3 Things a Painting Can’t Live Without

19 Nov 2013
In Vermeer's Woman with a Scale, the focal point of the painting is accentuated with nothing more than a glance and delicate hand position.
In Vermeer's Woman with a Scale, the focal point
of the painting is accentuated with nothing more
than a glance and delicate hand position.

Good painters don’t merely re-create what is in front of them. An experienced artist knows how to create a successful painting no matter what situation or model he or she is presented with or the materials being worked with, from mixed media painting or collage to pen and ink or oils.  Of course, this often comes after years of practice and experimentation—as well as the development of a unique artistic voice—but there are some basic characteristics that all good paintings have in common.

1. A strong focal point. A focal point is not like the big bold ‘X’ that marks the spot on a treasure map. It can take on any shape and size. It can be bold but it can also be subtle. A dappling of light, a pop of color, an expression or emphatic gesture—any of these can become a focal point in a composition. Regardless of how it is created, its purpose should be to engage the viewer or act as the culmination of the momentum built in the work.

2. Layers of color. Color makes a painting tranquil or vibrant, dramatic or stark, and this comes about not only in color choices, but how you build passages of color over one another or side by side. Warm and cool colors in a sky create a sense of atmosphere and space more than any one swath of color, no matter how perfectly matched it is to the sky above.  

In Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein, the colors are muted but quite varied and establish an introspective mood.
In Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein,
the colors are muted but quite varied
and establish an introspective mood.
3. Changes in direction. In many great paintings the image is realistically rendered, but brushstrokes are clearly visible; you are aware of how the painting is painted. Think about how the paint application of Jan van Eyck versus Vincent van Gogh perfectly reflects or resonates with what the artists painted. The way a brush moves paint around makes a statement that should be taken advantage of. You can start by being mindful to changes in the direction of your brush, literally working on a painting with different strokes and from various angles.

When you look at works of art that you respond to, always ask yourself why. Keep those characteristics in mind as you develop your own pieces, too. That awareness is what drives the instruction that Jean Pederson delivers in her DVDs, whether it’s Mixed Media Portraits, which delves into the details of how to capture a person’s likeness; or Wet Glazing Watercolor Techniques, in which you'll discover the subtlety and finesse of this watercolor painting technique. Pederson couples artistic inspiration with instruction so that you can come away with a better sense of where to go on your own path as an artist. Enjoy!

 

 


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Comments

on 22 Jan 2011 1:41 PM

Courtney, thanks for posting these 3 things a painting can not live without.  I especially liked how you state that a focal point can be subtle, building colors into the painting and how to leave the brushstrokes as an indication of confidence in paint application.  I am working on focal points lately and now I can try to be a little more subtle than in your face, here it is.

Larry Russo wrote
on 3 Mar 2011 11:38 PM

So true- there are so many layers of learning - just as so many layers in a painting to really achieve the depth and understanding of whats going on in any work of art.