Top 10 Tips to Improve Your Art


It gives me enormous pleasure to welcome back Lori McNee as a guest in this latest instalment of my Expert Series. Lori, who is an internationally recognised professional artist has compiled some great tips to help all you budding artists to improve your knowledge and skills.

If you would like to learn more about Lori and view her work please click on the image to below to visit her Fine Art Tips blog. You can also connect with Lori on Twitter @lorimcneeartist and on Facebook.

Top 10 Tips to Improve Your Art

Becoming a better artist will always be a work in progress. The tips listed below are fundamentals that will help you improve your Art. These principles can be applied toward many different artistic genres including realistic painting, abstract painting, photography, weaving, crafting, design and more.

In a nutshell, I am sharing these art tips that have taken me a lifetime to compile, learn and execute – and I am still learning and growing!

1. Create an Inspirational Work Environment

This may seem obvious, but we are a product of our environment. Therefore, if your environment is dark, cluttered, dusty, cramped or messy, how can you create and improve your art? You cannot perform and create at your best when you are uncomfortable and ill at-ease.

Clean, organize and unclutter your creative environment at the end of each workday so you are ready to focus on your art. Wash your paintbrushes; organize loose papers, books and other materials. This goes a long way toward improving your creativity, efficiency and art.

Use good lighting. The type of lighting and its intensity, color and direction all affect an artist’s visual performance. What you want is a lamp that gives ‘natural light’ and imitates natural north light.

2. Have a Concept in Mind before You Begin

All expressions of art begin with a concept. A concept is an idea formed in the mind, which will help the artist express how something will be accomplished. In order to improve your art, it is best to have a concept etched in your mind or in a sketchbook before you begin. An artist without a concept is like a traveler without a roadmap.

That does not mean that you have to be rigid in your creating. You can allow for artistic inspiration to guide you, but by keeping that concept in mind it will help you achieve your artistic desires.

The most important ally in the study of painting is the art of thinking,” stated Edgar Payne, famed artist and author. This can be applied toward any form of art.

3. Composition

This is such a complicated and important subject that is seems daunting to condense it down into a bullet point! But, I will give it a try.

The word composition literally means ‘putting together‘ using a conscious thought that can be applied toward any work of art. The composition of your art is the arrangement and placement of visual elements.

There are numerous compositional techniques to help you achieve unity and aesthetically pleasing artwork. That said, some artists such as Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso chose to ignore traditional compositional approaches to challenge the viewer!

Here is one timeless tool, not necessarily rule, to help you develop pleasing compositions for your art and design.

The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is often overlooked by amateur artists and forgotten by many art teachers. Interestingly, it is one of the most important rules that a novice photographer learns about in photography class!

This ‘rule’ or guideline is commonly used in the visual arts community today including painting, photography and design. Using it will help improve the design of your art.

Divide your rectangle into nine equal parts and it creates four points where the lines intersect. Placing objects in these intersections creates a focal point and a pleasing composition.

4. Learn to See the Negative Shapes or Space

As humans, we are so conditioned to focus on the object in front of us. As artists, it is important to see the spaces between and around the objects. These spaces are important and hold relative location and proportions that do not exist in the objects themselves.

Learning to see and draw the shapes between the lines that make up an object with help you correctly render your subject.

You can see in the photo the negative shape or space around the horse. Teaching yourself to see the negative shapes/space will help you accurately draw the horse without trying to render the horse. This way, you are drawing what you see and not what you know.

5. Understand the Color Wheel

There are 3 Primary Colors:
There 3 Secondary Colors made by mixing the primary colors together:

There are 6 Tertiary Colors made by mixing two secondary colors together:
Complementary colors have a strong visual impact when placed alongside another.  Complementary colors are directly opposite each other on the color wheel.
Harmonious colors rest alongside each other in the color wheel.

6. Understand Cool and Warm Colors

For years, artists, designers, and interior decorators have been using color to enhance our environments. Color can be used to evoke a certain mood or to create a message or sharp response in the viewer.

Understanding color will dramatically improve and add interest to your art.

Facts about Cool colors
Cool colors based on blue undertones bring to mind a calming effect. These colors range from cold icy blues to warm and nurturing Mediterranean turquoises. Many decorators use these colors in spas, bathrooms and other quiet environments.

Blues lower heart rate and reduces appetite. Blue represents dependability. It is commonly worn in uniforms and business suits. Dark blue is generally used by more authoritative figures including police officers and our Presidents!

Blue and greens are used in advertising medicines and health care products. ‘Greenrooms’ of theaters are so called because their green walls are often used to steady the nerves of actors. Dark greens do well in offices and studies. Greens are commonly used for outdoor products.

Facts about Warm colors
Warm colors are based on yellow undertones and tend to convey emotions ranging from happiness to violence. Red, orange and yellow colors trigger hunger. This is why you see restaurants like McDonalds, Wendy’s and Burger King using these colors in their logos and advertising. Safeway, Walgreens and Costco all use red in their logos. Red instantly attracts, makes people excited and increases the heart rate. Just think of Coke and Red Bull!

7. Learn to see Value

Value otherwise known as tone, is how light or dark that color is. For example: If you took a black and white photograph of your painting, the shades of grey would be the different value or tone within the painting.

Believe it or not, value is more important than color to the design and success of a painting. Value is used to create a focal point within a painting or drawing because the human eye is immediately drawn to a light element against a dark element. This creates, the focal point of interest. To create the illusion of depth, gradations of value are also used. Areas of light and dark give a three-dimensional illusion of form to subject matter.

8. Keep it Simple

Paintings or images with too much information clutter and distract the viewer and make it difficult to identify the subject. Most strong works of art edit the extraneous content, which allows the viewer to focus on the primary objects.

9. Use Rhythm

Rhythm in art is created whenever movements flow into a repeated pattern. Rhythmic patterns can be found in photography, glass art, ceramics, sculpture, realism, abstract art and more.

Rhythm can strategically be used to move the viewer’s eye throughout the work of art.

Color patterns, light patterns, texture and application of paint can all be used to create and convey rhythm and energy to the art. I find that listening to music while I create helps me express rhythm. My paint brushes dance across my canvas!

10. Determination

Dedication, determination and a desire to improve are important factors to the success of any artist. Each artist progresses at his or her own pace. Be patient with yourself and celebrate your artistic improvements and achievements.

One of the things that I love most about ‘Art’ is that it is an activity we can improve upon with age, unlike many other enjoyable things we experience in our youth. As long as we have our faculties, determination and the desire to improve our art we can continue to excel and grow as artists.

I hope these art tips will help your continued growth as an artist. ~Lori

Many thanks to Lori for sharing her expert tips. Please do let her have your comments and any tips that you would like to share using the comments box at the end of the post. You will find Lori’s earlier contributions to the blog in the “You may also like’ links below.

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***Lori McNee is an internationally recognized professional artist who specializes in still life and landscape oil paintings. Lori shares valuable fine art tips, art business tips and social media advice on her blog, She writes for North Light Books, the Artist’s Magazine and blogs for the Artists Network, Currently, Lori ranks as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women on Twitter & was named a TwitterPowerhouses by The Huffington Post. Follow Lori on Twitter @lorimcneeartist and Facebook FineArtTips.

*Image credits

RYB color wheel – Sean Hillmeyer Flickr

Approaching Shadows – Lori McNee

  • Ben Cockwell

    All good, sound advice. :-)

    • Ben, funny how we never met before today and now I have seen you at least three times! That is the beauty of Twitter. Thank you for enjoying the article and for taking time to comment. 

      Happy creating-

  • Sherry Fauscett

    I am not an artist in the fine arts sense of the word, but I am an artistic person.  I found your tips could be applied to many areas I am interested in like blog and web design, interior design and photography.  Thanks Lori.

    • Hello Sherry, I am glad you noticed that these tips and ideas can cross over into other genres. As I was writing this post, that point really stood out to me too. Thanks for enjoying it!
      Lori :)

  • Tony,

    It is always a pleasure and an honor to be included on your amazing blog. Thank you for asking me to be a blogger in your expert series. I hope these tips help your creative readers. Thank you!

    Lori :)

    • The pleasure has been all mine Lori! Thank you for bringing your great expertise to the blog, you never know I must just pick up that paint brush now :-)

  • Uh, I missed the part about stick men drawing…….

    This was great; I like the step by step approach and the little nuances that make the difference in good or not so good.

    Good to see you at Tony’s and thanks so much for the art primer; it was very interesting.

    Best of luck on your journey.

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