In praise of the squint


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, while hanging out in my studio with some fellow travellers, we got worked up about squinting. We agreed it is one of the most important things we do. “Squinting demands a twice-weekly letter on its own,” someone said, pushing me into a corner and roughing me up a bit. While being beat upon, I was remembering how Richard Schmid dedicated an entire painting video to The Secret Squint. Being a believer, I’ll explain:

Roses, 1996 Oil on panel 8 x 16 inches by Richard Schmidt

Roses, 1996
Oil on panel
8 x 16 inches
by Richard Schmid (1934 – 2021)

Looking at work with half-closed eyes has several benefits — and there are several ways to do it. We have to agree that establishing an effective pattern — the overall compositional integrity of a design — is valuable. Simply put, squinting makes notes of weak areas. Squinting tells you what’s wrong and what’s bad. Squinting lets you know where darkness or lightness might be added. Even high-key equal-intensity work can be improved by squinting. Artists must know that compositions “form up” with patches of tone or colour. Interestingly, these needed patches can often use general rather than precise placement.

 Waterliles, 2016 Oil on canva 14 x 16 inches by Richard Schmidt (1934-2021) Custom 22 karat gold leaf frame ©Richard Schmid 2016

Waterlilles, 2016
Oil on canvas
14 x 16 inches
by Richard Schmid

By squinting, the eye can be made to defocus, or, by further reforming the shape of the eyeball, bring subjects into sharper focus. Also, by drawing together the eyelids like an external iris diaphragm, you see the subject as more or less reduced to black and white. When work is viewed without the benefit of colour, decisions can be more readily made. It seems that in standard easel-working vision, you “can’t see the forest for the trees.” The squint becomes a quick and easy re-evaluation technique that simply gives the artist a second opinion.

Funnily, it’s not always easy to remember to do it. Like swizzling your brushes, squinting really needs to be built into your habit pattern. A plan is to make sure every work session has a dedicated squinting period. Consciously sit back and squint at the whole work and its particulate areas. Your brush will inevitably go where needed.

White Begonias, 1990 Oil on canvas 12 x 20 inches by Richard Schmidt

White Begonias, 1990
Oil on canvas
12 x 20 inches
by Richard Schmid

Another great ploy is the “multiple squint.” This is where several works are placed side by side on an easel and squinted as a group. It’s a remarkable experience, as weak works are contrasted by proximity to stronger ones. As well as benefiting from the mutual feed that one work gives to the other, the multiple squinter gets an overall understanding of stylistic direction.

Best regards,


PS: “Never knowingly leave anything wrong on your canvas.” (Richard Schmid)

Still Life (n.d.) Oil on canvas by Richard Schmid

Still Life (n.d.)
Oil on canvas
by Richard Schmid

Esoterica: If your work process takes you to middle tones first, and you habitually leave your darker darks and lighter lights till last, the calculated squint can guide your latter hand. An advantage of this system is the avoidance of the almost inevitable tightening up that occurs when works near completion. Squinting sees the big picture and keeps your work true to its higher ideals. As they left the studio, my friends dropped a few bouquets: “Tell them to learn to squint,” said one. “The world will never have enough squinters,” said another. Yet a third said, “Squinters of the world, arise; you have nothing to lose but your crap.”

This letter was originally published as “In praise of the squint” on April 27, 2007.

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“It often takes two to do a good painting – one to paint it, and another to rap the painter smartly with a hammer before he or she can ruin it.” (Richard Schmid)



  1. Great tip! Holding up to a mirror is another, or view from a distance up-side-down to evaluate balance and composition . One ‘s perception is altered from the usual which allows for correcting flaws which can fall to the illusion of an artist under the influence of the Muse. When the work is done, have a glass of wine and view through the relaxed mode of the analytic suspended.

    Eva Nolan

  2. Ah, such a squintessential tip! When painting I generally squint during the process, but I’m also a
    Printmaker, so that’s a rather diff kettle of cod.
    But most print processes reverse the composition, which, like the mirror trick, offers another opportunity to see flaws before printing. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. I’m so short sighted just standing 10 feet away is enough, no need to squint. I remember when I was first painting in my teens, I used to use one weak eye to blur my vision to look at my paintings while working on them. I remember panicking over doing that thinking I was losing my eyesight. Funny how I just naturally did that without realizing I was doing something all artist’s should do, squint or blur, it’s a good thing.

  4. Mirror, upside down viewing- – add:
    Red filter to reveal pattern of values-
    Reducing glass. Stand in place and get view from 10 feet away.
    Keep checking back to your original resource

  5. John Francis on

    When it comes to assessing “the overall compositional integrity of a design”, I have found that ‘squinting’ is often an invaluable exercise. During my years as a Set Designer working in Theatre, ‘squinting’ at sketches, renderings and, especially, the maquette (model) rarely failed to ‘refresh my objectivity’. Perhaps the practice of ‘squinting’ might benefit some of the Politicians in this country in maintaining some “compositional integrity” in the words they use in making speeches, whether they are promoting their actions or responding to current events. Sadly, more often than not, their words are chosen by speechwriters and advisors whose names have rarely appeared on a ballot. Instead, we are constantly bombarded in the media with brief clips littered with eye-rolling platitudes and ‘trending’ buzz-words. What might well be ‘outrage’ is expressed merely as being ‘disappointed’. In expressing their positive feelings towards making announcements, they invariably declare that they are ‘excited’, even though their actual enthusiasm remains barely visible. Despite its recently constant and habitual usage in Marketing and Politics, I still haven’t the faintest idea what ‘moving forward’ actually means. In responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, our own Prime Minister described it as “absolutely unacceptable”. Unacceptable? I tend to use the word ‘unacceptable’ on such occasions as the food I had ordered arriving late or being cold. I think next Christmas I’ll send the PM a Thesaurus!

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