June 1, 2015
Members’ Art Critique Night by David Rankin

Many of our members took the opportunity to have their artwork critiqued by world renowned artist David Rankin (see photos at the bottom of this page). “I like doing this and looking at others' artwork," David told us a story of his art school days at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where critiques were given every day and they were brutal - after four years of art school, his friend Gary was bluntly asked by the instructor, “Have you ever thought of dental school?!”  However, Gary, apparently not a good artist, went on to become the biggest art director in the city of Cleveland!

"Doing a critique is not like judging an art show," David said, "It’s to assist you to improve your artwork."  It doesn't matter what the medium is, David looks for elements that tell him how the artist works.  He'll stand 10 feet away and look to see if the artwork makes him want to look closer.  He asked each artist to answer the question, "What inspired you to do this piece?”

In the course of the evening he critiqued many watercolors, acrylics, and photographs.  Common themes emerged, such as values versus stylization, and identifying the work's focal point (David suggested we look at John Singer Sargent’s “The Hermit” as a prime example).  To hone our observational skills he suggested we visit the Cleveland Museum of Art, and focus on a specific theme, such as the artist's focal point, with each visit, rather than just wandering around the museum, browsing, and having a nice lunch”

Analyzing one piece, David pointed out the focal point was split, in another he remarked that his eye was wandering over the painting not knowing where the focal point was, and in another he saw nothing but visual chaos.

And again and again he exclaimed, "It’s all about values, values, values!  Many artists paint from photographs and so their artwork appears flat, it has no visual depth, everything has the same value."  David encouraged us to think in terms of four values - the white of the paper, the mid-value, near darkest dark, and darkest dark.  Correct use of these will create the illusion of depth.  In arranging these values in the artwork - foreground, middle and background - they can appear in any order, but if, for instance, the same dark value appears in both foreground and background, it will "flatten" the painting and lose all sense of depth.  This rule can be violated, as when creating a stylized work, but it must be followed in order to create a natural sense of depth.

David emphasized studying your subject and asking, "What's darker, what's lighter?"  For the intermediate painter, he has observed that "darks are never dark enough, and the lights are too pale."  He emphatically reminded us, "You are the lighting director of your own painting."

In conclusion, David reminded us that his critique is the opinion of just one artist, and then added, "But, I am right”  "You are the artist, you decide what to express.”

David kindly offered to have our members send him images of their artwork for his critique at .

We thank David for an entertaining and informative evening.

And our thanks to Karen VanLinge, and Sue and Tom Herrle, for the evenings refreshments.  After such an entertaining evening, members swarmed the refreshment table to load their plates with deliciously different brownies, yummy lemon yogurt cake, plates of ripe, beautiful fruit, and more.....

Artist David Rankin critiques members' art works




Original - focus is split . . . . Revised - more dominant focus

Original - lacks contrast . . . . Revised - image "pops"

The two examples above show before and after images of artworks modified by the artists based upon David's suggestions.  In the first, the original focus was split between the diffused flowers at the top of the photo, and the sharp image at the bottom.  The revised image moves the sharp, intended subject of the photo into a more prominent location, the upper right "sweet spot" where it now dominates instead of competing for attention.  In the second set, the light background weakened the impact of the excellent bird painting, whereas the revised painting makes the bird "pop" out at the viewer and makes a more dramatic image.