With Pastel Cat, Kristina Becker takes full advantage of the pastel medium to create the tactile texture of the cats fur, combining it with a smooth, airbrushed background for contrast. Pets and animals are great sources of inspiration, and Beckers sensitive depiction shows the dignity her pet possesses while maintaining the aloof air for which cats are known. Shes been quite successful in rendering the cat realistically; this cat clearly has a distinct personality. Although the painting is basically monochromatic, Becker has subtly interspersed a variety of colors, which suggests that she studied the cat closely instead of relying solely on photographic reference.
Id like to explore ways in which Becker could control some of the lightest areas of this painting to bring more focus to her center of interest. A little more attention to edge control and drawing would also go a long way toward directing the viewers eye.
Art Principles At Work
Maintaining a consistent light source. Becker has effectively created a strong feeling of light on her subject, but the direction of that light is hard to discern. If the light were coming from behind, for instance (as the white areas around the cats head suggests), there would also be a stronger pattern of light on the left side of the cats body. In addition, the cats earsparticularly its left earmight be bathed in warm, light color, which would give Becker the opportunity to integrate even more color variation.
The airbrushed background, while a great choice to complement the texture of the pastel, isnt as effective as it could be for this same reason. Its random light and dark patterns further confuse the direction of the light source.
Capturing necessary details. Beckers close-cropped composition is a skillful choice here, as opposed to including the entire figure of the animal. This tight cropping further enhances the intensity of the cats gaze and creates a very strong, intimate composition. However, with such a tight focus, it becomes noticeable that the foreground drawingthe cats paw and arm in particularis a bit fuzzy. It should be more descriptive of the anatomy so it doesnt distract from an otherwise convincing portrayal.
Controlling and varying edges. Beckers handling of the pastel could be strengthened by using sharper edges where she wants to lead the viewers eye and softer ones in less important areas of the composition. For instance, the top edges of the cats head have a strong rim light, which makes the cat look somewhat cut out against the background. These edges could be softened, placing the emphasis instead on the cats left ear, where the light seems to originate.
In addition, some of the lights on the front of the cats face, specifically under its right eye and to the right of the nose, are currently as bright as the left edge of its head. While these scattered lights do suggest the variations in the cats fur, theyre too bright, leaving a spotty impression. If these variations were subtler, they wouldnt rival the lightest lights in the painting and would lead the viewers eye more effectively through the work.
The strength and simplicity of the composition and the sensitive handling of pastel are indications of Beckers obvious talent. Careful observation of her subject will help her glean more anatomical detail for her drawing, while developing a better sense of cohesive value patterns will further strengthen her work. Being more sensitive to edge control as the painting develops will not only allow Becker to direct the viewer throughout, but will also allow her to create more form and dimension within her composition. In my own development as an artist, Ive realized you have to be hypersensitive to your subject if you want to develop the necessary connection for interpreting what you see.
About the Artist
Toledo, Ohio, artist Kristina Becker works with terminally ill patients and teaches art to neighborhood children in her spare time. She does private portrait commissions and has won several local awards for her work.
Robert A. Johnson, of Vienna, Virginia, is a signature member of the Oil Painters of America and Allied Artists of America, and a life member of the Art Students League of New York. A veteran of 13 one-man shows and many group shows, his awards include first-place prizes from the Salmagundi Club and The Artist’s Magazine‘s 1993 Art Competition. He teaches privately and at the Scottsdale Artists’ School, and he’s the author of the book On Becoming a Painter (Sunflower Publishing, 2001) and an instructional video from Liliedahl Publications.