Familiarity Breeds Success

Growing up, Marie Salvato would follow her photographer father into the country and through the woods in search of subjects. For the Brick, New Jersey, artist, most of the intrigue of these wanderings came from not knowing what was around the next bend in the path.

A similar sort of intrigue comes through in Summer Path, where Salvato’s representation of a hot, hazy, humid day is complete with a path that leads us to a tempting tunnel of cool shade and, perhaps, into another adventure. Yet with the cohesive way she’s presented this time and place, with color unity and balance, we get the impression that she knows exactly what’s on the other side of the shrubbery. And she does, actually. Over the years, Salvato says she’s “painted more than 30 scenes of this one spot by the lake, in all seasons, at different times of day and from different angles.”

It shows. In fact, it’s this familiarity with her subject that I believe makes Summer Path an exceptional painting. It exhibits a total knowledge and sureness that can come only from a practiced intimacy with a subject. I can’t overemphasize the importance of this point. Repeatedly painting a place can help you develop your observational skills. And your art will far exceed that of a one-time and rather casual observer.

Art Principles At Work
Shaping the composition. I truly like this painting, and I can think of only one area where I’d suggest improvement. In the stone wall’s most foreground presentation, it could curve out into the path just a bit more, then retreat to its position as the painting now stands. Doing so would free the wall a little more from its present parallel alignment with the right-hand margin of the painting, as well as let it more easily sweep the viewer into the piece.

Keeping it simple. Looking for a dramatic subject to depict often causes us to overlook the beauty and power of a simpler scene, such as the one in Summer Path. This painting is made up of simple physical items: trees, grasses, a stone wall, a path, a pond, a distant repetition of trees and a shoreline. No one but a painter with a perceptive eye would find interest in such simplicity. And it’s obvious in the sensitive alignment of pond, foliage and path shapes that Salvato considered the abstract nature of her subject and how the shapes would divide the picture plane.

Using movement to your advantage. Our trip up the path is led, in great measure, by Salvato’s skilled use of perspective. With regard to movement, the trees and path never allow us to stray until we’ve walked through the round, brightly lit opening to what looks like the walkway’s terminus. Upon closer inspection, we can see that the level of the path at that point is level with the extension of the trees and shoreline in the upper left, forcing us to sense the continuing of the path behind the screening of trees.

Balancing line and shape. There’s a very sly but effective horizontal stability in Summer Path. All the rounded and soft foliage is stabilized by the quiet flatness of the water surface, the horizontal strength of the distant shoreline and the perfectly realized shadow patterns across the walkway. And those horizontal factors serve only to make the round softness more obvious. Though not as apparent, the two slender tree trunks in the central tree mass also break up the curvy nature of this piece.

Paying attention to light. The light in this painting is flawless. Its direction and the play over the forms of the trees—along with the delicate touches at the edges of leaf masses to separate each tree and on the foreground grasses to pull them strongly forward—are masterfully accomplished.

Creating excitement through color. Salvato treats us to a very subtle variation in color temperatures throughout the painting. Most apparent is the warm pinkish color that travels through the tree shadows on the path and the shadow that climbs up the stone wall at right. This warm coloration gives a lovely contrast to the coolness of the foliage.

In the foliage itself, Salvato has solved one of our toughest painting problems (at least one of mine). She’s stroked the greenery with warm and cool color variants that lend those areas a vibrant life quality——aided by a soft-edged handling that makes us truly feel the density and texture of leaf masses. Additionally, that warm pinkness is quietly inserted into the trees overhanging the walk and reflected off the shadows on the path.

Lessons Learned
Salvato’s outstanding grasp of the oil medium and her competent use of color, line, shape, design and movement all contribute to the overall feeling of a hazy, humid summer day. Yet I feel that had she not spent so much time painting the different views, times of day and seasons at this park, she may have ended up with a completely different—and maybe not quite as accomplished—painting. It’s important to know about design and how to use your medium, but painting your subjects over and over will help you work it out more easily and move your art in the right direction.

About the Artist
Marie Salvato received her art training from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, but has painted consistently for only the past eight years. She’s taken art workshops from Mel Stabin and Anthony Ventura, and has been accepted into the American Artists Professional League at the Salmagundi Club in New York City. Salvato is represented by several galleries in her home state of New Jersey.

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