Monday, October 19, 2015

New Work; Problem Solving-One Approach

study accordion book October adaptation 14" x 18"

The piece above is based on one of my paper sketches done last week. While I don't totally love it, I'd like to share my thought process (such as it is) when trying to find out why something doesn't work. Remembering that these are aesthetic choices, I offer up my guidelines with that caveat in mind. 

When something doesn't look right to me (based on what I think is right), then I look for three things: contrast/value, chroma and hue. My overarching guideline is the idea of proportion. If the above areas seem OK, I'll move on to things like line, shape size and mixture, repetition, direction, texture, visual weight, and variety. (I check these last things regardless but to my eye they are more subtle and I like to check obvious things first). 

Contrast/Value: Is there enough? Too much? Spotty linkage between lights and between the darks? Weird linkage? What does the overall pattern look like from across the room? For my piece, I liked the darker brown shape quite a bit. No problem there then. I did feel that there was too little contrast in the light cream shape as compared to the larger and slightly darker cream shape. How to fix that though? I elected not to repaint since the shape was already affixed to the background. I moved on to chroma as a possible reason/solution. 

Chroma: For me, chroma means level of saturation of a color, particularly as it is compared to the rest of the colors in the piece. Fine if you can balance that color standing out so much but let me know how you did it please! I tried fixing the above mentioned shape via a darker value which didn't work (it was oppressive, bearing down on everything else). I also tried holding up some colors that were much more saturated (more intense in their chroma). This was very overpowering. I finally hit on a solution based on my concept of "tone". For me, I use the word tone to refer to the use of line to create value shifts or even texture, much like a print maker might employ. I tried holding up various thin strips of different colors. Nothing I held up really grabbed my attention. So, then I turned to hue.

Hue: For me, hue refers to color relationships, particularly with regard to the color wheel. Analogous, monochromatic, complimentary, etc. Or any combination that you deem to be pleasing. My original color idea for the piece was to play blue in several forms against what I think of as a golden yellow-sort of a yellow that is more red based than blue based. I wanted blue violet paired against the golden yellow. I waffled quite a bit here and had to pull it together. Once I firmed up that idea, I revisited the chroma idea and a small dose of a more saturated golden yellow made sense as a "tonal" solution. 

My overarching objective guideline in these decisions is always the idea of proportion. Is something really off? Too much or too little or any one thing? My overall subjective guideline is normally how far from my original idea have I strayed? If I have strayed far am I OK with that? (I also frequently ask myself if I can stand to look at the finished piece for any reasonable length of time.)

So, this is just how I do it based on what I know to date. Up until this last year I haven't really known how to approach this problem. So, I thought I would just pass along the info. Use it if you can. And while these are my Libby-style opinions, I think it's a good basic way to approach the problem of how to proceed when your painting is not gelling. 



  1. An informative post with such helpful guidance for self critiquing. Loved seeing how you used it all in your final piece. Thanks for the link to Alan Feltus work. I am an admirer of Paul Cadmus's work and found strong similarities. Must have both used the Golden Mean for composition. Anyway - it was a pleasure to visit.

    1. Julie,

      I had to look up Paul Cadmus! What beautiful work! What an appreciation and understanding of the human figure in all of its possible permutations of interaction and movement. The lone figures are unsettling-their expressions-but it is certainly an unflinching look at emotions that maybe are just below the surface. So thank you for that tip.

      Feltus's work was interesting too and equally unsettling for me. The interview was good food for thought. I really love getting insight into the way that someone views their art making. It's like getting a glimpse into their mind.

      Thanks again for the visit.

    2. Yes - well put...a glimpse into their mind.
      You andI help out with words but blogging was not around then.
      Can you imagine if it had been?

  2. Dear Libby- such a great post with so many wonderful tips for a thoughtful critique to evaluate ones art. Always I look for your circle . I see you have it in this piece. The color blue adds the perfect touch to dare the eye. Have s great day.


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