painting by Jos van Riswick

What is the Carder Method?

Originally, Mark Carder sold a DVD course entitled the “Carder Method for Painting in Oil”. While the course is still available on Amazon, Mark offers most of the principles and methods free from his YouTube channel and website

Mark shows how to control everything from the light, the studio wall color, the tools and the paint to get extreme accuracy in drawing, in paint mixing and application. When followed, this method will allow even beginners to do very realistic paintings but beware, it can halt your artistic development.

Starting from nothing

"A little learning is a dangerous thing" Alexander Pope (1688 - 1744)"

Image result for frog drawing

15 years ago, my daughter asked me draw her a frog, I couldn’t. I decided to take a drawing course to learn the basics of drawing. I was hooked!

The next 10 years became a full-time pursuit of knowledge about drawing, painting, and portraiture. I took countless classes with master artists, read a full library or art books, watched over 500 hours of demo videos… you get the idea! 

Eventually, I became a commissioned portrait artist and a drawing and painting teacher.

 Along with this journey, I encountered the Carder method which has been both a great learning tool and a major pitfall. This article aims to help you avoid these perils while getting the best of what Mark Carder or any controlled approach can teach you.

First, the good!

proportional divider

Mark Carder tells you how to faithfully transcribe on paper or canvas a still life setup or a picture using a proportional divider.

Once the drawing is nailed, he teaches you how to mix color accurately by checking your paint either with a color checker or directly on a laminated photo reference.

This can save you years of learning how to draw, how to control your paint by trials an errors and guarantee very accurate results fast. 


Now the bad!

The results you get from using the Carder Method are so good that you become very reluctant to go back to the long and arduous tasks of sketching, doing color studies, painting in layers, etc. It can quickly become your artistic golden handcuffs. Mark Carder himself tells his listeners that this method should be used for 10-20 paintings only. It is, however, hard to leave the safety of this method and very tempting to come back to the guarantee of a perfectly accurate drawing that never needs refining or to the ease of a perfect color mix on every brush stroke. 


So, what's the problem?

The main problem is that you become a photocopier, you replace artistic discoveries with technical an repetitive gestures. It becomes very hard to see individual differences between works by different artists using this method – they look pretty much all done by the same hand. The worst pitfall, at least for me… it killed the joy of painting that I had prior to using these techniques. 

Before I learned the Carder Method

Thank you Waterhouse 12x16

This portrait of my son was done using looser brush strokes. Instead than concentrating on exact colors, I looked for a mood and the feeling the light hitting the skin. I had to correct my drawing throughout the painting process which was frustrating at times but the result, with all of its imperfections, is closer to the reality I perceived. 

After I Learned the Carder Method

NY couple

These three figures from a commissioned portrait were easier and faster to do than the portrait of my son. This is partly because I had gained more experience but also because I hardly ever had to repaint anything since I checked my colors at pretty much every brushstroke. The client was happy with the result but the artist was not. I felt like a robot repeating the same mechanical gestures toward a very predictable outcome.

What to do?

OK, the Carder method will give you results but can we still use it without falling into its trappings?

YES… but be careful, the temptation to return to the safety of this method will be stronger for some people.

I teach drawing and painting to people of all ages and I use some of Carder’s techniques to help my student take some measurements, become aware of color differences etc. BUT I give them as much theory as they can take so they understand how light reacts a certain way and what they can do with it. I also encourage them to do these things:


  • Draw first, then measure. This way you get a feedback and learn where you tend to diverge from reality. You eventually develop a sense of relative proportions and line directions and quality. Too much upfront measurement makes you a slave to your proportional divider or whatever tool you use for taking measures. 
  • Check your color only sporadically. Checking your color at every brushstroke like I did for a while will guarantee perfect photorealism but will not teach you anything. Color-check your lightest light, darkest dark and perhaps a few of your mid-tones then compare your masses relative to one another, get a feeling of how values and colors relate to each other.
  • Try other approaches. Do monochrome studies, sketch with short pose live model, do wipe-outs (massing of tones), use only big brushes for a while, try laying transparent colors (glazes) over a grisaille, experiment and discover what brings you joy. 
  • Find your way. Art is not about copying nature, it is about communicating something, beauty, emotions, a message. How can you best communicate what you have to say? 

Final word

The academic art training of the past centuries was able to produce our greatest artists but those who stood out are the same who stepped away from their academic training and comfort zone to experiment and find their own voices. Similarly, the Carder method gives the tools to create convincing realistic art but only those who can move on and find their own path will get the satisfaction of creating truly original art.

I have the utmost respect for Mark Carder, I watched all of his DVDs and most of his YouTube videos. I used his tools and followed closely his techniques and methods for several years. Perhaps this was my biggest error and the reason I am writing the article, it was too much of a good thing. Taken in moderation however in a much larger and diverse learning strategy, the Carder method can be a useful tool on your way to becoming the best artist you can be!

Consider having a teacher that can provide timely support online. This is a service that I offer on ARTZOK, it has proven to be very effective at helping students and even professional artists get the feedback they need to keep progressing with their art.

Published by Eric Vanasse

I started ARTZOK to provide quick and easy one on one email support by top artists/teachers in traditional and digital media. Select a teacher, upload a picture of your work, your teacher will look at your work and reply within 24 hours with tips and advice to help you improve. Simple and free to try!

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