Theoretical Art

Since I began my art journey — about 4-1/2 years ago — I’ve stumbled across a number of theories regarding art. I use the word stumbled quite deliberately, for learning to draw and paint is a journey, and I very often do get tripped up with ideas I’ve come across.

The various theories I’ve studied in regard to art mostly deal with colors and color schemes — such as the ideas from Arnold Fletcher that I shared in yesterday’s post. There are many more theories, of course. There’s John Carlson’s “theory of angles”, there are theories regarding composition, and theories classed as mimetic, procedural, expressive, formalist, and oh, so much more. We’re already way over my head.

Many of these theories are generalized ideas about art — about what it is, how we define it, what it means. Those theories, of course, are highly subjective. Other theories, such as those involving colors and values, are more clearly-outlined.

Recently I tried using some of the knowledge I’ve gained about art to create an autumn scene. I started with the idea of using a color tetrad of violet, yellow, orange, and blue. As the painting progressed, I wasn’t completely happy with the color scheme, and it naturally evolved more toward a complementary blue and orange scheme.

Theoretical Art (3)
Autumn Splendor – Oil on Canvas Panel

I did enjoy doing this painting. It was nice to work with vibrant colors after all the blacks and whites and subtle sepias of Inktober. And it was interesting to play around with not only Fletcher’s theories involving bright colors, dull colors, light colors, and dark colors, but to also give some though to John Carlson and his ideas about landscape painting.

Overall, the painting wasn’t what I hoped it would be, but as with all my paintings, I learned from this one. I learned:

  • I need to spend more time planning my work. I took a photograph I liked and used that as a reference without considering any changes. As a result, I have a poorly-composed painting with no real focal point.
  • As I so often do, I made the mistake of dividing my canvas in half by the horizon line. The painting would have been better if I’d focused more on sky or on the land. I just ended up with a very ambivalent scene.
  • As always, my foreground is weak, nothing more than smatterings of colors, and yes, that’s a feeble-looking bush I painted there just for the sake of putting something in the foreground. My reference photo has only a grassy field.
  • While I do like some of the bright, bold colors in this painting, and while I did achieve the effect of a few shadows, I still need to work on creating a good range of values.

So while I began with a few theoretical concepts in mind, I can’t say that I successfully put those ideas into practice with this painting. All the same, it was fun, and maybe I even went a little overboard with the bright colors. That’s all right. I needed those colors.



  1. I think it would be more balanced if there was another line of trees in the foreground. The colours are beautiful though and I love the fact that you kept the color tetread for the most part of the painting! 😀 I really want to start painting but don’t know how to fit it in my life just yet. Any ideas about how to start small, gradually ease yourself into painting and stick to it? Any books you’d recommend?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Finding time for painting can definitely be a challenge. For me, the most difficult thing is not having a truly dedicated place for painting. My easel is in our kitchen — along with all my oil paints, brushes, and other supplies. I hate keeping everything scattered out, but it’s a chore to put things away and get them out again whenever I paint. So, my first suggestion would be, if at all possible, make painting as convenient as possible by having a space you can devote to it. It helps me, too, to break my painting sessions down into little pieces. One day my “task” might be simply choosing a reference photo or choosing the colors I want to use. Another day I might tone the canvas with acrylic. Then, on yet another day, I might sketch in the basic shapes or paint one specific area such as the sky. I think it’s good, too, to set aside a specific “art time” each day. I don’t necessarily paint every day, but I try to spend a little time each morning drawing with graphite or ink, or if I’m not drawing, at least to spend a little time reading about art. I subscribe to Artist magazine, and it’s always inspiring. As for books, there are many good ones. What I’ve found, though, is that books can be confusing because every artist approaches oil painting differently, it seems. Finding a good book can be hit-and-miss. I find that I connect with some authors and not others. Finding the right book also depends on what sort of painting you hope to do, not just the medium — oil, acrylic, watercolor — but also the subject. Do you want to paint landscapes? Portraits? Still life? Floral scenes? Urban scenes? When I first started painting, what I found most helpful was watching video tutorials on YouTube. So I spent a lot of mornings watching artists at work and then tried following along. As a small start, do what I first did 🙂 Buy a few cheap canvases or canvas panels, a cheap set of paints, and a few brushes. Then let them set out where you see them every day until you finally decide it’s time to try painting! It took me weeks after buying supplies before I got my nerve up, but I was surprised to discover that oil painting was much easier — and much more fun — than I’d anticipated. Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for sharing. I appreciate your comments. I think I understand what you mean about the background feeling a bit tight. I will keep that in mind as I do future paintings.


    1. Thanks! It’s been cold and snowy here too. Yesterday I did a fun little piece — it will be featured in today’s (Tuesday) post. It’s very simple and much different, but it definitely gave me a cozy feeling. I hope you’ll drop by today to check it out. 🙂


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