A Painting Critique “Aquarius”

I’ve been doing a series of stilllife paintings featuring clear water in clear vessels, thought I’d have some fun with it so I chose this subject.

I usually like to start off with a drawing, why?duck-draw

  • I can explore the subject in a simpler form, no color, no paint.
  • Helps to organize the values and see where “pushing them around” could benefit the painting.
  • Helps to imagine how I may want to exaggerate or suppress some things to make a stronger statement


After about 4 hours I was at this point, 90% finished. This is a good time to get away for at least 8 hours in order to get a fresh eye on the scene.

O.K., this is when I put away the reference and go in for what I call “last looks”.

1. The color of the ducks is too cold, remember, even if this is the actual color that was in the reference, your responsibility is not to record it, but to make it what will be the aesthetic best choice. It’s also hard to see the one duck in front of the other. So…

  • Warm up the color, dull the back duck by add a small amount of background color to it.

2.The table appears too flat and disconnected to the ducks……

  • Add yellow to the table where the light hits it most (lower right corner), making it diminish as it goes to the shadows.

3. The highlight on the upper left bowl is confusing, highlight on lower left of bowl too bland. Both of these add activity to an already active area…..

  • Eliminate upper and lower highlight, try it on the left instead (where it could use some interest).

4. Yellow in ducks seems isolated, would like to see more of it in the scene…..

  • Work some yellow into the background.

5. Towel texture could be played up more…..

  • Soften the towel edge as it overlaps the bowl on lower left, as well as the far right edges against the table.

6. Edge of bowl on right and left not symmetrical…..

  • Look at it in a mirror, upside down, whatever it takes to see how I need to correct this.

Compare the before and after images of the painting below-


After a coat of Liquin and another hour I was able to vastly improve this image.

Next painting, take an extra hour or so to see how far you can take it!

How to Critique a Painting in 5 Steps

Pin-Diane-Eugster-CritiqueWe all know that Sorolla was a master artist, so I am going to use one of his paintings, Evening Sun, to illustrate the points below.

Evening Sun by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida 1903
Evening Sun by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida 1903

1. Composition

Does your eye flow throughout the painting or does it stop awkwardly and hit dead ends?

Notice how the elements of this painting draw you right in and form a loop that keeps your eye moving around and around.

Evening Sun by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida 1903

2. Color

Has color been used to provoke an emotion or just copied, are similar colors woven throughout?

Sorrolla uses a grayed green tone many times in this painting, whether it is a hat, water or shadow on an ox. This repetition creates a wonderful harmony.

Evening Sun by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida 1903

3. Unity

Have elements been treated stylistically the same across the painting?

Sorrolla uses a wave-like shape in all areas of the image, creating the strong feeling of movement. Notice the one strong horizontal line at the horizon that anchors all of this motion.

Evening Sun by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida 1903

4. Center of Interest

Do element within the painting support the Center of Interest?

Sorolla shows us what a master he is by putting his center of interest successfully in the middle of the painting. Does anything convey strength like the muscled hind ends of those oxen fighting the rushing waves?

Evening Sun by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida 1903
Evening Sun by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida 1903

5. Emotion

Is the painting a collection of “things” or does it evoke a deeper emotion in you?

Is this painting “Evening Sun” by Sorolla y Bastida simply a seascape with some oxen and figures. . . you decide.