No One Stays in a Crowded Room for Long

Island Life by Karen Nelson, 30 x 40, acrylic painting on canvas.
Island Life by Karen Nelson, 30 x 40, acrylic painting on canvas.

Acrylic Painting in the Sweet Spot

When I don’t get that “forced out” feeling when I look at an artist’s paintings, I sit up and take notice. I was reading about the acrylic art of Karen Nelson in the just-out Fall 2016 issue of Acrylic Artist, and something teased my brain after I looked at painting after painting of hers and I didn’t feel like I was in a crowded room that I was going to leave as soon as possible. Do you know what I mean?

Worth the Stop by Karen Nelson, 36x36, acrylic painting.
Worth the Stop by Karen Nelson, 36×36, acrylic painting.

Karen leaves room in her works for, well, me. Part of this phenomenon is that she doesn’t heavily compose. She takes note of all the elements of composition—the big shapes, eye-catching color, passages of texture—and doesn’t stuff too many of them in any one of her acrylic paintings. I scanned through dozens of her works and found just two to four major elements in almost every single work, and the ones that had four or more elements numbered just a few.

All of a sudden, there is room for me, you, us. The viewer finds visual open space as well as a few powerful visual snares. These keep you actively looking, but not feeling like you are being strong-armed by the artist who is driving your eye around so much that you feel dizzy.

A Quiet Lunch by Karen Nelson, 40×16, acrylic painting.
A Quiet Lunch by Karen Nelson, 40×16, acrylic painting.

Another part of this is striking an important balance. The artist intends to represent something, but there are abstracted elements too. Too much detail or literalness in a painting makes what could be an organic artistic outpouring feel more like the creation of a specimen. It becomes so defined that I feel like I lose my purpose when I look at it.

When a painting does it all–isn’t too stuffed, isn’t too literal, but says something—you will look and look and not feel like you want to slip away from the room that is over capacity. You get your own space to explore the art. It’s not easy on the part of the artist to do this, but we have to keep trying to attain it because the payoff is immense: it keeps your audience in front of your work and loving it more with each passing minute.

It’s a beautiful “sweet spot” to work toward. If you want to hone your art in acrylic painting, then there are a few resources to light your way. From Staci Swider—Acrylic Painting Studio: Natural Compositions and Acrylic Painting Studio: Painting Negative Space—we have guides prompting us toward all the things we value in good painting and showing you how to make those techniques as natural to you as simply holding the brush. Like I said, it is a beautiful thing, and I definitely want to you be a part of it. Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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