Here’s another painting sent to me for critique. I apologize that it’s taken me so long to get to it. It’s “When Work is Done,” oil on linen, 36 × 40”. Once again, I’d like to emphasize the problems of judging a painting on the basis of a digital image. colors, edges, and other important characteristics are often distorted. Please keep in mind when looking at this image that it’s an imperfect representation of the original.
I’ll spend most of this critique talking about areas of potential improvement. That’s not because the painting is bad or because I don’t like it (I don’t critique paintings I don’t like) but because that’s the purpose here: to come up with issues worth thinking about so that Dorothea can take them into account when planning other work.
Overall, the painting is done with skill. Objects are rendered realistically and I can’t find any obvious errors in proportion, except that several of the pots seem to lean slightly to the viewer’s left. The blue/orange complimentary color scheme is effective. I’m not sure if I entirely understand the three-dimensional space of the painting. The wall doesn’t seem entirely consistent with the steps, the floor, and the walking stick. I’d find it hard to draw out an overhead floor plan of this place.
I would suggest that Dorothea might want to think more about edges in her next painting. Most of the edges here are hard. There are few soft edges and no lost edges that I can find. Every object stands out clearly against its background, creating a “cookie cutter” kind of look. It would enhance viewer interest, as well as the sense of mystery, if there were more variability to edges. It is also possible to create a better sense of dimensional form in objects with careful manipulation of edges. Additionally, one can eye control, and therefore compositional control, by the use of edges, with the focal area and lines of movement in sharper focus and areas of lesser importance in looser focus.
Let’s talk about composition. Dorothea has chosen an unusual “checkerboard” structure: upper right and lower left dark squares, upper left and lower right light squares. The pattern is not exactly symmetrical, which is good because too much regularity is uninteresting. Within this basic structure is an interior pyramid shape in the form of the woman’s body, leading toward the focal point: her face. Dorothea breaks the basic rule that the focal point should contain the darkest dark and the lightest light in the painting, since the face and body are middle value with relatively low contrast compared to the wide range of value in other parts of the painting. To compensate for that, she’s used other compositional devices to draw the eye to the figure. The very bright sky points toward the figure, although the shape of the clouds counters that pull. The ray of light, the walking stick, and the gray shapes at lower right tend to pull the eye toward the figure. I get the sense, however, that these factors are somewhat accidental, as small shifts in structure could have more clearly pulled the eye inward. The high chroma areas (blue sky, bright orange foreground pots) are all away from the figure and don’t seem to serve a clear compositional purpose. My eye is largely drawn around the painting without a clear sense of deliberate structure.
I think with this structure Dorothea could have benefited more clearly from counterchange. That’s a concept originally drawn from heraldry, in which a foreground pattern is drawn in reverse colors from the background pattern. If Dorothea had used the basic square pattern and manipulated lights and darks to create clear counterchange, I think her composition would have more clarity, interest, and focus.
Beyond that, consider the color scheme. Dorothea has used some fairly high-chroma colors in parts of the painting. High chroma, especially in warm hues such as those on the clay pots, tends to communicate excitement and intensity. I’m not sure that fits the intent of the painting, which, it seems to me, is more geared toward serenity. My personal bias is toward relatively understated chroma most of the time, and I think that in this case, a more controlled use of chroma might have benefited the tone of the work.
Overall, this is a nice piece that will look good on someone’s wall. I hope that Dorothea can take my comments as constructive and finds them useful. I recommend that she be personally critical of my opinions, accepting what makes sense to her and rejecting what does not.It’s very hard to submit your work for criticism, and I appreciate that Dorothea has trusted me with the task.