Monday, July 19, 2010

Fountain critique

I was sent this image by a reader and it seemed like a good piece to critique. I might do a few more of these, so if you have something for me to eviscerate send it in. I will of course, only critique those pieces that have something wrong with them. If I don't choose to use your submission you can assume it is perfect.

I am going to shoot bullets at this piece, so let me jack a round into the chamber.

  • The painting lacks a clear subject. I expect the artist wanted to portray the fountain, but the trees on either side are equally as important. The path, the trees and the fountain are given equal importance in this tableau. It would be improved by the subordination of these competing elements to the fountain. Sometimes it is possible to allocate space on the canvas in proportion to the importance of the element in the picture. It is often useful to begin a painting by asking yourself,"what is the name of this picture?
  • The values are muddled. The underside of the bowl of the fountain for instance. Is that in the light or the shadow? My guess is that it was in the shadow but bathed in reflected light. The artist has overemphasized that reflected light and made it a s bright as something in the light. When you look at the shadow alone out of context with the lights, the reflected light seems very bright. But if you look at the larger scene the reflected light assumes its rightful place in the shadow world. Remember

Here is a post that explains the parts of the light.

  • Look at the shadow on the ground to the left of the fountain, its value is about the same as the trees in the foreground which I think are supposed to be in the light. This doesn't read. Every time you touch your brush to that canvas you need to know "is this passage in the light? or is it in the shadow?" The shadows are going to be from one end of the value scale ALL OF THEM, and the lights from the other end of the value scale, ALL OF THEM. No value exists in both the lights and the shadows. They are two different worlds and wholly separate. ( You have heard me say this before, haven't you?)
  • Most importantly this painting needs something the French call raison d'etre, that is reason to exist. rather than just showing us a fountain, the painting needs to say something more. It might describe something about the fountain or the light on the fountain or a romanticized description of the fountain. Thye picture needs to have a treatment, a way of seeing the fountain that is special.
It needs to say more than HERE IS THE FOUNTAIN. Below is a fountain painted by Sargent.

This is more a exposition of the light, the glowing shadows and crisp details against an amorphous background than it is a picture of a water spewing masonry doodad. It is an opinion, a poem painted about the fountain. It is often a good idea to think about painting the radiant light more than painting the subject. Painting the light has made lots of ordinary subjects noble.


Its not what you paint, but how you paint it that matters.

It might help to ask yourself, what can I say about this fountain,? How does this fountain make me feel? How can I make this fountain look cool? It is all in telling a story about the subject rather than showing up and recording it.


Karla said...

First of all I have to say I like the painting. I find the use of color very romantic. The other fountain to me is stagnant, but what do I know! I do see how your suggestions will improve the painting though. As always, I learn something everytime I read this blog. The challenge will be to remember all of it!

Philip Koch said...

Good post. I especially like juxtaposing your comments about light with the watercolor by Sargent.

billspaintingmn said...

You really know how to clear a path
in this thick jungle.
Stape! The way you explain stuff makes it understandable, are those silver bullets?
Painting the radiant light of a subject can make it noble..
That statement alone will feed me for a week!

Bob Carter said...

The Seargent really illustrates your points. As I was reading down your post, I was thinking of a similar late painting by Sorolla. (Can't find an on-line image, but maybe you know it.)

alotter said...

I too liked the painting, which makes your critique all the more---well, breathtaking! You are pushing us to demand not just a pretty painting but a great painting. And now that we know HOW to do that (paint the light), we need to find a way to see the light. I will be keeping this advice in my head the next time I head outside to paint. I have always found it hard to ignore the reality of the scene in order to apply my own design and own key to my painting--something I may accomplish, if ever, only after getting back in the studio. Now that I think about it, my best plein air paintings have been about that initial blast to my brain, as the light from the image draws me to the subject.

willek said...

A black mirror helps me sometimes be able to see the difference in the light compared to the unlit.

McKinneyArtist said...

Stape, Thank You so much for your daily posts. I have read them all and wish I could remember every word. But time takes its tole on the ole brain. Enjoy learning from you every day. How about a workshop in North Carolina??? Please????

janice skivington said...

Stape, many artists would zealously guard sharing of their knowledge and technique. You, however show an example of the virtue of intellectual generosity. It is fine service that you give to all your readers.
I am grateful for this critique and will continue to work on those values. I especially like the way you explain color and it's lesser role to value-and drawing , of course.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I still prefer the Sargent.Even I don't remember what I have written.Thanks for checking in!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. I bet it is hot in Baltimore!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Hey, thanks.The bullets are only pixels.Little leaden pixels

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think a lot of Sorolla's work fits that description.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That sounds good the term impressionist implies a sound means of getting a great painting. An impression is instant and personal, its not nature, but your impression of nature.

Stapleton Kearns said...

A black mirror is a great aid sometimes.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, have you really read them all? That could take weeks. Perhaps, I go through there sometimes, I show in Charleston S.C.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you so much. I really enjoy sharing the stuff I have picked up over the years. I am always surprised at artists who are secretive. I want to help the brotherhood (sisterhood?) of artists.I have met a lot of people who read the blog and many others e-mail me. almost every day. It is really rewarding.I really enjoy that you all find what I write useful.