Jamie’s Critique Corner: Nature’s Ballerina

I had the pleasure of speaking on the phone with Teresa Johnson who, like many of us, is balancing work, life and creating art. She’s primarily an oil painter looking to improve her painting skills in order to expand her art career.

Art critiques at ArtistsNetwork.com | Oil painting by Teresa Johnson

Art Critique: Focus on the Details to Convey the Big Picture

Though we reviewed several of her paintings, this critique focuses on Nature’s Ballerina (above; oil on canvas, 20×24). Teresa wanted to capture the grace and movement of the central tree’s branches that appeared to her to be the arms of a ballerina in motion. During our discussion, we concentrated on overarching strategies to add impact to her work.

The painting evokes a solid sense of depth—the values decrease and the colors become less intense as they recede into the background. This is a common approach to landscape painting and creates a realistic effect. We talked about the importance, however, of not losing detail in the process.

  1. Here are the suggestions I gave Teresa:
    1. Adding minor details throughout the scene will make each element unique. Adding detail not only creates a more believable scene, but also creates interest in the painting. Details hold our attention and make us want to look longer. For example, the tops of the mountains would be more impactful if the edges had more variety. Additional details on the mountainsides would add subtle variations and move our eye through the composition.
    2. Varying brushstrokes will help to define the terrain, and show how light reflects differently in different areas. Note the cluster of shrubs and trees that surround the central tree (the ‘ballerina’) in the upper-right quadrant. A lot of attention and detail is given to the focal tree, but the surrounding area is not given the same level of attention and doesn’t reflect the same highlights and shadows as on the central tree. Because they are on the same plane, the light should be creating similar highlights and shadows.
    3. Adding sharper edges throughout the painting, in appropriate places, like the trees in the middle ground, will create more variation and detail, which translate to the viewer spending more time processing what he/she sees.
    4. Increasing the range of values and colors will bring detail to the work. The painting has a solid range of values, but could contain more. Identifying the key shapes and values, and then creating subtle value (or color) shifts within those shapes will add more detail to the painting, which in turn will create more interest.
    5. Developing a unique color palette can help give the artist a signature style, as well as give the painting a more dramatic and expressive feel.

You can see more of Teresa’s work on her website at teresalynnjohnson.com. Scroll down to see how you can have your artwork considered for an upcoming art critique.


Jamie Markle mixed media artist

Jamie Markle

As group publisher of F+W Media’s fine art community, Jamie Markle oversees the development of fine art magazines, books, videos and websites.

Want to receive a FREE art critique?

Send a link to your website or 6-8 lo-res images to tamedit@fwmedia.com with the subject line “Jamie’s Critique Corner.” If your work is chosen, we’ll be in touch (please do not send follow-up emails). Chosen artists will receive a thank-you gift.

For a more in-depth art critique that includes an overall evaluation of your artwork’s strengths and weaknesses and clear suggestions on how to move forward with your art, visit Artists Network University, where we have more artists on hand to critique your work.

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