How to Create A Great Painting

by | Feb 4, 2020 | Blog | 0 comments


What Makes A Great Painting?

An answer everyone can agree on may appear impossible. For the past decade I’ve delved passionately into this question. I discovered a significant tool that makes an average painting soar into the arena of great. Using this tool in painting and for my classes revealed amazing results. This became the inspiration for my new book “Create Perfect Paintings”, and an online class I teach called “Painting Excellence”. Read on for a quick look at this great tool for painters.

Since a painting is meant to be seen, it follows that a solid understanding of how the human eye works can be super helpful to those of us that paint. Let’s face it, writers need to understand how people read to write a great novel. In the same way, painters can benefit by understanding how people view images.

So what makes a painting great? Simply taking time to edit. Like writers, painters will benefit from an editing process. Both types of creatives tend to jump-start new work using loose free-style methods. For this beginning phase its best to stay free of rules and limits. No editing needed here! However, after completing the rough draft, outline or sketch, it’s a good time to enter a second phase of the creative process – editing.

Writers habitually take their rough drafts and edit them over and over, until the initial outpouring becomes more readable. By editing, an author ensures the reader will get their point, comprehend the ideas, and be guided through the material in the best possible way. This makes sense! So why don’t art teachers teach this to painters, or painters use it in their process?

The most likely culprit is a misguided fear that analysis will kill the magic in our work. Editing doesn’t ruin a painting’s spontaneity when utilized at the right time. In fact, editing can add connection, attraction and seduction. Wow! By avoiding the editing process, your painting could be missing the chance to go from good to great, and may not get the attention it deserves.


Nancy Reyner, Silver Mountain, acrylic and silver leaf on panel, 36″ x 48″


The 80:20 Principle for Painters

One of my favorite editing techniques is based on the 80/20 principle. You’ve probably heard this ratio before. It’s everywhere. It originated as the Pareto Principle, used many years ago to describe economist Pareto’s analysis of Italian landholders. It is now used in everything from diets, mathematics, finance, and business models. Oddly I’ve never heard it used in art or painting! Now you have and can use it too. It’s featured in my book Create Perfect Paintings as well as my online Design Masterclass The Art of Painting Beyond Technique, and adapted for painters.

The basic idea looks at specific pairs of opposites in a painting, and analyzes its relationship. Some examples of pairs are; warm and cool colors, textural and smooth areas, spatial depth and flat, red and green, shiny and matte, realistic shapes and abstracted ones, and so on.

First identify the most visible pair of opposites as the painting’s dominant pair. When this pair of opposites has equal presence in a painting, we can say it has a 50:50 ratio. This type of equality, instead of creating a feeling of balance, may appear so boring it causes a “quick viewing exit”, repelling a viewer instead of attracting them. However, when the pair is used in an unequal ratio, like 80:20, it can increase viewing potential.

There are exceptions to this, so no need to worry if your favorite painting appears to fall into the first category. Quality editing is not about rules. Helpful editing uses concepts as a way to create greater awareness with your work.


An Example of the 80:20 Principle

Here’s an example of what you can expect by taking my classes. Artist Ross Davis made immediate improvements to his painting (original on left, revised on right) using a concept from the Painting Excellence course material, with my 80:20 color principle.


Overuse of cool and neutral colors. The cool to warm ratio feels like 90:10 and the neutral to bright ratio feels like 100:0.


Big improvement! The cool:warm ratio is more active with an 80:20. Neutral:bright ratio is also 80:20 adding better viewing movement overall.


More Painting Assistance
Painting Excellence Online Course
If you like this article I think you’ll enjoy my online class Painting Excellence. A unique package course for painters, including six online private sessions. All mediums and styles will benefit.
Complete Guide to Acrylic Painting
I created this course using a series of master videos for acrylic painters. Even though all painting mediums require time and experience to achieve a level of skill, acrylic stands apart due to its complex chemical makeup. To easily master acrylic painting its best to get essential information. Find clear simple demonstrations and explanations with The Complete Guide to Acrylic Painting, and learn on your own at your own pace.

Create Perfect Paintings – my latest book
Learn about a great new way to “edit your paintings”, using my master set of viewing tools for creating best eye choreography. More information.

Please join me on Social Media


Featured course

complete guide to acrylic painting

Bring your visions to life on canvas! From your first brushstroke to your ultimate masterpiece – this course has it all.

Featured Course

Complete Guide to Acrylic Painting

Bring your visions to life on canvas! From your first brushstroke to your ultimate masterpiece – this course has it all.

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About Nancy

Professional fine artist Nancy Reyner created this blog about art, painting and creativity from her career of over 30 years. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Subscribe below for free tips on art and painting.

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