Friday, July 31, 2009

Everything set to medium

Here is a painting that has been sent to me for a crit.

There are a handful of problems with this picture. I will focus on the "overallness" of the painting.
  • I don't know where I should look, the white spots on the ground might be the subject matter, but it might be the trees in the background, and the way my eye tracks through the painting leads me to the clump of trees on the right. That makes me think that they are the subject. One thing in a painting must predominate and the other elements in the painting need to be subordinated to that.
  • The same thing is going on with the values. There is no part of this painting where the values dominate. Some parts of the painting are a little lighter and some a little darker, but there is nothing that by virtue of its value says,"here I am, I am the subject!". There is an overall closeness of values that gives the painting a mushy feel. Areas in the foreground don't really explain themselves.They might be patches of wildflowers, I can't tell. Whenever a viewer stops to think "what is that?", you have lost.You gotta make em believe.
  • The painting needs to have more drawing, at least in few areas. I guess it would be like an important scene in a movie, where a leading characters important lines are garbled . The viewers lose that capacity to suspend disbelief which carries us along in a movie. Its OK for a minor element in a picture to be mysterious or only cursorily indicated, but an important passage should always explain effortlessly.
  • The area of the sky and the land are roughly the same. Again it is a matter of equal emphasis. One should be dominant and the other subordinated. I have known some painters who when they layed out the shapes in a painting would think to themselves, papa bear, mama bear, baby bear, to make sure they had areas of different size and importance. look at the above painting and see if you can tell where each of these "bears" is.
  • The same is true of the color, color wise each area of this painting is about of equal importance. It is good in a painting for one area to be dominant in color, and then another area would be of a supporting, contrasting or complementing color. In this picture each area is of about the same in terms of color importance. There is no place in this painting that is either saying "I am important" or "I am an accent".
  • All of these faults have in common a sort of "medium" setting. Musicians speak of dynamics, that is the volume gets louder and softer and there are quiet passages that are gentle, contrasted with passages that are fast, loud and thrilling. There are unexpected surprises. There used to be music in elevators and supermarkets called Muzak, I don't think I have heard it in a while, but you will probably remember it. Muzak had no dynamics. It was deliberately made to sort of tootle along in an an unassertive and deliberately uninteresting way, because it didn't have wildly contrasting parts or surprises. It was all set on medium.


  • A painting needs to have dynamics, in its values, the area of its shapes and in its colors. That is, if their are a number of shapes, make one the papa bear, and another the mama bear and another the baby bear in area and assertiveness. The same with the color of those shapes, make one a papa bear etc. Always think "is this the dominant shape? Or is that over there the dominant shape? Is this shape dominant to that one in color, or subordinate?"
  • A painting should have counterchange and shapes of contrasting values placed on top of or behind one another. Here is a link to a post about that. Again that is a way to get dynamics into a painting.

Just as when doing public speaking, you must vary the tone of your voice, accent certain thoughts by speaking more forcefully or pausing dramatically, it is necessary to vary the emphasis on the elements of a painting to hold the viewers attention. In a gallery or a show full of paintings a painting all set on"medium" gets lost in the crowd, eclipsed by its more dynamic competitors.


JT Harding said...

Good critique. The area of interest, seems to be the clump of trees in the background. Perhaps the painter can use some punctuations of light, value, and color along the path to rythmically lead the viewer to the destination.

Jeremy Elder said...

Well put. I especially like the metaphor of music you used to explain it - that will help me remember to avoid medium. Do you ever think it is possible to have TOO MUCH contrast?

willek said...

This crit and all the others are helpful to us no matter how advanced we are because they remind us of the princibles and keep us on track. You are putting out some great analogies, too.

Yes, I paid too much for the books but I was trying to help the North Shore Art Association and I was trying to impress a young lady behind the counter (She appeared to be in her lower sixties), and you reccommended one of the books so I had to have it.

Sessn= Chinese build Cessna

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

I often get into trouble with too little. I guess there isn't an "answer" to that. But contrast is liked by painting buyers, it seems.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. My new computer is fighting me, so I have to take it back. Second one. Till they get it working right I can't load photoshop. So I am doing things I can do without it.I guess maybe Monday or so I will have it working.

sessn= a finite period of time,or agreed upon meeting period in the Boston area.

Deb said...

Arrgh! Been so busy lately I am having to catch up quick on posts! Great stuff as always.
On yesterday's post re: books,
here is a link to Metcalf's book at greatly less expensive prices than Amazon, but still not cheap.,+the+art+of+willard+metcalf&x=72&y=15

I have another of Foster Caddell's books on Landscape painting, and find it equally as basic, yet informative as your book on color.

I bought Richard Schmid's book, and left it at Putney for him to autograph, which he was very kind to do. However, the intermediary who gave him the book to sign, couldn't quite remember my name.
"It's a three-letter name.. I think it was Kim", he told Richard. So I got a nicely autographed book to "Kim". Upon learning of the error,
Richard took the book back, scratched out "Kim", and put in "Deb", and "sorry for the mistake. Who is Kim?" and scribbled a little caricature of himself.
NOW my book is priceless. I'm so glad they got the name wrong.

"sladdle" application somewhere in between "slather" and "ladle".

Jesse said...

I'm a little late on this one, but the crit is spot on.

If only I could bring your eyes with my when I'm painting. Sometimes while I am painting it seems like my colors are vibrant, and I get home and it's all gray.