John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925) was an incredible watercolourist, and a man ahead of his time. One of the things I love about many of his paintings is the exquisite way in which he handles light. Just look at the two examples of his work below. Doesn't the sunlight just blaze out of them? And he makes this happen by his smart use of colour in his shadows.
Even though both the ships and the ox are white, he brings amazing colours to them by the way he handles the shadows. There is colour everywhere and the paintings 'zing'. He has been clever in his use of complimentary colours from opposite sides of the colour wheel, with the blue and the orange ochre bouncing off each other - always such a good combination of colours. But more than that, his lively brushwork and confident mark making, putting just the right colour in just the right place, tell of a man at the top of his game.
Shadows do not need to be boring! Next time you paint (and why not even have a go at copying these paintings here?) liven up your shadows with bold colour, and see what a difference it makes!
In the old days people learned to paint by being apprenticed to a master artist. they spent years mixing paints, studying the way the master painted, then copying what he did, and finally painting small sections of paintings. It was a long and tortuous route. Today we prefer to get things done more quickly.
But there is so much to be gained by copying a painting from a master. I do this often, and with each painting I learn. I learn composition, I find out how he used colour, I learn about brushstrokes and tonal value. I learn what makes a good painting.
A few years ago I painted this Sorolla. It's a copy of his El baño del caballo. What a master of light he was! And what an interesting composition. And it opened my eyes to see how many colours there are in a white horse!
So, if you want to learn to paint, I really do recommend that you find an artist you like and copy his work. You will learn so much.
My wife is a musician (that's not her in the picture by the way!) and sometimes practices and works at a piece of music until she gets it right. Only then does she feel ready to let the general public hear it. All those wrong notes, all those pauses and mistakes while she perfects the piece go unnoticed and no-one ever knows that they happened. All the public hear is her performance piece - perfect in every way. So they imagine that she always plays like that.
This is the normal way of things if you are a musician.
But if you paint, then every practice piece becomes something that people want to see. No-one would want to hear my wife practicing, but everybody wants to see what you have just painted! And when we are learning, (and we all are!), then we create lots of 'wrong notes' and 'pauses and mistakes' in our paintings. But there they are, preserved for all time and for everyone to see. We can't hide from them like a musician can.
My point is this: Don't worry about your bad paintings! They are a normal part of learning. We all have off days. We all paint badly at times. We all create paintings that are mostly OK but have this part or that part that ruin them. Don't worry! You are normal!
And don't feel the need to show anyone your bad paintings! Even professional artists often only show a small percentage of what they create. Treat them as points on the learning curve, analyse them and see what went wrong and where you can improve, and then hide them away! And then, when you create something you are really proud of, show it off! And everyone will think you are a great painter!
Paint like a musician and you will be free of the fear of the bad painting!