16 x 20 inch oil on canvas panel, begun as plein air with subsequent work at home.  Location: Public Gardens in Halifax NS.  Dated 1964.

This one has been carried from place to place, but will not be moved to our new home.  I am aware of numerous issues with this piece, and I offer it up as a learning opportunity to others.  While I don't mind hearing what you may like, it is hoped that you will note the faults and think about how they might have been avoided.  There is little you can say about this that will hurt my feelings, so don't be bashful!

I particularly invite newer or less experienced members to offer opinions, as that is how you learn.  Perhaps Karen and some of the more seasoned artists will hold back until the rest of you have had a chance to comment.

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Thanks Sarah! 

Interesting how each person brings a little different perspective into play.  Appreciate your input.

I had hoped for more input, but guess that is not a realistic expectation.  So here goes my take on this one!

Palette, based upon what I used most often in those days, would have been Cerulean plus either Ultramarine or Cobalt blue, Flake or Zinc white (was not introduced to Titanium until acrylics arrived), Cad Yellow plus either Naples Yellow or Yellow Ochre, Raw and/or Burnt Umber, and Mars Black.  I was never happy with tube greens, so learned early on to mix what I needed.

Composition is a huge problem.  There is no center of interest; as Wenda said, it is pretty, but that is about all it has going for it.  The circular path leads the eye out of the scene, as does the horizontal shadow under the pine tree.  The flowers in the lower left were an after-thought to hide the otherwise empty space, and really add little other than a bit of colour.

Lighting is another issue.  It is inconsistent from one area to another.  Some shadows indicate an overhead sun, but foliage suggests the light is coming from high to the right.  The trunk of the pine tree indicates highly directional lighting from the right..  And just what is casting the shadow over the benches and pathway?

There is no real depth.  The mid grass area is brighter than the foreground.  There is a hard line between the grass and the base of the trees.  The same green is used for most of the foliage, with almost no bluing or dulling to suggest distance.  The only sense of depth is the perspective shown on the curled path - which takes us out of the picture anyway!

"Floaters".  Plant stems end abruptly at ground level; they are not anchored to the landscape.  In an apparent attempt to hide that problem, the shadows were given unrealistic dark values.  The circular bed behind the pine tree has the same problem; it could be floating in mid air or a colourful bracket fungus attached to the trunk.  None of the flower beds show cast shadow and have no sense of being grounded.

Brushwork is very confusing.  The sky and far trees are quite coarse and show stiff brushmarks, while the grass has been done with diluted paint and smoothed out horizontally.  The pine tree is almost the center of interest solely because of the heavy knife work and textural contrast compared with everything else.  The foreground shrubs look like little puffballs, with no sense of growth patterns or foliage.  The background trees have more character!

This was painted during a period when I was experimenting with a lot of things, and getting somewhat looser in my painting style.  Most of us go through these stages, but the confusion may not play out on a single canvas as it has here. 

The sky was done, first with Cerulean Blue and white, but I always took issue with the unrealistic shade it produced.  It was not until I did the "Blues" blog here on Karen's site that I realized the basic problem and made changes.  In any event, I attempted to warm the sky with some Umber and white, applied with a wide brush in a somewhat random, almost patchwork pattern.  It worked to some degree, but problems persisted.

Prior to this, everything was trial and error, with no input or guidance from anyone who knew any more than me.  Finding problems was the easy part; figuring how to correct or prevent them was another thing altogether.   Sometimes we just know it doesn't look right, but don't know why or what to do about it.

This scene probably does not exist anymore.  After 42 years and multiple tropical storms, things will have changed.  To go back again, and I hope I do, I would like to hone in closer and try not to go for the pretty picture but something specific and special that holds my attention.  Something with nice values, strong composition, and great design.  And I promise to take some photos.   .   .! 

Excellent critique Charles! I find it really helpful as well to go back to my early paintings and try to figure out what went wrong. Thanks for sharing this, I think it was a great exercise for those that spent some time answering. And they came up with some great comments, too! Well done everyone!

thanks Charels! i too had hoped more folks would participate. but i couldn't wait to hear your critique haha. this was so much fun. so, how come i cant see what is wrong with my own?!

To quote an unknown philosopher, Wenda, it is always easier to see the splinter in your neighbor's eye than the log that is in your own.  Anytime we have a vested interest, it is more difficult to be impartial.  If we don't admit our mistakes, though, it is impossible to learn from them.

Posting here for a critique does leave one feeling a bit vulnerable, but it is a great way to learn from others who have more experience, or a different viewpoint, or simply a different way of doing things.  The result can be an Aha! moment that opens new doors for us as we slap those bristles against the canvas! 

Well Charles, think you covered everything lol. I didn't notice everything you just criticized, until you pointed it out. I didn't realize how difficult it is to critique someone's work kindly, fairly and well articulated. Thanks for this post. Very challenging and helpful.

The nice part about doing this to my own work is that I don't have to be positive or even fair - simply honest with myself.  It would be most unkind to post a critique like this about someone else's work.  That requires one to serve as a teacher or mentor as well as "judge", and that can sometimes be difficult.  Finding fault is easy - turning it into a supportive learning experience is quite another matter.  Finding that balance is one area that has caused me problems in the past, and probably will in the future.

Glad you found it of value, and hope that it helps you self-evaluate as you work on your own paintings. 

I just stumbled across this  critique today.  Thanks Charles for this exercise.  I didn't get to participate but enjoyed and learned from reading all the posts.  Thanks again!

I've been away for a while,so hadn't seen this great challenge!. I read Sarah's reply, but not yours, Charles, as I want to give it a shot too. I agree with Sarah. It doesn't feel to me like there is a focal point. What stands out to me is the lack of value change. It all feels th same to me, so there is no depth for my eye to follow into the distance. Also, and this is a silly thing...is that a lamp post in the middle? The scale seems way off between it and the trees. Then when I started dwelling on it, all the objects seemed off in scale. That is probably the depth thing again. Ok, now I will go back and read your comments, Charles.this is fun!


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