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Critique of “When Work is Done,” by Dorothea von Eckhardt

When Work is DoneHere’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.

CounterchangeI 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.

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8 Responses

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  1. Dorothea von Eckhardt says

    Thank you for your Crit­i­cism. I will have to read & re-read all of it. I am a self-taught artist and some of the tech­ni­cal terms I don’t quite under­stand. Yes, the hard lines are increased by the cam­era. I never learned the tech­ni­cal mechan­ics of paint­ing, I try to cre­ate what I want to see.
    I appre­ci­ate your cri­tique very much. I will try to under­stand all of your
    tech­ni­cal advice. Thank you

  2. David says

    You’re wel­come. Please don’t take any­thing I said as gospel. If I was in any way unclear, feel free to ask for clarification.

  3. Incompetent says

    I like the coun­ter­change exam­ple, David…have you been read­ing Ruskin as of late?

  4. David says


    (Boy, it’s hard to know how to respond back to you with­out feel­ing like I’m using an insult­ing term.)


    p>I haven’t looked at Ruskin in quite a while, but I do know a lit­tle bit about her­aldry and had referred to other heraldic con­cepts in this post.

  5. Dorothea von Eckhardt says

    You are right about the cloud for­ma­tion, it should have been in reverse. My basic thought was to teach myself to light the sub­ject & walk­ing stick from two areas, sun­set & street lights, with­out­mak­ing an offen­sive mess You got me on the checker­board pat­tern & squares. I do know about the tri­an­gle, but never plan it on my paint­ings. In fact I know noth­ing about the tech­ni­cal part of plan­ning a painting.

  6. David says


    If I’ve got­ten you think­ing about the struc­ture of your paint­ings, that’s good. Do you do com­po­si­tional sketches before you start a piece? I use note cards (3 × 5” or 8 × 13 cm). Even if the com­po­si­tion is sim­ple, such as the cher­ries paint­ing I’m work­ing on now, I do 510 sketches in pen­cil or ball­point pen, draw­ing out vari­a­tions on the basic struc­ture of light and dark, avoid­ing much detail. I find that really helps in plan­ning out the paint­ing, fig­ur­ing out the cen­tral area of inter­est and sec­ondary points of inter­est, as well as the means by which I will move the eye around the paint­ing. For com­plex paint­ings I do many such sketches, explor­ing every way I can think of to struc­ture the composition.

  7. Dorothea von Eckhardt says

    I some times sketch out a sub­ject. Most times I see it in my minds eye, then use the da vinci tec­nique. If I sketch it to much I become tired with the idea. Yes you have me think­ing about composition.

  8. David says

    That’s good, Dorothea.

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