After visiting two art exhibitions, one put on by my local art club and the other by a group of professional artists, I realized that whilst the amateur show had many 'nice' paintings, and showed a high level of painting ability, the professional show had many more paintings that had that 'wow' factor that made more impact. They claimed your attention, even though you might not actually like them. I do feel that tutors should stress the importance of impact on the viewer as well as just how to paint in a competent manner.
Amateur Artists Tend to Use Watercolor
I have tried to work out why the pros paintings had that impact. The first thing that struck me was the medium used. Most of the amateur paintings were in watercolor, whilst the pro paintings were mostly oils or acrylics. Why do most amateurs paint in watercolor? When I started painting, after I retired, I was told by two retired art school tutors not to attempt watercolor, but to start with oils. That way I would learn to paint properly and only when I was reasonably competent should I attempt watercolors. I am sure this advice has paid off. It is much easier to correct mistakes in oils and not get frustrated.
Amateur Artists Use Standard Size Canvases
Another factor was size. The majority of the pro paintings were larger and not always on standard canvases, whilst the amateurs generally kept to small standard sizes, which had less impact. This also affected presentation.
The club painters were mostly mounted and framed, but often the frames or mounts were poor and not much thought had been put into their suitability for the painting. Quite a few of the pro paintings were on deep edge canvases, allowing them to be hung without frames or even when not on deep canvases were painted on gallery-wrapped canvases, which are tacked from behind so they could still be framed or hung without frames.
Where pros had framed their paintings, much more care had been taken in the choice of frame to suit the type of painting, even to the extent of painting the frame to match the painting. One has only to look in an estate agents window to see that a lot of home owners like unframed or deep modern framed paintings instead of the traditional gilded framing.
Choice of Subjects for Paintings
The choice of subjects was similar, except there were very few club painters who attempted abstracts. It seems very few amateur painters are drawn to abstraction and when they do they tend to be very stiff. The pros paintings were generally brighter, giving them more impact. Looking at many paintings instruction books this seems to be something that is not stressed and again is possibly caused by the use of watercolors.
Painting from a PhotographAnother cause of this lack of excitement in a painting is photographs being used as the subject. It is often stressed in painting articles that a photograph should only be used as reference, and a painting based on sketches will have more impact. One has only to go to any club painting session or even a painting class to see that many people are trying to copy from photographs, often without even making preliminary sketches based on the photo. Even some pros do this and it nearly always results, even when done with a great amount of painting skill, in a dull and lifeless painting.
Note from the Painting Guide: I think the reason so many people start with watercolors is that it's easy to understand how to use them: you simply wet the brush with water, rub it onto the paint block, dab the brush onto a sheet of paper, and you're painting. It's deceptively simple. But, in fact, acrylics or water-soluble oil paints are easier to start painting with as it's easier to correct mistakes and rework sections of a painting using these.