• Shawn Dell Joyce artist

The Rules of Art

Many artists and teachers will claim that their way is the right way, or the only way to approach painting. While painting does have some good rules, there are many right paths that can lead to the same result. Here's where you need to have some faith in yourself and your style as an artist.


I love trying on new techniques, and study other artist's work to learn their techniques, but not necessarily to incorporate them into my own work. When you are developing your "style" its important to know what is, (and what isn't) your style.


An artist's style is their own unique voice, fingerprint, and approach to a subject. You have some control over it, but most of it will just naturally develop the more you work. An artist friend in NYC once told me that your style develops after the first 5,000 paintings so get them out of the way.


Last week, I watched a demo by pastelist Stan Sperlak. I LOVE watching other pastelists paint because I see a different approach. Some artists work very similarly to me, others are totally opposite. For example, Alain Picard works very similar to me, Stan Sperlak works totally opposite.


Stan Sperlak's painting

If you looked at Stan's work and mine, you would see similar themes and could possibly say similar styles, but if you look at the approaches we both take to get there, they are totally different. He uses layered color strokes and adamantly refuses to touch the pastel with his fingers. I layer thick swaths of color and blend them with my hands almost gleefully and probably way more than I should.


Stan uses imaginative painting (no photo references) because he has so much experience painting that he can invent a landscape in his head and make it a believable place. I use multiple photo references and turn them into preliminary sketches and studies and put a good amount of planning into each painting because I want to capture THAT specific place.


Trying on Stan's style was a challenge for me-the control freak in me had a hard time starting a painting without a clear plan in my head. Not touching the pastel was also hard for me because I am an ingrained blender-I just love the effect of having some areas soft, muted, and blended and some harder, grainer and rough. I learned by "seeing through his eyes' in a way.


Trying on some Stan Sperlak techniques

I may not ever use what I learned in terms of his techniques, but it gives me a greater knowledge and appreciation of pastel. I think of it as tools in my tool belt. I may need that tool someday so I'm glad it's there, but I wont use it in every painting...like a torque wrench.

Take what you learn from other artists an apply it your own unique vision. If it fits, use it and incorporate it. If it doesn't put it away.


Some artists take a class and emulate the teacher, adopting their style and trying to do things exactly the same way. Many teachers encourage that behavior. A really good teacher will encourage you to develop your own style and to learn other techniques from other teachers as well. It's good to experiment and try new things, but develop your DISCERNMENT as well so that you understand what works for you and what doesn't.


There really is no single right way to paint in any medium. There is only what works for you. Here's a handful of Art Rules that I try to adhere to in my own practice:


  1. Work from dark to light! (or from back to front for landscapes) I lay my pastels out according to value and work backwards from 5 (darkest) to 1 (lightest). Note: this is opposite for watercolorists.

  2. Warm colors come forward, cool colors recede.

  3. Put your darkest darks in the foreground (add blue to darks in the background to create aerial perspective)

  4. Work the whole painting at the same time (not finish one area and move to the next)

  5. use texture to create perspective (background smooth and blended, foreground rough or vice-versa).

  6. Know your focal point before you begin (it is always where your lightest light and darkest dark meet, so you can place it where you want)

  7. Know your hardest clearest edge before you begin and soften or lose the other edges so that it is clear.

  8. Use good design principles for composition (don't put things squarely in the center or have things too close to edges, be conscious of where you place things in your painting).

  9. Use color wisely! Don't throw every color at the painting and expect it to look cohesive-use color theory and create color harmony in your work. Less is more!

  10. Finish and walk away. Don't overwork a painting. Keep it fresh and loose.


Have a vision, declare it and hold fast to it. That doesn't mean to stubbornly persist in bad painting habits. It means to intelligently choose how to clearly express your vision. Try on and wear a new technique if you like, but don't incorporate it unless it is truly yours. Does it bring you closer to your true self, your true style and vision?


"Baby Blue" this is a painting showing my own unique style!

If someone asked you to describe your style, what would you say?

I would say that I am an expressive allegorical realist that focuses mainly on Florida wildlife and places, in an effort to preserve them. That mouthful really doesn't say much about style.

Now you answer the question for yourself and stick to it! I'm here to help! :)

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