I used to put my head down and plow through a piece, waiting for it to turn up some magic. Wanting it to be exactly like the picture in my head. The one I saw so clearly.
And it wouldn’t. So I forced it to succumb to my will. I beat on it, rendered it, pounded it into submission. Like a blacksmith creating a sword.
It was agony. This went on for years. Only a few times a year did I get glimpses of that magic. And in those rare pieces, I was able to discern how I got there. I noticed that I had been extremely focused, from concept to completion.
So now it’s your turn. And you step back to look. You try to step outside your skin to see what others see. You have to pretend you don’t know yourself. You have to fool yourself into believing that you are looking at some other person’s artwork. This is hard, man. This is difficult to achieve. It takes......wait for it......practice. Duh. Where have you heard that before?
But there’s hope. Below are questions to help you figure out if your painting is working. Viewers, whether they know it or not, are evaluating your work much the same way. They can’t articulate these questions, but they feel them just as strongly.
Ask yourself these questions about your piece. Analyze and evaluate. The viewer doesn’t know what you meant to do. Only what you showed them.
Erwin Madrid's delightful piece has an actual line in it that helps lead the eye. But there are many driving lines here.
Do the elements in your piece flow through the rectangle?
Does your eye easily move from the main objects to the minor objects?
Is there a sense of rhythm to the elements?
Thom Tennery...foreground, middle ground, background. Gorgeous.
Does your painting feel dimensional?
Does it have foreground, middle ground, background?
Does the scene feel staged, from orchestra pit to rear scenic drop?
Noelle Triaureau's excellent concept piece is side-to-side, top-to-bottom, front-to-back designed to flesh out the whole scene.
Does the space that you’ve shown feel designed from side to side, front to back?
Does every square inch feel purposeful and necessary?
Have you described the area with necessary information? Can it have more? Should it be less?
Ruan Jia's skill at keeping the values in a tight range give us fantastic depth into this world.
Is there a full range of values from dark to light?
If it’s meant to be mostly light, do you have a tight range of these values?
(same is true for mostly dark pieces)
Does it capture interest by providing contrast between the main passages and the minor passages overall?
I love the way PJ Lynch controls the light to an exquisite degree.
Is there interesting light throughout the piece?
Is the light consistent, believable?
If that’s not necessary, have you described the light in ways that create curiosity?
Is the lighting bland?
Have you controlled where the eye looks when the light is revealed to the viewer?
Dorje Bellbrook turns a commonplace landscape into a killer piece by breaking up similar shapes and going another step beyond.
Form & Shape
Do the shapes of all the elements vary across the piece?
Do the folds of clothing, mountain edges, tree shapes, rocks, animals, shift and change?
Are too many elements repeating in the same direction?
If they’re meant to, is there any contrasting element that can help enhance that direction?
Matti Martinnen's crop on the giant is perfect. We don't need to see the whole thing, we need to feel the scale.
Is the subject too safe within it’s borders?
Can something crop without losing impression?
Can something crop that would build interest, curiosity?
Have you pushed yourself to crop for impact?
Craig Mullins went over the top with the palette on this one and still controlled how we see it. Just beautiful.
Does the color vary across the spectrum if needed?
Is there contrast between overall dull colors and bits of bright passages?
Can something stand to go brighter? Lots duller?
Does most of the piece need to go more subtle to allow the main subject to command attention?
Neil Campbell Ross allows us to feel the depth of the piece with an intriguing pov. We feel small and lost. Dead on.
Point of View
Does the piece reveal a unique point of view?
If the piece is meant to be classic, has your pov given it anything that marks it as unique to you?
Can the piece use a twist, or change of view, or setting?
Change the time of day?
The formidable Craig Mullins again, telling us through value and color exactly where and when to look.
When you look at the piece, does your eye go directly to the main subject?
Does your eye get confused as to where to look first?
Have you controlled the focus through light? Color? Value? Contrast?
Without the brushwork and washes, this painting of mine would suffer from a lack of texture interest.
Is the piece too flat to provide interest?
Are the elements all too smooth? Too rough?
Do the layers have some texture interest?
Can the piece stand to have more texture? Less?
Have you controlled what needs to be textured vs what shouldn’t be?
By now you’ve probably noticed that most of these questions work better if you’ve asked them much, much earlier in the process, i.e., at the thumbnail stage, and the subsequent sketch stage.
Still think painting is magic? It’s only magic when you’ve molded it into magic. And that’s through trial, error, failure, and recommitment.
Don’t wait for it. Go after it.