In the big-picture, I don't know that much about painting. But all that I do know comes from experience. I am completely self-taught, and have learned through a brutal system of trial and error. I'm not remorseful over any of that, learning the hard way has made me understand the chemical process of painting better than a list of do's and don'ts... I know why I do and why I don't. But I have to tell you that if somebody just told me some of the things listed below, I would be a shitload better at all this crap by now.
For those of you that know everything: you may find this an hilarious companion to my stupid-ass paintings of sainted women wearing bras.
For those of you that enjoy learning: you may find some of these "tips" at least something to consider.
Because I make a lame attempt at creating an illusion of humanity, you may find that some of these suggestions are inapplicable to those of you that have a more progressive style. In that case, steal what you can from me and leave me a note about something I might learn from you. But honestly, I get enough insults from regular people, so don't bother doing that to me if you are a painter... We have to stick together.
If you want to be famous and loved by your peers... Quit now.
If you paint anything even close to a human figure, you my friend, will be considered a hack by the entire art scene. Look around, painting has been taken over by the extra-smart dilettantes. You and your stupid pictures of humanity have no purpose. If you paint because you have Rembrandt chasing you in your dreams and an inability to come to your senses and just "join the crowd"... Keep going, things will change.</i>
Don't wait for inspiration, it's a myth.
Painters paint, dancers dance, singers sing, and athletes... Okay, athletes don't "athlete"... But you get the point.
Wash your brushes.
Those fucking things are more expensive than people know, and they are your tools. You have to wash them every time you finish painting. Don't leave them sitting in turpentine till the next time you paint. That will splay the hairs and breakdown the glue that keeps the ferrule on the shaft. You just have take your ass to the sink and wash them with whatever bar of soap is there. Yes, I know, it takes forever and all that crap... Just do it.
Stop thinking in tone, think in volume.
It's funny that these words both have a musical/sound use... tone and volume... Okay, funny, but not my point. What I am saying it that I find most oil-painters use their paint as a color that coincides with another color on a 2-D reference, instead of thinking of it as light itself being wrapped around a physical mass. I'm not saying that you should not use photos as reference material (I would not recommend it though). But I am saying that if you do use them, you must consider the volume of the subject. Oil paint has the ability to create the illusion of mass better than a photograph, take advantage of that.
Just try it for yourself.
If you get advice from a painter (Like right now) to try this or that thing... try it once. It could change they way you paint. And change is all we strive for. But if the advice does not work for you -- you should knock it off. For instance: I was given a recipe for a medium by a pretty decent painter, and this stuff was all but taking the paint off my canvas. It was a nightmare. But he also turned me on to a nice brush I had never used... So you never know, you just gotta try it and sometimes abandon it because it isn't for you. Learning is what you must do. [If you care, the medium I now use is "black oil". It's stable and very workable... For me that is]
If you suck at it, keep trying.
If you think you suck at painting a figure, you have won half the battle, for your eyes are better than your hands. You can train your hands to cooperate, but if you can't see that there is a problem... You are up shit's creek.
Figure painting has rules. Everybody knows what a person looks like. If you paint a landscape and move a tree thirty feet, nobody is gonna care. But with a figure, if you move a nose a quarter of an inch... You have a freak on your hands. It's hard, it should be hard. How much fun would it be if were easy?
Get a mirror.
The one good thing about figure painting is that you are a figure -- free model who likes the same music you do. Now I don't mean to give the world a steady flow of self portraits, I am simply saying that with a mirror available you can check the way light wraps around the flesh. Then it is just a question of changing the volume in your mind, to have it coincide with the shape of your sitter. I have grown so used to this process that I always paint topless, as that I might have a model available if my sketch or under-painting becomes a question. And to answer your question: "No, I don't wear a bra when I paint."
A mirror is also helpful for seeing your painting in reverse. Eyes become tired and accustomed to something viewed for a long period of time. When you see your painting as a reflection, all the hidden problems with composition and anatomy reveal themselves. It's a necessary tool for me. (I have also found a webcam useful in reducing the painting to it's blurry, primary form... Kinda like squinting at your painting extra-hard.)
Cadmium... watch out.
I'm not going to even suggest that you should not use them, but you should know why you do. They are strong and brilliant reds and yellows, but they are sinister my friends...Be weary! I'm sure you know that they are a poison, but who cares... I use lead white all the time, I just don't eat it. So I don't care if cadmiums are poisonous, just make sure you realize that they are. I find that these colors are a natural "go to" for a beginning painter of figures; they have a candy like appeal in the store "Now that's red! I'll take this." But they are not so good for figure painting. One reason is their inability to play nice-nice with other paints, their opacity is insane and they will obliterate anything they touch. This can be useful in extreme circumstances, but overall I find it a pain in the ass. Another reason for my mistrust in the cadmium-devil is that these colors are not part of the human palette. That one is not an issue for some painters who experiment with skin tone, and to these people I say with aplomb "There is no color that you can get with a cadmium that I could not achieve with another color combination, and in this 'combination' of colors you would have more depth and light reflection." So use cadmiums, don't use them... whatever... Just know why you do.
No more excuses.
"I can't paint in my apartment, it's too small." Then paint smaller pictures. "I have this new job waiting tables now, and I have no time to paint" Then learn to manage your schedule or stop calling yourself a painter (you might be a waiter/waitress). Painters are not born so, they are made so. "I hate the smell of turpentine." I don't use turpentine, so that is a lame excuse. And watercolors have no smell at all, try those. "I have no talent, but I love to paint" Talent? I went to school with "talented" people, and none of them still paint. It's all us fools who would not give up the fight to get better at painting that still do it. The "talented" can't deal with failure. And us fools live to fail, and learn from our failures. Every painting I have made is considered (by me) to be a huge fucking failure. And I can't wait to redeem myself.
If you are telling yourself "I can't", you might want to try saying "I must".
Liquin is crap
Next to my "wash your brushes" rant, this is the best piece of advice I could give a fellow oil-painter. Windsor & Newton's Liquin is the worst medium made. It is an over priced, alkyd glazing medium. You can buy a gallon of an industrial equivalent at Home Depot for like 1/10 the price. But why would you? You are not doing a faux finish on a wall, you are painting a figure on a canvas. Okay, what does Liquin claim to do? 1. It says will improve the flow of your paint. Big fucking deal, so will any other medium. 2. It claims to dry quickly. Now that should scare you. Anytime you fuck with the drying times of oil paint, you have a chance of paint instability. And they sell this shit as a glazing medium, which means that a thin, fast drying film goes over your canvas in the later stages of the painting process. Just trust me here, you don't want to do that. And here is something they don't tell you: oil paint adheres begrudgingly to Liquin. By this I mean that if you put straight paint over this crap, it is in no hurry to stay there. It can be as drastic as rain water beading up on your newly sealed patio flooring. The only way to get your paint to bond with itself is to use more Liquin... Ya see, it's like fuck'n heroin, you can't get off the stuff once you try it. Say NO to Liquin!
Turpentine is not "all that".
I get more shit about this from students of mine than any other thing. For some unknown reason, painters are addicted to turpentine. I hate the stuff, It is a solvent and gives off fumes that kill more brain cells than I can spare. Yet people insist that it is good a thinner of paints. Let's say you are painting in the alla prima method and you brush on a little a turp-thinned paint over your under-work -- "ooops" you just pulled up more paint than you left. (by the way, stop doing that... fat over lean people, "fat over lean".) So what do you use turpentine for? Brush cleaning during the painting process? In that case I would use linseed oil. Dip your brush in some of that crap and rag it off. Clean as a whistle and now it wont fuck up your palette. It feels like you just took a clean brush from the jar. (I know that Bob Ross tells you otherwise... But come on, his afro is the only thing about him that deserves respect.) Do you use turpentine to thin your paints? Now unless you like the effect of removing paint as you put it down, you should try experimenting with mediums (linseed oil being only one of them). Do I use turpentine at all? Why thank you for asking, yes I do. I use it to remove paint from my canvas in a reductive-painting capacity. So I believe it has its place in oil painting, I just think people go ape-shit with this stuff.
Your old work sucks.
That painting you did in school that you love so much... it's crap. Move on! You are much better than that now. You have all the skill that you had then plus the experience you have gained since then. "Glory-day" thinking is for jocks that got fat after graduation. Painters can't romanticize their early creations, for it pulls away their drive to produce truer works from the self of "now". Do you know what your best painting is? It's the one you are working on. And you can bet your ass that you will hate it right after you start your next best painting. This part is sad but true: There is no success. Your posthumous body of work is nothing but a wake of failures being adored by history. Do you really want to paint your ideal painting? Come on, why would you bother to paint again? Did you not just touch the impossible "truth"? And if you never paint again... Ummmm, YOU NEVER PAINT AGAIN! (That is a nightmare in my estimation.)
I hope these were helpful to you.
And if not... You can't blame a guy for trying.
I'll update this crap every once in a while... So check back later if you want.