5 Tips to Paint a Picture That Stops the Viewers in Their Tracks

Richard D. Burton
Richard D. Burton

As an artist, if you have a painting that you’ve been working on, and you realize it’s working the way you imagined, try leaving it alone. It may be finished. Although it may be impressionistic, and in an early stage at this point, it may be your best work to date. Think about it; sit on the painting for awhile, and see if you don’t end up calling it finished, and proud to do so.

Your paintings should be an expression of how and what you think and how and what you feel. Carefully, go through the process necessary to decide if you have accomplished what you imagined, and ask, “Will this picture stop the viewers in their tracks?” In other words paint a picture that impresses the viewers.

Richard D. Burton:Pappy's Break
Richard D. Burton: “Pappy’s Break”~Watercolor (16″X22″ on paper)

If you’re not sure you’ve accomplished everything you wanted to in the painting, then do what I call the five finishing tips.

  1. Have you said what you are trying to say?
  2. Did you create an impact area?
  3. Does your picture have depth (changing values)?
  4. Are colors bright and expressive?
  5. Are the shapes in the painting interesting?

You can make up your own points to help you know when to stop painting and call it a completed work, but don’t over complicate it. When in doubt, mat it…frame it…sell it…and go on to the next one.

Lynn Burton: Dancing in the Moonlight (oil on canvas)
Lynn Burton: Dancing in the Moonlight (oil on canvas)

A note about technique: Many inexperienced artists will argue that to produce a good painting their primary need is to master technique. Technique is important; however, I feel it takes more than technique to achieve artistic results.

Unless an artists has a great many completed works and art experiments behind them, I suggest some planning be completed before attempting a painting. Relate to the work you’re starting with to other works you’ve done before, or if you have nothing of your own to relate to, then relate to the works of other artists. The relationship with other paintings acts as a guide for compositions. With practice you will learn to control the process, and the end result will not only be clearly defined, but quite often impressive.



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Swan Lake Reflections, Miss Banyan and Mr. Banana

Lynn Burton: Segment of "Swan Lake Reflections" Showing hard and soft edges
Lynn Burton: Segment of “Swan Lake Reflections”

The title of this blog post, Swan Lake Reflections, Miss Banyan and Mr. Banana, is curious enough, but as a visitor, I’m sure you want to say, “What does that mean?”

I guess, the best way to explain it is to discuss a  conversation I had with my brother, artist Lynn Burton, when he called me curious about the way I give his pictures names.

“I don’t give my pictures names,” he said.

“I know,” I replied.

“That’s actually not a swan,” he said.

“I know, it’s a goose.”

“Then…why’d you call it a swan?

“Aw…now you’re getting into the method to our madness here at artcenterinformation.com.

“What d’ya mean?”

“It’s simple. We want as many viewers to the blog sight as possible. Very few people will go to Google or Bing or any other search sight and try to look up Goose Lake (I don’t even know if it is the name of a lake); however, there should be over eight million in the last few seconds that have looked up Swan Lake. I’d like a few of those to click on this sight out of curiosity.

“H-m-m-m…that’s interesting.”

“Yeah, more people will see your painting, and that’s what we’re trying to do here…get more visitors. I named the last painting I completed Miss Banyan and Mr. Banana. I don’t know if it’ll work, but I hope to get some of the four million in the last few seconds that looked up Banyan tree, or the eighty-six million in the last few seconds that looked up banana to come to our sight out of curiosity.  Who knows?”

“Wow, I don’t know a lot about this computer stuff, but it sounds like you’ve got a plan,” he said.

“You just keep painting those beautiful pictures. I’ll do the promoting,” I replied.

R.D.Burton: Miss Banyan and Mr. Banana
R.D.Burton: Miss Banyan and Mr. Banana~ Watercolor (10″X20″)



























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The Importance of Making Practice Paintings For The Final Work

R.D.Burton: Full size drawing of Glades Fishing(22"X3O")
R.D.Burton: Full size Graphite pencil drawing of Glades Fishing(22″X3O”)

I recently posted a blog discussing the different steps I use to finish a painting. By using the steps, it often ends by producing more than one complete work of art for sale. This is the  importance of making practice paintings for the final work. I will use the work (on the left) that I am presently doing to give you an example of what I mean. (If you click on the drawing, it will only take you to the blog posted to explain the drawing instead of increasing in size. All others on this page should enlarge the pictures when you click on them.)

The completed graphite drawing drawn to size (22″X30″) shown is the third of a seven step process. (One: rough sketch…two: several value sketches.) For all practical purposes, this graphite drawing can be framed and sold. I’m sure you’ve been told by every art instructor in the world, never throw anything away!

Another important step is next. That is a realistic painting in pastel or watercolor of different segments of the  painting. This often will produce different completed, framed, and salable paintings; thus increasing the value of your original composition.  Since the completed painting is to be a 22″X30″ watercolor, I will make smaller but full size segmented practice paintings in watercolor.

Below are three compositions taken from the drawing above that I will use for practice  (and hopefully make complete paintings).

R.D.Burton: Miss Banyan and Mr. Banana
R.D.Burton: Miss Banyan and Mr. Banana~ Watercolor (10″X20″)
Segment of Drawing (one)
Segment of Drawing (one)

The first of the three practice paintings is complete. Compare left to right, and you will see the similarity.

The men in the boat fishing were intentionally left out of this practice painting because they will be in a painting of their own.

When I lay the painting over the drawing, It gives me an idea of how the overall painting will look.

Laying painted segment over the drawing
Laying painted segment over the drawing

Believe me, y0u will have the opportunity to correct a lot of mistakes by making the practice paintings before you attempt the final paintings. Again, if you’re lucky, you will be able to frame and sell the practice paintings by themselves; thus, increasing your pay for work ratio.

Right-hand segment of drawing for practice painting
Right-hand segment of drawing for practice painting

The practice painting I am presently working on is the right hand segment of the drawing. This one is so important because it will consider the entire concept of value – the foreground, mid-ground, and background. The color of the water and its reflections will have to be considered carefully, because it will have to fit into the other painting segment. However, there can be several different colors used since it is open and extending far into the background (for example, yellows and purples). With these colors (if it works), it may possibly help make the composition more appealing…we’ll see. But, then again, this is why we call it a practice painting.

So, a practice painting of a segment of the composition can help an artist work out different problems long before attempting the final work…but what’s wrong with making the whole venture a profit making venture?

Last segment of drawing to practice paint
Last segment of drawing to practice paint

Painting number three~As you can see, this is a composition showing three men fishing from a boat. How original  is that? There’s been umpteen gazillion paintings of men fishing from a boat…and I don’t care. What does it matter? When I finish this painting it will be an original R. D. Burton watercolor…and you can take that to the bank.

However, I’m using this segment for a more important purpose, not just because it will make a composition. Since the overall picture is a relatively large composition, it is important that I make a portion of the composition to be a focus point of interest. I’ve chosen this segment to do just that. However, it will be hard to do unless I impact this segment with certain colors to grasp the viewer’s attention. This will take practice. It’s in my head, but I have to get it on paper.

As you can see, the men are fishing near a bank off to the right, but in front of the banyan and beneath the banana tree. I intentionally drew a second bank with a strip of water farther behind the men. This (hopefully) will help direct the viewer’s eyes to the men. In my imagination, I can see using color to impact the area; for example, paint the banana tree with yellows, rusts (dying leafs), reds, and various shades of green. The banana tree is already directing the viewer to the men by the way it is composed (like an arrow pointing to them). Across the water behind the men there are leafy plants that can be oranges, reds, and yellow…Impact! Perhaps, the hats the men are wearing can be painted with bright colors. Or, A red strip from front to back on the brightest white in the painting…the boat. And then there is another attention grabber…the reflection of the men in the water. What will be important is carefully working out the reflections. If I do it correctly, this can capture the interest of the viewer (some may spend time studying this part just to make sure it is done properly). Again, my main purpose of the practice painting is to work out an impact area that will help entertain viewers when viewing the larger composition. We’ll see. I’ll know more after making the planned practice paintings.

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Art, by its Very Nature, is to Entertain

Richard D. Burton
Richard D. Burton

It feels good…I do it…therefore it is~Richard D. Burton

There is nothing wrong with being a realistic painter. However, sometimes, when an artist paints realistically they are inviting too much skepticism, or, perhaps, too much viewer study of just one certain area that doesn’t seem that realistic. Art, by its very nature, is to entertain, not to confuse. There is hardly any other purpose…right? Think about it, when a work of art captures too much attention to detail, and not enough to enjoy or entertain, then it doesn’t meet its true purpose.

If an artist understands that art is to entertain, then should not artists entertain themselves when they are drawing or painting or doing whatever they do to create? Should not creation be entertaining?

Sometimes, as artists, we get lost when attempting to work free and clear, having no drawing or preparation, having only a vague idea of what we want to accomplish. How will our design work? Should something be added or removed? These are just a few questions that attack us as we freely splat paint on our substrate.

Richard D. Burton:Pappy's Break
Richard D. Burton: “Pappy’s Break”~Watercolor (16″X22″ on paper)

Now that I’ve talked about this, let me discuss the great adventure of being somewhat realistic while not losing artistic freedom. Is the painting you see to the right realistic or impressionistic? How would I know? When I painted it, I wanted it to tell a story. I really had a ton of fun painting it. That’s all that matters, and I hope my audience will have fun viewing it.

I have a certain technique that I use when painting a picture. It’s not original (nothing I do is). It’s old style that was used by many great artists. You can read and understand it by reading the post I did a couple of years ago that explains my technique by clicking on the sketch to the right.

In other words, I try to create a realistic drawing by loosening it up by doing color sketches and other sketches until I can control a loose feeling when the painting is finished. Generally, all my graphite drawings are near realism, while the composition may be abstract or surrealistic. I do not apologize, it’s just the way an artist’s mind works. What do I know? It feels good. I do it. Therefore, it is.

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If your haven’t already seen it, check out the latest graphite drawing that will hopefully turn into a more freely painted watercolor (below). Right now, call it a work in progress.

R.D.Burton: Full size drawing of Glades Fishing(22"X3O")
R.D.Burton: Full size Graphite pencil drawing of Glades Fishing(22″X3O”)
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My Latest Inspiration is Still a Work in Progress

Step 3: Copy drawing onto substrate
Step 3: Copy drawing onto substrate

My latest inspiration is still a work in progress, however the painting is not only not forgotten, it’s beginning to take on a life of it’s own. It’s moving, it’s grooving, and it’s coming alive!

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a long way from lifting off the tarmac, but it is beginning to sprout wings. It will fly.

A couple of blogs ago, I introduced the inspiration I had when I discussed my fishing trips in the everglades of southern Florida. You may wish to read the blog before continuing on with this one. If so, click on the picture to the left, and it will take you to it.

R.D.Burton: Preliminary sketch: Glades Fishing
R.D.Burton: Preliminary sketch: Glades Fishing

The original sketch was on an 11′X15″ paper. The painting I intend to work on is on a 22″X30″ 300lb watercolor substrate. If one follows my 7-steps to a masterpiece, they know this is just the beginning. After this small value  sketch, I worked out a full size drawing (22′X3o”). (To read the seven steps that I go through to complete a watercolor or acrylic painting, click on the picture of the sketch to the right>>>).

In making the completed drawing, I worked on the values more. I also made certain changes in the drawing that I feel makes the picture work better.

R.D.Burton: Full size  drawing of Glades Fishing(22"X3O")
R.D.Burton: Full size Graphite pencil drawing of Glades Fishing(22″X3O”)


My next step will be to transfer the drawing over onto the substrate. After this, I will work out several color sketches, and paint detail color sketches in the certain areas that I wish to highlight. A lot of concentration needs to be placed on the impact area, which is in the upper left quarter of the painting (the men fishing in the boat). To use this as the center of interest in the painting, I need to impact it with vibrant colors, because, as you can see in a value drawing it does not impact.

If I can’t pull it off the way I wish, the safety net is that the painting should have an overall calmness in the expanse of the scene. I can almost hear bird tweeting and crickets chirping…oh, was that a frog I just heard.

Sorry to take liberties in my writing, but I do like to have a little fun when I blog.

22″X30″ drawing laid over 300lb watercolor paper ready to be transferred

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Fascinating Watercolor Technique

Richard D. Burton:Pappy's Break
Richard D. Burton: “Pappy’s Break”~Watercolor (16″X22″ on paper)

If you are fascinated with watercolor you can make fascinating watercolor paintings ~ Lara Engle

There are dozens of fascinating watercolor techniques an artist can master to produce some wonderful paintings. Perhaps, this is the main motivation first attracting them to the medium. Once learned, the use of techniques can be fun. However, it’s imperative the use is not abused. Most important, don’t forget the purpose behind them — to capture an impression. Fall not to the weakness of over using your newest mastered technique on your latest painting. I’ve done this, and it can turn a possibly good painting into a minor work.

When I talk about techniques, I speak of different ways of getting paint on paper, and ways of getting paint off of paper in a manner that will enhance the painting. However, no matter the method, it is up to each individual artist to practice the many different procedures of mastering their favorite technique. In other words, you the artist own the techniques that works for you.

Tip: Let one technique be dominate, and accent it with just a few others.407714_167519530020980_100002888033327_230292_1520329184_n-1

Using tools such as spray bottles, sponges, salt, splatter, sand, sand paper, gauze, templates, tissues, liquid mask, razor blades, cotton tips, and on and on, can be exciting, but learning to use all the brushes in your artist’s kit properly should be the first thing an artist can do to master technique. An artist can create more exciting images with brushes than almost any other tool in his kit.

If you did not have the opportunity of having a formal education in art, then you need to get your education on your own. Many of us were born with raw talent, but we were not born with technique and practice. Therefore, if we wish to compete artistically, we must get our education on our own. Fortunately, there are books, DVD’s, and download training where we can go to get some of the education needed to master our craft. There are two books about watercolor techniques that I highly recommend for the wannabe watercolor artists.

Recommended reading:
Tom Lynch: Tom Lynch’s Watercolor Secrets
Nita Engle: How to Make a Watercolor Paint Itself

Richard D. Burton: Winter Kindling
Richard D. Burton: Winter Kindling
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New Art Project in Mind

Richard D. Burton
Richard D. Burton

This genius has a new art project in mind.

I left Europe and moved to Miami, Florida in 1992. I was still working in the real world, but I knew when I retired that I wanted to pursue a career in art, and art promotion. I didn’t retire until 2010, and by that time I’d moved to my wife’s home state, Ohio. All I have left of Florida is memories and many hundreds of photographs filed in my art drawer and computer.

Recently I finished a painting which portrayed a morning when I went walking on 16th avenue in Miami Beach. It was fun playing with the painting as I toyed with the scene to create the different images; and, yes, I took artistic freedoms along the way to make the picture. That’s what artist do…right?

Richard D. Burton:Pappy's Break
Richard D. Burton: “Pappy’s Break”~Watercolor (16″X22″ on paper)

Anyway, this isn’t about my last painting, it’s about my next one. I began this article to discuss a moment remembered from the past. A moment that might create a composition; which, when considered fully, just might make a masterpiece…or something worth going for.

When I first moved to Miami, I hired a fishing guide to take me fishing on some of my days off. We fished all over. He was very good, and came with all the equipment I needed to enjoy myself. We fished all the canals that had the Peacock bass in them (which was one of my great thrills), and we also fished the everglades  for the black Bass, which was also one of my thrills.

I knew someday I would attempt to paint pictures of my experiences fishing on the canals, because it was so picturesque. So, to get an idea for a new painting, I thumbed through some old photos twenty years past, and decided to create a man’s world – fishing in the everglades, and totally enjoying it. The drawing below is the culmination of piecing together of several photos to create a composition. The stretched watercolor paper anxiously waiting the first stroke of a brush is 22″X30″, and the sketch below is 11″X15″. The graphite drawing should give a semblance of the composition, and how it will work when the painting is finished. Now all I need to do is make several different color sketches to work the best and most attractive painting.

Graphite sketch for future painting.
Graphite sketch for future painting.
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How Important is Black and White in Your Painting?

Study for Grinding Gears of Time
Study for Grinding Gears of Time

Whatever the comp0sition is, whether a landscape or a portrait, try painting it without applying middle values. If your painting uses shadows or shade, paint them black (nothing in the middle). If it is light, paint it white (nothing in the middle). Are you beginning to get the picture? It is nothing but black and white. There are no grays. If you’ve never tried painting a picture with only black and white, I highly recommend it. You will learn much about contrasting values when you do; and, later, when you do finish the work in color, you’ll feel comfortable that you have a true handle on this issue. The effort will be well worth it.

After you’ve experimented with the exercise above, then it is fair to say that color (and its use) is everything in any painting other than a black and white composition.

Color Wheel
Basic Color Wheel

So often, as artists, we tend to feel we naturally know how to mix colors. However, I’m not the first artist to admit the importence to whip out the color wheels. Sometimes it’s necessary to accomplish a completed painting. It is necessary for an artist to understand words like “triadic color wheel,” or “primary,” “secondary,” or “tertiary” color schemes.

Color plays a large part in setting the mood in a composition. Certainly, a well thought out composition has much to do with the mood in a painting, but the composition, and color working together is really what sets it. A good example of this is Andrew Wyeth’s painting: Christina’s World.

Andrew Wyeth, "Christina's World" (1948)
Andrew Wyeth, “Christina’s World” (1948)


A figure crawling through a large field of grass is the composition setting the (alone and desperate) mood. However, it is the mauve (or pinkish) dress surrounded by the brownish grass directing the viewers eyes to the undefined farm buildings in the distance (a great distance for Christina to crawl) that works with the composition to set the mood.

Try imagining this same picture with any other colors and see if any depicts the mood as well as the colors use by Wyeth in the finished painting.

This is just one simple example, but there are plenty of examples where an artist has used both color and composition to control and set the mood of a painting.

The depiction of Christina’s World on this sight is for educational purposes only, and it is not used to depict the true value of the painting, nor to indicate it is a proper depiction of the painting.

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Lynn Burton: The Red Sunset" (oil on canvas)
Lynn Burton: The Red Sunset” (oil on canvas)







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How to Make Fascinating Watercolor Paintings

Snapshot of Studio
Snapshot of Studio

If you are fascinated with watercolor, you can make fascinating watercolor paintings. You need only be passionate. When you are passionate about something your work will come to life. You will make paintings that touch, excite, and fascinate other people, as well as yourself.

While painting, if you relax and have fun, you’ll be more open to ideas and will work more creatively. The essence of a successful watercolor is a blend of spontaneity and control, but first there must be freedom. If you take hold of a carefree, unstructured approach to painting, then you can excite the world.

Winslow homer
Winslow homer

Watercolor, by its very nature, is an unpredictable medium. However, the unpredictability of the medium is what can make it fascinating and exciting. In order to understand the nature of watercolor it is necessary to explore the techniques and applications of other experienced artists and how they express themselves in paint.

If you wish to create a reaction with your paintings, in other words, impress your viewer, the finished work must not only catch their eye, but stop them in their tracks.

"Rowing Home" (1880)
“Rowing Home” (1880)

Many artists believe that mastery of technique is their primary need. I contend that it goes far beyond this simple concept. it takes more than technical efficiency to achieve artistic result. When I settle upon a composition for my artwork, I try to relate to the works I have done previously, or even with paintings of other artists. The relationship with other paintings helps to guide me when sketching the composition. However, the main decision for me is what colors to use–and many color schemes come to mind. I’m not too concerned with the actual colors I’m seeing in nature, but would prefer my own colors according to the atmosphere that I want to create. In this way I can control the painting as I progress.

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Richard D. Burton: Winter Kindling
Richard D. Burton: Winter Kindling


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Little Secrets When Drawing

Richard D. Burton sketching studies for "Grinding Gears of Time"
Richard D. Burton sketching studies for “Grinding Gears of Time”

The word drawing seems to be one that many artists and art students use freely, but which no two ever seem to use in quite the same way; and although there are many valuable books, video, art classes and other means for a graphite artist to learn their trade, drawing is a subject to be learned, practiced, and understood. Here is a little secret: the most important thing an artist can do in this exciting medium is to consistently work at it until they fully understand it themselves.100_2519 2

If it is your desire to have accepted completed drawings, this artist recommends you make many different studies of the work you wish to accomplish. Somewhere, the studies may become the finished work; but if not, they should be working toward a finished piece.

Segment of watercolor
Segment of watercolor

If you’ve read a few of my blogs, you know I’ve mentioned it before, but I will mention it again, and continue to mention it When drawing a figure it is imperative to rlieve that feeling of “static” stance in their depiction. give them a sense of “life” by putting weight on one leg, twist the torso tip and turn the head, or allow the figure to lean upon or be supported by something or someone. It is best (unless the composition requires it) to not have the face and eyes looking straight at the viewer.

Artist, Richard D. Burton making a full size graphite drawing for "The Old Woodie"
Artist, Richard D. Burton making a full size graphite drawing for “The Old Woodie”

An artist that draws does so because they enjoy drawing. They should never avoid something because it is difficult, or seek to solve a drawing problem by lowering their standards. They should never be afraid to go their own unique way, never allowing acceptable and conventional methods define them.


Warning: It may not be wise for an artist to concentrate on drawing alone because they may lose some of their other skills.

I personally draw sometime to create a completed work, but most of the time I draw to plan a future painting. Sometimes I use loose sketches, but other times, I do complete and detailed drawings. Sometimes I do both. Below is a graphite sketch, that became a complete study for one of my finished watercolors.

Step 1: Completed drawing for watercolor
Step 1: Completed drawing for watercolor
original doodle sketch of "Pappy's Break"
original doodle sketch of “Pappy’s Break”



Sketch (left) and drawing (right)




Richard D. Burton:Pappy's Break
Richard D. Burton: “Pappy’s Break”~Watercolor (16″X22″ on paper)





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