Using Artistic License

Don’t Paint Exactly What You See

I know it is important when sketching, to take our time to really look at our scene before sketching it. So many times we can be tempted to dive right into the sketch without spending time really looking at it. One helpful tip I learned from John Muir Laws is to describe aloud the scene before you. The reason for this is to “cement the details” in our brain in order to make our sketch more accurate. However, I also think it is important to use artistic license when painting a scene. Let me give you a few examples:

The following sketch is one of my very early plein air endeavors. As you can see, it was a early spring day that was very gray looking with not much color.

When I was finished with my sketch, I walked over to my friend who was also sketching and looked at her sketch and was amazed. Her rendering was so much more interesting and beautiful because she used artistic license to enhance the colors in the scene. The next day, I repainted my sketch using colors that you see normally on a spring day. Here is the result–much better don’t you think.

Last fall I went out to sketch. Since it was very early in the season, the colors were just beginning to turn and were not yet very vibrant. Here are two photos of the scene.

This time, I decided from the get-go to paint the colors I wanted to see in the scene.

And on the sketch below, I used my artistic license to remove the tree in front of the building. However, I could have done a better job of sketching this building–more looking first at the proportions.

So I would encourage you that while you should pay attention to detail when drawing the scene; don’t be afraid to use your artistic license and enhance the colors in the scene. You will be much happier with the results!

6 Replies to “Using Artistic License”

  1. Love these examples…..we need to be reminded of this fron time to time!

    • Hi Vivian! Yes, I have to remind myself of this all of the time because it is so easy to default to just copying what I see! Thanks for commenting!

  2. I’ve been working on this, too! I did a plein air thing yesterday and had to make that decision twice. Once on the composition, because I couldn’t fit the two interesting areas into the same piece. Again when I decided to use purple for the trees. So much more fun.

    • Robin, you’re exactly right. It is so much more fun to get to paint things in a way that enhances the painting or sketch! I have been enjoying your spring sketches–so beautiful!

  3. You and I have talked about this, Annie, and I’m learning to take artistic license with values too. Sometimes I’ll paint something just as I see it and it will turn out quite flat. Often enhancing values creates a much more interesting and pleasing sketch.

    • You are absolutely right Susan. I have heard it said that, “color gets all of the glory, but value does all of the work.” Thanks for the comment.