Do You Know How to Create
the Star of Your Painting?

Just like a movie, most paintings need a Julia Roberts or George Clooney.

Today and for the next two weeks, I'm going to talk about eight ways to tell the viewer of your art what or who the star of your painting or drawing is and why you need a star.

While there may be many elements in your design, most of the time you need one element that is more important than the rest.

There usually needs to be something to focus the viewer's attention. Something that stops the viewer's eyes, even if only for a moment, because it contrasts with the rest of the painting or drawing.

Having a star of your painting gives the viewer's eyes a place to linger and rest.

When there isn't a place to stop and linger for a moment it can be like running a marathon with no water breaks. The viewer's eyes bounce around the painting until fatigue sets in and he moves on to another painting.

One of the ways to create that rest stop and tell the viewer where to look is to use SIZE as an important key.

In the drawing at left, I don't give the viewer any choice as to where to look first. It is just one big head that is the star of my picture. I barely suggest the upper torso.

But, notice that I take this a little farther. I don't just paint a complete head; I create visual surprise by showing the left side of her face and leaving the right side unfinished.

This creates interest and mystery.

It pulls the viewer's eyes right to that part of the face and, while their eyes wander through and savor the rest of the drawing, they always return to the star of your painting – that left side of her face.

In the above drawing I also use another key to creating my star – VALUES. By values, I'm not talking about what you believe concerning divorce, animal rights, cheese fondue or sex.

Paint values are the lightness or darkness of the colors you use. Every color has a value that lies somewhere between white, the lightest value, and black, the darkest value.

How you use your paint values and how well you control them will determine how successful your paintings and drawings will be, even more than the exact colors you use.

Values are so important that, while I will, over the next few weeks, discuss eight ways to create the star of your painting, you should know that values play an important part in each of them.

Take, for instance, the watercolor sketch at left. Here the greatest value contrast is between the white of the label on the bottle and the darker values of the plate behind it.

That value contrast is one device to create the star of your painting.

Your eyes are attracted to contrast.

Admittedly, you could be more subtle with this contrast than I was in this sketch.

I am intentionally going to be like great aunt Maud. Being hard of hearing, she assumes everyone else is too and speaks with her volume turned up to eleven.

That's how I'm going to be in these sketches. Just realize you don't have to be as blatant as I'm going to be.

Now suppose you didn't want the bottle to be the star of your painting.

Let's suppose you wanted the plate to be the star. You would only need to do what I did in the sketch below.

You would darken the bottle, lighten the plate overall and darken the design on the plate to draw the viewers eye.

The rest of the objects still need to be subdued in color and value, neither too dark nor too light, so they don't conflict with the star of your painting.

Now, let's suppose, because you are a very fickle person, you change your mind and want the little egg cup in the foreground to be the star of your painting.

In this case, you might use values plus the third key to creating your star – COLOR.

As in the sketch at left, you would darken the values in the plate, leave the large bottle dark, but you would intensify the colors in the egg cup.

You would also make sure the area around the top half of the egg cup was a lighter value so the dark green of the egg cup would stand out more.

The viewer's eyes would still go first to the plate but then they'd drop down to the egg cup. The green of the egg cup stands out more also because it contrasts with the reds around it. You may remember red and green are complementary colors on the color wheel and complements enhance each other.

By using a color (green) that is different from the overall color scheme of your painting and increasing its intensity, you would have found a third way to successfully create the star of your painting.

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