Tutorial - Breaking the Rules!

break the rules

In my classes, I have often said things like "there are no rules." Well, there aren't. Well, not in my classroom anyway.

The truth is - of course there are rules in Art. For example line, shape, color, form, texture, value, shape, composition, perspective and more.

These are more the principles and elements of Art. In more simple or layman's terms, I would call them the ingredients of Art.

Before we can create a good piece of Artwork, we really need to have some idea of these principles and elements.

We need to know them and understand them and have good technical skill of these principles and elements before we can even consider breaking them. One of the chief rules of Art is composition.

Wikipedia's definition of this is quite straight forward

"In the visual arts - in particular painting, graphic design, photography and sculpture - composition is the placement or arrangement of visual elements or ingredients in a work of art, as distinct from the subject of a work. It can also be thought of as the organization of the elements of art according to the principles of art. The term composition means 'putting together,' and can apply to any work of art, from music to writing, that is arranged or put together using conscious thought. In the visual arts, composition is often used interchangeably with various terms such as design, form, visual ordering, or formal structure, depending on the context. In graphic design and desktop publishing, composition is commonly referred to as page layout."

A painting or drawing that is created by an individual without any sense of the basic principles and elements is extremely evident to a trained eye.

However, an accomplished Artist who deliberately breaks the rules of Art manages to work around this form of "rebellion" if you like by being so evidently intentional that it becomes an interesting piece of Art.

When a painter attempts to paint a realistic character but fails, due to the incorrect use of shadow or form and then tries to pass it off as a form of Expressionism or Impressionism or any of the other "ism's", it lacks true quality.

As with all works of Art, there is a crucial planning process which is 90% the success of a painting. An Artist who understands the fundamentals of the "ism's" knows too that this is not a "fluffed" form of Realism. It is an intentional creation of just that.

When creating the human form, there are certain proportion rules. There are lots in fact. These rules are there whether you like it or not. Should you deviate from these rules, then it should be a deliberate deviation. It cannot be subtle as it will simply make the figure look out of proportion.


Modigliani was a painter from the late 1800's who painted the human form. His paintings - all of them were deliberately painted out of proportion.

His style was derived from many influences like Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec and more. If one had to describe his work, it would be hard to exclude the words Cubism, however, his style is Classical. Modigliani's style was deliberate and intentional in a way that made his figures appealing non-the-less.

His work does not look like it was painted by someone who did not know what they were doing and who was trying to create a realistic body shape.

This style was consistent and this makes his work very recognizable.

Tamara lempicka

Tamara Lempicka (Mid 1900's) had a very consistent style too, although her work is also not considered to be realism. Her style of work is known today as Art deco.

Her paintings were deliberately painted in her unique style. Although the character was easily recognizable, it was not a realistic life-like painting. I have often come across paintings that are splashed all over the Internet of poor attempts at Realism.

Clearly the principles and rules of Art are unknown to the executor. The whole canvas is considered when the viewer looks at a painting. Not just the subject in the painting. The entire canvas needs to tell a story. Therefore, the background is as important as the images. As with any passion or interest, it is in the Artists best interest to learn as much as possible about themselves, to develop their style through practice, practice and more practice.

Art is about EMOTION. It is not a means to just reflect an images of something. As most good Photographers and Musicians and even Dancers will tell you, there is a purpose in everything that they do. They tell you a story.

If a painting does not evoke an emotion, then what is it worth? Colour, texture, form, shape ...everything is relative. It tells a story.

When planning your painting it is important to ask yourself - WHAT IS IT THAT I WANT TO PORTRAY.

I personally don't think that it is absolutely necessary to have to explain your painting to the viewer. In fact, I get great pleasure from a viewer who interprets my painting for me. Sometimes they are way off. This is irrelevant to me. What is important is that it has evoked an emotion and told them a story.

There was a time when I too painted "pretty pictures". Those that match the curtains and the furniture . . . yawn! This is how we learn. However, there is an important breakthrough that needs to be sought earnestly in our pursuit to become a true Artist, and that is when we can paint with our heart and soul and allow the emotion to come through.


When it comes to materials - Oils, Acrylics, Pastels, Charcoal, pencil etc. Each medium has its own set of rules too. For example Oil painting has a very definite "fat over thin" rule. Failure to obey this rule could result in disastrous effects.

In the same way that one cannot apply Acrylic over Oil paint, or Chalk pastel over Oil pastel.

These are definite rules. Having said that, there is no reason why these mediums may not be combined in the correct application to achieve a wonderful mixed medium painting.

Charcoal has always been one of my pet peeves in that many who use Charcoal tend to take advantage of the fact that Charcoal has the tendency to smudge. However, Charcoal is such a delicate "emotional" medium that the Artist has the ability to draw in Charcoal creating each line in a way that it has an emotional effect that is so refined and so pure that it can breathe life into the dullest subject. If you want to smudge - use pastel! Charcoal smudges have the tendency to look dirty. I have seen Charcoal drawings that resemble some of the drawings that kids did in their school books that were rubbed out again and again and eventually left this grey messy blob with shiny graphite over worked sketch in the middle.

Charcoal is a pure medium. Each stroke should be clear and concise and absolutely deliberate. If for any reason the Artist does need to smudge the charcoal, this too should be intentional and deliberate and not cover the entire area of the drawing. After all, since Charcoal is black, the colour of the surface is there for a purpose - to offer the contrast required.

Smudging is a technique on its own. It can create a beautiful effect if used correctly, but used incorrectly it becomes messy. School teachers hate smudging. I discovered that while at school and with my children and students who study Art at school. I completely understand why.

When there are large areas to cover (if they need to be covered) the student loves to smudge. It's quick and easy and it covers! It was discouraged so vehemently when I was at school for this reason. However, when a student put some serious effort into smudging, using the correct materials and blending techniques, they generally managed to get away with it.

All Artists should have a clear understanding of the principals and elements of art . This is stuff you will find in a text book anywhere. Hundreds and hundreds of books have been written on the subject and the same principles and elements are available online by simply googling it.

Pages and pages of useful information written by many different people. It needn't be learned word for word, simply understood.

Proportion in the human form is also a really good subject to read up on if this is what you want to do, since every new Artist loves to paint a portrait at some time in their Art career. Understand what you are doing first before you pick up a brush. It's the homework before play time and absolutely vital to the painting's success.

I have included links to Wikipedia above, however there are so many internet options available that you can download for free or buy online, so I suggest that you google and find what you can.

motorcyle by Jax

Motorcycle by Jax


As an Artist and a very emotional being, I know how hard it is to hear criticism. We tend to take it so personally that we are easily crushed.

This is probably the hardest thing to learn. Criticism, however (and I mean constructive criticism) is vital to the learning process.

Criticism should not only offer fault finding or negative comments, but it should emphasize strong and weak areas and also a solution.

We as Artists thrive on acceptance and praise for our work. Without it many would probably give up. This is why we exhibit and put ourselves out there to be accepted by society.

There are many Internet sites out there that offer the Artist a platform to display their work and have it viewed by many. Many of these sites even offer the viewer the opportunity to comment on the Artwork. Generally the comments are pretty decent and positive.

Sunray by jax

Sunray by Jax

Trust me; it takes guts to ask anyone to crit your work.

I had the experience a while back when I asked a very accomplished, well known Artist to crit my work. Only after I had my little crying pity-party was I able to pick myself up off the floor and look at the criticism objectively and draw from it.

It was a turning point in my life. His criticism was harsh, but constructive. I was not left feeling like I had been wasting my life trying to be an Artist. He made me realize that I have so much still to learn and that is when my true study of Art began.

In the Art Classes that I offer at The Painting Cave, I will teach you (at your pace) the principles and elements of Art and how to apply and use paint.

I will guide you into developing your style of Art and show you through instruction how to become a successful painter.



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Criticizing Art | Bad Artists Copy | An Artists Reference | Make your Own Canvas Board | Colour Palette | Finding Models | Interpretation and Style | Log Book | Painting Demonstration | Principles of Art | Selling in Galleries | Photographing Your Work | Breaking the Rules


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