Putting It All Together

Celebrating Life: Still Life With Tulips (acrylic and watercolor, 30×22) by Ingrid Neuhofer Dohm.

The exuberance and energy of Still Life With Tulips commands your attention immediately. Using both acrylics and watercolor, artist Ingrid Neuhofer Dohm boldly created a painting that celebrates life. She used bright, pure color, and also introduced subtle mixtures of other colors in the background that play off the flowers nicely. All of this is combined with an interesting wallpaper pattern in the background, making this painting both fun and lively.

Areas to Work On
Dohm’s painting has a playful interaction between what’s in the vase and what’s part of the surroundings. But too much of even a good thing risks diminishing the final effect. And one of the hardest things in painting is keeping the focal point clear as other objects come into play. For Dohm the problem is particularly challenging because she altered the traditional spatial relationships of background, middle ground and foreground. By putting the wallpaper pattern and vase flowers side by side with the same color intensity, she placed the background and the middle ground in the same plane. In the same way, the tabletop bouquet is sitting in front of the vase, but it has the same color intensity and treatment as the vase, flowers and background. Dohm’s challenge then is to allow the viewer into this world of altered space without getting him or her confused. Let’s take a look at how she might address some of these issues.

Art Principles At Work
Building with shapes. When a painting is visually active with high intensity color like Still Life With Tulips, it’s easy to overwhelm the viewer with too much information. Organizing the large shapes within the painting so they move the viewer through the work can help this problem. By shapes I mean shadows and other objects of the same tonality. These large, simpler areas connect with other simple shapes to harmonize and unify the work, as well as allow the more detailed areas to ?show off.? By outlining the large shapes in Dohm’s painting (see the at right) you can see how separate the shadow shapes are and what the potential is for joining them together.

Connecting the shapes. Dohm already has nice, large shapes throughout her painting. The beautiful, dark mass of tulips in the vase nicely sets off the bright focal clump in the middle. The negative space around her flowers is interesting, as is the vase. However, in order to bring about more cohesiveness in the painting, other shapes could be strengthened or downplayed. For example, the wrapping around the tabletop bouquet looks exactly like the flower vase. Treating both objects the same way also gives them equal emphasis, thus making it more difficult to set up a focal point in the center of the painting. By downplaying the strong shape of the wrapper?or even taking it out?and lowering the intensity of the table bouquet, more attention can be directed to the focal point of the bright tulips.

Dohm could lower the intensity of the table bouquet by enlarging the vase’s shadow so that it falls over a portion of the bouquet’s stems. This, in turn, would allow the colors to be more subdued. Allowing the shadow to connect the large shape created by the darker tulips to the table bouquet would also begin to structure the painting in a more unified way, as well as help set up the focal point, as in my revised version of the painting at right.

Establishing foreground. On the right side of the foreground one of the petals from the blue iris bouquet points directly to the table’s edge, thus forming a tangent. (Note the red circle in the diagram above, right.) A tangent is the touching of two shapes along their outer edge. This positioning tends to flatten out forms in space. In this case, the petal gives the illusion of flipping the table’s edge up at the back and flattening out the picture. By overlapping the petal with the edge of the table, the table bouquet moves to the foreground and the wallpaper remains in the background.

Reviewing values. The focal area usually contains the highest value contrast in the painting. A high contrast area is a place where the artist places very light color next to a much darker color for the purpose of emphasis. By lowering the intensity of the white tablecloth, the center tulips appear brighter and the tabletop quieter. Reserving white for the highlights will enable Dohm to better guide the viewer’s eye to the places of emphasis in the painting. Skillful placement of these highlights and shapes can also guide the viewer’s eye to and around the focal point.

In addition, a value change between foreground and middle ground usually alerts the viewer that the objects exist in different spaces. Here, Dohm could have softer middle range values in the foreground while going to the darkest and the lightest values in the focal area.

Harmonizing with color. Finally, it would be good to intermingle colors throughout the painting for balance and unity. Dohm has a very nice color sense, using warm and cool temperatures to suggest light and shadow. She treats the flowers beautifully, clearly communicating their variety with skillful economy of brushstrokes. But the background, the vase flowers and the table bouquet have their own color combinations and few shared colors. By bringing more of the blue tones into the vase tulips and some of the magenta into the blue irises, for instance, more unity can be achieved. Again, by lowering some bright color areas like those next to the vase, the focal area would stand out and glow. Pure colors appear brightest when played off a grayer area.

Lessons Learned
To be completely successful, a painting must have all the necessary ingredients, including a focal point with the structure and values to support it. The structure of the painting is mostly determined by the large shapes functioning in it. These shapes can play down some areas while showcasing others. In addition, the shapes play a major role in moving the viewer through the work, connecting one area to another.

Values are equally important to communicating the message of the painting. If you don’t pay attention to values, unimportant features in the painting can gain too much power while the focal point has too little. Finally, you must constantly evaluate the overall harmony and unity of the painting when color is applied. It’s very easy when painting to focus on the object being painted and fail to see how the particular point relates to the rest of the work. Stepping back from the work to see how a specific element or area relates to the whole is essential.

Dohm’s painting does a great job at communicating her joie de vivre. By simply working a bit more on some of the technical aspects of painting, she’ll be able to bring additional beauty to her art.

About the Artist
When Rockford, Illinois, artist Ingrid Neuhofer Dohm paints, she takes inspiration from this quote by Pierre-Auguste Renoir: ?For me a picture … should be something likable, joyous and pretty?yes, pretty. There are enough ugly things in life for us not to add to them.? One of her paintings was used for the 1996 Austrian Red Cross Christmas card, and she was a finalist in the Illinois chapter of the National Museum of Women in the Arts 2000 Millennium Show.

Bradley Shoemaker has been publishing limited-edition prints for 20 years, and, in 1990, he opened the Bradley Shoemaker Gallery in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

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