Can you recognize a tree when you see one? I'm going to take a wild guess and say you can. In fact, you can probably recognize a familiar face among hundreds of people. The amount of visual information we see every day gave us the confidence that we know what things look like, and that can be dangerous for artists.
Ask yourself if you really looked at the subject, observed and studied it last time you paint. Whether it is a landscape, still life, or a portrait. Did you study their shapes carefully? Did you compare and measure their scales in your mind? Did you look at the value range of the elements in your subject? Did you step back and read the whole picture before you paint? I am not suggesting you become a camera and copy everything you see super accurately. A camera will always do a better job than you when it comes to capturing all the details and lighting. But are you painting from your observation? or from your memory?
One of the key steps to developing your visual language is to observe. You can not give a faithful visual representation of your subject if you don't really look at study it. You might say to yourself "oh it is just a palm tree, I saw a million of them already. I know how they look like.". But each palm tree looks different and it plays a different role in your painting. If you don't look and think about how you want to paint it, you are likely not going to end up with a believable painting. No matter how expressive your brush strokes and your color mixing are, your painting is not really inspired by the real thing.
Just the other day my 9 years old came home with his math test. He got all the questions right except one. The answer he gave wasn't wrong if the question was different. In other words, he didn't read the question carefully. He has the ability and understanding of the subject to ace the test. However, he assumed what that specific question was asking and answered it without really read into it. I can say the same thing happens to many students. Without really look at the subject and study it, you are not going to be able to capture the essence of their shapes, colors, and sizes. If you paint from your memory and go auto-pilot, you will have many repetitive marks and shapes that don't make sense. Master artists are able to paint from their memory because they have looked and observe the same subject over and over again in years!
I encourage you to slow down and really look at your subject before you paint. Even if you think you know the subject well. I still study the face of my wife when I am about to paint her despite I see her every day very closely. To me, this is to be respectful of the source material you are borrowing to create your own work. Again, not to copy it one to one, but to retell the story in a beautiful way. The viewers who enjoy your painting might not see the source material. However, they can tell if you are just painting from your memory like a child, or if you really understand what you are painting.
Facebook live stream
The painting above was painted last night during my live painting session on Facebook. Unfortunately, due to a computer crash, the first part of the video (drawing and first wash) was gone. You can still check out most the video here. Hope you enjoy this video. Feel free to comment and ask me any question.