Our weather has turned quite cold here, and we’ve already had quite a bit of snow falling in the area, along with icy drizzles. It’s not my favorite time of year. Winter will officially arrive later this month, and as the season changes, so, too, will the paintings on my easel. For months I’ve been painting autumn scenes — mostly practice paintings — and I’ve enjoyed using bright, warm colors.
Over the next few months, I’ll draw inspiration from the wintry scenes around me, but first, it’s time to finish up the autumn-themed canvases I’ve been working on.
This one is very similar to my Autumn Lake painting.
Am I satisfied with this painting? No, I’m not, although I do sense a somewhat gentle, restful feeling about it. There are things I like and things I don’t like in this painting.
One of the most important things I’ve learned in my oil painting studies — and in all of art, in fact — is that an honest self-evaluation of a painting can be invaluable in helping us improve.
So, today I want to go through the critique process and take from it ideas that will make be a better artist.
- Step away from the work.
I’ve done this. I actually completed the painting — if, indeed, it is completed — some time ago. It’s been sitting near my easel, slowly drying as I’ve worked on other autumn scenes.
- Come back to the painting with a fresh eye.
This is a fun part of the process for me. It’s a moment of objectivity, a time to ask myself quite honestly if I’m drawn to the work in any way. If I saw it hanging in a gallery, would I step closer, wanting to see more?
For this particular painting that answer is probably “No, not really.” I think it’s one I’d be content to view from afar as I strolled on to other paintings.
- What do I feel from this painting?
I feel restful, peaceful emotions. I feel calm and quiet. I feel a bit of that reflective quality that I hope to convey in my landscape art.
- What provokes the thoughts and emotions I’m experiencing?
Mostly my feelings come from the colors of the sky, I think.
- What was my original intention for this painting?
I have to admit, I didn’t have a strong, specific intention for this painting. It was simply another autumn painting, another opportunity to work with a palette of warm colors, another chance to practice painting a familiar wooded scene.
- What one thing do I like about the painting?
Again, it’s the sky that appeals most to me. In fact, as I’ve sat here looking at the painting, going over the questions, and giving thought to what I see, I’ve come to like the painting less and less. I’m seeing more flaws, more things I really don’t like. Still, I do like the sky and the variations in color I achieved with it.
- Is there anything distracting?
Yes! Lately I’ve been making firmer, thicker brushstrokes, and I’m carelessly leaving behind more texture — largely unintentional — than I’d like. There are little blobs and globs of paint. I find them very distracting, and this is something I need to be more aware of as I’m painting.
- How could this painting be improved?
Oh, so many ways! The reflection in the water needs work. The trees — well, they’re just there. They’re not interesting or appealing in any way. Nothing is too attractive or eye-catching about the painting. It’s just another humdrum, seen-it-before autumn scene. Overall, I don’t think the composition is too bad; it’s just the lackluster execution that spoils the painting.
- Should I make changes?
This is another good question, and for me, for this painting, my answer is “No, it’s not worth bothering with.” No doubt the painting — to be a successful work of art — needs changes. Lots of changes. But I’m not going to go back to this painting. Fixing it would mean repainting almost the entire scene, and even then, it would never be more than just another autumn painting.
So what can I take away from this critique?
Going through this process has shown me — again — the importance of being intentional in my art. I had no clear vision for this painting, nothing meaningful I wanted to express on the canvas. From the start, it was just another autumn painting, and as a result that’s what it became. I put no real emotion into the painting, and so it has nothing to give back.
Maybe it happened because it was one of many autumn scenes I’ve painted in recent months. Maybe at this point my eyes had grown tired of autumn colors. Maybe I was already feeling the first chill of winter in the air and knew it was time to move on.
It’s definitely time for a change. As winter moves in, the colors on my palette are now changing, and I’m glad to see the fiery colors of autumn fading into the cool blues and grays of winter.
I think I’ve learned a lot from autumn, and I’m looking forward to all that winter will teach me.