Want to create realism in art? You've come to the right place.

photo of a realistic painting

3 quick tips for creating realism in art.

  1. Create Believable Proportions
  2. Get Accurate Tonal Values
  3. Mix Natural-Looking Paint Colors

How do you create realism?

Create Believable Proportions & Scale

Proportion is one of the principles of art. Proportion means the size of one feature compared to another feature. Drawing eyes too big on a face will appear noticeably incorrect. If the hands are too big compared to the rest of the body, the proportions will appear off.

Nail down the proportions if you want your work to look real. Proportions in realistic artworks don't need to be perfect, but they should be believable.

The scale of an object refers to the size of an object compared to another object. An object that is too large for the surrounding landscape will be out of scale. Drawing and painting things the proper size is important in realism.

Subtle Tonal Values

Tonal value refers to lightness or darkness. If darks are too dark or lights are too light, artwork can look like an illustration instead of a realistic drawing or painting.

Creating a natural range of values creates the illusion of realism.

Some artists use a tonal value chart as a tool when trying to establish natural-looking values. The difference in values is often more subtle than we think. Observe lights and shadows to create a natural value range that seems both natural and realistic.

Mix Natural Paint Colors

Paint straight from the tube is often bright and saturated. Natural colors are often more subtle. Learn to neutralize paint colors.

Mixing natural paint colors is essential when creating the illusion of realism.

For example, green paint straight from the tube is often too bright and too green to seem natural. Adding a small touch of red to the green can neutralize the color, creating a natural-looking green.

Learn to mix natural paint colors for realistic paintings.

My Personal Struggle To Paint Realism

I wanted my drawings and paintings to look realistic, but they always fell short. Asking professors and other artists what to do didn't seem to work. They said, "Embrace your style". No one seemed to know or be willing to say what I was doing wrong.

In hindsight, I don't think they knew what to do. Modern art education is a broken system. I felt buried in information but couldn't see the forest for the trees.

After much analyzing, researching, and struggling, I realized 3 simple things. Miss any of these 3, and the work won't look real.

The human eye excels at recognizing patterns and uniformity. That is especially true when looking at human faces. We are naturally experts at recognizing human faces. The brain quickly identifies anything out of the norm. Therefore, proportions have to be believable or the viewer's brain will immediately note that something is off.

People can't always verbalize what's off, but they know it's off.

Artists often pride themselves on being unique and creating original work. Like it or not, realism mirrors reality. Creating realistic paintings and drawings requires creating a believable copy of the person, place, or thing that's in front of you.

Make A Copy

So here's the truth as I see it: Elongate or distort the form, and it won't look real. Make it too big, too wide, too narrow, or out of proportion in any recognizable way, it won't look real. Make your darks too dark and your lights too light, that's an illustration or cartoon. Using bright saturated colors instead of natural subtle hues? It won't look real.

If you fail to copy reality, then you fail to create realism.

If you feel your work is lacking in any of these areas, now you know what to do.

Have I mastered all of these yet? Of course not but I've come a long way since the day I discovered this secret. I say it's a secret because I went to art school, and paid for an education that failed to teach me these 3 simple essential things. Professors looked at my work and couldn't point out these 3 things. Seems ridiculous, but true.

Now that you know these 3 things, you can fix them. If you can fix them on your own, great! If you want or need help, check back here for my guide to drawing and painting realistic artwork. It will be published here soon.

Keep up the good work. I'm rooting for you!