Artist Tip: What to Paint by Ron Gribble

Subject Master: What to Paint
By Ron Gribble

So often I see people who are trying to learn how to paint and they choose to paint a portrait of their friend, son or daughter.  Often, it is their dog or cat that gets the treatment.

I know that what one artist thinks is difficult, another will find easier, but I have never met one artist yet who has found the above subjects easy!
Portrait of Norman Rockwell Painting the Soda Jerk
Why are portraits so hard? Several reasons actually…

1.       Every one of us is an expert on the anatomy of humans and animals. We may not be able to recall and draw every detail, but if you get it slightly wrong even a young child knows there is something that doesn’t look right.

Eyes too small or one above the other, nose in the wrong place, relative to other details, mouth too big, not straight or ears in the wrong position.  A variation of a tiny fraction of a millimetre can make one eye to float above or below the other.

2.       Trying to place details that have to obey the laws of the perspective onto a circular object, namely the head requires much planning, observation and skill

3.       Any variations in the above will lose the element of likeness.  What makes one person look different to another? Fine details MUST be right.


If you are trying to master any particular medium you have enough problems without the above. Choose a subject that doesn’t add to your troubles. It is commonly accepted that 1000 paintings is the “apprenticeship” in any one medium.  And that portraits are for the “master craftsman” only.

So why try to buy a Rolls-Royce for your first car?

Until you have finished 1000 paintings in that medium don’t attempt portraits.  Any landscape is a piece of cake in comparison.
Ron Gribble
 Happy Painting

Ron Gribble


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