1. Composition is the key: Avoid the obvious focal point stuck in the middle of the canvas. Think how you can create more interesting compositions by using inbalance, patterns, grouping shapes and using light to lead the eye of the viewer where you want.
2. Paint from nature if you can: Photography is a marvellous invention and can be used in many ways in your art, but sitting on the spot and capturing a scene as you see it has no substitute. It does not matter how many mega-pixels your camera has, your eye is better still and it is the door to your creative brain. This is your reality, not cropped or distanced by the lens of a camera.
3. Play with the light: The light is a key element in paintings. It is the cement between composition, colours and tones. The light models every object. Shadows give direction. The same subject will look totally different depending on the time of the day and the time of the year. Morning light and light at the end of the day will give you long shadows and softer colours and edges. Mid-day light in summer will bring hard edges and erase colours. Visit places you want to paint at different times of the year as the changes in the light will change the mood of the place.
Ice and fire - Oil on canvas board (6" x 8") by Benoit Philippe
4. Your best subject may be behind you. A variation of this is: your best subject may be on your doorstep.
5. Paint fat over lean: There are not many rules that you should stick to, but this one is an imperative. The first reason is conservation: this principle prevents cracks to form on the surface of your work when the paint dries. The other reason is practical: if you start to paint lean, you can layer richer paint on top without getting muddy colours and work longer this way.
6. Use a limited palette: If you do so, you will get to know very well the colours on your palette, their texture, and the way they mix together. This will also force you to master colour mixing. And yes, you can buy a tube of this very special colour that you saw at the art shop, but only after you tried to mix it and realised that there is no way to create it from your limited palette.
7. Refrain from using white as long as you can: Mixing white into your colours will add body to them but also mute them. Too often you see dead pictures because the artist included white in all the colours.
8. Block-in your dark areas first, then your mid-tones and then the lighter areas. There are two advantages working this way: in oil, it is easier to make darks areas lighter than the reverse, so you can adjust tone balance by lightening your darkest areas; in addition, it makes sense to get the dark areas first in because the light areas will appear even lighter when contrasted with dark areas.
9. Use the biggest brushes you can: this way, you won’t be tempted to put too many details into your painting.
10. Use telling details: This last point goes hand in hand with the previous advice. The idea is that you do not need to put in every detail or paint every single blade of grass on the canvas. The viewer’s brain will fill-in the gaps. So, if you draw a few bricks on a wall, this is sufficient information to create the impression of a brick wall.
These are just my views and, after you try these rules, you should break them (except the “paint fat on lean” rule) or only keep the ones that work for you.