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.