• Shawn Dell Joyce artist

Catching mistakes in your paintings

It's hard to see mistakes with the same eyes that made them.

We all make mistakes, but not all of us are wise enough to catch them. Catching your mistakes is the key. It's hard to see your own mistakes (conversely, very easy to see your mate's mistakes!) so we often miss the obvious unless someone points it out.

Our friends on social media are often too polite to point out glaring mistakes in value and perspective. Some may not notice, since they are not trained to see art objectively. A good artist will be able to honestly asses an artwork and catch glaring mistakes.

Enter the Mannerists, who purposefully elongated figures and made glaring mistakes in order to evoke a mood in their work:

Notice the elongated limbs, trunk, necks etc. Mannerists did this as a way to make the figure look more elegant and regal. This is a madonna and child painting by Parmigianino.

Unless you are a Mannerist, chances are, your mistakes are not on purpose.

So how do you change your mindset and see your own mistakes?

90% of mistakes in paintings are usually values. Check your values! Which is easy enough.

The other 10% are often perspective or proportion problems. Those are harder to see.

Here's a few techniques for catching the elusive problem...


Here's the painting and the still life. When standing in front of the still life, I don't always see the subtle perspective problems...

Often I snap a photo of the painting on my cell phone, turn away from the still life and look only at the photo...


By isolating the painting, and seeing it on a small scale on my cellphone, I can instantly see the perspective problem on the blue glass. Identifying the problem is the hardest part. Once you see it, you can usually fix it.

To fix it, I use a clear plastic sheet (waxed paper will do) and I trace the ellipse with a marker. This helps me see the ellipse better. Here's a short video to show you how:


Once you fix that issue, you can check it with a second photo, or look at the painting in a mirror over your shoulder.

Another method is turn the painting upside-down. When you look at it upside-down, it can become very obvious if there is a problem.


This view shows me the lemon shapes need to be improved. I often live with a painting for several weeks before deciding if its a "keeper" or not. About 1 in 6 paintings are true keepers. That means paintings that I am deeply proud of and consider my best works. Ones that are not so lucky get washed off and repainted.

I use Ampersand Pastelbord for my paintings so it is sturdy enough to stand up to repeated washing off and repainting. The boards are more expensive, but if you use one over and over again, the price drops dramatically. Besides, who wants less-than-perfect work out there in the world with your name on it?

Here's my corrected piece. Not sure if its a keeper yet, but I'm living with it for a while to see if I can fix any other mistakes.


Let me know if you have any methods of checking your work for mistakes...

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© 2020 by Shawn Dell Joyce.Shawndelljoyce@gmail.com