Art theory Oil Painting Painting Still Life

Artichokes Redux, Improved?

Artichokes Redux, oil on Gessobord, 8x8"
Artichokes Redux, oil on Gessobord, 8x8"

My artist friend Laura (of Laurelines) offered some wonderful suggestions for improving the original version of this painting.

Artichokes, Oil painting on 8x8" Gessobord
Original version

Laura said:

“One thing I’ve noticed about your oil paintings is that you don’t have the same strong value differences within objects that you do in your watercolors.”

I agreed with her and gave it another go-around, this time adding some dark glazes in the dark area and more lights in the light area. I was working from a photo (since the original artichokes are long gone), so the colors were a little different than the original.

I am so appreciative of the wonderful community of art bloggers and the sharing we do with each other. Laura and I continued the conversation, and talked a bit about plein air painting and impressionism. Then she said:

Your watercolors are pure 21st century YOU. They are clear, strong, bold, and sometimes, though not always, quirky. Your flower paintings are YOU. In oil, it seems to me, anyway, that you’re trying to be someone else or are being encouraged to try to be someone else. That way lies horrible frustration. YOU can use oils in transparent glazes, with shimmering lights and darks, that will feel like you. YOU can use complements to create shadows. YOU can do all those nifty things in oil that you do in watercolor.

What a gift it is to have someone speak from the heart like that. She so hit the nail on the head about what I was struggling with in oil painting. I told her that in watercolor I found my direction early on, knew what I liked, what I wanted to do and developed the skill to do it. In oil I started out wanting to paint like I do in watercolor and everybody told me that “you don’t do that” in oils. I had to learn about the importance of brush strokes, edges, filling the canvas rather than putting an interesting object on a white page, etc. All the books and blogs stressed alla prima, completing a painting a day, impressionism, etc. Somewhere along the way I lost my direction.

I sometimes picture life as a series of turns made when angels have perched on the signpost and pointed in the next  good direction to take (sometimes the guides aren’t angels but rather tricksters saying turn left when the correct direction is right — heaven knows I’ve made many unfortunate turns in my life). I think she might have been one of those angels, pointing me back to my right path.

I’m not sure if this version is better than the first. There are definitely more darks, but it seems to have lost its glow, partly due to working from a photo rather than the brightly lit subject. What do you think? Does it need more work or is it overworked?

15 replies on “Artichokes Redux, Improved?”

Nah! I like the original best. You don’t have to try to be realistic like a photo. You are free to do what you like. Flat shapes, change colours, stick with warm colours, etc. A drawing a day keeps dementia away, anyway!


I’m with Laura in this, Jana. A long way back I think I said that when you do in oil what you can do in watercolour you’ll have hit the jackpot.
Yes, I really do like the heightened shadows and darker ground in this.
And I hope you drizzled extra virgin oil on those ‘chokes when you ate them! 😉


It looks more Janaish now! Leave it and move on to the next! Make more Jana oil paintings! Thanks for your kind words. We do help each other, us artists, when our better natures prevail ;D.


Very interesting post and I think Laura’s advice is correct. The second version is much more appealing. I recently got out my oil paints and had similar problems with my first attempt after five years. Everything in my painting of two mandarins was just too intense and lacked contrast. So, I also appreciate Laura’s advice to you and now I think I’ll go in and try an overglaze, too. Laura is wonderfully generous and kind to her fellow artists.


Hi Jana, Laura expressed exactly what I wanted to tell you a long time ago already but I did not want to toot into another horn of a choir – thinking that you would find your own way.
I think it is easy to lose one’s own direction when you listen to too many voices, too many opinions. In the search of trying to do everything right it is easy to lose the rope that guides you through your own learning process.

I have stopped entirely to ask for other people’s opinions because I realized that many were right and wrong at the same time.

There are some basic techniques one must understand – simply because the physics are dependent on certain laws. So if someone feels s/he needs training on certain things s/he should do it. But following your own instinct and feeling is always the best thing to do. Observing what’s around you is the best training for your eyes.
I think you possess this virtue – you have proven it often enough through your sketches. Eventually this will get into your oils as well – let it come! Simply forget that those are oils – do with it what you like to do! It’s all yours.


What a blessing to find a person brave enough to give you honest, constructive suggestions. While nothing but positive comments are emotional candy, real insight is more like good nourishing food, especially when it comes from a person whose work you respect. I think the second version is richer, probably a better painting. That said, it has lost the sunny feel that called out to me originally. That’s just my eyes, hungry for something bright and filled with color. It may be time to stop adjusting this one, at least for now. Come back to it in a few weeks and see what you think.



I love getting your daily updates! I know absolutely nothing about oils, so I’m adding my two cents here because you asked for it.

You did a great job on the background, on the plate, the artichoke shadow in back, and the shadow under the plate. The painting on the artichokes themselves looks “tight”, like you were trying very hard and in doing so, lost the “crispness”.

I admire that you get to it every day. You inspire me!


I think it’s an improvement but stop there! I am a fan of high contrast and I know it can look a little cartoony if overdone but this has just the right touch. Nice work.


Wow – it just glows now!
Thank you for sharing these steps – having recently strted oils as well, this is incredibly interesting to me.


that’s the challenge.. knowing when to stop working on a piece.
Laura’s advice is great and I completely agree, but I like the first piece better. It has a happy high key high saturation feel to it, which is a nice achievement in itself and certainly fits the subject matter.. That said, the plate in the second version is brilliant! Worth the overworking to get that.


Hi Jana! I just found your blog through Barbara Edward’s blog. It’s great to be here. Your writing is interesting-I loved it when you said you knew what you wanted to do so developed the skill to do it. That’s inspirational!! The man blowing the clarinet by the sea is a knock out, like one of the Sempe musicians series. Thanks for a great time. mary Barrett


Hi Jana, And the debate goes on, and on and on. Again, it’s like the jurying process for a show–it’s one person’s opinion. But, you have to please only one persoon–yourself, and be happy with it.

Personally I think a combination of the two pieces is the best. The plate is too green in the second rendition. I think that’s why you feel it doesn’t have a “glow.”

As many have said–move on. Best wishes.


Hi Jana – it’s Jana 😉 another artist type…

I had just joined LinkedIn and you “showed up”. There is also another Jana artist that does ACEOs on Ebay. I think it’s rather odd – but all three of us have something to do with “special ed”. I’ve been teaching in the field 25 years, she has more and I see you have a link to a special ed blog. …. could it be the name? 🙂

Phenominal work! I’ve just started taking my art seriously… and have only been doing so about 8 months. Really just started painting. Hope you’ll go visit my blog too! 🙂



The new value depth is very appealing. I’ll keep your observations and those of your friend in mind as I work on my current painting. I’m sure one can go too far in either direction. You’ve hit the mark in the artichoke revision. Thanks again for sharing! Sandra


It’s me again. Enjoy exploring what the brushes, knives, etc can do with your paint. Thick like Van Gogh, thin like Gauguin. I don’t do oils these days as I got an itchy skin with them, but I found it hard not to be heavy-handed and laid it on too thickly. A gentle touch was needed. Keep up the lovely work anyway!


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