Painting from Photographs: a cautionary tale

I would like to start off by saying that I love photography both as an art form and as a tool.   However, photography has its limitations as source material.  It should not be considered the gold standard for what reality looks like.  Anyone that studies photography for very long will realize that photographs do alter, edit and manipulate the information from the focused reflected light on its sensors to “capture” a given moment.  The lens and sensor in a camera was designed to mimic the lens and retina of our human eye, but it isn’t the same. Photos flatten, sharpen, and blur.  Color is compressed and values exaggerated.  Interestingly, painters do all the same things with the information they see, but that is a personal choice not mechanical default.  So, here are 3 things to be aware of if you are using photography as your painting source material.

1. Value Range

Our eyes have this amazing ability to quickly adjust to changing light.  For instance if you are looking at a scene with dark shadows and bright highlights, your eye will move rapidly across the adjusting to the correct “aperture” for the amount of light so that we can see details in all areas.  It is like our eyes take multiple snap shots of a scene and then combines these all together almost instantaneously.

2. Edges

One of the things photography does (especially in the hands of the amateur photographer) is create crazy sharp edges indiscriminately.  Edge sharpness creates a visual “focal point” (pun intended) for the viewer and also brings objects forward in space.  However, in photography we often see objects in the background that appear just as sharp as objects in the foreground.  Sharp edges in the background brings those objects forward in space, flattening the composition.  The outside edge of a curved volume (like a sphere) will appear just as sharp as the edge on a object with 90 degree break (like a tables edge).  This results in the sphere appearing flatter and more 2 dimensional because it is bringing the outside edge forward in space.

Furthermore, blur or soft edges can be an issue too.  Low light, slow shutter speed, or simply a moving object can cause blur within a photo.  A shallow depth of field caused from aperture settings can result in exaggerated blur/soft edges as well.

3. Color Complexity

Color complexity is simplified in photography.  The sensor averages the color in a way that doesn’t pick up the same color richness our eyes observe.  For instance, the skin color in photographs often lack the undertones of cool blues and greens one can observe in life.  I find that often I see undertones of the complimentary color in the shadow side of a form in observation, but this is totally absent in the photograph.


Although throughout my art education, I was only allowed to work from observation, I am not near as dogmatic.  I enjoy working from observation, but sometimes it simply isn’t practical.  So hear are some tips if you are painting and drawing using photography:

  • Spend at least some time working from observation.  I do quick 2 hour all prima paintings regularly to keep my eye sharp and it really helps me to “correct” my work when I use photos.
  • Work from multiple photographs, each with different color and value settings so that you can see information that may be missed.
  • I recommend you never work larger than your source photograph.  Yes large photos can be pricey, but I would rather spend the money on photos then waste my time on a mediocre painting.
  • Learn how your camera works and how to shoot with the manual settings to get the result you want.  Poorly exposed or blurry images will never give you the source information you need.
  • Near the end of your painting, go look again at the source if possible.  I like doing this for portraits especially…having the person sit for me at the end of the painting.








history of art

A Brief History of Painting by Medium

Cave Paintings Chauvet France: 30,000BC   Prehistoric painters used naturally occurring pigments of red iron oxide, carbon black, and calcite white mixed with spit or animal fat to create elaborate depictions on cave walls across Europe. Historians hypothesize that paint was applied with brushing, smearing, dabbing, and spraying techniques. Twigs, feathers, and even horse-hair brushes were used for paint application.  By spraying paint through hollow bones, they were able to create a fine even mist of paint similar to an airbrush.

chauvet-cave3 prehistoric-2

Early Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians 

Fresco: 1800BC-1600AD Buon or “true” fresco is when artists use pure pigments and water to paint on wet plaster. The painting literally becomes part of the plaster wall or ceiling. First, several layers of plaster are applied to the wall or ceiling in preparation fro the final paint layer. Because plaster dries quickly, the artist must work on a buon fresco in small sections and very carefully because once it cannot be changed once it is dry.   A fresco secco involves the artist to paint on top of the dry plaster using egg, oil, or glue to bind the pigments to the dry plaster. A fresco secco allows the artist to take his time and easily fix errors, but it is less durable than a buon fresco.   Because fresco is essentially part of the wall, it cannot be moved and is often damaged due to the settling and cracking that occurs to plaster over time.

bull_jumping_fresco Michelangelo-Letters-Sistine-Chapel-717x450


Encaustic: 500BC Encaustic is a beeswax based paint that is kept molten on a heated palette. Because of the time complication with heating and cooling of the wax, encaustic is a very difficult technique to master. However because the beeswax is impervious to moisture, it will not deteriorate, yellow or darken over time. The ancient Egyptian and Romans often used it in the “mummy portraits” of the deceased. Encaustic is very versatile. It can be both moth matt and polished to a high gloss, it can be modeled, sculpted, textured, and combined with collage materials. It cools immediately, so that there is no drying time, yet it can always be reworked.

EncausticPortraitWoman Jasper_Johns's_'Flag',_Encaustic,_oil_and_collage_on_fabric_mounted_on_plywood,1954-55The_Mummy_of_Demetrios,_95-100_C.E.,11.600a-b

Tempera: 400AD also known as egg tempera, is a permanent, fast-drying painting medium consisting of colored pigments mixed with egg yolk. It is normally applied in thin, semi-opaque or transparent layers. Tempera painting was the painting method of choice until the invention of oil painting in 1400. Although it does allow for great precision it is nearly impossible to blend requiring numerous small brush strokes applied in a cross hatching technique. When dry, it produces a smooth matte finish. Because it cannot be applied in thick layers as oil paints can, tempera paintings rarely have the deep color saturation that oil paintings can achieve.


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Oil: 1410AD Oil painting is essentially pigment suspended in oil (linseed, poppy-seed or walnut). Although one of many to experiment with oil paint, Jan Van Eyck is often credited as one of the first to utilize a technique of oil painting that is used today. With its slow drying time and ability to be applied both opaque and in transparent layers, it allowed artists to achieve deeper richer colors and more lifelike textures and details than ever before.   Beginning in Holland in the 1400s, oil paint quickly replaced tempera painting as the medium of choice across most of Europe. It remains the paint of choice for artists desiring the highest degree of illusion.

jan-van-eyck-the-arnolfini-marriage 018-jan-van-eyck-theredlist Portrait_of_a_Man_by_Jan_van_Eyck-small

Acrylic Paint: 1940 Acrylic is a fast-drying paint containing pigment suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion (plastic) and is one of the wonders of the modern age. Acrylic paints are water-soluble, but become water-resistant when dry. They are non toxic and can be painted on a wide range of surfaces both flexible and rigid. They can be modified with water, gels, or pastes to create heavy impasto or an effect similar to transparent watercolor. Unmodified they are very good at creating large swatches of opaque paint with hard sharp edges. The Pop Artists of the 60’s and 70’s in America exploited this effect to create imagery that is almost machine line in its precision.

marilyn-1964-by-andy-warhol main-qimg-22f5cce33e1dd9c097c803c459cdf0a9 Lichtenstein,_Oh_Jeff,_I_Love_You_Too,_But..


Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 8.38.44 PM

Time Lapse Speed Painting of “Alpha and Omega”

Time Lapse Speed Painting of “Alpha and Omega” created in September of 2015.  Video is 50,000 xs faster than life.  (boy don’t I wish I could paint that fast!)  I am not sure if you can learn “How to Paint a Still Life” from the video, but it will give you a basic understanding of the process I used.

The title is Alpha and Omega (beginning and the end). This is a name of God used within the Hebrew/Christian tradition. It represents the coexisting paradoxes that are an essential part of the divine. The black background is death/our ultimate end (there are skulls hidden in the pattern) It is flat and lifeless. 2dimensional. Through the window, we have the egg (potential, life, beginnings) It is blurry in places(being formed/coming into existence.) It reads as photographic and 2 dimensional. The stones represent the trinity (the 3 parts of God) Father, in the middle, son, on the left, and Holy spirit on the right. (God is often referred to as a rock in scripture. Many scholars believe that Jesus was actually a stone mason more so than a carpenter.) They are the only parts of the image that are truly 3 dimensional (real) Compared with the bright colors of life they can appear achromatic and cold (unchanging). Compared to the unwavering flatness of achromatic death they appear alive and vibrant. All of this is to say, I am happy that the work is open to many interpretations. This is just what I was thinking when I made the image.


Aureta Thomollair at Fashion week NYC 16x20

Vincent Giarrano: Interview with a Contemporary Master

Vincent Giarrano: Interview with a Contemporary Master

I met Vincent through Facebook and was instantly taken by his figurative compositions.  His paintings capture the deep contemplation of Hopper with the efficient brush work and illusion of Sargent.  Through his work we get a glimpse of the quiet loneliness and grit of urban America in a way that is decidedly beautiful.   Truly a Contemporary Master.

What inspired you to become an artist?

I started drawing at an early age, just copying cartoon and comic book characters. I remember really liking the feeling I got from achieving a likeness. After that I was hooked.

There’s something that comes over you after creating something. It’s pretty euphoric, and that’s what inspired me to do more.

What do you love about the process of painting and drawing?

It’s actually that, the process; getting an idea, writing about it, working with people and settings, drawing and painting studies, more writing, creating a finished work, discovering it’s ideal scale, showing it. I love the challenges, and that the whole thing is like an exploration.

My next solo exhibition is actually about that. I wanted to have a show that lets people see the other pieces that create a painting. For me, that preliminary work is been something I’ve always loved about art. The show will be at Haynes Galleries in Nashville, April 24, 2015.

What do you want your audience to experience when they see your work?

There’s a beauty, or power, or interest that drew me to paint something. I like for them to share in the feeling.

My work often has an element of narrative to it. I enjoy that it creates an interaction with my viewer, and engages them.

Seeing my work in person is best because up close you can appreciate that it’s not tightly painted, and then stepping back you get a strong illusion of reality.

As a realist painter what is it you are looking for in subject matter?

I look for something that engages me on a number of levels; emotion, beauty, shapes, color, idea, composition, mood, light, staging.

How do you determine when a painting is done? How finished is finished?

I’m big on planning my work. I’m open to things that happen during the process, but I run fairly close to my original expectations. Before starting a piece, I decide how I’m going to paint it, and that impacts greatly on the time for painting it. If I want the piece to be more loosely painted, I would have in mind a shorter working time.

Where do you sell your work?

I have several galleries, sort of spread across the country, and a couple overseas in the UK and Paris.







Name two of your artistic heroes (one living and one dead)

Tough to pick just two. I’d say Anders Zorn is one of my big favorites. His work is just amazing. There’s so much I’ve learned from studying him.

As for contemporary artists, I love Golucho. His work is wonderfully painted, strong content, great compositions, he’s an incredible Realist.

What advice would you give an aspiring artist?

I’d suggest they write and plan. That’s helped me quite a bit. Also get into the business aspect as much as the creative side. You’re actually a small business, and you should treat it as such.

Where can we find and follow you in the world?





painting glass

How to Paint Glass and Reflections in Oil

Nothing brings me more pleasure than pulling back the curtain on the “mystery” behind how I paint glass or silver.  “How do you make it look so real?”  “Do you use special silver paint?”  The truth no one likes to hear is that the “secret” involves hours of close observation and meticulous matching of color, shape and edge just like it does with painting an apple or a nose.  So, most of the time I tell people what they want to hear: it is just magic.  However, it is obvious that you are more intellectually curious than most or you wouldn’t be reading this.  Below you will find an illustrated step by step guide through my process (click image to enlarge).  Of course there are many different ways of painting, but this is a method that works well for me.

Indirect painting How to

Indirect painting How to 

In this demonstration, I break down the process into 4 steps.  As stated in the post 4 things you need to turn paint into reality, accurate drawing is the essential first step.  I then put conte on the back of the drawing and trace to transfer the drawing to the panel.  Drawing is essential all the way through the process.  Drawings easily disappear or get off during the painting process.  As a result I draw with my brush throughout the painting, always correcting and re-correcting my drawing.  In the drawing, I also am going beyond exterior contours of the objects.  I look for significant value or color changes and draw small contour lines to help remind me where I need to visually change gears.

The purpose of the value under-painting or grisaille, is to break down the painting process into manageable steps.  The value serves as guidelines for the first pass in color.  I think that accurate value creates three dimensional illusion and that color gives us the sensation of the temperature of light.  Taking the time to get the values correct is essential.  So, if you don’t have 3 dimensional illusion after the value painting, rework it until you do.

Color requires careful observation of hue, value, and intensity to make sure that what you are mixing up matches what you are observing.  Mentally avoid naming the “local color” of the object (ie pink cloth, blue background) because this is a gross oversimplification from what is observed.  Taking the time to really see shapes of colors within the objects is much better.  It usually takes at least two passes of color to get the color richness that I want in my work.

I hope you picked up a few tips that help you along the way.  Good luck and get to painting!

How to paint glass in 4 easy steps




Purchasing art

5 Things You Should Know Before You Buy a Painting

Here are 5 simple things to know before you purchase a painting.  Remember that great art will last in your home longer than your tv, carpet, or any appliance.  If it is well made it will be passed down for generations.  Choosing to invite a painting into your home is a big decision that can enrich your life for the rest of your life, if you choose wisely.

1.  Do you love it?  Does it speak to your soul?  This is the first and most important question that one should ask and is often overlooked.  Instead people think about art in terms of matching the furniture or as an investment.  Do not be distracted by what some “art expert” tells you about how important or amazing it is.  Most likely they stand to profit from you.  Art is communication.  Does it speak to you?  What is it saying?  Just because it doesn’t speak to you doesn’t mean it isn’t good or that it won’t speak to someone else.  Great art has the best of the artist that created it in there waiting to speak to someone.  If it isn’t you then don’t buy regardless of the resale value or what the gallery owner may say.  Trust your gut on this one always.

2.  How long can you look at it?  Artists talk about “read”, more specifically, “length of read.”  The longer the read the better.  Think about great literature.  You can reread it repeatedly and still see or understand something new or a film that can still make you tear up even after the 5th time of seeing it.  Those things have a long read.  Great art is the same way.  The artist has put great thought and care into its creation and, as a result, it slowly and beautifully unfolds itself over time.  One suggestion is to ask an artist to borrow a piece for a period of time. Reputable galleries may do this too.  If you want to look at it every day, if you like it more at the end of the month than you did at the beginning.  That is a good sign of things to come.  As an artist, I love to let people live with the work. 90% of the time, it results in a sale.  Collectors become attached to the work don’t want it to leave.  The other 10% I am happy to have it back so that I can find it a home where it will be loved and appreciated.

3.  Galleries take half.  Although there are a few exceptions to this rule (non for profit galleries or artist collectives)  that is the industry standard.  Until artists are unwilling to agree to it, 50% of the sale price will go to the gallery.  In theory, really great galleries earn their share through aggressive promotion of the artists work to collectors, advertisement, and prime real-estate.  However, this, in my experience, is the exception not the rule.  Every collector I tell about the 50/50 split gasps.  One way to bypass this is to buy art through interior designers who rarely charge commission or better yet contact the artist directly.  Artists love to talk to collectors and get to know them.  I love studio visits and will often show collectors “behind the scenes.”  This is a great way to get the best work too.  Galleries will contact “special” collectors first when they get work to let them preview it before it goes on the wall to the public.  They choose the best work before it ever is available to the rest of the public.  By working with the artist directly, you get the work before it goes to the gallery and you get to know that 100% of the money goes to the artist. Be aware that artists that are represented by a gallery may have an exclusive contract with them.  If so, the artist may be contractually obligated to pay the gallery their commission regardless.

4.  How is it made?  Did they use archival materials?  Will this thing be here 50 years from now? 100? 500?  A well-crafted oil painting has been shown to exist unchanged for approximately 500 years.  Poorly crafted ones can fall apart in as few as 10 years.  Professional quality paint is 10 times more expensive than student grade paint but can be the difference in whether your painting will be a family heirloom or in the dumpster.  Problems that can occur include:fading-the color dulls over time, delamination – paint peels off the support or off previous layers of paint, cracking- cracks in the surface of the paint.  Though the craft of painting is starting to once again be taught in colleges and universities, I am always surprised by how little painters know about how to use their materials to create a stable unchanging work of art.  This process varies from medium to medium so do your homework before you buy.  Artists and even gallery owners should be happy to share this information with you.  If you don’t get this information you may be buying something that will self-destruct in a few years.

5.  What is the price based on?  I think this is a valid question that I think most collectors are too shy to ask.  The price of a painting is often priced on what someone is willing to pay for it.  Here are some additional questions to consider.  Does the artist have a selling history?  How many hours did it take him to create it?  How many years did they study and where?  Some artists price by the square inch others seem to have no system whatsoever.  Personally, I keep track of the time I work on a piece and pay myself a fair hourly rate given my experience and training plus the cost of materials.

Working on "Traveler 2" Mixed Media Drawing on Paper 42" x 72" Copyright 2013 by Steven DaLuz

Steven DaLuz : Interview with a Contemporary Master

Steven DaLuz: Interview with a Contemporary Master:

Ten minutes after meeting Steven DaLuz, I said to myself “this is the kind of man I want to be.”  Friendly, personable, easy to talk to, unpretentious, and enthusiastic about like, Steven brings a certain energy to room that is contagious.  I had been following Steven’s work on Facebook for years and finally had the privilege of meeting him in person at the first Representational Art Conference in Ventura California.  Over three days, it was wonderful to share a few meals and great conversations about art and life.

Steven’s resume is just as big as his character.  His work has been seen in the pages of American Art Collector, the Artists Magazine,  and Art in America to name just a few for coconut oil for hair growth.  Though the majority of his exposure is in his home state of Texas, Steven’s work has been exhibited internationally including multiple appearances in the Florence Biennial.

His work is both figurative and abstract.  In both cases he reveals and hides information simultaneously, suggesting the interior world as much as outward appearance.  Without cliché his work reveals the spirit behind the outward facade.  Even as a master draftsman, Steven’s work transcends the trap of being a display of technical virtuosity in favor of something deeper, something bigger.

It is my pleasure to give to you my interview with the Contemporary Master Steven DaLuz.  Please check out his website stevendaluz.com.

What inspired you to become an artist?
I’m not really sure…I just always assumed everybody loved to draw and paint! I suppose I was always entranced by the paintings and drawings of old masters I saw in books as a schoolboy.

How old were you?
I recall during parent-teacher conferences during elementary school, my poor mother hearing the dismay of my teachers as they described my constant drawings all over assignments. I was probably 5 or 6 at the time.

What do you love about the process of painting and drawing?
There’s something intoxicating about the smell of oil paint as I enter my studio…my sanctuary. Painting gives me the greatest outlet for my urge to create. It offers the most challenge and sense of accomplishment when an idea comes to fruition. Through painting I get to draw, to compose, to play with color, temperatures, texture, light, dark, create illusions, and solve all manner of visual “problems” while entering a kind of peaceful state. Painting offers that opportunity to take colorful glops of oil and pigment, slosh it around in such a way to create the illusion of a 3-dimensional world on a 2-dimensional space. I can’t imagine not being able to draw or paint.

What do you want your audience to experience when they see your work?
Most of my “abstractions”, are only partially abstract, in that they refer to something real or that could be real. I like to create the “idea” of a place, whether steeped in reference to landscape, or to celestial forms. As I paint these, I am transported to another realm in my mind. Because they are entirely from my imagination, I just allude to the notion of some environment that may allow the viewer to bring up a memory of someplace they have been, or would like to be. They have a vague recollection, but the place is not literal. The ethereal properties of light suggest a source that can be otherworldly. Light has the ability to reveal…and the capacity to blind. Is it the sun? Is it from within? Is it beyond? I leave that for the viewer to decide. I hope to engage the viewer more by creating voids and vaporous depictions. In doing this, I increase the likelihood the viewer will complete the picture for themselves. In synthesizing the figure into some of these works, I engage my passion for painting the figure…but, I also believe that because we are humans, we relate to the figure. If I disguise features, or obscure identity, I allow the form to become more universal. In doing this, I hope the viewer can relate to the figure and imagine themselves in such a setting. I suppose, the longer I live, the more I have come to believe that everything in the universe is connected. I can barely begin to fathom the great depths of the mysteries the cosmos offers, yet we are a part of it. I believe we are more than this physical “shell” that is our corporeal body. The idea of a “one-ness” between humankind and the universe has become something of a fascination for me. I do not try to supply any “answers” to life’s big questions with my work…I simply try to visually express some of my thoughts and feelings to hopefully spark the imaginations of others. I think there is a kind of “yearning” that we have, as humans, to know that we are not alone in this vast plane of existence. I try to pull the veil back just a little to reveal just a glimpse of something that COULD be. But, that is the beauty of art. It has the potential to make our spirits soar.

What is one tool or thing in your studio that you can’t live without?
Tough question–there are so many things I need to create my work. I’d hate to be without any of them. If I have to boil it down to just one thing, probably music. I suppose I could still create in my mind with the right music to help transport me to another realm.

Where do you sell your work?
I sell my work through galleries. Currently I sell primarily through AnArte Gallery in San Antonio, Texas, Laura Rathe Fine Art in Houston an d Dallas; and the Marshall | LeKae Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Name two of your artistic heroes (one living and one dead)
I have so many artists whose work I admire, both living and dead, that it is very difficult to reduce it to just one. Nope, I tried, but I just can’t do it. I suppose a prominent dead artist hero is J. M. W. Turner. His romanticism and expression of light dazzled my imagination from the time of my youth. Another, less well known, is Zdzislaw Beksinski, a Polish artist whose emotional power in his work makes my jaw drop to this day. Slicing my list of admired living artists to one is also impossible. So, two of those who stand out for me are Julio Reyes and Alex Kanevsky.

What advice would you give an aspiring artist?
Avoid the fruitless exercise of comparing yourself to other artists–it is a waste of time. Instead, look at the work you are making today, and compare it against the work you are doing next month…next year. Are you growing? You have a unique voice. Find it and use it. There is no substitute for time in the studio, working. The more you exercise your creative “muscles”, the more they will develop. Do not wait for “inspiration” to come. Sketch, draw, read, listen to music. Look at LOTS of art “in the flesh”–not just online imagery. Don’t be too hard on yourself. For every decent piece I have made, I did 10 that are “turkeys”. Be persistent and learn from those–they are part of your journey. Whatever you lack in knowledge, go out and get it! So long as you are alive, understand that there is no “expiration date” for artists. You can create at ANY age, throughout the course of your life.

Douglas Flynt, Conches 12x20

Douglas Flynt: Interview with a Contemporary Master

Douglas Flynt: Interview with a Contemporary Master

I met Douglas through Facebook.  He truly has taken still life painting to a new level.  The light, color and volume of the objects in his paintings move far beyond the reality of photography.  His drawing and painting skills are not limited to the genre however.   He marvelously renders the figure with the same precision and sensitive hand.  Take the time to check out his website and be sure to sign up for his mailing list.  If you happen to be in San Francisco, you can see his work in person at John Pence Gallery.

What inspired you to become an artist?

I have always been interested in making drawings and images—and more particularly, expressing 3-dimensional people, objects, and/or environments on a 2-dimensional surface.

How old were you?

I have been drawing ever since midway through elementary school. I was first particularly inspired by comic books. I wasn’t even so much interested in the stories, but instead the dynamic renderings of the characters. However, by the time I got to college my interest shifted more toward fine art and away from the world of comics.

What do you love about the process of painting and drawing?

I really enjoy problem solving, creating something, and working toward the illusion of 3-dimensions on a 2-dimensional surface—I like the feeling of sculpting even if it is done with lines and color rather than actual form.

What do you want your audience to experience when they see your work?

Something aesthetically pleasing, intellectually interesting and convincing in terms of light and form.

Where do you sell your work?

I sell my work directly to individuals and through various galleries.

Name two of your artistic heroes (one living and one dead)

Unfortunately for this question, I don’t think in terms of artistic heroes. I find value in different aspects of various artist’s work and who I am most inspired by shifts with time depending upon what my current interests are.

What advice would you give an aspiring artist?

Don’t worry about style or originality, instead let those things emerge over time through sincerity and expect that you will need to devote many, many hours to your craft.



How to Evaluate Art: A layman’s guide to understanding personal aesthetics


How to Evaluate Art: A layman’s guide to understanding personal aesthetics

Isn’t all art just subjective and personal taste?  As an artist I hear this all the time.  I do believe in personal preference but I also believe there is an objective reality that transcends taste.  Through imagery and text I will take you on a journey to separate the objective from the subjective and give you a chance to better understand what you like and why.


Take the following two portraits.  Which do you think is a better piece of art?  Why?  Do you think this is just a matter of personal opinion?

Most people only see subject matter when they look at images.  However, both of these images are portraits.  Would it be safe to assume that 99.999% of the population would prefer the portrait by Vermeer on the left?  So what is that preference based upon?  Is that not a sign of objective criteria?


Now take these two images.  Which do you think is a better piece of art?  Why?  What do you prefer ?

You may prefer the flat outlines of the Hokusai on the right or the heavy impasto of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  Both pieces are clearly master pieces, but lets talk a little bit about why.

I believe there is objective and subjective criteria for evaluating art.  Subjective or personal preference can be the product of our environment.  For instance, Southern Renaissance painting looks very light with bright colors and open compositions.  Northern European Renaissance painting on the other hand is heavy and dark with cramped compositions.  One doesn’t have to look much further than the weather in those areas to see the connection between the art and the environments from which they were created.  Of course the weather is only one factor. There are countless others that cause one person to prefer certain color combinations and compositional devices over others.

Northern Renaissance                                  Southern Renaissance

So here are a few questions to consider to help you to determine your own subjective preferences and their origins

1. Are there certain colors that you prefer over others?  I suggest opening your closet and looking at your clothes.  Check out all those places in the world where you have chosen specific colors or combination of colors (background color on your CPU, wall color, car color, art you love etc.)

2. What kind of shapes do you enjoy? Sleek and Curvy or Boxy (Porsche versus BMW)? Paisleys or Stripes? Victorian or Arts and Crafts?


Okay, now what is the objective or universal criteria for evaluating art? I have found that the criteria for measuring intelligence is a great tool for determining the value of art.

Memory, Reason, & Imagination are used as criteria for evaluating intelligence but also work well for judging art.  


Personal experiences
Human experiences (history…specifically art history in this instance)


Technique (manipulation of art materials)
Design and Composition
(the manipulation of the elements of design: line, space, shape, texture, color)


(This applies to both the use of Memory and Reason)

See example below:


Anthony_Waichulis_Pursuits DETAIL

Anthony Waichulis: Interview with a Contemporary Master

Anthony Waichulis: Interview with a Contemporary Master

Anthony Waichulis is to illusionistic trompe l’oeil painting what Vermeer is to Dutch interiors.  I dare say that William Harnett and Peto would set down their brushes to applaud him.  Without going through a laundry list of every exhibition and award he has won, it is safe to say that the art world has taken notice.  A few highlights include being given the title “Living Master” by the Art Renewal Center and gracing the pages of the Artist’s Magazine and American Art Collector numerous times.  Though he is prolific as a painter he also has found time to establish the Ani Art Academy in Pennsivania with three international satellite academies.

I had the privilege of seeing his work this fall at John Pence and all I can say is it is stunning.  When looking at his work it is hard to believe that a human made them.  Not that they look mechanical or insensitive, but that they are so masterful it is almost supernatural. The drawing, color saturation, light, and edges are immaculate.   So, simply on technique his work would be worthy of considerable praise, but here is what really sets him apart from other trompe l’oeil painters.  His compositions and narrative are imaginative, smart and contemporary.  The paintings tease us with clarity and obscurity, volume and flatness, space and no-space.  His narratives tackle both the serious historical still life themes of the temporary nature of life (Persuits) while other times they make us laugh (Caps and Robbers).  Anthony proves to us yet again that the best of art is creative, conceptual, compositional, and technical.

On a personal note, I met Anthony through Facebook and was a little shocked by his gratitude and sincere kindness.  Often I write or leave comments on social media to artists I really respect and admire with little expectation of a reply.  I understand.  People are busy and I am a stranger.  Yet, even still, Anthony always has taken the time to give me a thoughtful and kind response. Kind, talented, hard working, visionary.

I give to you Anthony Waichulis.  You can find out more information about him and the Ani Art Academy on his website.

What inspired you to become an artist?

While this may sound like a cliché answer for an artist, I have been drawing ever since I can remember.  Throughout my childhood I can remember visiting my grandmother often.  Upon entering her house, my siblings and I would always find a great stack of assorted paper and pens for us to draw with.  I think she did this as a way to keep us pacified and curtail any damage to her house from ‘spirited’ kids.  I remember those early drawing sessions quite vividly. 

How old were you?

I wish I had an accurate answer to offer. I cannot think of a time growing up when I was NOT drawing.  However, I did begin my formal training somewhere between the ages of 13-14 with a wonderfully gifted and inspirational teacher, Judith Keats Hatcher.

What do you love about the process of painting and drawing? 

It would be very difficult to weigh one aspect over another in regards to what I love about this craft, however, I must say that of late I am finding more and more of my energy pouring into effective storytelling.

I believe that throughout an artist’s career he/she will develop a visual vocabulary of familiar subjects, motifs, symbols, etc.–that will eventually weave itself into a unique, but functional language.  While each work I create does have its’ own theme, I believe the ongoing development of my language has given a consistency to my overall body of work.  I am extremely excited to see how my ability to employ this language will develop in the future.

What do you want your audience to experience when they see your work?

This is a great question.  As a Trompe L’oeil painter I am always chasing the most effective way to create an extremely believable illusion of reality.  It is my hope that this illusionistic and often eye-catching representation is not a distraction from the work’s meaning, but rather an invitation to explore it.  It is my hope that when a viewer approaches my work to intimately inspect the illusion or execution that they find themselves slowly penetrating the meticulously rendered surface to explore a rich world of language, narrative, symbolism, and substance.

Where do you sell your work?

I am currently represented by the John Pence Gallery in San Francisco. Fortunately over the years I have also had the honor of exhibiting my work in a wonderful array of key venues such as the Smithsonian Institute, National Arts Club, Orlando Museum of Art and the World Arts Museum among others. 

Name two of your artistic heroes (one living and one dead).

This is a truly tough one.  I would have to say that my first place” deceased artistic hero” title would be a tie between William Michael Harnett and Norman Rockwell.  As far as living inspirations, I would have to say that there is a multitude of living artists that greatly inspire me.  One that comes to mind immediately would be one of my early art teachers, Leonard Stankunas.  He was one of the first illustrators of TV guide and he imparted to me a great respect for versatility.  Adaptation is a vital part of my development in this craft and I think a good portion of it began with Mr. Stankunas.   

What advice would you give an aspiring artist?

I was extremely honored this past year to give the commencement address at the community college that I graduated from and below is an excerpt from that speech. This is the best advice I could think of to give anyone aspiring to do anything:

“When I was first asked to speak here today, I wasn’t exactly sure what I should say.  I wondered what message I could convey that might actually encourage or inspire as you all move forward with your lives. After much consideration, I decided I would just share with you the one major life plan I have held since first walking into a college classroom

—-live the life that makes you truly happy.  

That’s it.

It sounds very simple—I know—but as many will often tell you it is not a very easy thing to do.  But that’s good.  Not easy is a very good thing. Life was not designed to be easy. There are many obstacles and challenges in our path that seem to always keep us from what makes us happy.    

But remember this: adversity and opportunity are often two sides of the same coin.  You just need to have the will and the determination to turn it when necessary.  Every challenge, setback, rejection, or bump in your road to happiness will make you more than you were before and will hold some type of opportunity for you if you if you are determined to find it.

You know, we were having a great discussion in my studio several weeks back when that big lottery was in the news.  I think it was somewhere around 650 million? (Give or take).  I asked several of my students what they would change about their lives if they won.   While the majority did admit they would employ a new salvo of conveniences into their lives, each and every one of them stated they would not alter their present course.  I thought this was a great exercise in self-examination.  You may want to consider this hypothetical from time to time as a sort of happiness compass.

When I was entering college, I tried to choose my path in this way.  Regardless of any financial ramifications, what pursuits would bring me the greatest happiness in my life?

I chose to enroll in Fine Art.

As you can imagine I was met with many mixed responses when I told people of my decision.  Responses were often “What are you going to do with a degree in that?”  Or “How are you possibly going to earn a living”.  (Usually with some laughter and expletives peppered throughout).  But Regardless of these reactions to my decision, my mind was made up and honestly, I felt truly good about it.   Some doubts still lingered with me, but with faith in my life plan, I decided to dedicate myself completely.

What would happen next would change my outlook on my future permanently.

 It was my first drawing class with a brilliant artist and teacher Mr. Leonard Stankunas.  As one of the first esteemed teachers to sit in judgment of my efforts, I wanted desperately to impress him.  I worked tirelessly on my first big drawing assignment in the hopes he would be bowled over.  When it was finally due I can remember handing it in with a great deal of confidence.

A few days later, we received our graded assignments and I noticed a gleaming 96 on the cover of my project.  I was very happy—BUT I did want to know what I could have done differently to attain a perfect score.  Why was it not 100? I timidly approached Mr. Stankunas and asked about the grade… Mr. Stankunas, kindly explained to me that he did not give perfect scores. He went on to say that there is always room for improvement and that he had never had an instance before where a perfect score was warranted.  Well, those that know me will tell you—I could not pass on a challenge like that.

I did greatly enjoy the rest of the semester trying to get that all elusive 100.  I came soooo close a few times, but always seemed to just fall a bit short.  Again, since I truly enjoyed what I was doing, the failed attempts to reach the perfect score were not met with anger or frustration, but rather a renewed enthusiasm to try even harder.

At the end of the semester, like most art classes we had to submit a large final work.  I remember the   morning the graded projects were returned to us as clear as if it had all happened yesterday.  I looked down at cover of my project I did see the (now almost mythical) 100. I was overwhelmed and honestly, a little shocked. I approached Mr. Stankunas at the end of class, and with smile he said “Congratulations, it was the first one I had ever given. You deserved it.” 

I cannot adequately put into words how I was changed that day.

I can only describe an overwhelming sense of validation and renewed confidence.  I honestly did know right then and there that I would always, always, always, chase down that which would bring me the greatest joy in life and look forward to the opportunity to tackle any adverse variables in play.

I’ll tell you— I have won a great deal of honors and awards in the past 15 years and not one of them carries the weight of the 100 on that paper from Mr. Stankunas’ Drawing I class.  This simple event really made me feel that anything was possible and it is still moves me to this day.

My experience at Luzerne County Community College gave me a great deal of knowledge, courage and confidence moving forward.  I hope that in sharing this little piece of it with you it may help you to see the possibilities out there as I see them.

I wish you all every possible success in life, but moreover I wish you all a lifetime of happiness.”