Experience for landscapes
11×14 canvas panel
I had blocked it in a few weeks ago and changed it quite a bit from the block-in.
Design – Very happy with the design
- Good rhythm
- No depth – need to create distance
- Need to lighten and brighten background – add green-yellow
- Mute distant tree trunks
- Warm foreground
- Need more variety of color
I critique each of my plein air paintings when I get back in the studio. It’s easier to assess a painting once I’m away from the subject matter; I am better able to judge how effective it is as a work of art and not be distracted by how closely I rendered the scene in front of me. With the painting on my studio easel and under good light, I take out my Critique Notebook and write down the date, size, and location of the painting. I then asses how effective the painting is in 5 basic categories: Design, Values, Color, Edges, and Paint Quality. I make quick notes on ways to improve in each of the categories. Sometimes the change will be as simple as “crop 2 inches off the right edge,” sometimes as complex as “cool background mountains, add cows to midground fields, add thicker paint in foreground.” I turn the painting upside down or look at it in a mirror to help me get a fresh view of the work; I thumb through books to find examples of paintings that accomplish what I was after; I make sketches of better designs…in short, this is my time to study and try to come up with anything and everything it takes to make the painting more successful.
Why bother to write all this down? I know it sounds pretty obsessive/compulsive, but it is so easy to just paint a plein air piece that didn’t work, come back to the studio in defeat, toss the canvas in the burn pile and move on. But what have you learned from that? What lessons are lost? If you take the time to critically look at your work and honestly try to figure out what went wrong, chances are you’ll do better the next time you get in front of the easel. Conversely, it’s just as important to critique paintings that are successful on the first go-round. If the painting was a slam-dunk, why did it work? What happened in that painting that you can remember for next time? Writing down your thoughts is critical: it cements the ideas in your brain and helps to point out areas of weakness in your work. For example, if you always write long critiques in the Design category, then you’ll know to work on better thumbnails before you start the next painting and to break out the books on composition to do some intensive study in that area. By repeatedly doing these critiques, you will become better at assessing your work. It will help you go from “I don’t like it but I don’t know why” to having a roadmap for improvement. Do these critiques as soon as possible after you’ve painted the piece–that way the subject is fresh in your mind and you will better remember what it was that you were striving to capture in the painting.
Critique your paintings right away but don’t paint the changes on the wet paintings–wait for them to dry. Why? Well, that’s the subject for my next blog post…..