What Catches Your Eye?

By Judy Feldman | www.wildemeyer.com

What makes you stop and look at a painting? Is it the subject, the colors, the textures? We are all drawn to art for different reasons, and often, it’s on a subconscious level. However, a skilled artist makes conscious decisions about how to attract a viewer’s attention. There are techniques such as composition, color manipulation, brushstrokes, and even canvas shapes that can influence our reaction to a particular work of art. Of course, the best paintings look effortless, but don’t be fooled!

Late for Supper, Peggy McGivern
16" x 20" mixed media on canvas

Peggy McGivern has an interesting way to begin a painting. She sketches with a blind contour line, which means she looks at her subject, not her sketchbook or canvas, and draws continuously without lifting her pencil. “With this technique, I can get interesting, exaggerated shapes from which to start my painting,” she said. “If I’m working plein air, I look at the scene, and what attracted me to it in the first place. I think that my viewers will respond to that initial impression.”
Come in Out of the Rain, Peggy McGivern
72" x 48" (diptych) oil on canvas

Peggy told me that when she’s considering a painting idea, she first looks at big shapes. In her painting entitled “Late for Supper,” about two-thirds of her canvas is the large area of land. The two figures’ vertical paths lead us up the painting towards the village, where she wants our eyes to rest. Peggy also said that she likes to avoid typical horizon lines. Here, the paths create bold geometric shapes that contrast with the distant buildings, and they give us the sense that the figures are quite far away from their homes, in a hurry to get there.

Color choices and brushstrokes convey the message in Peggy’s painting entitled “Come in Out of the Rain.” In this work, she wanted the viewer’s eye to go to where the rain is coming down on the cattle, so she chose beautiful iridescent paints and energetic brushstrokes to focus on that area of her work. The dark sky and purple hills in the background add weight to the scene, augmenting the feeling of an imminent downpour. Although it might look spontaneous, these decisions are thoughtful. “I’m always looking for weird, wonderful combinations for people to enjoy,” she said.

Split Rock, Melissa Johnson
48" x 60" Oil, Cold Wax, and Silver Leaf
Texture and paint application are other ways to call attention to a painting. Melissa Johnson mixes in cold wax to give her oil paints more body. Working with her palette knife, she can adjust the fluidity of the paint. She also uses the wax to adhere the different types of metal leaf she applies to parts of her canvas. Melissa doesn’t use a paint brush too often. “I use all sorts of tools to build up my layers: palette knives, credit cards (expired, I hope), dough scrapers, and any tools I might find at the local Dollar Store.”

Manville Road, Melissa Johnson
48" x 48" oil & cold wax metal leaf
Although Melissa’s paintings look three-dimensional, they don’t really have thick texture. It’s her skillful technique of applying multiple layers of wax-mixed paint that makes her images jump out, as you can see in her painting entitled “Split Rock.” The different tones and shapes of the cliff surface, along with the beautifully rendered crevices and light areas really pull the viewer into the painting and direct us to the lighthouse on the bluff.

Melissa explained that cold wax also speeds up drying time and adds transparency to the color. With this product, she can keep working on her painting by scraping off and applying more paint and wax until she is satisfied.

Mailboxes are the subject in her 48X48” painting entitled “Manville Road.” I really like this composition – even though the mountains in the background catch our eye with their gorgeous colors and 3-D presentation, the five mailboxes command our attention, as the applied metal leaf conveys strong reflected light.

Two Horned Cows, Joseph E. Young
36" x 24" acrylic on canvas
If you pass by one of Joseph Young’s paintings at Wilde Meyer, changes are, you’ll stop and look. Joseph is all about patterns, and there are so many! “I’ve always been a decorative painter,” he says Trained as an art historian, Joseph is influenced by many art movements, such as Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, and modernism. “Even abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollack were decorative artists in their own way,” he commented.

Joseph likes to paint flat, and uses pattern to give the illusion of three dimensions. He juxtaposes colors that vibrate off each other. “If there’s no vibration, I add another contrasting color, until I get the desired effect. I want the colors to either work with or against each other to create excitement in the painting.”

Five Doves and Flowers, Joseph E. Young
36" x 36" acrylic on canvas
To achieve patterns such as these requires considerable patience. As you can see in his painting entitled “Two Horned Cows,” there are many different elements, and each has its own pattern. There are so many varieties of butterflies, flowers and fish; yet they are grouped in an organized, thoughtful way. You can tell that Joseph has a very strong sense of design (and an amazing ability to stay focused!).

“Five Doves and Flowers” is another example of this artist’s unique style. At first glance, we see the white doves, then the tulips, but on closer inspection, those small orange shapes are flowers and, wait, are those little eyes peeking out here and there among the flowers? Maybe they’re butterfly patterns, but they sure caught my attention!

So, the next time you’re drawn to a work of art, consider what made you stop and look. What emotions did it elicit? What do you admire about the artist’s style, and if it really excites you, consider adding it to your collection!

See more art by Peggy McGivern,  Melissa Johnson , and Joseph Young at Wilde Meyer Gallery.