Dave’s Tips to Becoming a Better Artist

Self-Portrait, ca. 1630
Anthony van Dyck (Flemish, 1599–1641)

The other day I received an email from someone asking me what were the practices that made me a better artist. I thought it was a great question. My answer may not have been exactly what the writer was looking for, but I was grateful for the opportunity to think about what it was that really helped me in my artistic journey. Most people write to ask about skin tones, or materials, or how to sell paintings, or the like. Knowing those things is all well and good, but they are not key to getting you anywhere in the long run if you want to master your craft. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to know those things (and I hope you are asking more artists than just me). They are all pieces to a huge puzzle. But what I hope to offer here is what I think are some really important things to consider if you want to maximize your potential.

1. Get some good formal training if possible. I think it’s a mistake to try to teach yourself everything. Even a workshop now and then is better than nothing.

2. Try to strike a path with your approach. What I mean is, if you are really serious about painting you can’t do a little of this and a little of that (a little impressionism, a little watercolor, a little photorealism, etc.). If you still need to explore before you define your path, that’s fine. Don’t rush it. But do make a decision. May I submit to you that once you get a good handle on one type of expression your other experiments will be much more meaningful.

3. Related to point #2 — Identify for yourself what you want to paint, why you want to paint it, how you want to paint it. Describe to yourself what you hope to communicate in your artistic expression. (if you can do this you are well on your way)

4. Also related to point #2 — Pick three artists (minimum) that you want to emulate in your work. Study everything you can about them. Try to identify what it is about their work that you like. Do some master copies of their work.

5. Get serious and schedule regular time in your week to paint.

6. Have a methodical approach to your work. Formulate a step by step method. Take into account both your strengths and your weaknesses.

Happy Painting,


7. Teach, or at least be able to articulate your approach as if you were going to teach it.

15 thoughts on “Dave’s Tips to Becoming a Better Artist”

  1. Dave, just started following your blog and getting newsletters. I had noticed your work some time ago, but I had so much going on, I felt I could not really digest it and take it in. I am almost 70 years old, trained for only two years in an art education program, and taught only 3 years, and then did not paint again for 32 years……long story. Within limited years left , I have found myself hungry to study those artists whose work I admire. Thanks for your generous sharing. Lynette

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Exactly what I struggle with. I attend an evening figure drawing class and love to take workshops. I work in watercolor and oil but would like to pick one medium and one genre to concentrate on. I’m signed up for your upcoming class in Brattleboro the end of January, looking forward to it.


  3. Dave are you still teaching classes this year in Portraits? I am very interested in taking a class from you. I am mostly an oil landscape artist but have been dabbling in portraits and I could sure use your help.


    1. Kathy, this year’s portrait series is full. I don’t think I’ll be continuing next Fall. But please look into a workshop. I teach annually at Whidbey Island Fine Art Studio. Best wishes!


  4. Hello David, Thank you for your very generous blog. You seem so genuine. You are very kind to offer your sound advice. Your blog is in a caliber of its own. Regarding a formal education, I have an Art Degree, but I learned nothing academic about painting and drawing in that pursuit. I also have an Interior Design degree; that, at least, rekindled my desiIre to become very good. I’ve taken workshops, and have completed additional drawing and painting classes, but seem to have exhausted everything that is there for me. (Have you seen the caliber of work in the local colleges and universities?). I seem to be getting worse.

    I will do the Richard Schmid color charts that you recommended doing. That will offer a hiatus and perhaps a perspective on the process. Would you ever consider working intensely one on one or with a small group who are dedicated. My biggest fear is getting stuck in amateurism. I do not have a personal website, but my work in on dailypaintworks.com.

    Thank you for your time. I’m a grandmother but I’m determined to learn this somehow — I cannot give up.


    1. Thank you for your message. I can only say soldier on. Try to identify what you consider to be your weakness and attack it. I know this can be difficult. Perhaps some master copies are in order for you. One can learn much by doing this. Good luck.


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