Today's Post is by Lori Woodward, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. She also writes "The Artist's Life" blog on American Artists' Forum. Lori is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group that paints under the direction of Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik. Find out how you can be a guest author.
If you've been painting or making fine craft for a time, you're probably aware that it's quite easy to critique another artist's work, while it's difficult to get a objective idea of our own. Some of us are way too hard on ourselves and keep overworking a painting when it was just fine hours or days before. Other artistic personalities overrate their work - ignoring the fact that it is quite amateur, and thinking that if it's marketed well, there is much money to be made. The rest of us fall somewhere in between the two extremes.
Look At Your Work Objectively
We're all different in our approaches to creating. Some plan, do thumbnails and sketches -- others just go for it, painting from start to finish in a plein air or alla prima fashion. There's no sense in comparing yourself to others. What works for you IS what works for you. Accept your approach and grow with it. But when it comes down to a final self-critique, before that painting goes online or to the gallery, it's important that we use a set of principles to judge our work by. Take your feelings out of the process, because feelings aren't always accurate and can change from day to day.
Here are some of the techniques and principles I use to critique my own work:
- Stand back from your work every so often. It helps to work standing up sometimes; otherwise I tend to get lazy and resist taking a look from a distance.
- Turn the painting upside down and sideways, look at it in a mirror, or photograph it and flip it backwards in your computer's photo-editor. You'll be amazed at how different the composition looks, and furthermore, problems that other viewers would see (because they're seeing it for the first time) will become quickly apparent. Look for balance; if it's a landscape a crooked horizon line will easily show up. Lop-sided teacup or plate elipses reveal themselves when a painting is upside down or on its side. Unequal eye sockets or "off" perspective with facial features become obvious.
- Value masses: Great painters of the past knew that a strong composition with 4 or 5 main values were eye catching. When value shapes are broken up with too many light and dark spots, the composition will appear like a polka dotted dress from a distance.
- Your center of interest (not all paintings need one), should have a great deal of contrast, more saturated color, and a harder edge. In fact, with representational painting, one edge should be harder (meaning easy to see when your eyes are half-closed) than the rest of the painting's edges. Some edges should be soft or completely lost. If you're a photographic realist and don't like to physically soften your edges with the brush, you can lose edges by putting similar values next to each other.
- Plan for accent lights and darks. Ideally, your composition will have one accent dark, also called the darkest dark. If you make all your darks the same value, your viewers eye will have no stopping place. The same goes for the lightest light. By the way, value is more important than color because our eyes and brains are designed to see value more easily than color - that's why we can enjoy a black and white drawing.
- Color: this is such a complicated topic. I can hardly scratch the surface here in a blog. But for starters, make sure your painting is primarily warm or cool in temperature. Usually, it is the color of the light source that determines the coolness or the warmness of the light on objects. The shadows are the opposite of the temperature of the light. Warm light, cool shadows; cool light, warm shadows. But... The accent darks are always warm. Try this out: make a very dark shadow on the blue side and then experiment with a warm brown in that shadow - such as Burnt Sienna. The warm brown will deepen and darken the shadow more than any cool color ever could.
If you're a representational painter - meaning that one can recognize the objects in your painting, all of the above terms should make some sense to you. If they do not, it may be time for further education. There are many good books and videos out there - that weren't available 20 years ago. Knowledge will get you further than painting without it. One caveat though, you'll always know more, head-wise, than you'll be able to produce with brush and paint. Great painting takes practice as well.