Posts Tagged ‘critique’

Happy New Year!

Friday, January 1st, 2016

As a New Year gift to my followers, I have decided to begin a newsletter, called “Around and About,” about art (not only my own) and the journeys and experiences that lead the way.  Through it, I intend to keep you posted on my recent work, give you a peek into what goes on behind the scenes, and share some of my art insights and travel experiences with you. I may even include some critiques to share my thoughts regarding artistic design.  You can expect to see a new issue every 2-4 weeks. If you’re interested, be sure to subscribe to receive “Around and About.”  You can cancel at any time.

Here is a critique I wrote recently regarding a portrait of the Russian painter Konstantin Korovin, by Valentin Serov:


“Korovin” is an example of impressionistic portraiture, relying more heavily on suggestion than on precise detail. The artistic concept appears to be to portray the subject’s relaxed and contemplative repose.

Serov suggests repose by the downward angle of the subject’s body, the horizontal stripes of the bolster pillow, and the extended horizontal lines of the subject’s book (at his right shoulder) and his left shoulder and of the paintings on the wall. That the face is intended as the primary focal point is indicated by its being the most carefully detailed element of the composition and by being isolated at a “sweet spot,” approximately 1/3 of the distance from the top and left edges, almost entirely encircled by the light wall and shirt collar.

Though the shapes of the hands are only suggested, they too are in sweet spots, roughly 1/3 from the side and bottom edges. The fact that the right hand lies against the colorful stripes in an otherwise almost colorless room suggests that the artist’s painting hand lends color to his life. The significance of this hand is reinforced by the directing lines of the shirt collar, the white sleeve, the line of the pant leg, and the converging stripes behind the hand. The left sleeve and hand act as a balance to it, lying relaxed against the dark clothing and softening through lost and found edges into the gray wall behind.

Serov has maintained a sense of unity throughout the painting by using a limited palette, linking dark areas, and repeating reddish color spots in key areas—the face, wrist, wooden footboard, and covering of the daybed, and the bolster–which balance the otherwise dominantly cool composition. He has also used spotting (particularly with whites) to keep the light/dark patterns of the notan design interesting. Upon closer inspection, we can see that Serov has provided additional visual interest in the directional strokes on the wall and bolster cushion, and in textural brushwork throughout.


If there’s anything you’d particularly like to know about regarding materials, techniques, design principles, or my own working methods, drop me a line and let me know. I’d love to hear from you and will try to respond.  Or if you would like me to include a (gentle) critique of your own work, with comments about what succeeds and (if needed) how it might be strengthened, feel free to email me a clear picture of it, along with your name, the title, medium, and dimensions, and I’ll consider featuring it in the newsletter.

Drawing on Our Shortcomings

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Just as it’s unfair to discount the good elements in our work when judging it, it’s also a disservice to ourselves to fail to acknowledge its weaknesses. It’s actually beneficial to take conscious note of shortcomings and to set goals for overcoming or improving on them in future work. That’s the value of the School of Oops.

I try to identify in specific words what it is about a work that dissatisfies me. What problems do I see? If I were to undertake the same project again, what would I change? How would I approach it differently to improve the results? Is there anything that can be addressed immediately to strengthen and improve the work I’m evaluating now?
141017p Sarah Greer Slater141211cc Sadie Slater

In the original drawing I did of my great-grandmother, Sarah Slater, there were many aspects of the drawing that I liked. But I also recognized and was able to specifically identify a number of weaknesses. I recognized that my drawing skills were not adequately developed. Among other things, the value range was too limited. And her expression appeared too “worried.”

A second attempt, only two months later, for which I used the same reference photo and charcoal instead of pencil, showed a lot of improvement. By using the softer, darker medium of charcoal, I was able to show more marked gradation where planes met. And the two months between drawings had allotted me enough practice time to increase both my skill and confidence in expressing my subject’s mood.

The key to the improvements was in having recognized and identified the problems in the original drawing. This meant that I was able to focus on those areas in my intervening practice work to find solutions and to hone my skills.

So I’m encouraged to continue this study of portraiture. I expect to be getting back into more color work soon. Stay tuned.

Sleeping on it

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Most of the time when I “complete” a painting, I feel pretty excited about my accomplishment.  But I can’t really consider it finished at all until I’ve “slept on it” for awhile.  “Getting Acquainted” (#090502) is a case in point.  Here is the finished product (so far).

Getting Acquainted (revised)

But before giving myself time to carefully evaluate it, I was content with poor value contrast, as you can see below, merely because the likenesses to my daughter and new grandson were good.

Getting Acquainted (before revision)

Some of the spontaneity of brush strokes was lost in the touchup, but I’m convinced that the overall painting was improved by the revisions.  In any case, I learned something in the process.

During the time the bulk of the painting is being undertaken, I usually focus too closely on details to regard the overall composition with a very critical eye.  I almost invariably find that my work can be improved if I take time to distance myself from it and then look at it again with fresh eyes.

That’s why I try to give a painting several days’ rest before evaluating it for touch-up.  Perhaps I can add a greater sense of depth, or the perspective needs to be adjusted.  Sometimes a touch of color will enrich a “flat” area, an area of contrast needs to be exaggerated, or a highlight needs to be brought out.  In this case, the background needed to be lightened behind the profiles, the whiteness of my daughter’s teeth needed to be toned down, and deep shadows needed to be strengthened.

When I’ve given the painting a rest, and my mind something else to think about, a piece I had once been satisfied with might suddenly appear to me like a product of “the morning after the night before.”  Or I realize that a piece I had considered unsalvageable isn’t so bad after all.  In either case I take brush in hand again and do some corrective work.  In this case, I experienced both ends of the spectrum.  The painting sat, flat and unsatisfying to me, for over a year.  When I picked it up again and held a mat against it, I liked it for the first time.  But I became too eager.  It took just a single night more to reveal to me why it had been unsatisfying before and how I could improve it.

I hate to admit it, but some paintings require several touch-up and sleep-on-it sessions. (Amazingly enough, they rarely get wrinkled from all my nocturnal mental gyrations.)  In the long run, with a little tenderness and judicious tweaking (and maybe even a shot of eye-glass cleaner), we both usually come out looking better than before.