Painters who give workshops will know what I’m talking about. You can walk into a room with a bunch of folks busily painting, pick up almost any work-in-progress and, after a minute or two, put your finger on things that will improve it. Sometimes this snap opinion happens so fast that the student is a bit upset. “Why didn’t I see that?” they ask.
Fact is, any other set of eyes — providing there is no corrupting axe to grind or personal itinerary in need of stroking — can do the job. Different instructors opt for different approaches. Some, when asked, condense to two or three verbal tips. Others chalk in or point out potential modifications. Still others appropriate the student brush and demo on the job.
In light of this, I’d like to do a little experiment. Last night I started a small sketch of a remembered woodland creek. For those who might care to join in, I’m interested in getting your quick opinions and suggestions. Even if it takes Michelle or Samantha all weekend to tabulate the results, we’re going to find out our degree of agreement and disagreement. I want you to know that I wasn’t thinking of this experiment when I started painting the thing, nor was I trying to lay compositional or other traps for people to find. I was simply trying to paint my best and bring the thing along. It’s not a work of genius. Like all my efforts, it’s an exercise.
This being said, we have also to look at the usefulness of getting the opinions of others in the first place. What does it serve? How harmful is it? In the long run, does the exercise encourage the creator and the critic to eventually reside in one person?
We also need to see the problems when trying to verbalize non-verbal activities. Further, we must be concerned about the problems associated with any sort of questionnaire. Are we really able to say what we actually think? Come on, we don’t know each other that well. Be frank.
I’ve always suggested to artists that they teach themselves to be their own best critics. This is what I feel to be the mark of a true pro. Like you, I’ve sat on a few committees. Do committees ever work?
Esoterica: The more I struggle, the more I believe that it’s simply a matter of making small gains. As in any pursuit, there are days when there are none and days where there are some. Keeping things simple and digging up two or three improvements at a time seems to me to be a significant key to progress. Further, I believe brief input is best — whether widely broadcast, confided to an individual, or generously given to the eager and receptive self. “Whatever advice you give, be brief.” (Horace)
Yoho Park Memory sketch final
Lost all passion
by Mike Vandy
Critiquing your sketch is like critiquing a Snickers candy bar, I mean, what can you say? All the Snickers candy bars are pretty much the same. Of course, paintings are not produced by a machine, so literal sameness is not the issue. Rather, it is the staleness of it all: mental sameness and technique sameness. You are obviously an artist of some developed technique which allows you to produce a reasonable output that you can effectively sell in the “landscape paintings” market.
So what is the problem? This sketch obviously meets that criteria and this sketch emanates from that very bland desire. So you are succeeding. And so I wonder what is it that you are asking? Are you looking for ideas on how to improve the clichéd subject matter, the mannered paint handling, and the lack of inspiration that comes from painting from out of your head? If that is what you are asking, then you are asking how to make the painting worse. The problem with this painting is that it is already well on its way to being all it can be, and all it can be is bad. It is a slightly more tasteful Kinkaid. If you find this critique rude and uncalled for, and if you are tempted to call me out as an angry person, just don’t, but realize that those very reactions are the soft and effeminate reactions of a man who has lost all passion.
There are 12 comments for Lost all passion by Mike Vandy
by David Schwindt, Tucson, AZ, USA
You need to use one of your famous glazes around the outside of your painting to subordinate the peripheral subject matter to your center of interest. I actually like the color scheme you used, so I don’t suggest changing the colors, but to make the point I used the gradient map filter on Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 to exaggerate your center of interest in the attachment. I find the last bit of light you added to the water in the foreground especially distracting.
You are definitely correct in your assessment of workshop teachers. Even my students are quick with their snap opinions and quickly help me resolve problems during my demonstrations.
There is 1 comment for Snap opinions by David Schwindt
Gaining new perspective
by Kathy Yaude
I belong to a plein-aire painter’s group called “Artists of the Canyon” and when we get together we do critiques. There are many members of the group who are very seasoned plein aire painters and I will listen to their advice as I’m used to working off photographs in my studio. I am learning each time I go out and paint with the group on site.
I just reworked a painting based on advice from two of the artists at the last critique. I was skeptical at first, but I thought what was suggested made sense. I could see the need for further development, and I am there to learn so I spent nearly 3 hours on the correction and finally got it. I am really happy with the final outcome now. Before it was nice, but there was something wrong and that something went away after I fixed it. I really believe that one can never know enough about the field of art. It is a continual learning experience. If an artist thought he/she knew everything there is to know about art then they would no longer be open to learning and further study of the subject.
I will say from my perspective that the dark pine trees in the back could be lightened up just a touch to give them some distance. As they are now, they stand out too much and take away from the foreground subject matter. I like everything else about the painting. Nice colors, good movement, composition and light.
There are 2 comments for Gaining new perspective by Kathy Yaude
by Jack Oates
Leonardo also encouraged the artist when painting not to refuse to hear anyone’s opinion, for “we know very well that though a man many not be a painter, he may have a true conception of the form of another man.” Leonardo advises painters to “be desirous of hearing patiently the opinion of others, and consider and reflect carefully whether or not he who censures you has a reason for his censure.” This led to his use of looking at his work in a mirror, reversing the image. We are often unable to see defects in our own work as well as others who bring a more detached and objective view — hence the need to find a way to view our own work in a more novel and removed fashion. We can often see problems in the works of others that we cannot see in our own work. (cf. Leonardo’s Rules of Painting by James Beck)
That having been said by way of caveat, let me as a non-professional painter say that I like the way you have added the light of the sky through the background trees in the third frame, increasing depth. You could, of course, add more texture and detail to the middle ground and foreground, but I like the emphasis on shapes — detail and texture might take away from that. I do enjoy your style, instincts, and subject matter so much that I am probably not the best of objective critics. I’ll be eager to see what improvements others suggest that you find helpful.
by Jeremy Holton, Australia
This is a composition consisting mainly of zig-zags apart from the vertical trees in the distance. I think the main problem is in the bottom left hand corner where there is a large relatively empty green/orange area which lacks harmony with the other shapes and blocks the eye from penetrating into the background. I think you could break that area up with more diagonal lines creating shapes that match the rest of the work. You already have lines and shapes in the area but they are not strong enough to be effective.
I would be tempted to bring a diagonal shaft of sunlight from the top right to the centre left of the background. Perhaps illuminating those yellow trees and the yellow slope; this would continue the diagonals of the rest of the painting into the background and allow you to create dark and light patches in the background. To be really daring you could even reverse the tonality of some of the dark fir trees making them light against a dark background. You would need to be careful to design it so that the light tones of the middle ground contrasted with the dark areas of the background and vice versa.
Benefit from varied critiques
by Liz Reday, South Pasadena, CA, USA
Recently, I did a class to help artists succeed in business, and at the end, we went through a process of showing our portfolios to five or six art curators to learn to deal with their comments. These curators were at museum and non-profit gallery level and they were all about contemporary art.
Needless to say, the comments that I heard from the museum curators (and their ilk) were very different from comments I have received from workshop instructors, plein air painters and whatever award winning painter that I could pigeonhole at landscape/ gallery/plein air events. The curators felt that I should improve my “artspeak,” explain the conceptual basis of my work and look for gallery opportunities in England or Japan. Reading between the lines, they weren’t too encouraging about galleries closer to home, whether that was because of the looming recession, or my work was too old fashioned (semi-realistic oil on canvas), or what?
The workshop instructor/plein air award winners were encouraging and looked at my work with the critical eye of a nuts & bolts landscape painter, remarking on composition, color, etc. My question for you is — who is right? I’m sure everything we hear from any of these folks is helpful, and I’m grateful that they took the time to speak to me. The best thing for an enquiring artist is to get as many opinions as possible from as diverse a selection of folks as you can, if you can. These days most art dealers, museum curators, artists and collectors are too busy trying to stay afloat to review artist’s portfolios, so I think you are right, Robert, to solicit your readers’ opinions on your work. We’ve never been at a loss for words.
(RG note) Thanks, Liz. Yes, who is right? Below is a selection of opinion on the work in question. This material has been put together by our Premium Links administrator Michelle Moore. As well as for the sound advice, these (edited) items have been chosen for their variety and contrast with one another. As I mentioned in my letter, there was some consensus on what I should do with my work. Foregoing the various unpleasant things that were suggested, I spent another ten or so minutes on the painting. Then I did what dozens of you actually recommended in the first place I signed it and got on with the next. While some of you thought the exercise was pointless, others took part with seriousness and candor. A lot of people prefaced their remarks with “This is fun!” Thank you so much for joining in.
There is 1 comment for Benefit from varied critiques by Liz Reday
The two groupings of trees are too balanced. I think there needs to be another tree(s) to offset the two that you have there. (Deb Chelan)
The lower two thirds of the canvas are a bit weighty. The focus of the piece seems to be the yellow tree in the upper third, but its importance is reduced by the expanse of the foreground. The tree and the entire piece wants a bit more balance. (Jeannie Burt)
Very subtle and interesting color combinations and great leading lines; the focus at the head of the waterfall could be strengthened by creating darker values in the background trees especially on the left side. (June Perry)
The tree. The yellow tree. My opinion is that it could either use a mix down of yellow (in watercolor, it would be glaze) to cause it to greet the eye with less of a grab. If not a “glaze,” then perhaps some bits on it to indicate shadow. (Melissa Waltz)
I think the painting would have more impact if the upper stream coming down the valley were closer to white. (Mary Sanchez)
I’d be inclined to mute the pinks in the background and make them more neutral/grey (that may be the realist in me). (Lynn A’Court)
I love how you do trees ? they have such vim and vigor! (Rosemary Conroy)
I would try an additional diagonal shaft of light behind the trees and water fall on the right, and ending about 2/3’s across the canvas to the left. (Thomas J. Owen)
A little more pink on the grey rock in the right hand corner would echo the pink colour in the background. (Marilyn MacDonald)
The “v” or “y” shaped lines on the right are drawing my eyes away from the stream which I presume is your center of interest. (Sandy Glass)
Leave it alone. (NB Morro Bay Public Art foundation)
It borders on illustration. Not that all illustrations are bad, it just shows that type of commercial rendering. (Loreta Feeback)
Right now your piece works… and for all the right reasons. (Tam Bodkin Bryk)
Looks a little flat unless I squint. (Lance Anderson)
The movement of the lines is very strong pulling me down to the lower left. I’m uncomfortable. (Janice)
I like the composition but I do think it needs some pumping up for interest. I think I’d add some red to compliment the predominantly green color. Maybe add just a touch or two in the foliage to lead the eye around the painting. (Jeanne Hamilton)
Additional modeling of the forms to make the light source clear would be my suggestion for a next step. (Rick Rogers)
I would break up the top falls with a hanging rock to avoid the unaltered straight line. (John A. Scott)
This painting seems choppy to me and I feel “blocked” by the fore and middle ground shapes from traveling further back into the painting. (Annie Merrill)
It has almost a Land of Oz appeal as it makes me think the stream isn’t leaving that area; making me believe that it is a destination. (RJS)
There is far too much going on for my liking. Simplify. (Sara Aarohi)
The only light in the picture is reflected off of the water. Where is the light source? Why is nothing else affected by this light? I see some light in the far meadow, but the water is as quicksilver, a light entity onto itself. (Fritzi) (This opinion expressed frequently)
There are about 10 very nice things happening in the painting. (Nancy Achberger)
I liked it but then felt it had some areas that detracted from the centre of interest which I decided to be the tree and small waterfall. I thought some of the blue rocks nearby said tree needed toning down and likewise the foreground. I thought too the background could be knocked down just a tad. I signed it, framed it?and sold it to this guy from Shanghai. (Jim Cowan)
Let’s go deeper into the woods behind the “golden trees.” The brook seems to end and the woods begin there – let’s add to the mystery and keep going using shade gradation. (Magi Leland)
A famous artist asking for an opinion! I feel like a five year old telling the college professor that he is wrong about the evolution of the species. That being said, I would probably paint some form of transition from light to dark on the trees. (Cora Kiceniuk)
Add a light glaze of green to cool down and create shadow depth on left side of stream bank. (Darlene Furbush Ouellett)
I think you’ve achieved what you set out to do: establish a pattern ? a pleasing pattern of harmonious shapes, tones and colours. These gradate, balance, and echo beautifully throughout the picture. (Jim Cussen)
Add the back of a weary hiker sitting on the rock in the right corner, looking into the scene. It would add a sense of wonder. (Sandy Musolf)
Lovely and fresh. (Ann Bennett)
I would like to see the planes divided by differences in value or color rather than with “lines.” (Pat Kagan)
I think if you could do something to pull the eye past the stark white of the surface of the water. Perhaps adding some darker color where the ground shows through the trees in the background. Right now the eye flows along the stream bed and then gets stuck. (Ken Burke)
The beginning sketch to the left has more overall strength than the last sketch. (Carole Munshi)
The painting has a lovely soulfulness. I just need a place for my eye to land in it. (Diane Lee Olsen)
It is a pointless and ridiculous exercise. (Harmony Gold)
I wish the rocks did not have a paint texture. It is a little distracting to what I think these rocks might feel like – smooth. (Mark Day)
Finally, to my eye, the painting would be more interesting if it showed a bit of texture. (Mai-Liis Chaska Peacock)
Compositionwise, I find the dark trees on both side of the painting somewhat too balanced and somewhat dominating. Maybe some smaller trees of the same strength towards the centre would help. (Edward Abela)
I see nothing wrong. (Michael Dominguez)
The only suggestion I could make is that I don’t like the colors. (Mary Jane Brewster)
I find that the area that draws my attention is in the upper left – the background above the hill – but there is nothing there. (Candace Fenander) (This opinion expressed frequently)
I think that the dash of blue in the lower left corner feels like it is pointing me out of the picture. I think this happens because of the intensity of the color and the sense of a funnel created by the shapes to the right of it. I am not exactly sure where you want me to look… (A. Kirsten Barton)
How about just adding my name on the bottom… and shipping it here! (Terry Lindsay)
It’s interesting to see how you start your painting out. Pink was a bold, but interesting choice (Kathy Johnson)
Some lighter lights, and maybe a darker dark. There is too much mid tone. (Terry Gay Puckett)
Your painting needs nothing unless you think it does. (George Stalling)
The back woods in pink bother me. It needs further development. Would darker values help to add more interest and balance? (Lynda Kelly)
The photos are not transposing well enough in this email. I don’t think anyone can critique you on the current work due to that problem. The painting does look balanced but hue, value and intensity are nonexistent in the current view. It looks like a negative of a photograph. (Linda J. Cleaver)
What strikes me as jarring is the bright yellow-orange area with the blue violet rocks. (Revelle Hamilton)
With all the input you have agreed to accept on the painting, I’m reminded of the saying “A camel is a horse designed by committee.” (Carol Putman)
At first sight the trees looked so predictable – two on one side, one on the other. (Norene Carr)
I’m very drawn to the first sketch. It was minimal and Japanese, yet needing little more. As the work progressed, it became muddy to my eye. (Ronny Lavin, Thailand) (This opinion was expressed frequently, as was the next comment.)
Oddly I like very beginnings of your sketch. Stark, elegant, and simply stated. (Christen Humphries)
The forest in the background is too gray. Me thinks this area could use a bit more delineation of the trees. (Pauline Sager)
I feel my ‘eye’ sliding out to the bottom left corner. Perhaps placing a rock similar in colour and value to the midground rocks in the bottom left hand corner just ‘behind’ the stream will swing the attention up into the picture body. (Dave Reid)
You are so good at simplifying shapes and leading the eye into your subject. (Pam Flanders)
I think it needs a reason. A focus that tells me what you are paying attention to. (Dawn Marineau)
I find that the focal point is the yellow tree area and it is too centered. (Anonymous)
The dark shape below the brightest yellow tree looks sort of contrived, the sharp verticals and horizontals don’t read to me as a rock formation in keeping with the rest of the piece. Instead, it looks like a Christmas tree skirt below the yellow tree. (Holly Stone)
It needs maybe only your name. (David E. Hall)
You are quite a good artist. Take it up. (John L Plummer)
One of your transparent blue/grey washes over the whole painting – leaving the sunlit trees and bank – might pull everything together and no one would suggest changing a thing! (Pauline Pike)
In my estimation you are a very competent painter. The question becomes do you want to be a very competent painter? If your answer to yourself is yes, then great. If your answer is no then it is a lonely journey you must travel. (Keith)
The background is too warm and the value is wrong. It should be between the yellow tree and its adjacent dark tree, in a cooler color. (Noreen and Doug Greetham)
The composition is pleasing and appears to be nicely balanced. The grey lines entwining through the painting have me wondering what they are, yet this is a work in progress so I’ll have to wait to see the final result. (Gina Weston)
I don’t think you should have started this one. (Stephen Cross)
I suppose my only comment would be on content. The area does not look very lush and perhaps it isn’t. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not sure I would care to go there. (Shari Jones)
I think the composition is superb. I particularly like the way the profile of the treed hills in the background rolls sharply down to meet the stream which flows toward us and draws the eye forward into the dark foreground, then sends us in again to retrace our steps. (Leslie Edwards Humez)
The black marks strengthen the image. (George Kubac)
The darks are not connected nor are they near the (too) small area of light that is the water. Maybe create a larger dark shape beneath the trees on the right that will give more contrast with the water and increase the size of the stream. (Paul Brand)
I find my eyes bouncing from the dark trees on the right to the dark trees on the left and back again. That’s a bit uncomfortable. As it’s a really peaceful scene, I would like to let my eyes drift through to the bright spots in the distance and rest there, not get trapped halfway through. (Toni Gaffron)
You might break up the large “ochre” area in the left foreground. (Catherine Robertson)
Seeing the actual painting is a lot different from seeing a small reproduction on a computer. (Joseph H Melançon)
Tree line on the ridge needs to be more connected to the background and not look so isolated. It feels too stiff and calls too much attention. (Ferol Holladay)
I’d add a deer (impressionistically painted) at the far end of the grassy field on the left side of the canvas for a focal point. (Joel Kurtz)
Looking at a tiny version of the painting, which is a bit like a quilter looking through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars to get a different view, I think something is not quite right with the stream running just off centre. (Vivian Ryan)
I’d like to see a bit more descriptive brushwork in the near middle ground – feels a little over-simplified for my taste in that area. (David C. Gallup)
I asked myself, what if the light coming through the canopy of trees behind was emphasized and the small yellow tree eliminated – how would that appear? Less information, yes, a softer effect, yes, and the water cascade would have its own happy voice. (Philip Mix)
The large triangular green and yellow ochre hump in the left foreground catches my eye too much and the large distant rocks on the left appear scattered in an unnatural way. (Wendy Albrecht)
I can’t see a thing wrong with what you’ve done so far. (Patricia Brett)
It strikes me as a ‘nice’ painting to use for a homeowner or decorator, looking for a piece of art with the right colours for a decorating scheme. The wow factor is still in your head somewhere. (Gail Clarke)
If I was painting, the far field on the left side would be sporadically filled with small crimson flowers (only a few) to add a minor fiction. I would want to step into the painting and walk to those flowers. (Zelda)
I’m sure that Robert will do his magic, glaze it, add some pow and it will look fab. (Sue Gunter)
I am not experiencing the same invitation into the piece as I do with your other works (like the one of yours I own). (Jane Appleby)
This particular painting looks lonely to me, and kind of cold. I think it’s the less-than-thriving trees, and the rocks in the foreground. The yellow in the background brings hope into the work, that better times are coming, but those trees… I just wish they felt more alive and substantial. (Cathy Harville)
I often find that people with no art training or experience can see a problem with a painting even though they can express it in only general terms. (Jeremy Holton)
This is a very inviting vision. The kind of place we’d all like to find. It looks like the most important part is the elevated lake which is only implied. Everything else defines the flat plain of the unseen water. (Jim Stewart)
The only thing missing is me sitting beside that mountain brook. (Marilyn Kousoulas)
Please take another look at the original subject and try to achieve something perhaps closer to the original? (Cassandra James)
The only thing that bothers me is the dark tree on the left. It looks too obvious; like it’s only there to balance the painting. (Angela Lynch) (This opinion was expressed frequently)
The big stone on the left needs some details to create interest. My eye goes there… and the huge stone is boring. (John Stegner)
The painting still looks a bit flat – to fix that I would lightly glaze the foreground with Permanent Violet Dark with a touch of Green Gold. Then I would glaze the middle ground with Transparent Pyrrole Orange. (Angie Au Hemphill)
Very nice color, good line moving diagonally from lower left, interesting shapes, nice overall movement of values (from middle value in front to middle value in the background). (Harvey Schroeder)
One of the first things I would do is make the evergreens occupy a different plane. Move the trees on the left closer to the viewer. (Raymond Mosier)
A Pink Background! What were you thinking? Pink and earth tones don’t mix! (Tony Kampwerth)
I can’t see how anyone’s feedback would be useful. It’s not their memory. So, unless someone is standing there with a large cheque in their hand and they think you should add a few splashes of magenta for contrast, because they have magenta cushions on the sofa near where this will hang, I’d say forget the feedback. (Sherril Guthrie)
The composition is dynamic and if the tree shapes were less strong would make an interesting abstract painting. (Sandra)
The background is ethereal, but I would make it either even foggier with more mist or just a few light details to crisp it up. Come on Robert, you know your paintings are good… Geesh! (John Ferrie)
To create more shift from shadowed foreground to sunlit back ground, the color in the foreground could have had a tad more violet, so that the yellow of the sun light was more contrasty, without being actually a value change, make it a Complementary color shift! (Elizabeth J Billups)
The picture has a sort of freshness and drama, and in a way, reminds me of the impressionist philosophy to painting. (Polonca Kocjancic, Slovenia)
I would prefer to see a color other than pink in the woods, and the front rock looks like a couple of animals on the rock. If they are not animals then the blotch does not help. If they are animals they need to look like animals. No offense. (Dean)
Who is qualified to suggest improvements to such an accomplished artist? I wouldn’t dare, for one. (Jennifer Tunner)
I think you need a lot more work. (Mina Pratt)
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