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Excerpt from Reflections book:


There was a study done (probably by the United States Government at a cost of $3,547,219,680,117.00) that showed that when there is a person depicted in a painting, viewers look at that figure more than they look at other stuff. And, they look at that painting for more nano seconds than they do at other work that is people-less. This makes sense to me, as we so often engage in people watching and make the mistake of comparing our insides with other people’s outsides.


I remember I did a small watercolor painting in art school that had a kid walking along a sidewalk in front of several buildings. It was a pretty acceptable painting, except, as the instructor pointed out, his feet were so big he looked like Bozo the Clown with shoes that were as big as flippers. Not only that, but since this poor guy was the only figure in the painting, there was no one else to take our attention away from his embarrassingly large feet. The point is, figures demand a lot of attention, so don’t screw them up.


So, the above kid, just because he was a human, was a bull’s eye. Almost anything can be a bull’s eye, depending on the context in which you put it. And a bull’s eye in a painting can be good or bad. In the trinkets painting, Queens, there are many very strong elements. Faces that are looking out at the viewer are especially powerful. What happens in Queens is that there are enough strong elements competing for our attention that none of them is able to be a dominant bully. The airplanes, bugs and birds, and campaign type buttons are all so strong that we find our eyes perusing the entire painting and not getting stuck in any one area. Brilliant!



Queens acrylic on canvas 36 x 54 1998


acrylic on canvas

36" x 54"

Circles, and parts of circles, are also very strong elements in paintings. This can be effective, or it can be very disruptive since arcs can lock in pieces of your painting at the expense of the rest of the painting. It can corral elements inside of the arc, and prevent them from going out and playing with the rest of the painting. If I had a nickel for every time I was able to tell a student, “Look at this shape. It is creating a bull’s eye and we, (well, you), need to do something to get out of it,” I’d have an extra $3,547,219,680,117.00 in my otherwise meager bank account. How do you get out of a circular bull’s eye? Well, try putting something in front of it that visually interrupts the circle. Look at all of the junk in front of the campaign style button of Prince Charles and Princess Di on the right side of Queens. This might be an example of over-kill, but it does the job.


Another easy technique for fixing a visual trap is to actually paint out, or “erase,” a piece of the offending circle, so the “outside” and the “inside” literally meld together. See how easy life can be?


Come to think of it, the Marbles, Candies, John Lennon Glasses, and the Agates paintings all give us more examples of having so many strong elements in one setting that none of them is dominant.


So, to keep one element from dominating your painting at the expense of the rest of it.


Flood the zone with lots of other strong pieces.

Cover parts of the offending element with a shape or shapes that will let our eyes get outside of the corral.

Paint out a part of the encompassing shape, so the inside and outside come together.

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