Contemporary Art: Getting to the Next Level

Contemporary Art and Artists

On Getting to the Next Level

By Tony Pro (

Art advice, Tony Pro
Featured paintings / contemporary art by Tony Pro

“How do I get my work to the next level?” This is one of the most common questions I’m asked, aside from “what medium do you use?” It’s a question I not only hear, but one I ask myself every day. One of the frustrations with being an artist is hitting the proverbial “plateau,” and if not handled correctly, such plateaus can make or break your artistic confidence. Here are a few tips to help you get past these bumps in the road to good painting.

The first thing to look at is your attitude toward your craft. A lot of artists would like to get better but not many want to get better. I hope you already know the subtle difference between these two mindsets, and since you are reading this article, I’ll assume that you fall into the latter category: you want to get better.

Having a positive attitude in getting your work to the next level is also going to require an open mind. It’s going to require an openness to accept that there are many ways to achieve a desired effect in painting, or many ways to achieve good draftsmanship in drawing. Having an open mind is the first step. Over the last 10 years, I’ve taught many classes and workshops to hundreds of people, and most of the time I have been younger than the students — sometimes 30 to 40 years younger!

It’s very difficult for a lot of people I know to take direction from someone who is young enough to be their son or grandson. In many cases I’ve been painting and drawing for half as long as some of my students. But this is where an open mind comes into play. Yes, I may have only been painting for 15 years and drawing for 20, but those 20 years were all strict academic study — studying the correct things with long and short figure and head drawing classes, learning from one of the best drawing teachers alive today.

Related Article > Figurative Artist Spotlight: McGarren Flack on Painting Emergency Scenes

Art advice, Tony Pro
“The Publisher,” 20 x 16 inches, Oil on linen

Getting better often means using better materials. I always stand by what I learned from Richard Schmid, who said, “Always use the best materials you can afford.” Good paint, canvas and brushes can and will make you paint better.

If (mixing the right color) + (putting it in the right place on the canvas) = good painting, then this directly involves using the right materials to achieve the good painting you’re looking for. Most of us know that certain paint applied to certain surfaces works better than others, so it’s up to you to really experiment and see what works best for you to achieve the desired effect.

When I teach workshops or classes, I can always expect . . . “Here they come with the cheap cotton canvas and student-grade paint!” A lot of these artists are wealthy or well-off individuals, too. I even see people cutting corners by salvaging paint off the palettes of other students.

Tony Pro self-portrait painting

This is a quote I learned from my dad and it is directly applicable to using materials. If you want excellent results you cannot take shortcuts with junk materials.

The combination of having the best materials and approaching with the right attitude can pull you out of that funk you’ve been in and get you into a whole new level of craftsmanship that the galleries and buyers are looking for.

Painting advice, Tony Pro
Carnivalesque, 18 x 12 inches, Oil and 22kt Gold on linen
Art advice, Tony Pro
Tony Pro, artist

Closing Thoughts
One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was from my drawing teacher Glen Orbik. He always said, “Learning to draw is like going to the gym. You can hire a trainer who can show you how all the machines work and how to exercise, but to get the big muscles, you have to do the heavy lifting!”

This statement should be every artist’s motto. If you want to get better only you can do it. No teacher, book or DVD will make you better — only you can make yourself a better artist. Don’t look for cheap tricks or techniques that you can dazzle your friends with.

To become a master of your craft you need to know and perform its ins and outs. This is something I do daily. I never stop learning, listening and doing. I live life as a spongy art student, and this attitude helps me learn and evolve into becoming the artist I want to be.

Learn directly from Tony Pro with his Liliedahl art video, “Secrets of Expressive Portraits” (preview below!).

With over four hours of detailed and easy-to-apply instruction, Tony Pro goes in-depth into topics including:
• Creating the right range of dark to light values
• Proper mixing of paint and color and how to avoid common mistakes
• Which details of the face you need and which to avoid; and more!

Tony Pro: Secrets of Expressive Portraits


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