated in art, she would have remained an obscure primitive artist painting for her own amusement if it had not been the end of a World War and the people suddenly wanted to see "back to a simpler way of life" type of pieces. Sometimes there is no knowing what the public wants and you should paint what you like no matter what. Then if people like it too, so much the better. Good luck.




      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, feltmagnet.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://feltmagnet.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)