Mirrors aren’t just for getting ready in the mornings anymore…they can help detect imperfections in your paintings or drawings. And after this post you may just want to consider adding them to your list of art supplies….
Here is a neat tip: If something seems off about your piece and you have already tried rotating it (see my post on Painting Upside Down here), and you have tried squinting (yes, there is a post about that here too…) then you might want to consider holding it up in front of a mirror. Just an occasional examination is all it takes – just hold your painting up in front of a mirror just as if you were examining yourself in the mirror. It also helps to hold your reference photo up in front of a mirror as well next to your drawing/painting and compare the two. (If you are working with a reference photo on your computer – no need to lug the monitor into the bathroom 😉 – just “flip” the image horizontally in any simple photo editing program. That will give you a mirror image. I use Microsoft Office Picture Manager for a quick check)
Viewing your painting/drawing in a mirror does exactly what rotating it or squinting would do – it allows your brain to interpret the image in a new and fresh light. This technique works especially well when painting or drawing portraits. It will easily help you detect an eye that is not correctly proportioned, a nose that is off-center, or a crooked smile (among many other things) but will also help with maintaining perfectly straight horizons and proper depth of field and proportion in landscapes. This technique also works with still-life’s and animal portraits, or really anything else you can think of.
I have used this technique many times and I am sometimes amazed at how different a work in progress looks in the mirror. I find that when I am staring at an unfinished painting for too long it all starts to become more and more difficult to pinpoint what is wrong with it. I believe it is because I just become used to the image I am staring at…In the painting above there was a point when I held it up in front of the mirror, and his whole left cheek looked like it was stung by a huge bee – and yet because I had been staring at my painting for so long (without a mirror) I didn’t even notice it when I was painting. So long story short, I was thankful for the “fresh eyes” the mirror provided me and quickly corrected my mistake.
So if you are struggling with other techniques to help you find that thing that just seems “off” about your drawing or painting, then just check it out in the mirror for a new and fresh view on things – you just may be surprised by what you see!