Keeping the Audience


Minnesota Morning (pastel 9x12), a finished painting that illustrates the concept


a small illustration of the oval space within a rectangle.

Every performer wants attention. Otherwise they wouldn’t choose to work on the public stage. And keeping the audience’s attention is paramount to a successful performance. Once attention is distracted, it can be well nigh impossible to bring it back. It’s no different with a painting. We want it to be viewed and enjoyed. We hope the viewer enters into the universe of our creation within the chosen format and lingers, ultimately experiencing our intentions. In most successful paintings, this is not by accident but by design.

A well-positioned and highly orchestrated area of interest within a painting is one of the most powerful tools used to draw attention. Contrast of edge, contrast of value, and contrast of color intensity are all useful tools implemented in placing the spotlight on the star (the area of interest). Analysis of the compositional elements of shape and directional flow are others. These are the most common tools taught to aspiring artists and are, without a doubt, extremely useful.

Another useful visual tool that will greatly help in keeping the audience from straying outside the painting’s edges is how the peripheral spaces of the painting are handled. When we look forward, our eyes focus on a given area and everything outside that area becomes softer and weaker in appearance. Purposefully softening hard edges, slightly darkening light value masses, and weakening color saturation as they travel to the periphery of the painting directs the viewer to the center space, making it easier to keep their attention within its confines. This can be a subtle manipulation and need not appear contrived. The audience should not even be aware of its use.

To make this easier, start by faintly drawing an oval within the confines of your painting’s space using the center top/bottom and the center left/right. The egg shape oval produced within rectangular painting formats provides a guide. Then place the compositional elements of the scene as you normally would, making sure to manipulate the appearance of sharp edges, value contrasts, and color intensity as they enter the spaces outside the central oval. Remember to keep it subtle. When handled with finesse, the audience will be more likely to linger longer on your personal painting performance.

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