Saturday, January 24, 2009

Defining Interest

"Study - Sundown"
Oil on Panel

$125 + shipping

One of the things I've been working on for the past few months is defining what each painting I do is about. I have a tendency (especially with larger works) to gravitate towards scenes that have it all - mountains, a stream, some trees, a field, wildflowers! And while that can be okay if it's done well, sometimes it results in paintings that have a bit of an identity crisis (is it a painting of a mountain, a painting of a stream, a painting of wildflowers?).

I'm trying to make sure that I ask myself what I'm drawn to every time I start a new painting. Am I interested in the light on the mountain? The scale of the mountain? The reflections in the water? I answer that question first, and then I work to make sure that every decision I make in the painting serves to highlight that thing that drew me to the scene in the first place. That way, the foreground stream doesn't end up drawing attention from the mountains that caught my interest, or the trees don't pull the eye away from the reflections in the lake, or the clouds don't steal the show from the mountains.

Asking these questions means I can't copy what's in front of me. Sometimes I have to change the way the light is hitting a part of the landscape, change the size or location of a clump of trees, or exaggerate the scale of that mountain I'm interested in. These decisions are a lot easier to make if I know what I'm after, and I don't find myself getting off track as much as I used to when I'm painting outside.

The study above is from one of those places that just begs the artist to paint everything. Monarch Lake is a small lake with a dramatic mountain backdrop, and sometimes it's hard to decide what to paint. The reflections can be beautiful on a calm day, the mountains can be dramatic in the afternoon, and the trees are interesting on their own. I did this quick study after I had painted another in the same spot. The sun was going down and it was hitting the mountains so that the early season snow was just glowing. I wanted to keep the trees and water in the painting for compositional reasons, but I wanted to make sure that they were downplayed enough to make that snow the star of the show.

Doing a study like this can be invaluable when preparing for a larger painting. If I hadn't done this study, I probably would have done a larger painting without thinking through some of the decisions I made here, and it could have been a large-scale failure. Doing a small study allowed me to take some risks and change some things that I might not have tried on a larger panel. Finished, it's a good indicator of whether a larger painting would or would not work, and a good guide to use when making that larger painting.


  1. I agree with your comments about picking a focal point. I find that a lot of artists, including myself, like to give as much attention to the whole painting rather than finding the one point of interest and then "designing" the rest of the painting around that. That way the eye has a place to rest as well. I also noticed that your painting here has the point of interest at the point of the golden rectangle that is supposed to be optimal as well. Keep up the good work and great posts.

  2. Wonderful post and wonderful painting. Love the muted colors, makes for a very serene peaceful scene.

  3. Nice! love the quiet mood, and your thoughtful commentary. Really enjoying reading your blog :-)

  4. I definitely agree with you because I too felt the same about my works.Very thoughtful and inspiring article!Nice painting!

  5. Stacey, I think I'll print this post and keep it right next to my easel. You are so right about asking these questions before starting on a painting. Love the painting you posted - beautiful, as usual.

  6. I am pleasingly drawn to the off - center clump of trees with the light on the right and the shadow on the left. I do hear what you are saying. I think that when we ask our selves the types of question(s) you pose here it springboards us to newer levels, and thanks for that line of sight.


  7. Robin - yeah, I used to be terrible about giving equal attention to everything in my paintings.

    Carol - thanks, I was trying to get across the stillness of the evening. It was practically silent out there!

    Terry - thanks! I'm glad you commented - I found your blog a while back and read a bunch of it, then lost it. Now I can add it back to my reader!

    Ramesh - thank you. I think a lot of artists include too much, and thinking about stuff like this is what can push us to the next level.

    Janelle - I used to never ask these questions unless the painting ended up being a scraper, then I would stare at it and wonder where I went wrong!

    Ben - yeah, I'm kind of partial to that clump of trees too, which is okay because I think it gives the painting some movement. Well, I hope so anyhow!

    Frank - thanks, I was hoping I wasn't rambling too much here.

  8. I think you are dead on about needing a focus and something to define. Even if the focus is general or multiple, getting the viewer to notice that will accomplish the task of being a successful piece.

    I have viewed your blog for the past year, and just recently started my own. Just wanted to let you know a fellow Colorado artist was inspired by your art and the way life has directed you. Great work and thank you for the inspiration.