When I paint, I have found that if I stay the same distance from the canvas the entire time, I can lose perspective and distort my image unintentionally. Because of the length of my brushes, I usually have to be too close to the image to see all of it. Sometimes, it is really useful to step back from the easel, maybe as far away from it as a viewer would look at your painting in an art gallery – some 5 metres away, for example. What always amazes me is how different the picture looks at a distance. Regularly doing this, while painting, allows you to correct things.
If the actual subject is visible in the same field of view as your half-finished painting on your easel, but at some distance from you, you can even make direct comparisons between the subject you are painting and your representation of it, so far.
Another useful tool is the picture mount:
Grab one of these relatively cheap pre-cut cardboard wonders and hold it arms length, while you view your subject, or your canvas. It is amazing how this brings the relationships between shapes you are painting into your field of view and consciousness. If you can’t find the right size for your test frame, take a picture mount and cut it at two diagonally opposed corners, so that you have two giant capital letter Ls – now you can slide the two against each other, until you get the right sized frame to view through.
This simple cardboard viewer and the habit of standing back from your work at intervals can help you to see what you are missing when you are up close and working feverishly on your painting. Whistler used extremely long handled brushes for the same reason – so that he could see the entire work while painting it. Use the simple picture mount technique to see not only the way that shapes relate to each other and how far apart they are from each other, relatively speaking. You can even make marks on the cardboard frame to help you measure the same relationships out on your canvas.
Use the cardboard frame to crop your scene, or to concentrate on only one part of your painting, while excluding the visual clutter.
In life, as in painting, standing back from the action and trying to see things from a different distance, perspective or viewpoint can help you to see things more clearly and make sense of the scene.