Basic Tips to Make your Art Look Better

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Header09 by barananduen

This month's article is a two-parter; one with basic presentation tips for different media, and one with more advanced suggestions for photographing traditional art. For the more advanced article, see here: Tips for Photographing Traditional Artwork

This part s super basic and requires no skill whatsoever, but for people who do this, it REALLY helps your art look better, when displaying online, and minimizes rejections from Groups.


:new:UPDATE Jan. 2022: This section used to advise against using intrusive watermarks, providing examples as to why they make your piece less attractive, and offered more aesthetic alternatives. However, given the recent mass-scale wave of theft the art community is currently undergoing, I feel I can no longer advise against intrusive watermarks. Thieves have brought us to this. Do what you must.

SUGGESTIONS: DEFINITELY use a signature; add a watermark if you want, in any way you need it to be.
  • Write it out using the text function
  • Handwrite it with your tablet
  • Make a logo
  • Sign traditional art before you scan/photograph it, or add it digitally after
  • Play with layer opacity and/or layer modes (Overlay) on your signature
  • Try to place it somewhere that it doesn't hurt your composition too much (up to you!) but that can't be easily removed


This is mainly an issue I see with very young artists: They make a drawing, and while sitting on their chair, drawing on the desk, they photograph it, and upload it as-is, usually grey and with very little contrast between the drawing itself and the paper. I also often see people sad because they don't get comments, views, or faves; and when I go to their gallery, all their work is presented like this.

  • Make sure your picture is laid out flat, either lying flat on your desk or attached to a wall. Minimize wrinkles
  • Set your camera perpendicular (at a 90-degree angle) to your picture. You can use the paper or the canvas' edges as guides against your camera's display to align the picture properly
  • Unless you have a DSLR with an adjustable flash and are well versed in flash photography, do not use a flash.
  • Make sure the area you're photographing is well lit.
  • This probably doesn't work if you use a phone camera, but if you use a regular camera and your hands aren't steady enough, set your camera on a pile of book (or use a tripod if you have one) to keep it steady, and use the timer to take the photo
  • Make sure you or objects around you aren't casting shadows on the picture
  • After you're done, use an image editing software to crop out the surrounding and unnecessary white space, and to make the colors match the real thing
The last point is important. This is NOT cheating. Photos rarely capture colors as your eye sees them. You need to adjust your photo to match your real drawing/painting. In fact, in the photography forum here on DA, they argue that camera manufacturers build cameras to take grey (desaturated) photos, in order to capture a greater range of values and detail, and they're assuming you'll fix it in post-processing. You can read the full explanation, by FallisPhoto, here: [link to full explanation] - excellently written and very informative; I highly recommend it!  You don't need a fancy camera or paid software to do edit your photos: Gimp ( is free and excellent for this purpose.

To give you a visual example, here's one of my paintings right out of my camera and after I adjusted the colors to match the original, physical painting:

IMG 1382-shot settings-small-signed by barananduen Watercolor - Zebra by barananduen

The paper was white, not grey, so that's your first tip-off that something's wrong, right there. :XD: Also, I normally prefer photographing my watercolors a little underexposed, to preserve the value variations in the lighter parts, which would be lost if I took the photo so that the white was white in the camera. When I take the photo this way and adjust it in post, the original colors are retained and the gradients aren't washed out. However, I see sooooo many drawings on DA looking grey like the first pic, and it makes me sad because it's something that's really easy to fix, but not fixing it is hurting you tons! :( You can even do this using your phone.

Also, crop out any unnecessary white space. In the example above, I cropped out some on top and on the bottom. I didn't need to crop the sides because I took the photo within the boundaries of the paper. But if you have paper edges showing, the more reason to crop them out.

If you're looking for a more professional setup to photographing traditional art, see this article:
Tips for Photographing Traditional Artwork
A more advanced expansion on my "Basic Tips" article, Basic Tips to Make your Art Look Better. First, let us recap on those basics:
Make sure your picture is laid out flat, either lying flat on your desk or attached to a wall. Minimize wrinkles. Set your camera perpendicular (at a 90-degree angle) to your picture. You can use the paper or the canvas' edges as guides against your camera's display to align the picture properly.Unless you have a DSLR with an adjustable flash and are well versed in flash photography, do not use a flash.Take the photo in a well-lit area.
This probably doesn't work if you use a phone camera, but if you use a regular camera and your hands aren't steady enough, set your camera on a pile of book (or use a tripod if you have one) to keep it steady, and use the timer to take the phot


Some people like having other items (eg: tools, etc.) aside from the artwork, showing in the picture. If you opt for this presentation method, you need to keep in mind that aside from being a good drawing, it needs to be a pleasant still-life photograph.

For example, many of you liked this:
Watercolor - Fall Mini Landscape Painting by barananduen

...but note that it didn't look like this:
IMG 1624a-small-signed by barananduen

Now, let's take a look at what I did wrong in the second one.

Here, I tried to compile all the things that didn't look right, that I've seen in art photos, to make it really obvious in this example. The only things I was missing, that I do see a lot, were: drawing done on lined paper, said lined paper being wrinkled, bad photography angle (I had to choose between my shadow showing and a bad angle, for this, I went for the shadow), and (these two specific to watercolor paintings) paint still wet and light reflecting off of it, and painting still taped to the painting board. So yes, avoid those things too!

Let's now look at what undesirable elements this second photo does have:
  1. Bad choice of surface. - Make sure that the surface isn't more attention-grabbing than the artwork. You probably don't want the colors to be scandalous (like my blanket here :XD:)! It's preferable that it doesn't have patterns or designs... or scribbles or measuring units/grids.
    Tard Slide <- emote would have preferred a softer surface?

  2. Random objects. - Take care that you clean the area of items that don't help your composition. My scandalous neon orange More orange juis plz nail file was neither used for the painting, nor is pretty to look at. (In fact, it blinds me when I do my nails; maybe that would explain this photo. :XD:) I wanted to include a gum wrapper instead, which is more popular, but I didn't have any. XP If you're going to include random objects, make sure they're working in your favor. For example, there's a difference between the corner of your math notes showing, and including some sheets with nice, stylized calligraphy to give the photo an antique feel.

  3. Ugly tools. - So you want to show your tools. OK, but you don't have to show ALL of them! Skip the ones that hurt your composition or give an unpleasant feeling (unless you're going for that sort of thing, grinfaceplz then knock yourself out!). We don't need my blotting Kleenex in this pic, and if I'm going to include a water receptacle, I should do so in a way that looks neat. Here, it's like, "Oh, it's there and I forgot to move it." XD

  4. My shadow. :B - Make sure there are no shadows cast onto the photo area.

  5. OK, so I accidentally made this symmetrical. But imagine if all the extra stuff was over on the left side. That would give you an unbalanced composition. Avoid such things.

  6. Bad/Lack of cropping. - The painting is so small compared to the size of the whole photo, that most of what I'm looking at is stuff. Crop your photo to maximize (within the constraints of a still life photo) the area of your artwork.

  7. Not white-balanced. - What I talked about in the previous section - open up that image editing program and make the colors match real life. This is trickier with still-life arrangements, because you not only have to get your painting's colors to match the real thing, but also the colors of the objects around it, and sometimes matching one can make the others look too dark or too light. This is one of the challenges of this sort of presentation.

Alright, so that should give you a pretty good idea of what sort of thing to watch out for. Let's recap:

  • If you're going to do this, make sure this method is adding some value over the traditional method described above
  • Wait for the paint and paper to dry out completely to avoid unwanted highlights
  • Pay attention to surface, lighting, stray objects, etc.
  • Place your tools or objects in such a way that they look good - keep composition in mind
  • Make sure you or objects around you aren't casting shadows on the picture
  • After you're done, use an image editing software to crop out unnecessary space, and to make the colors match the real thing

And that lined paper we mentioned? ...


I know that sometimes we feel less pressure when we draw on lined paper, like the prospect of a nice sheet of white paper is intimidating. It is because you don't feel this pressure that drawings made on lined paper sometimes tend to come out better than those you draw on white paper. Really try to get over this mental hurdle, because you're only bringing down your art by drawing on lined or grid paper.

Get a really cheap sketchbook if you want, and doodle in it every day. It will help train your brain to get over that "nice paper fear," and you'll be able to start drawing cool things on nice paper, in no time! :)

And that is it for Issue #4! :hoLA:  If you found this article useful, please go to the New Deviants Lounge in the Today page and welcome a newbie to the site; just say hello! Check their artwork and their listed Interests; maybe you'll make a new friend. :)
See you next time! Heart Balloon Emote

Next Issue: August 16th

Other Art Advice Articles

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Tips for Photographing Traditional Artwork
A more advanced expansion on my "Basic Tips" article, Basic Tips to Make your Art Look Better. First, let us recap on those basics:
Make sure your picture is laid out flat, either lying flat on your desk or attached to a wall. Minimize wrinkles. Set your camera perpendicular (at a 90-degree angle) to your picture. You can use the paper or the canvas' edges as guides against your camera's display to align the picture properly.Unless you have a DSLR with an adjustable flash and are well versed in flash photography, do not use a flash.Take the photo in a well-lit area.
This probably doesn't work if you use a phone camera, but if you use a regular camera and your hands aren't steady enough, set your camera on a pile of book (or use a tripod if you have one) to keep it steady, and use the timer to take the phot
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For people who are new at art, or new at a different medium.
Keeping what I call "the three Ps" in mind will help you power through and not quit before you've reached your goal.
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Footballer fella (Sports) Da Vinci Fella (Artists)  
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Don't Let Anyone Make you Feel Bad About your Art

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Back when I was in elementary school, I'd made this little painting for art class (the assignment was to paint whatever we wanted) and was insanely proud of it, thought it was

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minxvenus's avatar

Wow, this was really helpful! Thank you so much for making this, this is what I was exactly looking for! :D