NEW! Order a Painting Critique LEARN MORE

Setting the Stage

September 27, 2018
By Richard Robinson
Setting the Stage logo

I just had an interesting email from a friend named Rene Boast ( ) who wanted some help with her latest painting of a Cheetah. The photo she sent me (on the left) is the painting still in progress. The detailed work on the Cheetah is really beautiful and reminded me of some of my first oil paintings copying Raymond Ching's early bird paintings. Anyway she asked me this:

"Due to the white waterfall should I make the cheetah more burnt sienna to make it pop out?"

It seemed to me that the problem was not the Cheetah at all - it was the background taking the focus away from all that beautiful work. I felt that the background for this needed to be the stage for the Cheetah, but instead it was trying to be another actor on the stage. I felt like having a play with it so I fiddled with the background in Photoshop.

I barely touched the Cheetah at all. I only darkened the right side of him in the bottom right corner and blurred it a little. I also lightened the lights on the left of his head and chest just a little to give a better sense of the direction of the light.

Notice how the lines in the background barely run into the cat now. You've just got to give things room to breath sometimes. I remember the exact moment I learned that back in 2002 when I paid a visit to Ivan Clarke in his South Island gallery. I noticed that for every element he wanted to have stand out he would subdue the detail and colour in the area directly behind it. Quite simple really, but one of those things that often goes unnoticed because it's so subtle.

Paintings with sharp detail everywhere remind me of photography where you can often have both the foreground and background in sharp focus at the same time. Our eye doesn't see like that - in fact it has a very small focal area, so there's a good case to be made for designing paintings in the same way.

Hope you learned something new from that, or at least were reminded of something.

I don't normally have time to critique paintings individually now because there are just so many people writing to me that I would never get anything else done if I answered them all, but in this case I took some time to look at this interesting problem.

HOWEVER...! The best way to find out everything I know about painting is to take advantage of all the painting lessons on this website when you get a Premium Membership. How was that sales pitch? Too blatant? Hmmm, need to go to sales pitch school or something.

Happy Painting ,