Monday, May 4, 2009

The weak critique, while the worst are full of a passionate intensity.


I am going to begin a series of critiques of paintings by some of the readers of this blog. I will not be naming the individual artists and I need to apologize to some of them up front. When they have offered me multiple images I have chosen not with an eye for their best work, although some of it is very fine. I have instead sought out paintings that had problems. I will do this crit in a different manner than the last time. I intend to roll through lots of artworks by many different artists. I will stop midweek or so and photoshop one or two as you have seen me do in the past.
One of the reasons I am doing this is so that I can run more artists and their work across my gurney and beneath the scalpel of my opinion and experience.

If you see one of your paintings here in this post, it may well appear in another post later in the week. Nurse, pass me that retractor and lets get to work!

The fault I will be excising tonight is eye control. Or rather problems with eye control. Here are this landscapes' directional lines below.

This picture has a strong assembly of leading lines driving the viewer towards.....well, something behind the bush. This painting has really strong eye control, it grabs the viewer and propels them toward the right, but there is nothing to see there when they arrive. The moral of this story is that your leading lines, particularly if they are powerful like these, need to direct the viewer to a subject or center of interest. You might begin by asking yourself "whats the name of this picture", that's your subject or center of interest, then use your lines for eye control to take the viewer there.

Here's another leading line problem. Now this artist has led the viewer effectively to the subject matter, but there's a way in which this painting could be easily improved. Watch what happens when I flip it.

See how much more comfortable that is. We have a bias in reading paintings,we read them from left to right. That is possibly because we read text that way, but I think it may be wired even deeper than that. In any event the painting is far more effective running from left to right rather than the other way around. The upper version takes you in, gives you the subject and then leaves you hanging wondering about all that empty mountain area, which is where the eye then wants to travel. In the lower version the line of the top of the mountain actually brings the viewer to the little house.

This artist offered me a lot of fine images, but I chose this one because it had a problem. It is another eye control problem. Our attention is seized by the stream in the foreground which grabs us and leads us ...........into the frame on the right hand side of the painting. When you crash someone into the frame like this, they stagger away dazed, and never get to the rest of the painting.


Here's a Monsted a 19th century artist courtesy of our friends and helpers at the art renewal center.org, the worlds largest online museum. Look what he does with the river. Your eye follows it deep into the painting. That leading line of the river bank takes us back to the tree. This is essentially the same project as above, handled in a more effective way.

There is some really nice color in this one and the little grouping of trees up at 12 o'clock is very fetching, but it has an eye control problem too. By now you know what I am going to say, don't you. You will always be aware of this fault in a painting from here on out, I think.


There it is. The painting has a strong grouping of leading lines insistently taking us ........behind the bush again! The most effective design for this piece would take the viewer up to that great little copse of trees at the top of the painting.
When you scope out a landscape, ask yourself, "where are the lines leading the eye? do I need to bend those lines to make my painting more effective? or maybe I should set up over there". Often by moving back and forth in front of your subject you can find a location where the lines in nature lead your viewer where you want them to go. But just as often, they don't and you have to make your own lines that will.

This painting has a different sort of eye control problem, called "one for each eye". We don't know which one to look at. they both want our attention. A more effective composition would probably include three objects and lead the viewer on a path through them.

Always be thinking about of eye control, you want to plan how your viewers gaze will travel through your painting. You might take digital photos sometime of a number of your paintings and then print them out. Next draw the eyes' path through them using a black marker.

I will return tomorrow and continue the dissection.

8 comments:

Jeremy Elder said...

I learn so much from your critiques, they give me so many good things to think about BEFORE painting, which will hopefully help avoid a bad exercise.

Plus, it's always nice to start the day with an image of a flayed leg.

jeff f said...

Excellent critiques. The idea of looking and framing the view is an important one that is often overlooked. I use a small frame, a mat board or you can now buy these Plexiglas viewers which have grids on them.

I think doing small sketches in pencil is a good idea if one has the time.

If I forget my view finder I use my hands to frame things.

I think that by doing this your thinking about the design of the composition and so on.

It also helps to study design elements.

The best book on this that I have seen is Edgar Payne's Composition of Outdoor Painting. He nails just about every problem on the head and has visuals for them as well.

I urge anyone who wants paints to buy this book.

jeff f said...

I forgot to add Monsted is one of the best landscape painters to have walked the planet in my humble opinion and very underrated.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Jeremy:
That leg was flayed before your mother was born,though she was born a long,long time ago.
.................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Jeff:
I use my hands as a viewfinder but there is a danger for me in that viewfinder. I have to be careful, as it is easy to select, rather than design my painting.I don't have the discipline to do thumbnails although there have been times when I did that. It is a great habit. it prevents you from just using the first arrangementt that pops into your head rather than trying several and seeing which is best.
......Stape

Sandra Galda a Daily Painter said...

Wow love this great flaying idea, Marsayus is alive!!! Do mine too!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Sandra:
Send me some images. I am trying to move as many under my scalpel as I can. Could Marsyas have been flayed with a strigil? Would he have found that more appealing?
............Stape

Sandra Galda a Daily Painter said...

A strigil would be surface scraping, right? I think authentic flaying is more serious.


I always have trouble spelling Marsyas....