Guided Still Life

The first thing that attracted me to Linda Paul’s Tuscany Window (bas-relief and egg tempera, 40×30) is the mood or atmosphere it creates. There is very pleasant warmth to the whole image that invites me to look and linger. Because the painting combines both still-life and landscape, there is a lot to see and enjoy and both genres celebrate life. A still-life with wine, cheese and fruit, it invokes a hearty appetite and suggests bounty, the food being the products of a rich, fertile, and well-tended countryside, as seen in the background vista.

There’s an implied reminder to the viewer to partake and appreciate the good and simple things in life. The dark clouds are ambiguous; do they suggest bad weather coming or leaving? This ambiguity provides just enough tension to make the painting more intriguing.

Leading the eye
The color scheme is very satisfying; the predominantly warm colors are well balanced by the darker cool blues. The warm colors unify the composition, while the cool notes provide variety and contrast. The artist has done a good job creating a path for the viewer’s eye to follow. The eye has an inviting entree into the picture starting in the upper left with the darker, distant clouds and the sweeping curve of the arch. The eye is led into the lower right corner where it can linger on the wine bottles, then is pulled toward the lower center where it can explore and enjoy the fruit and cheese.

Next, the eye is pulled into the background landscape, following the curvature of the fields, moving toward the center to come to rest at the building on the horizon which is nicely placed near—but not exactly in—the center. This path is an engaging spiral. The artist has provided several focal points that allow the eye to rest and linger as it scans the composition. These points are smaller, darker, and cooler, shapes: the grape clusters, wine bottle, and flowers, as numbered in the diagram.

Improving the view
My suggestions for improvement are intended to make the path of the eye, already well defined by the artist, even better. First, the one blue blossom hanging from the arch could overlap the arch more instead of hanging isolated in space, which interrupts the path of the eye along the arch’s curve. Second, the objects in the lower corners, the grapes and blossom, are too close to the edges and point out of the picture. In particular, the grapes in lower right form a dark arrow that directs the eye right out of the frame. Third, the objects in the still-life are just a bit too close to the bottom edge of the picture, suggesting they are sitting on it.

On the left, the bottom edges of the grape cluster, the cheese ball, cheese wedge and the fruit platter are all lined up in a straight line with no overlap, which enhances this impression. Finally, the building on the horizon could be softer and the windows less dark to make it seem more distant, which is consistent with the soft atmospheric perspective of the hillsides.

These suggestions would make an already well-designed and attractive composition even stronger and more interesting, nevertheless Linda has captured the spirit of Tuscany in her composition.

Greg Albert has taught drawing and painting at the Art Academy of Cincinnati for more than 20 years. He’s the author of Drawing: You Can Do It (1992) and The Simple Secret to Better Painting (2003), both from North Light Books. He’s currently working on a book on figure drawing. Click here to read about his approach to critiquing.

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