Creative Expression - Richard McKinley,
Richard McKinley, "Tennessee Trees," 2015, pastel over watercolor, 12 x 9 in., private collection, plein air

7 Tips for Greater Creative Expression

By Richard McKinley

  1. Learn the rules and then forget them. The rules in traditional painting are there to stop us from mak­ing innocent mistakes (never put anything in the center, never use pure black, never lead the viewer out of the painting). If artists didn’t break them, we would all paint alike. The key is to break the rules on purpose and make the painting work.
  2. Experiment with techniques. As an early mentor of mine said, “As long as you are not breaking an archival procedure, put together whatever mediums you need for the effect you desire: Be a bit of the educated mad scientist when it comes to painting.
  3. When painting en plein air, first and foremost, make yourself comfortable. Inspiration will come if you can relax and paint, without fighting the elements. Far too much time is lost in pursuit of the perfect subject matter.
  4. Remember that you’re making a painting, not a picture. Getting it right doesn’t always produce an artistic statement. No one receives an award for getting it right, and we shouldn’t need to title our paintings That Is the Way It Was.
  5. Stop your internal critic from only finding the mistakes. Instead, focus on what you think is work­ing. Let that guide what needs to be altered.
  6. Remind yourself that with pastel, you don’t have to be in a hurry. Wherever you stop, the painting will be quietly waiting there for your return.
  7. Playl It is just a piece of paper or canvas. Take a chance, make a mess, experiment. More will be gained from a failed attempt than a predictable outcome.

Attention pastel artists! Accelerate your art skills in only three days by attending Pastel LIVE online, August 17-20, 2022:

Visit to find out all the amazing opportunities for artists through Streamline Publishing, including:
– Online art conferences such as Pastel Live and Plein Air Live
– New video workshops for artists
– Incredible art retreats
– Educational and fun art conventions, and much more.

Learn More

> Subscribe to Plein Air Today, a free newsletter for artists
> Subscribe to PleinAir Magazine so you never miss an issue


  1. Yeah! Someone agrees with me to let a painting speak for itself, rather than feeling compelled to “title” your art. Titles might have negative connotations to the viewer/potential buyer. Let a work of art speak to the viewer, by not biasing a viewer with a title.

  2. I use objective titles that simply tell what and/or where the subject is if it’s a landscape. If it’s a portrait, the title of the painting is the subject’s name…usually, just the first name.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here