Jamie’s Critique Corner: At the Diner

Pastel artist Karen Howard hasn’t had an official art critique in many years. Thanks, Karen, for putting yourself out there and agreeing to have your work critiqued! Opening yourself up to comments can be a little intimidating, but it is so important take small risks if you’re going to improve your art. Like many artists, Karen has had a lifelong love of art, but has had more time in recent years to concentrate on her painting.

Art Critique of “At The Diner”

Art critique of "At the Diner" by Karen Howard | ArtistsNetwork.com

At the Diner (pastel, 14×18) by Karen Howard (www.zhibit.org/karenhoward)

Karen requested that we talk about composition and focal point and, after looking at a few of her paintings, I thought At The Diner was a great subject for an art critique. The strong contrasts within the painting create drama and the reflections throughout the painting engage the eye. Karen works from photographs and she has no qualms about getting the set up she wants, often taking hours or days to create the best arrangement.

The design of this painting provides movement, creating a triangular route for the eye. The ketchup bottle is obviously the dominant element (it’s red, after all), but the eye travels down to the reflections in the knife and fork, and then up the straw to the lime floating in the glass of water before returning to the ketchup bottle. Along the way, the eye encounters some lovely elements, like the subtle reflections on the table top, the cloudy water in the glass, the reflections in the chrome condiment caddy and the highlights on the ketchup and mustard bottles.

Karen handled these reflections very well, creating a realistic balance between the darks and highlights. One of the keys to creating realistic reflections is to find the shapes, values and colors within the objects you’re painting. It’s useful to stop thinking of the objects (like a glass of water) as objects and start thinking about them as shapes, values and colors. Seeing those parts within the objects and capturing them accurately will help create a convincing painting. Just be careful the shapes are accurately rendered, or your objects will appear unrealistic.

As we talked, it occurred to me that sometimes we can be good at something and not realize it, and that hearing about our strengths can give us confidence to press on and do great work. Karen was interested in how she could create better compositions, but she’s already creating strong, innovative ones. I encouraged her to keep trying different set ups, and to trust her artistic eye when creating her still lifes.

Quick Note: Karen will take photo references of still lifes found in public places and work to find the right composition. It’s always good to get permission to take photos in public, but don’t be shy in asking. Many people are more than happy to accommodate the creative process.


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.

You may also like these articles:

COMMENT