Tom Lynch Start with the focal point

A last-minute addition to my art lesson schedule at the Art of the Carolina’s was the Tom Lynch watercolor class. I’m so glad I attended because Tom shared valuable tips for drawing the viewer in and keeping him/her interested in your painting. Tom uses Sennelier watercolor paints and Fabriano watercolor paper.

Tom started off saying something to the effect that the difference between a photograph and a painting is that painters get to create a dynamic focal point that stands out from the rest of the image. We do this through use of more vibrant colors and contrast, smaller more detailed brushwork, generous white space as well as other techniques. In contrast, the rest of the image should be less vibrant, less detailed, and less “in focus.” Lynch mentioned that a clear focal point is one of the biggest mistakes he comes across when judging shows. By starting with the focal point and keeping a few key tactics in mind, you can master this valuable technique.

Find the focal point with watercolorist Tom Lynch
Find the focal point with watercolorist Tom Lynch

The exercise he gave us was quite clever really. We drew a landscape with a few small buildings on our larger sheet of Fabiano watercolor paper. Then, on another sheet, oriented vertically, we drew the focal point, a barn type building, twice (on the top and on the bottom). After watching Tom’s lesson and demo, our goal was to paint the top drawing as if it were the focal point, using vibrant colors with clear details from a smaller brush and a lot of contrast to draw the eye’s attention.

Top focal point. Bottom not focal point.
Top focal point. Bottom not focal point.

The bottom building we painted much more loosely, with a larger brush, and more muted tones. This stark contrast between the focal point and the rest of the image really delineated the most important part of the artwork but still kept your attention in the painting. One of Lynch’s keys to success is that he doesn’t always put the most obvious subject as the focal point. For instance, he may focus on a street lamp but paint the Eiffel Tower more subdued in the background. Or, he will paint people in the picture but you may not even notice them at first because your focus goes to the object(s) where he leads you.

For more information on Mr. Lynch or to take one of his workshops, visit his web site at tomlynch.com.

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