Be your own critic

     If you are an artist you probably know when you’ve done a good painting.  It just “feels right.”  But sometimes you feel there’s a problem and you don’t know what is wrong or even whether the picture can be saved.

     You could ask an art instructor or another artist whom you respect.  But try to avoid asking ask your friends or family if they are not artists.  Either they won’t know enough about art to give you an educated opinion, or they’ll say something nice because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

     So how do you locate the problem?  You can try turning the painting upside down or looking at it in a mirror.  This will let you see it in a different way.  Sometimes the problem will be very obvious and you’ll be able to come up with a solution. 

     If that didn’t work, try using two halves of a mat to “crop” the image.  Move them around the painting, making larger and smaller openings to see if there is something that needs more focus or an area that isn’t necessary.

     You can also squint at your picture.  Squinting blurs the details so you see only the major shapes in the picture.  Ask yourself:  Is something out of balance?  Do the shapes hold together?  Are colors repeated throughout the painting?

     If these ideas don’t help you, it’s time for an in-depth analysis. 

     First decide if there’s a good idea behind your painting.  If you painted a common subject, like a barn, how is your painting of a barn unique?  If it’s not unique, how can you make it different?  You can try using more exciting colors, adding other media (pastels, colored pencils, cut paper?), turn it into a collage, crop it.  Imagine how a famous artist would handle the subject.  How would Rembrandt or Picasso paint it?

     Check to see if shapes connect, and if they flow and are connected to all four sides of the painting rectangle.  Try to bring isolated parts together.  Push and extend things to the top and/or sides of your picture.

     What is the main thing you want people to look at?  Does everything in the painting — shape, color, value — work to draw attention to this focal point, or do many different things compete for attention?  Remove or tone down unnecessary details that attract the viewer’s eye away from the “star” of your painting.

     Are the colors balanced?  If there is an isolated color drawing more attention than it should, tone it down.  Remember that colors should be repeated throughout the painting to unify the work.  If you visit the Ohio Watercolor Show at the art center this month, you may notice that “Who’s Next” by Dennis Zimmerman has five or six nearly-invisible spots of red here and there in a mostly green and brown painting.  These tiny red areas subtly add life and interest and help to focus the eye on the main subject, but few people will notice them. 

     Does your picture look like it’s heavy on one side or the other?  Check the balance of positive shapes (objects) and negative shapes (the air between the objects).  Crop the picture if you have to.

     Does the viewer have a way into the painting?  Draw the eye to your focal point using line, tone, or color.  An exit is nice too — you can add a bit of sky, a window or a door to let the viewer move out of the scene and back in.

     Do the objects or people in the picture look like they’ve been cut out and pasted onto the background?   Avoid harsh edges unless the whole picture is painted in a hard-edge style. Instead of thinking in terms of individual objects, think of shapes.  Look for light or dark colors in the background and connect them to the lights or darks of the objects to make interesting shapes.

     Is your background truly a background, or does it clamor for the viewer’s attention?  Is there too much detail in an area that shouldn’t be noticed?  Instead of showing each individual tree, try massing them into the suggestion of a forest.  Individual people in the background could be pulled together by putting a neutral color wash over them to blend them into a group.  Bright rooftops that really aren’t necessary can be darkened. 

     Remember, you’re the artist — you don’t have to paint things exactly as they look.  You can adjust, change, add or remove anything you want in order to make a better picture!

By Kay Sluterbeck

Published by on December 2011. Filed under Archives, Paint Box Section, Tips&Techniques PB dept. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

1 Comment for “Be your own critic”

  1. Artists are often if not usually the worst judges of their work. We are temporarily satisfied with a piece if it meets our expectations, but it is not unusual to go back, and go back, to remediate deficiences, especially as we become more experienced and see those deficiencies with a more educated eye. One of the French Surrealists- maybe Jean Cocteau– said “A painting is never finished, it is abandoned.” How true. The best way to evaluate a painting is to give it time. Come back in a week and look at it with fresh eyes. You will see weaknesses that you missed before, often in color and value, which are reasonably easy to repair, sometimes in composition and shapes and perspective, which are less easy to repair. But never give up looking with a critical eye.

Comments are closed