Did Paul Newman Show Up?

Did Paul Newman Show Up?

This is one of the questions that I ask my workshop students at the end of the day critique session where everyone brings their paintings to the front of the class and I review them one by one. 

Paul Newman, back in the day (I realize he died in 2008) was The Star, The Man, The Big Kahuna, The Main Man. Usually, if he was in a movie he was the star of the movie. He was the star because he could drive viewers to the movie. He made the most money in the film and had his name listed first in the list of cast members. Paul Newman was the most important part of the film.

Just as films need stars, so do paintings. The main star in a painting is the center of interest - and that is where Paul Newman shows up. The center of interest is called many names including focal point, focal area, area of dominance, area of interest, etc. The center of interest is the most important part of the painting, and every painting needs one. It's the artist's job to clearly show us the most important part of the painting.

A painting, like a film, doesn't have 25 stars. If you had told Paul Newman that he had to share credits, billing and money with 24 other "stars" he would not do the film. That's why films don't usually have lots of equal billing, and tons of popular stars in the same movie. So Paul Newman is more important to the film than the guy who goes to fetch coffee and donuts for the crew. All roles in a film are not equal. Likewise, all parts of a painting cannot have equal importance.

The center of interest is clearly the most important, but there are also probably co-stars that carry some of the load of the painting - usually echos or smaller and less important versions of the star. There are also areas of the painting which are more dull and uninteresting and don't get much billing or attention at all. If all parts of the painting had equal importance, then nothing would really be important at all. You need less important (or even dull) areas to make the star shine brighter. After all, what would the crew do without coffee and donuts?

Paintings rely on contrast to help the center of interest shine bright. Mainly value contrast, color contrast, and edge contrast (hard edges). Without sufficient contrast, the painting will be uninteresting - which leads to boredom - which leads to sleep! Contrast, on the other hand lends interest to the painting - which leads to engagement by the viewer. Engagement is what we must have if we hope to sell our work.

The next time you are analyzing one of your paintings, ask yourself, "Did Paul Newman show up?"

If you're interested in learning how to create a strong center of interest in your paintings, please join me for a painting workshop: (You can view a list of 2018 workshops HERE)

As always, thanks so much for your support!


P.S. If you you'd like to learn more about the basics of painting design, Design Fundamentals for the Artist is my online course:

Design Fundamentals for the Artist will provide you with a firm foundation on which to build all of your art making activities. For Information Click Here.

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