art, art instruction, Book Reviews

The Simple Secret to Better Painting – review

The Simple Secret to Better Painting by Greg Albert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lately I have been taking in some webinars by the successful Canadian artist Tim Packer. He is big on composition! He says:

“A strong composition can result in a successful painting even if the artist has only moderately competent technical skill.

“No amount of technical skill can turn a poor composition into a successful painting. The only remedy is to change the actual composition…”

“Ten Common Compositional Weaknesses,” by Tim Packer

Such statements and my own lack of compositional knowledge had me casting about for help. I found it in The Simple Secret to Better Painting by Greg Albert.

In it, Albert suggests one overarching compositional rule to guide the artist in making aesthetic choices. His One Rule of Composition: “Never make any two intervals the same,” is deceptively simple. However, his application of it covers the gamut. In six chapters he shows how this rule applies in achieving interest, balance, eye pleasure, and in directing tone, value, and color choices. He concludes with three chapters of advice on using this rule when composing still life paintings, landscapes, and figurative paintings.

His book contains other helpful maxims like:

“Good composition is the result of conscious planning on your part… You need to carefully consider how the viewer is going to look at your painting and design the painting accordingly” (p. 41 – Kindle edition);

“Value contrast is so compelling that it is the best way to establish a strong focal point” (p. 53 – Kindle edition);


“The rule (Never make any two intervals the same) will help you add just enough variety in the range of colors in your picture if you remember this formula: ‘Mostly, some and a bit’ “(p. 67 – Kindle edition).

The formatting of the book, using bold and italic font to direct attention and add emphasis, is super helpful in aiding the reader to find and review Albert’s principles. He also includes lots of art, from simple line drawings to full paintings, to illustrate concepts.

Now his advice rings in my head as I plan my simple creations. I’m sure this is a book I’ll return to again and again as I work at becoming a better artist.

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