Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fooling with other peoples art


Above is a painting that was sent to me to critique. I have never been to the place where this was painted so I have no idea what was really there. I also have no idea of the artists original intentions. So I have put my "spin' on it. There are a lot of different takes that could be applied to a painting but this one will point out some problems in the original image and their possible solutions. You may have different solutions of your own. I want to be careful to point out that I have used some of my means of dealing with the problems in a landscape, but not necessarily the only ones.

I fooled with it in Photoshop. I am not an expert in Photoshop so I just go at it with the brush tool. It always feels like I am painting with gummi-worms. However it does allow me to rework a painting without ruining it. So it is a pretty good teaching tool. Below is my version. Below that is a bulleted list of what I did to it and why.


The original was all in a few middle tones. I spread out the values, clearly defining what is in the light and what is in the shadow. No value exists in both!

EVERYTHING IS EITHER IN THE LIGHT OR IN THE SHADOW, THERE IS NO OTHER PLACE FOR IT TO BE!


The lights in the original are scattered about in repetitive sizes and shapes and not sufficiently different than the shadow value to "light up". There are gray days that have no dappled light at all but that is a different painting problem. You might look at the work of Richard Schmid for that, he handles gray days so beautifully.

  • Here's a detail from the middle left of the original showing a repeated group of V shaped forms. Repeated forms are visually boring and "manmade" looking. I made them into a single tree, but of course there are lots of different way to break up a passage like this. The important thing is variety of shapes and intervals. A painting should contain a great variety of shapes that are different from one another. yet interlaced or rhythmic.
  • Here is another problem, called a tangent. A number of unrelated lines all meet,for no good reason at a single point. This seizes the viewers attention, all of those lines draw the eye and then short out against the tree limb. Also the upper line of the mountain and the line of the hill below it are opposites, that is they echo one another in reverse. This is overly geometric looking, and makes the distant mountain into a teardrop shape. Below is my fix. The lines of the mountain and the hill now operate independently of one another and pass BEHIND the tree rather than butting up against it.
  • I reworked the trees varying their widths, again to get a more natural look, and to get more variety of shape. Repeated dimensions and intervals are boring. Those in the original were too straight, like phone poles. I put some twists into them as they writhe towards the light, and broke up their lines with some flecks of sunlight, emphasizing their twisting shapes and deemphasizing their repetitive perimeter lines. Rather than all being bounded by a dark edge their edges now are broken by patches of light. The trees are now made of three values. A highlight, a half tone value and a dark shadow. These three are woven together up the trunks to give more variation there.
  • There is a mechanical looking diamond shape in the sky right in the middle of the painting. I reworked this again to get greater variety of shape. If you look at my version above you will see I have added some sky holes into the trees and some branches hanging down in to the "diamond" area. This weaves the sky and the branches together more, rather than the sky being HERE! and the ranches being over HERE! I have worked to get a greater variety of shapes and intervals into the sky holes. Remember that sky holes must be a little darker than the open sky outside of the foliage mass. Because a sky hole is a narrow aperture, diffraction "steals" some of the light. If you make the sky holes as bright as the open sky areas they will appear overstated. John Carlson said they would appear like lights hung in your trees, rather than as holes through them.
  • The edges of the road needed to be softened up as they were too assertive and mechanical looking. Below is a detail from Willard Metcalf handling this sort of passage nicely. See how the boundaries of the road are downplayed and melded into the ground around them. This keeps the road from looking like it is pasted over the landscape. A minimal amount of definition is fine to suggest a road in the landscape, and avoid a primitive look.
  • I lightened up the sky too, although sometimes it works well to "fake" a dark sky into a painting, particularly behind autumn color, generally the sky should be as bright or brighter than anything else in the light. It looks unconvincing for an object receiving light to be brighter than the sky, its source of illumination.

23 comments:

Clem Robins said...

superb post.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks Clem. I apologize for no longer answering all the comments. I just have to get more art done and something had to give to make room for that. I do read them all and am so grateful to you who comment in this forum. I intend to cherry pick and answer selected comments when the wind is blowing from the northeast.
.................Stape

Diane Hoeptner (hep-ner) said...

Fantastic lesson--love to see photoshop used like this. Thank you!

finnsheep said...

Thank you so much for this! Truly eye-opening. Thanks also for the folks who submit their art for critique.

As I See It - Art said...

Great stuff - as always - Thanks to you & the brave soul that sent this painting in. I love photoshop as a tool to play with compositions or see how to fix where I have gone astray before making changes. There is no substitute for persistence - I have learned great lessons from the most atrocious mistakes!

willek said...

Your critiques are the best.

Philip Koch said...

Your transformation of the original was pretty darned impressive!

billspaintingmn said...

No fooling Stape! You explain and work smart!

Durinda Cheek, Fine Artist said...

I love, love, love when you do a crit, Stape! First I look at the original and try to figure out what I would leave and what I would change. Then I read and see your comments- what did you suggest that I missed? What fun!

JonInFrance said...

Great post!

helenlear said...

Your blog is easily the best source I know on integrating knowledge into the composition and painting process, and I include live lessons, video lessons and books in my assessment. Your posts are detailed and analytical, and deal with specifics, which I find very uncommon in the field of art instruction.

Thank you for taking the time and trouble to analyse issues and post in such detail. I am learning heaps from you.

Valérie Pirlot said...

Amazing post! Thank you for taking the time to explain it all. Fantastic lesson.

Todd Bonita said...

Agreed with comments above...You are a gift to the 21st century art world and to future generations, assuming this blog remains in cyber space. I visualize art instructors of the future referencing this blog as an important resource and example of an artist influencing this generation of artist by using the media in this way. Not to be too overly profound but I see this and some other blogs (Gurneys Journey for example) as major players in this unique and pioneering approach to teaching with an open dialogue and communicating art globally. OK Stape, thats my annual ego stroke to you. Thanks for all you do fella.
Todd

Sue said...

Thanks so much for such an informative post.

Deb said...

Great stuff... if we can't learn from this, then we just can't learn!
Of all the quotes I have taken from you, this one, "everything is either in the light or in the shadow" is probably the one I refer to most frequently. I even used it in my blog today, before I read this post.
I wish I could add a gadget to my blog that rotates the Stape quote of the day. hmmmmmm.....

Doug Runyan said...

Excellent explanation of the changes made and why they improve the painting. Hey, I was recently in Brunswick, Maine and saw your "Fort Point Birches" at Bayview Gallery. Really nice painting!

s thompson said...

this is a wonderful lesson in so many ways. I will go over it again and again. Thank you!

Barbara J Carter said...

Hi Stape, this is a terrific critique. Your improvements are just spot-on. Great stuff!

I am proud to announce that I have just finished reading your ENTIRE blog from the very first post to now. It involved "lapping" myself from when I started reading somewhere in the middle, but it was well worth the effort. What a treasure! Thank you for this.

P.S. to anyone else thinking about reading the whole blog: do it! And read all the comments too. You'll get all the inside jokes.

grovecanada said...

I am confused...I just returned from a big gallery art fair where once again I saw a plethora of that repetition thing where something is huge but you look close up & there are tiny repeats of something in minute detail-variations of this in various media...
Ok, one was tiny pieces of wood, carefully nailed to a board in rows overlapping, to make a large piece that was maybe like roof shingles, or overlapping bird feathers...Or you know paintings with repeats of tiny rice sized pieces, or strokes of the brush, over & over again, & you are supposed to be amazed at the technique/detail...
You know what I mean? Possibly referencing back to pointillism, but the general idea is for the viewer to be wowed by the amount of time something took...But the element of repetition is seen as a visual Escher type thing...The combining of repetition to create an optical effect?
What do you think?

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Nice job - can we look forward to more of these critiques?

artybecca said...

This is a very helpful -- seeing the before and after really helps me understand so much better than a text-only critique.

padmaja said...

Visiting your blog is like attending a workshop for me, thanks for all the insight you have been providing!

Deborah E Blau said...

Great lesson here..I will be rereading this many times I'm sure.