Charcoal Critique: "Kevin"

by Dean M. Carpenter, charcoal, 22 x 30.

The artist should be congratulated for the design and execution of this drawing. The head has a good sense of form created by the artist’s skillful use of the charcoal. The most interesting line to me is the profile against the background. There is very sensitive handling of this edge; the sharp line along the nose and the softer line on the beard describe the different textures. The line between the dark and light parts of the background, however, distracts from the line of the profile. This strong line of contrast in the background commands as much attention as does the profile. A simpler background would emphasize the profile and give a sense of “air” behind the head.

A second point raised by this drawing is the “hierarchy of highlights.” When all highlights are of the same intensity, their effectiveness is weakened. By choosing to make the highlights on the nose the most prominent and by slightly darkening the highlights on the fleshy parts of the face, the illusion of form is improved.

The artist's drawing altered by our critic to illustrate her suggestions.


About the Critic
Dawn Whitelaw has studied painting with Scott Christensen, Cedric Egeli, Jim Pollard, and Everett Raymond Kinstler. In 2002 she received the Award of Excellence and Best of Show in an international competition sponsored by the Portrait Society of America, and she has exhibited her portrait, landscape, and still life paintings in juried shows organized by the Cumberland Society of Painters, the American Academy of Women Artists, and the Phoenix Historical Museum.

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About BrianRiley

Brian Riley is the managing editor for the American Artist family of titles (American Artist, Watercolor, Drawing & Workshop) and has been part of the AA team since 2003. He first became interested in art as a child, specifically drawing, but drifted away from the visual arts as he grew older, gravitating towards writing while in college. His position at AA has offered him the opportunity to reinvigorate his early passion and continue his education.  

4 thoughts on “Charcoal Critique: "Kevin"

  1. I’m sorry, but I really can’t agree with this critique (though I value the effort to provide a critique). The alterations made are *not* an improvement here in my opinion. They change components of the image which contribute markedly to the design of this piece.

    The profile has not been enhanced but lost, due to the decrease in contrast along the edge of the profile (along with losing the different textural handling of background as compared with face), and the forms on the face have been flattened, while drawing attention to the nose such that it ends up looking like the “paramount” movie logo.

    In the original version of the face, lighting looks internally self-consistent within and across the image. Not so in the revised version.

    While the considerations the critic has mentioned certainly have some general validity, personally I’m not convinced that they are well-applied in this particular case.

    I’d be very interested to hear the opinions of others reading here, to see the what the spread of viewpoints among the readership might be.

  2. Yes, I agree with dcorc overall. However, perhaps if the light part of the background was extended somewhat, and the dark part decreased in size and taken down a couple of points in value, it would not draw the eye quite so much. The reviewer, as dcorc mentioned, went much too far in this direction.

  3. I too, concur with dcorc and LMF; my initial reaction was that the light background ‘edge’ could be a bit farther away from the edge of the face. This seems like a good example of ‘correct’ rules and guidelines of art technique needing to be subordinated to the whole, or ‘gestalt’
    of the work. The overall intense highlights add a greater drama of light and mood.

  4. I am new here…for me the feeling changed, the two have very different knee jerk reactions. The first is intense, the second is not and for me does not feel the same. Not sure what the artist wanted, but I like the unaltered portrait better.