Advice for Painting - Greg Cartmell art
Marsh area near Okatibbee Lake. (15 x 30, oil on canvas

Outdoor painter Greg Cartmell tells us about his first influences, including their memorable words of advice for painting.

By Greg Cartmell

I was thinking back 45 to 50 years ago when we only referred to ourselves as “Outdoors Painters.” You know, the period way back in the day before anyone was using the phrase “en plein air.” Those days are long gone, yet they seem like just yesterday. I have been painting for more than six decades and I remember being mentored by my dad, Robert Cartmell, who introduced me to Norman Rockwell for occasional Saturday morning critiques. I also distinctly remember going out on location painting with Emile Gruppe, who was perhaps one of my biggest influences when it comes to painting and creating artwork.

Advice for Painting and Painters

It was Gruppe who introduced me to a broken color, by a simple demonstration of painting an orange in his studio. I remember him loading up a brush with yellow and red paint, and creating the orange with the strains of each color going through it. I remember him adding a little ultramarine blue for the shadow side.

There was something he said that really stuck with me. He stated, “Let your eye mix the color on the canvas; don’t tell the whole story just give a hint.” Perhaps this was the most visually exciting demonstration I had ever seen, and I never quite got over it. I have been using broken color ever since.

I continued to learn things from different teachers as years passed. Marshall Joyce taught me the value of editing and simplification, and how when on location to build the painting and not be a slave to the reality of the composition and color and what was before me. Emile Gruppe taught me about the richness of impasto paint and color. I remember him saying more color more color, and you paint with paint not a brush!

It was Robert Douglas Hunter that taught me how to paint sight size, which came in helpful when painting hundreds of still lifes in the studio on days that were too miserable to go out on location.

I have never hesitated to edit the scene while on location, and push or pull the colors nature presents. Hence the difference between art and craft. The craft is the mechanics of learning how to paint, and the art is what the artist brings to the table to make a personal statement. Which reminds me of one day when I told Emile Gruppe how confused I was getting reading all these different rules about painting, and I’ll never forget his answer. He said, “Forget everything you know; trust your eyes and paint what you feel.” I remember it feeling like getting a license for the first time!

This is an 8 x 10 in. study with lots of broken color.

Success or Failure

I believe the success or the failure of the painting usually happens in the first 10 to 15 minutes. I try to attack everything I paint with as much energy as I can. This sets the pace for the whole painting, and hopefully adds to the feeling of the finished piece. I have always believed that going out on location is a great start, and I have never hesitated to use the results as a study for a larger painting done in the studio.

A Few Words About Composition . . .

We all start out learning about the golden mean, and the composition of the old masters. However, I feel these rules are only suggestions and one may push composition as far as they would like. There is an innate feeling we all have that tells us whether something works or does not work on the canvas; trust your eyes.

Today’s cinematographers push the envelope and you can see some of the most exciting composition in films that are being directed today.

This is a local creek, oil on canvas 20 x 24 in., done with lots of broken color.

My Five Favorite Rules (Or Suggestions, If You Must)

I’d like to leave you with what I would consider my five favorite rules or suggestions when it comes to painting.

Rule #1 – Paint what you love.

Rule #2 – Paint not only what you know but what you feel. Give yourself permission to paint it your way.

Rule #3 – When painting outdoors do not rush into it. Give yourself time to compose and collect your thoughts before you lift a brush.

Rule #4 – Use the very best materials you can afford, nothing is more expensive than bad materials and cheap paint.

Rule #5 – Do not let competitions rob you of the joy painting has to offer.

Today I spend my time running my art gallery based out of Mississippi, creating new artwork, managing my online gallery at and traveling to Miami, New Orleans, and New England to mingle with collectors, meet with galleries owners and live life the only way I know how, one brush stroke at a time.

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