What not to paint

Just as the British army has an unofficial list of things its junior officers should never do, lessons learned from long study of military history - don't march on Moscow in the winter, never invade China by land, don't attack Afghanistan* - so there's probably a similar list for painters. Here are just a few of those hard won lessons regarding painting that I know.

- Don't try to paint something through something. I could put this better, so I will. If you chance upon a subject that is coyly hiding behind, say, a tree, but you can just about see the subject behind it... paint something else.

Why? Because painting a simple thing well is hard enough on painter and viewer alike, without adding the possibility of confusion. A chain link fence with a shop window full of glassware and reflections behind it could provide a real challenge for a photorealist, but the rest of us are better off sidestepping subjects like this.

- Don't paint any pictures too big to fit in the back of a London taxi.

Why not? Many of your potential gallery partners are located in London. Have you ever tried to take a large painting through central London on an average day?

- Don't paint anything your mother wouldn't like.

Why not? Because she has better taste than you think. Scary or difficult paintings won't get past her mum radar, which means they won't get to frighten off buyers.

- Don't paint fast. It's not a race. Get it right.

If you try to do everything in haste, you'll end up with a painting that looks like it was done in a hurry.

- On the other hand, don't faff about. Get it done.

If you take too long, your impetus and enthusiasm will dry up long before you finish. And your painting will look like you second guessed every brush stroke you made.

- Don't paint Spring landscapes.

Why not? The greens are vile, and blossom is impossible. And even if you get everything right, it'll look too pretty.

- Don't be too honest with the greens you see in the landscape.

Why not? Green is a difficult colour, and a little goes a very long way. What looks admirable out there in the landscape has a way of looking bilious on canvas. Solution? Tone down those greens with red, or mix them using pigments from the grubby underside of the colour solid, like Yellow Ochre and Raw Sienna.

- Don't make your paintings deliberately eccentric to get attention.

Why not? You can get a lot of attention by wearing a clown outfit, but it's not the sort of attention you want. Similarly, any attempt to stand out on a gallery wall that doesn't involve painting really well is best avoided. Some artists have made a career out of their quirks, but forced oddity gets old pretty quickly - probably more so for the painter than for their audience. I can't imagine a worse fate than having to top the last odd idea with something even weirder.

Am I teaching my granny to suck eggs here? Any words of wisdom from the audience? Extra tips would be appreciated, and stolen for the follow up.

* The wily Pathan, then as now, has always been a tricky customer.