Double Vision

Artist David Leffel once said to a friend, “My paintings are about light,” and his friend replied ” I thought they were about quiet.”


Mr. Leffel was talking about concept. He states further, “Concepts are plans for solving problems of light, air/space, dimension or form, color, value, edges. Concepts involve how the painting will be “read,” the value range, the colors that will be used, brushstrokes, everything.”

And further still, “Every great painting can be defined as a picture with one essential idea. It is what the entire painting is about.”

(The quotes above were taken from the book, Oil Painting Secrets From A Master” by Linda Cateura, first published 1984 in New York by Watson-Guptill)

24x36 oil the other way

So there we have it!

Coni Grant posed the question in her blog a week or so ago, “So, What’s It About?” —–>Go see her post. <—–She was talking about focal point and it’s an interesting idea she puts forth. After thinking about it some, though, I think focal point is another but no less important part of the whole when we consider concept..

Also there have been some interesting responses to her question. You’ll also see some great works by a lady who definitely knows what painting is about.

So… if we can believe Mr. Leffel it’s about everything!!   I agree.  At least when it comes to representational stuff.  (Things might be different in the abstract world or the non-representational realm though the “idea” there could be to demonstrate to the viewer some sort of emotion or  some other thing unseen on the canvas. Which would still leave the artist with the problem of concept and what he/she is going to have to do to send the message.) If the color used isn’t right to convey the message to the viewer, or the values are too high a key to draw out the desired response or the brushwork doesn’t correctly model an object  I’d have to believe a painting is about more than one thing. And the only way, I’m thinking, to know what it’s going to be all about is to do a little thinking before we begin. Inspiration is only the beginning. Beyond that is all the decisions that have to be made. A concept is born and botta bing botta boom we have a road map showing us the way to a finished painting. Sticking to your concept will make things a lot easier.

Which brings me to the two images above.  Both of these pictures are identical except in that they are mirror images. (I just flopped the photo over using the program Fireworks)   So, if our idea of concept is true, what’s the difference between these two images? I guess the answer would have to be “everything”.


11 Responses to “Double Vision”

  1. Leslie Allen Says:

    Hi Eldon and Coni,

    It isn’t so different in abstract works. I just shipped a commission piece that was to recreate one of my own abstract works slightly smaller and it was definitely “about something”. It worked because it “spoke” to many people.
    You know how there are pieces that “you could have sold 10 of them”? They are about something and they speak to the viewer.

    Have fun at Estes Park; I’ll be painting at Lily Lake on August 25th if you’re in the neighbourhood!

  2. I enjoyed this post. I agree that painting is about everything. I like to think that a painting that is good needs to be memorable, so that can include total botches in some peoples’ opinions. The painting above that is flipped is an example of this. I am drawn to one over the other. I know why that is for me. The top painting has the road leading from the left to the right and curving back to the house on the left. It may have something to do with the fact that I read a lot and that is done left to right and I write left to right. It doesn’t mean that I think the painting below is bad. As an individual, if both were the same price, and I could afford it, I’d buy the top one. Nice painting. I am enjoying traveling through your blog and viewing your paintings.

    • Hello again Leslie,
      It’s interesting what you said about the top painting. The top one is the original composition before I made it into the mirror image. I worked from a photograph I took down by Salida a couple of months ago. The original photo image had the house on the right and I felt it would be more effective to flop the photo and paint the mirror image which is what I did to get the house onto the left side. Looks like it was a good decision.
      Good to hear from you, 🙂

  3. I came across this quote from Quang Ho while reading this evening which may be relevant to your discussion re “What’s it about?”
    “From these basic elements come all paintings, regardless of whether they are abstract (or) realistic.”
    “The truth in painting, therefore, has nothing to do with a personal message, belief or story, but it is that mysterious wordless aesthetic quality that happens when all the visual elements come together in an artistic, intentional way to create a harmonious whole.”
    (Basic visual elements: lines, shapes, values, colors, textures, and edges.)

    • I had that sneaky suspicion that any kind or style of painting would have to follow some sort of conceptual idea to be effective. I like the way Quang Ho puts it. I’d like to ponder the truth in painting idea for a while too. I think I understood that in some other context.
      Thanks for sending that along. I think others reading this post will enjoy it also.
      I just took a look at your site. It is stuffed with tons of beautiful work. Awesome!!

  4. Thanks! I feel the same way about your work Eldon.

  5. Hi Eldon,

    You’re getting pretty tricky and intellectual here. In my work I am going for joy — my own. All the rest is a slowly in-built response. That is we need to learn
    the lessons to make it almost automatic. I love the painting either way, but
    think the first image is how you painted it.

    Take care,


    • Barbara, 🙂 You’re right of course. If you don’t derive some sort of satisfaction or joy the rest is moot. In fact the rest would eventually fall by the way side leaving this painting thing to those of us who do enjoy it. And in your case, as mine, all that tricky stuff is ingrained already. The joy of it is another reason to post another blog. Great idea!

      The first image is the actual version of the painting tho I worked from a photo that had been flopped over because I knew it wouldn’t read the way I wanted it to the way I took it.

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