Monday, June 1

Five Tips for Selecting a Good Motif

Today’s Image
Sample Photo from Microsoft

Today’s OrbisPlanis art blog is about selecting a good motif for you artwork. One thing I’ve learned recently from taking art instruction from a professional is how important it is to select a good motif. “Good” is relative to what pleases you, but simply put: if what you’re going to paint doesn’t look good in plein air, still life, or from a reference photo, then chances are your finished work won’t either.

Of course, that doesn’t mean your painting may not look or be better than the original scene or photo. I’ve seen and experienced that—I was glad someone told me my painting was better than the reference photo from which it was taken. But later I thought my effort could have turned out to be a real waste of time if that were not the case.

I’m talking mostly about motifs for conventional paintings (a term I don’t like, but can’t think of a better one) in the realistic style. Motifs for contemporary abstract or expressionistic works may be less apparent.

So, how do you select a good motif?

The big No. 1 is that you must like what you’re going to paint. Depending on your style and work habits, you are probably going to spend at least a couple of hours, and maybe a couple of years, on your work. I think you will find the experience much more pleasant if you actually like what you’re creating; otherwise, you may find yourself being accused of being temperamental or moody. Yikes!

No one can figure out what you like but you. We are all individuals, but both our genes and our backgrounds will point us in some direction. If you don’t know what types of objects or scenes you like to paint yet, you need to spend some quality time with yourself to figure it out and then come back to the proverbial table. By doing so, you will save yourself a lot of future hand-wringing and angst.

Once that’s more or less settled, here are four other things you can do to select a good motif. They are:

2. Good Composition – This is so important. You need to have a focal point and balance, or it won’t work (very well). You can help make this happen by using cut-out cardboard corners or your hands, if nothing else, to frame your view before you begin. Or if you’re using a reference photo, consider editing it in Photoshop first.

3. Know Your Colors – At least be aware of the predominant hues in the overall scene so that you can select the proper palette when you begin to paint. Look for ways to use a limited palette and see if there are color triads you can use to bring harmony to the work.

4. What is the Mood? – It’s perfectly OK to paint a haunting graveyard full of yellow butterflies and Bambi under a rainbow, but just be aware of the mood you’re setting for the viewer. If it will confuse them, it probably isn’t working.

5. Would You Buy It and Hang It in Your Home? – The big litmus test. Would you actually buy the painting and hang it in your home to look at for a long time? This is closely tied to No. 1—if you don’t like it, will anyone else? And if not, why bother?