Composition Talk: The Golden Ratio & The Rule of Thirds

Understanding composition fundamentals is so very important, but how many of us really do understand it and/or how to use it effectively? We all know when something doesn’t look ‘right’, but how do we figure out why and how do we fix it? The following is an excerpt from a talk on composition that I give to all of my workshops. It’s a bit technical, a bit boring maybe, but knowing these simple rules may be helpful to you when something not ‘right’ befalls you in the studio. Read on…this is going to be fun!

Understanding composition fundamentals is so very important, but how many of us really do understand it and/or how to use it effectively? We all know when something doesn’t look ‘right’, but how do we figure out why and how do we fix it? The following is an excerpt from a talk on composition that I give to all of my workshops. It’s a bit technical, a bit boring maybe, but knowing these simple rules may be helpful to you when something not ‘right’ befalls you in the studio. Read on…this is going to be fun!

There is a reason why some compositions look better than others and that is because the relationships between the colors and forms in the work are proportionate and likely somehow follow one of the following rules: The Golden Ratio and/or The Rule of Thirds.

First, let’s take a look at the Golden Ratio, also known as the Golden Mean and Golden Rectangle. The idea was started by the ancient Greeks, who believed that all things, both tangible and intangible, have a perfect state of being that define them and felt that one should always strive toward achieving this ideal state. Greek mathematicians, after repeatedly seeing similar proportions in nature and geometry, developed a mathematical formula for what they considered an ideal rectangle: a rectangle whose sides are at a 1:1.62 ratio. –Nelson. Ever wonder why the Mona Lisa is so pleasing to the eye when she’s actually not conventionally beautiful? It’s because she’s perfectly proportionate from the tip of her nose to her knees..see how she fits perfectly into the Golden Rectangle in the image below. This same idea goes for buildings and rooms, furniture and other forms of design. The closer to the Golden Mean they are, the more comfortable they will feel and the better they will look to us as humans. This is because our bodies are also proportionate and also fit the Golden Ratio, we are all familiar with the image below which illustrates these proportions. If you’re really bored and want to test this out, consider your comfort level in the room you’re in right now and rate it on a scale of 1-10. Now measure the room and see how close it comes to the Golden Mean. Interesting, huh? Now try it with one of your paintings that just isn’t working and see what happens.

Next up is the Rule of Thirds, which states that if you divide any composition into thirds, vertically and horizontally, then place the essential elements of your image either along these lines or at the intersections of them, you’ll achieve a more pleasing arrangement. Edmund Dulac was a stickler for this Rule and it’s perfectly illustrated in his painting below of the Little Mermaid. Here Dulac has placed the column, figures and the horizon line perfectly along a line of thirds. The empty space leads the eye to the action in the composition, therefore creating a more interesting composition. These images were borrowed from the informative Art With Nelson.

Now, watch what happens when the rule is ignored and the action is centralized…kinda boring… and why is that? The column now dominates the image, which takes away from the figures, the source of the action in the image. The viewer’s eye goes directly to the strong column shape and there is no empty space calmly leading the eye into the image.  In any painting, one design element must be more dominant than the others, which creates an imbalance, thus creating tension and attracting the viewer’s eye. When the canvas is segmented in half, there is no imbalance or tension, which makes for a not so interesting composition. Imbalance and tension can also be applied to many compositional elements of your painting including value, color and contrast. I’ll talk about this a bit more in my next post, which will also include a nod to mathematician, Fibonacci.

600071436

A word of caution…don’t go crazy trying to make your composition fit exactly into these Rules. For example, you can apply the Rule of Thirds to any grid as long as you keep the major design elements on the segments and/or at intersections. The same goes for the Golden Ratio. These tools are not to be used as starting points necessarily, but as check points when we are trying to figure out what’s gone wrong. If you spend too much time thinking about these things when beginning a painting you won’t have any fun and your painting will feel stiff, technical and sad. Click on the images below for some proportionate famous and not so famous works of art and photography.

 

 

Encaustic PaintSmash: Tips, Composition & Things to Think About

I hope you’ve been getting into the last two Encaustic PaintSmash How-To’s and having some fun with it. In my last post I discussed a bit about how to carve out a composition from the hot mess slather of paint. Here, I get a bit more detailed regarding composition, plus some tips and things to think about while you work.

I hope you all had a great summer and are getting into my favorite fall season. I love feeling the crisp air, moon and star gazing through clear skies and being inspired by those amazing fall colors.

Fall also inspires new ideas, techniques and methods. I hope you’ve been getting into the last two Encaustic PaintSmash How-To’s and having some fun with it. In my last post I discussed a bit about how to carve out a composition from the hot mess slather of paint. Here, I get a bit more detailed regarding composition, plus some tips and things to think about while you work. For a review of Encaustic PaintSmash, visit this post for a How-To to making an alternative encaustic brush from flashing material and this post for a How-To and video link on how to use it. Also, visit this post for my favorite tools in which some of the tools I mention in this article are highlighted.

Go to my YouTube Channel for fun PaintSmash videos demonstrating scraping, carving, color use and using alternative brushes.

  1. Some tips to keep in mind.
    • Glide, don’t scrape with the razor blade. Make sure you hold your razor blade at a 45 degree angle, not straight up and down. Resist the urge to dig in, rather think of the word GLIDE and not SCRAPE, as you work with the razor blade.
    • Focus on small areas. As you begin to scrape all that slathery paint may be a bit overwhelming so make sure you focus on a small area and then another. Don’t try to scrape it all back at once. Some areas may need a lot of scraping while others may need very little.
    • Frequently evaluate your work. Take it from the table and hanging it vertically. The work changes with every scrape and changes drastically when you hang it vertically. If you’re confused about where to go next in the scraping process, hanging the work vertically will help you see more clearly.
    • Clean your tools frequently. Heat the metal slightly and wipe clean with paper towel. Cleaning your tools keeps the blades sharp and you in more control over what you’re doing by cutting down on that annoying gunking up thing that sometimes happens.
    • Save your scrapings. Use scrapings as color and/or add to paintings for more texture. Some of your scrapings will come off in a colorful ‘ribbon’. Add this form right back into the painting, use it like collage to add a small amount of color elsewhere in the painting. Fuse it with the torch, use your fingers or brayer to flatten it down. Leave it as is or scrape it back with the loop or Sculpture House tools.
    • Take a risk. Don’t be afraid to remove too much or try to “save” certain areas. The worst is not taking enough off in one area in order to ‘save’…if you do that too much, all that deliciousness underneath will never be revealed! You have to be able to take that risk and if you do remove something amazing, you’ll just as soon find something else just as amazing.
  2. Composition in any painting becomes stronger with color contrasts. Be open to these contrasts as you scrape. Look for (in no particular order):
    • Complimentary color combinations. Get yourself and nice big color wheel and hang it in your studio for reference. Even though I have color wheel burned into my brain from design school, I still reference my studio color wheel constantly.
    • Quiet next to busy. You will find many busy areas when you use the PaintSmash method of painting. Make sure you are balancing these textured, busy areas with solid, quieter areas of color. If you find you have too many busy areas, add a solid area with a brush.
    • Neutral tones next to brights. Use your grays, whites and earth tones next to brighter areas to make those bright colors vibrate and the composition dance.

Encaustic PaintSmash: 3 Must-Have Scraping Tools

If you aren’t scraping your encaustic paint layers, you’re missing out! The first of two parts on encaustic scraping, this article covers 3 basic must-have tools for scraping and revealing amazingness under your encaustic layers. Also included, are some luscious eye candy inspiration images.

If you’re working in layers of encaustic paint and not utilizing scraping as part of painting, you are missing a tremendous amount of creative opportunities. Encaustic is unmatched by any other medium for many reasons; luminosity, depth, translucency, tactile qualities, just to name a few. Certainly, other mediums offer these qualities, but to my knowledge, encaustic is the ONLY medium that offers painters the ability to work in layers with the option of scraping them back to reveal hidden treasures. Once you begin doing this, you won’t want to stop, it’s absolutely addicting! Depending on how you have applied the paint, the amount of texture and the colors used, you will reveal layers resembling geologic forms, water bodies, aerial and satellite views of earth. Or moving toward the smaller end of things, you will find forms resembling layers of skin cells, bodily forms, rocks and minerals, etc. I’ve included a small sampling of inspiration eye candy images below that resemble scraped encaustic paintings painted with the PaintSmash method. The images are from my Aerial, Micro-Stuff, Rocks and Layered Pinterest Boards. To see each individual board, follow the links with the images below. Also, see this related post for more Texture and Layers inspiration.

Stay tuned for my next post which is a Basic Scraping How-To, complete with videos and images of various scraping methods. I show you how to use the tools mentioned in this article as well as discuss a bit about what it is you’re looking for under the layers and how to carve out a fabulous composition from your PaintSmash hot mess!

Please note that this post is an introduction to basic scraping tools, there is much more to learn and many other tools to experiment with to find your favorites. If you try the tools mentioned here and the methods for using them I discuss in my next post, you might want to delve deeper by taking one of my upcoming encaustic workshops. I discuss scraping in all of my encaustic workshops, but dig deeper into the subject (no pun) in my advanced Beyond the Basics workshop.

The Tools

  • Razor Blade With Holder When you are using a razor blade, you definitely need one of these holders. Make sure you buy one like this and not one of the bulky versions. This smaller does the job to keep your hand from cramping as well as keeps your hand close enough to the surface to ‘feel’ it. Also, if you’ve been avoiding razor blades because of those unwanted marks the corners cause, invest in a metal file and take a few seconds to round out those edges. Razor blades definitely serve a purpose and shouldn’t be left at the bottom of the tool box because of those marks.
  • Clay Scraper My favorite is the Loop Tool  and/or the Sculpture House Scraper-read about it here. We all have our favorites, but I would advise avoiding the triangular shaped scrapers with very angular corners because like the razor blade, they tend to leave undesirable marks but are difficult to file down. Not mentioned in my previous favorite tools article is a Loop Tool (#510) I just discovered from Dolan Tools. It’s compatible to the Sculpture House Scraper in quality, but it’s easier to find and is slightly less expensive.
  • Double Sided Scraper Tool (A MUST have…Read more about and where to get it here) There is no limit to the fun you can have with this tool, making lines, marks and carving shapes. See a sneak peek of me using this tool to carve out some shapes on my Instagram Feed @lorraineglessner1. The complete video is included in my next post.

Aerial/Satellite Images

Layered Images

Microscopic

Rocks/Minerals

Encaustic Paint Smash 101: A How-To Using Alternative Brushes

Whether you consider yourself a professional artist or not, you still need to loosen up and get back to your inner infant artist–this is how I arrived at Paint Smash. This is the first of a series of tutorials on the subject and covers the use of alternative brushes for encaustic painting.

I have been developing a new method of encaustic painting called Paint Smash–the method is not so unlike the same term used to reference infants playing with paint–but I’m a real artist, you see ; ) Real artist or not, I still need to loosen up and get back to my inner infant artist and this is how I came to Paint Smash. In my last post I confessed that I have slowly been giving up the use of traditional brushes for DIY alternatives when painting in encaustic. I shared with you one of my brush making techniques using flashing to form any brush shape and size your waxy heart desires. Using tools like my flashing brushes in conjunction with other tools like mallets, brayers, rolling pins, fists, fingers and whatever else you can find, I’m pushing, smearing, slathering, punching, modeling the paint onto the substrate instead. Encaustic is a unique painting medium in that it can be worked as a liquid, solid and semi-solid, which lends itself fantastically to paint smashing. This tutorial is the start of a series of Paint Smash techniques that I will share with you in subsequent blog posts.

Please stayed tuned for my next post, another segment of Paint Smashing in which I show you the amazing things that are revealed when you scrape back your Paint Smash. Super fun!

But before we discuss scraping, you have to learn how to use your new amazing flashing brushes, it’s truly deceptively simple.

What you need

  • A variety of DIY flashing brushes and/or metal clay scrapers and/or Venetian Plaster applicators (see this post for how to make flashing brushes and/or prepare clay scrapers for encaustic painting)
  • Encaustic paint in a variety of contrasting colors AND lots of white-a variety of whites is best.
  • A variety of traditional encaustic painting brushes-hog’s bristle or hake.
  • A torch or heat gun for fusing (torch is best for this technique)
  • 2-6 painting panels prepared for encaustic painting

 

How To Do (Scroll down for video links)

  1. Line up your traditional and alternative brushes on your griddle like you normally would for encaustic painting.
  2. The griddle should be nice and hot (up to 200-215 degrees, check your surface temp) the paint should be swimmingly melty.
  3. Line up your boards (at least 2-4) side by side or in a grid. Prepare them with a few solid areas of color that you can apply using any brush you like, but this part is easier with a traditional encaustic brushes. You can also pour the paint instead of painting and not use a brush at all.
  4. I always begin with a patchwork of blocks or a loose grid of overlapping strips of color in a variety of sizes, but you can paint anything you want. Whatever you paint, make sure you are painting over all of your boards with continuity and not making a distinction between separate boards.
  5. Fuse with a torch. Your painting surface should be nice and hot (but not smeary) after this fuse.
  6.  Using one of your alternative brushes, scoop/lift the paint from the griddle surface-you can use one or both sides of the brush. Your brush should bend/flex a little as you pick up the paint.
  7. Transfer the paint to your painting surface by slowly slathering it on sort of like frosting a cake. Flip your brush from front to back as you transfer the paint. Again, your brush should flex a little as you paint. These early layers will go on relatively flat, but subsequent layers will cling and this is where it gets interesting.
  8. Change to a contrasting color and repeat the alternative brush painting process several times.
  9. Fuse every 2-3 layers.
  10. After a few uses of your alternative brush, add some areas of solid color with your traditional brushes. Preferred colors at this stage are white or lighter colors or very dark colors that will contrast and visually ‘clean up’ the chaotic mess you’ve seemingly made.
  11. Continue painting in this way until you’ve built up 10-20 layers–10 being at the lowest points (the valleys) and 20 being the the highest points (the hills). In other words, your paintings should be highly textured and multi-dimensional, ready for their first scrape.

Want to see a video demonstration of these techniques?

To see a video of scooping the paint from the griddle and applying it to the substrate, go to my new IGTV (InstagramTV) channel (@lorraineglessner1)

 

 

Encaustic Flashing Brush How-To

Tired of spending tons of money on traditional encaustic brushes? Learn how to make your own alternative encaustic brushes using flashing with this simple how-to.

Last week I posted on Instagram an encaustic ‘brush’ I made out of flashing. Well, I got so many questions and comments on both Insta and Facebook, I decided to postpone my original plan for this blog article and write a Flashing Brush How-To instead.

I first began using alternative brushes about 2 years ago and have gradually almost given up traditional brushes altogether, although they still serve a purpose for now. With the alternative brushes the paint is scooped off of the palette and applied like frosting a cake. The painting process is much more free, fast and FUN! I’ve even renamed my paint process, ‘Smashing Paint’ or ‘Paint Smash’…stay tuned for my next post when I’ll discuss this process in detail. Since using these brushes, I don’t stress over painting like I used to and I uncover the most fascinating forms and patterns when I scrape away the layers after the wax is applied this way. It’s amazingly fun!

I’m always looking for new and innovative ways of working and I first experimented with alternative encaustic brushes using flexible paint scrapers, but soon found them clunky and difficult to handle. I then moved on to Venetian plaster applicators, which I still use, but I find them a bit stiff and I really only like the medium and small size ones. Many years before this, I had purchased flexible clay scrapers-the real thin ones. I had originally purchased them to use as scrapers, but they were way to flimsy so I just threw them in my tool drawer and there they sat for years until I was looking for some flexible metal. To protect my fingers from the heat, I created a thick padding of duct tape and Viola! I finally found a use for those scrapers! They are perfect brushes in that the application is direct-there is no handle, no separation between your hand and the brush itself, which gives you both more and less control….more because its direct and less because the brush doesn’t hold the paint the way a traditional brush does. This may be frustrating for some, but it is kind of the reason for using alternative brushes.

After using the clay scrapers for a while, I became frustrated with their limited size and shape so that’s when I started making my flashing brushes. I can make any size or shape with some tin snips and a little duct tape, which averages less than a dollar per brush. Just a warning, that these brushes are crude and rude. I haven’t been making them for very long and I’m open to improvement suggestions. But…I’m saving tons of money and making cooler work! Now you can, too, by following the simple instructions below. Scroll down below the instructions to see some brush images, works in progress and finished work made with these brushes. Have fun making and please share images of the brushes you’ve made!

What You Need

IMG_2271

 

  • A small sheet of flashing material available at any home improvement store
  • Sharpie
  • Thick work gloves
  • A metal file
  • Tin snips
  • Duct tape


How To Do

  1. Work on a clean surface so you can keep an eye on any tiny metal shards.
  2. Draw out your brush shape on the flashing with the Sharpie. You could also cut freehand, but the tin snips are clunky so it’s best to have a guide. Start simple, you can get more complex as you make more brushes. Also, make sure to leave an inch or two at the bottom of the brush for a ‘handle’.
  3. Put your work gloves on to protect yourself from sharp edges
  4. Use the tin snips to cut the brush along your drawn lines. Watch those scraps, they are sharp!!
  5. File the edges of your brush down a bit so they aren’t so sharp and you’re ready to make your handle.
  6. Wrap the bottom of the brush several times with duct tape-at least 3-4 layers and you’re ready to paint!
  7. Make sure you clean up those tiny metal shards with a dustbuster or something that picks up teeny things, they really hurt if they get into your skin.

Essential Encaustic Paint Colors for the Beginner

Going to the encaustic Conference this week? Before you enter the wonder of the vendor room, be sure to read this post. This list is a great start for the beginning encaustic painter as well as advanced to find the color combination of your dreams.

Last year, I wrote a popular post listing the Encaustic Paint Colors I Can’t Do Without and as a result a reader requested I write a post listing some colors for the beginner. The International Encaustic Conference is starting this week with it’s overwhelmingly wonderful vendor room, so now is a perfect time for this post.

There are only a handful of colors one really needs in order to mix all colors; magenta, yellow, cyan, black and white or the primary colors Red, Yellow, Blue, Black and White…actually, you don’t even need black, you can mix that by mixing all the colors in equal proportions. But who has time for that, it’s just easier to have some colors at the ready and I developed this list with that thought in mind. I also thought about some colors that are just so luscious you might want them all the time without having to mix them. I started with a varied color wheel and branched off with a few oddballs you might find interesting. As a beginner, it’s important to start small and purchase some, rather than all. Buy the small sizes instead of the mega size, find what’s right for you and go from there. When I first started painting with encaustic, I only used 4 colors and slowly added more. This list is a good place to start for the beginner as well as advanced and I hope it helps you find the color combination of your dreams.

Other things I mentioned in the first post that I would like to reiterate. I never use colors ‘straight out of the tube’, all of my colors are mixed with 2-5 colors and yours should be as well. It creates a more personalized palette when you do this as well as a more interesting painting. Once again, this list is in no particular order and I photographed the paints on top of an in progress painting just as they are…messy, mushy, splashed with other colors, alluding a little to my process and looking like colorful little sculptures. If you’d like to see the paints pretty and clean, just click on the links to the paint distributor’s sites. If you’d like to learn more about encaustic color mixing, take a workshop with me, I discuss paint mixing in a all of my workshops.

If this post was helpful to you, please let me know, I invite your comments questions and suggestions in the comments section now located in the upper left sidebar of this post.

Stay tuned for my next post, Part Two of my Evolution of a Mark series of posts in which I trace back to my beginnings as an artist to where I am today. If you haven’t done so, make sure you read Part One so it all makes sense.

Enjoy the lovely flowers blooming everywhere.

R&F Paints

  • Alizarin Orange I LOVE this color, it will be on any list I make regarding paint colors. Bright and versatile, it can go from a light gold to a rich rusty orange in one swipe. When mixed with white or any other color, it retains it’s richness.
  • Payne’s Grey  Like Alizarin Orange, this color will be on any encaustic paint color list I make. I use this instead of black to darken any color. For me, black tends to deaden the color as it darkens, while this one allows the original color to retain it’s voice.
  • Warm Pink Like neutral white, I have used this color since I started painting in encaustic. It brightens any color and when mixed with a little and painted next to or on top of earthy blues, grays or greens, the eyes vibrate!
  • Brilliant Yellow Extra Pale I love to use this color instead of white as it not only lightens, it adds just a touch of yellow and whimsy as it brightens as well. 
  • Cobalt Blue A bright, clear blue, I use it more than any other blue.
  • Malachite Green I use this color way too much. It’s one of those colors that changes as it’s painted next to different colors. It makes any color and any painting sing.
  • Phthalo Turquoise Another color that looks dead in the package and like black when it’s melted, it is actually one of the brightest and most versatile colors. Add just a touch of any white and watch the magic happen.
  • Phthalo Blue Embarrassingly I just read what Phthalo colors actually are a few years ago and now buy anything described as such because of its unmatched intensity. There is a clarity to this blue that you will find in no other for water, skies, anytime you need blue. It mixes beautifully and always retains its voice.
  • Alizarin Crimson I do not have a Cadmium Red on this list, which may be odd to some, but quite honestly I have rarely ever used it because it always reads slightly orange to me. To be clear, Cadmium Red is the purest red and I would be remiss to tell you not to have it in your collection. However, I always find myself reaching for the Alizarin Crimson instead. It’s a cross between magenta and red and leans on the darker side of both. However, when it’s mixed with only a slight amount of white, it comes alive and is quite bright. It also makes a wide range of lovely pinks when mixed any light or white color.
  • Cadmium Green Pale  Not really true green, not really yellow, its a good mix of both, but I wouldn’t call it yellow-green. This is my go-to green, it can be lightened beautifully as well as darkened.
  • Zinc White Not having Titanium White on this list may also be a color faux pas but again, I rarely ever use it because it’s so uncomfortably white and a bit too pure for my taste-kind of like a bridal gown that almost looks blue it’s so white. Zinc white is a cross between Titanium and cream. Zinc is very white, but it’s just a degree off and lightens colors just as well as Titanium, yet keeps them just a degree to the left.
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium & Light We have to have yellow, it’s the indispensable color, which is why I have two on this list. I almost always go for the Medium yellow, but sometimes I just want less and pick up the Light. R&F also offers a Deep Yellow, but I wouldn’t advise going for it just yet, it’s a bit orange and may not be needed for your palette if you have the other two.
  • Cobalt Violet Light  I don’t use purple much and frankly, when I need it I mix it myself. However, this color is unusual, is difficult to mix and works well to add just a hint of pinkish-purple-violet to any other color.

Enkaustikos I can’t link directly to each color, so this link goes to all of the colors listed below, just scroll the list to see the color.

  • Opal Aquamarine I love this color so much I buy it in huge bulk and for all of my workshops. It makes any blue or green bluer and richer, like the most amazing, clear glacier water. 
  • Indian Yellow Bright, clear, not quite yellow, not quite orange. I reach for it time and again in place of yellow and mixing it with R&F’s Alizarin Orange is magical.

Evans Encaustics

  • Manganese Black The only black you’ll ever need, I was instantly smitten when I first used it. So creamy rich, so deep and consistent. It’s a true black, no blue or brown or gray cast. You only need a teeny tiny bit to darken any color. If you use black by itself, you’ll never find grayish spots or be a bit dissatisfied with this color.

IMG_1895

 

Kama Pigments I can’t link directly to each color, so this link goes to all their colors , just scroll the list to see the color I listed.

  • Rose Hornyak/Hornyak’s Pink Again, me and pink-I’ll buy any pink. This one is so Pepto Bismol its almost gross, but it does so many things that the average pink doesn’t do! It adds just that tiny bit of purple that makes other colors vibrate. Try mixing this with Alizarin Orange and/or Warm Pink and/or Brown Pink for a pink magic fest.

IMG_2330

3 Essential Art Evaluation Questions

In this article, I introduce three simple questions that encourage artists to delve deeper and therefore allow for the exchange of new ideas regarding how and why we look at, respond to and appreciate art. Once I began introducing these questions to my group critiques, participants were also able to apply them to their personal work. I’m happy to share them with you so that you can do the same.

How do you evaluate your art or the art of others’? What makes a good work of art? Do you only know you ‘like’ or dislike something about it? What is that something? Certainly there are many other questions that come to mind when looking at art and those answers will always include some measure of subjectivity, which is always welcome and makes for a lively discussion. Its the usual questions regarding design fundamentals and what is ‘liked’ about the work that usually does not make for interesting discourse. Please note, I’m not bashing the consideration of design fundamentals-they should, and always enter the conversation. However, it’s the discussion of ONLY these things that makes for a very technical conversation and one that really doesn’t cut to core regarding what makes us RESPOND to a work of art. When I was teaching at Tyler, I found critique questions that attempt to push beyond design fundamentals to be too esoteric and often led to discussions that were not helpful in actually growing the work. To begin the discussion and to simplify things a bit I came up with three simple questions that would allow each student to delve deeper and therefore allow for the exchange of new ideas regarding how and why we look at, respond to and appreciate art. Once I began proposing these questions in my critiques, students were also able to apply them to their own work and I’m happy to share them with you so that you can do the same. After each question listed below, I have included a list of characteristics that I notice I consistently respond to in a work. I have also included a few examples below of my answers to these questions in reference to specific works from my recent art travels.

  1. What attracts you to this work? What makes you cross the room to take a closer look? Detail, use of color, drama, movement, materials, pattern, ornament, gesture, visual poetry, repetition, raw emotion, deconstruction, drawing and line.
  2. Once you cross the room to view it, does it hold you there? What is it about the work that keeps you looking? Mystery, poetry, finding hidden treasures, a puzzle, a story, innovative use of materials or structure, surfaces, layers, not necessarily having all of the information slapping me in the face, good design, process, skillful craftsmanship and execution, immersive-ness, hauntingly dark, strange anomolies.
  3. Does the work introduce a thought, concept, idea and/or make you think on a higher level? Anything that speaks to dreams, time, memory, connection, open-endedness, explanations of personal struggle, redemption, vindication, love, loss, good/evil, hope, life lessons, experience, transcendence, inspiration, imagination.

Examples

  1. Ryoko Aoki Installation at the Armory, NYC

I was attracted to this installation because of my love of anything textile and embroidery, the placement of the pieces with lots of white space around them and the geometries of the forms having a conversation that invited me to listen. Getting in close,  I was loving the pattern, exquisite craftsmanship and detail, references to drawing and home, handwork, domesticity. Despite the crowd, there was a calm, delicate, quietness that hovered over the whole installation and as I continued to study each grouping, the room slowed and got quieter. I walked around the table a number of times and fell deeper in love with where this piece took me each time.

2. Patrick Jacobs, Pink Forest at the Armory, NYC

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I love me some pink! So of course, I was attracted to this loveliness as well as the combination of interesting materials. Similar to displays at a natural history museum, the installation was inset so the viewer could stand close enough to touch it and almost feel a part of it. I spent a lot of time getting to know this world, I was transfixed by the details and kept finding hidden treasures within this strange forest. It was interesting to discover that the piece is composed primarily of man-made materials made to look natural, which brought ideas of our fading environment to the surface. My mind started to drift as I stared into the seemingly distant center and then the questions….It looks like a landscape I would see everyday, but what is that strange landform in the center? What made this world turn this strange color? Is it toxic? Will it make me sick to stand in front of it? Because of its friendly pink color and serene forest scene, it would appear calming but the longer I stood there and the more questions that came to mind about it, the more off putting it became. I loved that I couldn’t solve this mystery and that it took hold of my imagination.

3. Gustavo Diaz, cut paper sculpture at the Armory, NYC

I was delighted to discover these wonderful cut paper pieces, the tiny details and the unique nature of the work beckoned me to take a closer look. The pieces are interesting from every angle so that keeps the viewer interested in looking-enjoying the many layered details, trying to figure out how these pieces were constructed and how they are staying together being so ridiculously delicate as they are. These piece brought to life a few of the cities described in one of my favorite books, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino and just like the cities in the book, I wondered what it would be like to live in one of these cut paper pieces. I began to imagine tiny people, vehicles, trees, grass, etc. populating the cities. Even so, there is something about these cities that is unfathomable, uninhabitable, peculiar, not quite right..and that’s what kept me looking even longer.

4. Tomas Saraceno, Entangled Orbits at the Baltimore Museum of Art

Probably my most favorite work of the year so far, this piece attracted me because of its drama. Set in an extremely dark room that forced me to immediately turn a corner upon entering, I was a bit disoriented and it took my eyes a moment to adjust-there is no hint to what one is going to see here. Within a vitrine in the middle of the room, the only lights were highlighting these amazing spider webs!! I ran over and stared, were they real? I’m a bit squeamish of spiders and for a second I wondered if there were a number of them in there, but I looked a little closer to realize that the webs were made from wire. Again, thoughts of man replicating nature and doing it quite well made me both sad and intrigued. I stayed in the dark, quiet room checking it from every angle, immersed in the craftsmanship, process and patience it must have taken to create this amazing spectacle.

I hope this article was helpful to you. As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and suggestions-the comments section is located at the upper left sidebar of this post. Please let me know if you’ve applied these questions when out gallery or museum hopping this week or if you’ve developed your own series of evaluation questions. I’m also interested in what characteristics you can add to the lists above. What characteristics most make you respond to a work? I’m most interested to hear whether or not these questions have helped you in your own studio or teaching practice. Let me know, I love hearing from you!

Stay tuned for my next post which was suggested to me by a reader. This post pares down my list of favorite encaustic colors to those I recommend for the beginner. It’s a helpful list whether you are a professional artist or a beginner-you might just be surprised at what few paint colors you actually need in the studio.