What makes this painting amateurish?
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Thread: What makes this painting amateurish?

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    Red face What makes this painting amateurish?

    I painted this still life of tulips over the weekend. It was an exercise to practise some new painting techniques I had learnt recently from an instructional DVD by Richard Schmid. My intention was not to copy his technique, but learn from some of his ideas. For example, one idea that struck me was the question: "Is this brush mark I'm about to make going to weaken or strenghten the painting?". What I felt I achieved from this painting was a more confident control of my individual brush marks.

    After painting the work I got a friend to check it out. Basically, in her words, she felt it looked too 'amateurish'. I tried to quiz her to seek a more specific appraisal. What specific qualities about the painting make it appear amateurish?

    Some ideas that came up were:

    • It's backgroud is too plain.
    • The vase is slightly crooked (with a gradual lean to the left) and it's edges are not symetrical.


    Despite these issues one strength of the painting did seem to be it's composition.

    So, giving it a little thought, leaves me with the question - Are the weak background and vase distracting the eye away from the centre of interest which are the three flowers? Were the background and vase perhaps over worked with too many brush strokes?

    ... Keen for anyone to step in at this point!

    Thanks.

    P.S. Always like to look over general information on a forum before posting and found this in Cut and Paste Critiques:

    "Working on an image part by part ends up usually looking fairly inconsistent, and the result is a much weaker image. Instead, try working on an image and bringing it up in stages of polish, this yields much better results."

    I must admit that I would mix the background color apply it, mix the foreground color, apply it, mix the vase color, apply it, etc, I'm sure you get the picture. Each common color area was admittedly painted separately ...

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    Last edited by Philippe Le Miere; September 20th, 2009 at 08:21 PM.
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    When I look at your painting I start with the flowers. I follow them down their stems, to their leaves, towards what I think is a beautifully rendered vase (you got the transparency right on the dot!) Then I see that the vase is resting on some cards (coasters?) which are resting on --
    Wait, what? What is that, is that a cloud? Whatever it is, it's definitely not solid - if it were, the flowers and vase would be casting a much more defined shadow. This object, whatever it is, is a light grey, and it blends slowly into a darker patch of grey above it. Baffling.

    You see sir, I'm pretty sure that the flower and vase are on top of a table, but that's only an inference. Pay attention to everything in your composition. What's behind the flowers? What's underneath the vase? Show me.

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    I personally think it's a great painting. The use of bright vs. dull colors reminds me of David Hockney's flower paintings. The only improvement I could suggest is to work on the leaves a bit so they read more 3D, but that's not really a huge problem.

    I don't think you should worry about what your friends think about your work.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SquareSquare View Post
    ... which are resting on --
    Wait, what? What is that, is that a cloud? Whatever it is, it's definitely not solid - if it were, the flowers and vase would be casting a much more defined shadow. This object, whatever it is, is a light grey, and it blends slowly into a darker patch of grey above it. Baffling.
    Thanks SquareSquare! Great to get a fresh set of eyes on this picture. Definitely agree that I've made a 'floating still-life'. The vague background is weakening the picture.

    Also, thanks Giacomo. It's hard not to hear the words of a tough critic. I've often admired the work of David Hockney, so great to hear some of his influence is coming through.

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    An artist "feels" his work, it is unique to him/her. To be true to yourself is the greatest reward an artist can have. I would suggest making good use of the things you learn but use them to enhance "your" unique style.

    I played with this just a bit to show you what I mean when I say I would suggest you increase your contrast to create a stronger 3D presence.

    And I also noticed that the bottom of your vase seems farther away than the flowers which seems closer. I don't quite read this piece as "looking down on". Its more like the perspective his skewed a bit.

    It has strong colors, make use of that. Good luck

    "Creativity emerges only when the imagination is given the freedom it deserves."
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    Common "amateurish" qualities this painting exhibits:
    Weak drawing (the vase)
    Oversaturated color, and a general emphasis on hue over value/chroma
    Limp, uniform brushstrokes that don't deliberately describe form or texture

    Having said all that, it's not bad, and the composition and general color scheme are quite nice. Keep at it.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Razorleaf View Post
    And I also noticed that the bottom of your vase seems farther away than the flowers which seems closer. I don't quite read this piece as "looking down on". Its more like the perspective his skewed a bit.
    Thanks for the paintover Razorleaf. Yes, the weak, soft background leaves the viewer without a definite sense of perspective. Perhaps it might be a good idea to do my own griding up of the image and look more closely at it's perspective.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell View Post
    Common "amateurish" qualities this painting exhibits:
    Weak drawing (the vase)
    Oversaturated color, and a general emphasis on hue over value/chroma
    Limp, uniform brushstrokes that don't deliberately describe form or texture
    Perfect. Thank you Elwell.

    Yes, the basic drawing of the vase is weakening the image. You are correct about the emphasis on hue, as the tulips for example, were painted with saturated color straight out of the tube. And finally, interestingly put, for all my attempt to improve my brush strokes, they are indeed 'uniform'. With the vase I've tried to describe it's form using strokes around it, but yes, will give more attention to adding variety to my brush strokes.

    By the way, checked out your portfolio - love your work!

    Cheers.

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    It looks like you painted the background around the flowers. I don't know much about traditional painting, but it seems like brush strokes that were parallel to the wall would make it look more... wallish. And more "behind" the flowers. Right now, the flowers and the wall look very flat, almost like wallpaper.

    As opposed to this. Whatever that is behind the apple blossoms, it's painted independently of them -- which makes them both look more real, I think. Despite the fact that the background is very obviously make out of brushstrokes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Morgan_R View Post
    It looks like you painted the background around the flowers. ... Whatever that is behind the apple blossoms, it's painted independently of them -- which makes them both look more real, I think. Despite the fact that the background is very obviously make out of brushstrokes.
    Well done Morgan_R! Thanks for pointing out the Schmid painting reference. Yes, there is growing support towards the overly simplified, soft and nebulous, poorly brushed background as being a key weakness in my still life exercise.

    Also starting to see that, while perhaps the composition is good, the 'focal point' of the picture is weak. The eye isn't really given a focus and seems to move between the flowers, vase and the 'non-existent' background.

    The feedback has been fantastic so far and am really glad for having uploaded this painting - I can already feel my painting skills are improving.

    Cheers.

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    1-The main one that bugs me is that I can't really place where the lightsource is. (up and to the left?)
    This may be personal bias though, I tend to get twitchy if things don't have spotlamps on them..

    2-Other than the vase interior and back of table your edges are all really sharp. I think this is what's causing point 4.

    3-I don't think the background is too plain, but it is very uniform. A plain wall under a light source will fade from light to dark depending on direction of light.

    4-I think it isn't going back effectively. It's almost like you painted the foreground then added the background..

    My studenty 2p worth, good luck with it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Flake View Post
    1-The main one that bugs me is that I can't really place where the lightsource is. ...
    2-Other than the vase interior and back of table your edges are all really sharp. ...
    Thank you Flake. Great points. Yes, you're right, no definite light source is weakening this painting.

    Giving your reply some thought, I think when I do this exercise again I will be more careful with establishing a main light source. It's funny, and I've seemed to notice it mostly with painting, how important a single light source is.

    I can also see that a good light source will start to solve some of the other consecutive points, such as sharp edges and ambiguous background.

    Cheers.

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    For me, the vase doesn't seem situated on the table. The table and background are so eerily smooth, it almost looks as if the vase were hanging above a pale planetscape. Some sense of the texture of the table would bring it down.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuseboy View Post
    For me, the vase doesn't seem situated on the table. ... Some sense of the texture of the table would bring it down.
    Good call Fuseboy. Yes, it's almost like the background needs to do more work to lead the eye into the center of interest, namely the vase and flowers.

    Guess that's another vote for the background being the main weakness of this painting.

    Thanks for also making a suggestion of improvement and will definitely think more about hinting at texture through a background.

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