The Many Styles of Painting

abstract painting by Patricia Cherry

A few decades ago, it was fashionable to have all the art in one’s home fit within a certain confined motif or genre. Since a home art collection reflects the taste of the owner, there is still a natural inclination to have wooded landscapes in a mountain home and ocean scenes in a coastal home. Yet in today’s more complicated world the contemporary collector more often than not reflects the much more eclectic and diverse world in which we live, regardless of the location of one’s home.

Paintings and other art works are more than a great way to dress up one’s living room, bedroom, business or any space. Many people value contemporary paintings according to how well they can spark a conversation with house guests or office clients. Paintings can open one’s mind to a new perspective of the world, while others stir the emotions. Other paintings and works of art simply set a tone for the room or space.

Not only can art be appreciated for its beauty, shock or just fascination it can also be a sound investment, retaining its value for generations to come.

To help buyers of contemporary paintings here is a simplified guide to a few of the most popular painting styles and how to distinguish one from the other. Disclaimer: this is by no means a comprehensive list. Space is much too limited to be comprehensive. Further qualification: this list is to Art what a cook tasting a spice is to a king’s banquet. It is by no means complete but rather a simple beginning to identify styles and characteristics of paintings.

Taking poetic license I’ll cover just a few with huge sweeping generalizations. Please feel free to pick these apart and add your own comments and experiences.

Photo-Realism, Super Realism, Sharp-Focus Realism, Hyper-Realism. We can argue for days about the details but this is a style where the illusion of reality is created through paint so the result looks more like a large, sharply focused photo. Camera’s and projectors are sometimes employed to achieve this look but the artist must bring a high level of technical expertise to pull it off well.

Realism: This is the art style most folks regard as “real art”, where the subject of the painting looks very much like it appears in real life. Created by a skillful use of paint, color and tone. The artist uses perspective to create an illusion of reality, setting the composition and lighting to make the most of the subject.

A sub-set of Realism is Painterly: which is close to realism but celebrates more the use of paint, through evident brushwork and texture in the paint. Unlike Realism scant use of blending techniques are used.

Impressionism: Americans love this style. In its earliest stages in Europe in the last 1800’s it was hated and considered rebellious. It was regarded as unfinished and rough. It celebrated light and color with an emphasis on nature filtered through the artists eye.

Expressionism/Fauvism: With these styles the artist does not feel compelled to use realistic colors or perspective to recreate a sense of reality. The emotional impact is of utmost importance. The artist wants to convey a mood or evoke an emotional response.

Abstraction: This is about painting the essence of a subject rather than the detail while still retaining an echo of the subject. Think reduced reality. The subject is “abstracted” out of reality. A keen development of composition is required to paint this way.

Abstract or more aptly stated, Non-Objective: This art does not try to look like anything from the “real world”. It is intentionally non-representational. The subject or point of the painting will be the colors, the textures and the materials. The uninitiated may think it an accidental mess, but at its best this kind of art has an impact that strikes you from the moment it is seen.

Finding the Emotions in Art

Patricia Cherry Artist

Art is an emotional experience. Each painting, each sculpture, each drawing was created through an emotional process endured by the artist. Their work is a reflection and a message from them to you. But how do you get in touch with the emotional side of art? In this blog post we talked about how to go in depth and read paintings. Now we’ll talk more about the emotions of paintings.

Sometimes the emotions that we feel from art are not necessarily the emotions that the artist intended. The beauty of art is that it can evoke so many diverse reactions from each individual. Our own experiences are brought to the table when we examine art. We’re all going to feel something that is completely our own.

Look at the art piece as a whole.

  • Does it appeal to you through your senses? It doesn’t have to be beautiful to be good, but it must grab your eye in some way. Perhaps it grabs your attention through its subject matter, its use of color, an interesting juxtaposition of objects, its realistic appearance, its lack of anything recognizable, a visual joke or any number of other factors.


  • Does it speak to you? Perhaps there are some symbols in the painting. Skulls in the older Master paintings were often used to remind people that wealth is temporal, worldly and in the grand scheme of things, meaningless. But don’t get caught in the trap of figuring out what the artist meant, but focus instead on what the work says to YOU.


  • What do you feel? A large part of the appeal of art is emotional. Some artists go out of their way to inspire strong reactions, ranging from awe, to lust, to anger and even disgust. It’s easy to dismiss work that upsets our notions of what art could be. Ask yourself why you are having the response you are having. What is it about the work that is upsetting to you, what purpose might the artist have in upsetting you? Likewise, if your feelings are positive, why are they?

Perhaps you are now getting that it is your reaction, your own emotions in the presence of the painting that are important. As Shakespeare said, “This above all, to thine own self be true”. Giving serious attention to art will indeed tell you much more about yourself than it could ever tell you about the artist.

The best art speaks to our souls. The pieces that speak to me might not speak to you in the same way. What truly matters is that viewing the art helped you to learn something about yourself.


How To “Read” A Painting & Open up A Whole New World

Patricia Cherry Artist

Can you recall learning to read? Struggling with the sounds-one-letter at a time. Then moving into inference and comprehension. Learning symbols to establish meaning, deduction to deepen understanding.   Learning what you agreed or disagreed with or what you liked or disliked, came only after you learned discernment and critical thinking skills. Was learning to read valuable to you?


I contend learning to “read” a painting can bring you the same value.


All art; film, music, performing, literature are ways to share the very human need to communicate, express emotions and ideas as well as to connect with others. There is one big deviation with visual art; the visual artist has only one frame through which to communicate his/her idea. And once committed to a 2D format the artist must then let go. Now it becomes strictly up to the viewer to interpret. Here is the paradox, what the viewer sees or interprets may or may not have anything at all to do with what the artist intended. The viewer is in charge, and the more open the viewer the more exciting the viewing.


A painting can challenge you, lift your spirit, call you to play, open a new world, change your perspective, delight, or annoy or any other possible human emotion imaginable. There is no ‘should’ in your reaction to a painting nor is there a ‘should’ in what one will like or dislike. But learning to look will enrich one’s life.


So….. how do you read a painting?


  • A fine art gallery is part of the art world on a mission to show you why looking is worth it. But to do so, one must first slow down. Looking is not a drive by sport. Now does one have to talk art or know about art to truly read a painting? No, no and no.


  • O.k. you’ve slowed down, now what?   Pay moderate attention to detail, and offer up a willingness to reflect on your own feelings.


  • What do you see? Consider style or technique. There are periods of time in history when well-established styles were in vogue. Consider Renaissance portraits which looked almost exactly alike to the casual viewer. We are not living in such a time. All bets are off and all styles are relevant. Some artists create closely detailed, finely controlled works while others slap paint around almost haphazardly.



Of course this is an incomplete introduction to art. It’s just a little nudge to get you thinking about art appreciation. The better you can read art the better the experience will become. Slow Down. What are you seeing, what are you feeling? What is the style, subject matter, story of the piece? Most importantly what did you learn about yourself?

What Is Serial Painting?

Over the years I have done many serial or what some call a series of paintings with a particular theme.  Simply put, Serial Art is a kind of modern art where there are a series of paintings or sculptures of related themes and/or techniques. Serial painting also employs techniques from styles such as hard edge painting, systems art, and op art.

It can be more mathematical in its genesis, and requires a bit more planning than other styles of painting and sculpture.  Especially if one is using technology in the creative process.    Needless to say, I don’t spend anytime thinking of mathematical equations in my art.  That just feels a bit too confining for me, but I admire those who can combine this kind of linear thinking with the creative process.  I just want to keep the spontaneity so I let my intuition take over instead.

Serial paintings often seem more deliberate and less spontaneous that other painting forms, and less immediately emotional. However, their effects on the viewer can be as powerful as other painting styles.  They therefore require an artist who is very organized, and also someone conversant in mathematics – particularly in geometry and mathematical congruence.  When I think of this statement I think of David Hockney.  His works are so well thought out.  He uses video and technology in remarkable ways.  His most recent exhibit at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art demonstrated what Serial painting is all about.

Serial paintings can offer a certain style or technique, but within those confines, still show a wide variety of colors, textures, and subject matter, depending upon the particular artist’s conceptual intentions, ideas, and perceptions.

Serial paintings also give an artist an opportunity to develop his or her conceptual ideas in more than one painting. This allows the artist to “grow” the pieces as they progress, and therefore make a definitive statement about the paintings. Serial paintings can be of any number, so there are many variations on a theme or technique possible for the artist. So, what can appear like a very restrictive form, can actually be quite freeing for the painting. And also very expressive.

Serial paintings are contemporary but not new. Many artists have employed the serial concept in their work. Claude Monet is a very famous serial painter, and both Corot and Turner also tried the style. Josef Albers, Max Bill, and Richard Paul Lohse are other well-known serial painters. So the concept of serial paintings has existed for a while, and the opportunities it presents for the artists that use it are endless.



What motivates and inspires an artist?


I’m lucky enough to know many artists. Having written a weekly column entitled “Art Matters”, for a regional newspaper, I’ve asked that question hundreds of times. The answers to what inspires were as diverse as the artists themselves. In regards to motivation, the answers were quite similar.


Regarding their motivation, most answered they were just driven to do so with limited ability to explain why. I’m sure behavior experts might be able to talk about brain functions, but the answers to this part, came under the category of what I called, “nature”. Ask a fish what it is like to live in water and you’d get a similar response. Since that is all the fish knows, of course it does not know how to answer.


During some period in the artist’s life a brain-click occurred, and making their art become highly important. In some cases, it became everything.


For me with a big family, loving husband, and lots of other interests,  I would not say everything. However, never painting again? Well that would be tragic to me. The artists I’ve interviewed have all said something like that. Ask them what they would do if they couldn’t do their art and a look of horror comes over their face. There was a commonality at the horror of not being able to do their art.


So, I wondered at my own drive to paint and wondered if that drive qualifies as an addiction. It does feel, at the very least, kindred. The desire to paint is certainly as close as I care to come to an addiction. The symptoms of withdrawal are similar. Kept away from it for long, I get crabby, restless and distracted. I start thinking about all of the ideas I still have to express. I’ll leave other chores to just “check it out”. Before you know it hours have rushed by. So, maybe I am an addict. Perhaps it keeps me from other not so healthy addictions.


But that is as deep as I care to go on this particular subject, it starts feeling much too introspective and what if I figured it out? Would the motivation go away? In any case, I stop thinking about from whence the motivation comes and just start painting again.


An inquiry into what inspires an artist to create a particular piece is a subject of which I never tire.  I suspect there is an unconditioned human need to express ourselves. A need in every one of the six plus billion people on the planet. I believe we are all artists. Some chose to paint, sing, dance, write, build teams or business,  play an instrument, cook, or simply decorate their bodies with tattoos. Whatever the “it” is… it seems we all wish to create. Instead of calling myself an artist I say I am a painter.  It feels more accurate.


So many ways to create once inspired.  But, for this article I’m just focusing on painting.   That is, after all, what I know about.


But what inspires? Many when asked that question answered “nature”. Connecting with nature and observing a sentient being from another species is the best inspiration for most. Most painters begin to paint or draw it to feel closer to it. The artist inside wants to express the joy or wonderment one feels from a beautiful sunset, or the curve of a mountain.


Color, light, shadow, form. All visual sparks to paint.


Also looking at the artwork of others.  I had a profound spiritual reaction the first time I saw the Impressionists paintings in a collection.  Appreciation for other artist’s process or genius helps inspire us too.   I love to go to museums and art gallery’s to see all of the impressive art. I cannot get enough. It chases me back to my studio where I throw myself into my own process. It’s renewing, invigorating as well as humbling; this is inspiration.



For me right now I am exploring the idea of visually portraying chaos. I call it trans-formative chaos. Having the distinct feeling we are living in transformational times I want so badly to express that idea.  The idea is the subject and for me has no known form. I realize all of us, in our turn to live on this planet must feel great change taking place.  Perhaps it has been that way since we had the need to paint on the walls of caves. But, we only really know our own time and this time feels volatile, exciting and yes a bit scary.

Which brings me to fear.


Fear is a feeling and the emotions we feel must be expressed. Or so it seems. Great love, fear, lust, joy, deep gratitude; all these and more are the feelings we wish to express. Maybe I ought to say, must express.


It’s fun to wonder about all of this but, now I want to go paint.



What is a Giclee Print?

We’ve gotten through the hottest summer in Tuolumne County that I can remember, we gratefully have gotten through The Great Rim Fire. That flaming conflagration lasted 2 full months, was officially out as in snuffed, finished, smothered as of last week. Fire-fighters, police, and the community all came together to keep this monster from destroying a pretty nice community.  We. Are. Grateful!


Today a very nice art patron visiting my studio asked, “What is a Giclée?”


“Funny you should ask. I just happen to be the Content Editor of the newsletter for Art on Main,  an exquisite original art gallery in the charming town of Murphys, California. I wrote an article on that same subject a few months ago.”


As luck would have it I couldn’t find a copy before she had to leave. (Yes that does speak to my organizational skills which fall just south of a hoarder) I promised I would send it to her and I thought the question comes up often enough to make it worthy of putting in a blog.


Here is an edited version of that article which is also on Art on Main’s web site, under “Museletter”


 What Is A Giclée ? Pronounced with a soft G as in Gi Gi with the emphasis on the last syllable (zhee-clay’)

The simple answer: a high-quality print. The longer answer is more complicated

The word Giclée was coined in 1991 by Jack Duganne, a fine print-maker from France who wanted a description of the process without some of the negative connotations the art world was attaching to many aspects of the rapidly changing print mediums. He took a cue from the technology of that time.  For most jet-sprayed prints, an IRIS printer (very expensive I should add) was used. A nozzle was used to spray pigment. Duganne found the French word “gicler” which literally means, “to squirt, spurt, or spray”. The feminine noun version of the word is [la] giclée. Hence a new by-name or moniker was born.


After 25 years, the term has morphed into a more generic meaning than Duganne had perhaps intended. The IRIS printer is no longer exclusively used and many other high-quality jet-sprayed printers are now available. Giclée prints are numbered and limited, usually from 50 to 250.  Unlike the lithograph process where plates are used, the quality of the last Giclée is just as strong and clear as the first. In lithography, the prints begin to fade toward the end of the printing run, so an earlier number is perceived to be more valuable. Lithographs are still a form of offering prints, and should not be discounted by the collector. However, with a Giclée, the first and last are the same.


The other distinguishing feature of the Giclées is they are printed on archival paper or canvas.  In many cases, it is almost impossible to tell the original from the print. Traditionally, the artist signs his/her name in pencil just below the existing signature so that the patron will know it is not an original. A certificate giving it a sequential number and the name of the printer also accompanies the Giclée.


Technology, as we all know, is advancing at an accelerated rate. We now have home copier/printers that can produce high-quality prints. However, those are not considered Giclées and will not be accompanied by a certificate; they are simply prints. There is nothing inherently wrong with this – although the colors may not be as true and pure as the original or as in Giclées. Many artists like manipulating their original painting this way and purposely choose to change the hue and value in their prints. It all boils down to artist’s choice.


In the early nineteenth century when color photography was invented, The Cassandras of the world heralded the demise of painting as an art form. In the 1950’s the demise of museums was predicted. Much later the development of the web – brought about dire predictions that the end of painting was coming.  On the contrary, original paintings are now more coveted than ever   Artistic creation has persevered in the face of these various cultural, social and technical phenomena. For instance, museums have never seen more visitors and art galleries are once again coming back in full force as our current recession draws to a slow close. People want exciting art on their walls! Be it a Giclée, or an original.


So…the upshot is this: original paintings are still more desirable, but personal choice is the only thing that should dictate to the patron what kind of art to buy – be it an original or a reproduction. Only the owner can determine the pleasure of ownership. Purchasing art from a reputable gallery or artist can guide you to make your art choices. And let’s face it, the wallet has a little something to do with it also.



Pulling Inspiration from the Rim Fire in Tuolumne County

The Rim Fire Painting


The Rim Fire in Tuolumne County is close to containment. This is good news, as to date it has burned 237k acres. Highly quixotic, it is likely one of the most difficult forest fires in history. But the thousands of hero’s fighting it are getting the upper-hand. The dastardly inferno is now about 85% contained. We are not relaxed but hopeful.


The five acres I live on was never on the advisory evacuation list, but in crow flying miles it came within 12 miles. Much too close. It caused me to question the wisdom of an at-home- studio-gallery. How would I move all of those paintings and where would we go? And then, it set me to wondering at the wisdom of doing all of these paintings?


I suppose introspection is a universal quality in an artist, but this fire forced the question.  I reminded myself of Camille Pisarro’s story (Impressionist 1830 to 1903). In 1870, France lost the battle of Sedan, forcing Napoleon III to surrender. The Prussians advanced so quickly into Louveciennes, France, where Pisarro resided on his farm. He fled for his life, leaving behind in his barn 1500 painted canvases of his own, in addition to many he had stored for Monet. The Prussians turned his studio into a butchery and used his canvases as aprons, soiled with the blood of slaughtered animals.

He was able to salvage only 40 paintings. Ouch.


There was a reason the Impressionists made their mark on the world. They painted every day; they painted passionately, turbulently and with fervor. We know of the angst many of them also felt, so I quiet my inner critic and start another painting, carefully monitoring the news of the fire.


My own belief is there is something good that comes with most calamities and it almost always has to do with compassion and kindnesses offered. There have been many shining generous examples of folks helping folks through this unfortunate fire.


I’m going to want to process the emotions of this volatile time through my art. The good, kind examples of heroism in juxtaposition to the fear a destructive fire like this evokes. A roller coaster of emotions. This juxtaposition is kindred to the art I have been doing which I call “Trans-formative Chaos.” I ‘ve started prepping a few canvases with this in mind. Who knows, maybe I’ll come close, maybe not. But in spite of angst, questioning and introspection my prevailing internal philosophy pops up and tells me to “just shut up and keep painting”.


The smoke is still too thick to go outside anyway.

Rim Fire


Art Matters – A Blog About All Things Artful

Grabbing the Unexpected Accident

Painting in an Abstract or Non-Objective manner is, for me, a different process than painting a planned landscape or portrait. It requires a willingness to carefully observe and listen well during the painting process, to let go while at the same time tuning in at a more intense level. A mastery of technique is essential, but that is only the beginning baseline. I intend to grab the unexpected accident and turn it into a skilled composition.

“Listen” may seem like the wrong word to apply to visual art yet that is what it feels like [to me] while painting. It is an intuitive activity. The inspiration can come in a flash or take a long time to reveal itself. But [for me] the sense of intuitive observation is heightened while painting this way.

Mark Rothko (1903 to 1970) set the bar for sitting and observing a painting before he would apply another brush stroke. He was famous for sitting and just staring hours on end at his developing painting. Then jump up in a rush to madly apply just the right colors in the right amounts. I’ve caught myself doing a similar albeit more brief routine of staring. It’s a kind of intuitive waiting. Waiting for the accident to be recognized as a link between convention (conditioning) and or deep secrets that need to surface; and working them into the over-all theme….

Step Away From the Painting

I teach an ongoing art class in my home studio/gallery in East Sonora called, “Finding Your Own Visual Voice”. Frequently, I’ll see a student struggling with their painting and I’ll blurt out, “step away from the painting”. And we all chime in with that mantra until someone starts laughing. But it’s necessary. Be still. Listen. Watch. Observe. The painting will tell you what it wants, if you allow it to.

It will tell you the next thing that is required; a little more blue, a darker value, a line here or there. To me it is similar to what I think is the difference between prayer and meditation. In prayer, one might ask for something – in meditation one must just be still and listen.

A bit of contemplative music on, and I am lost. If I am fortunate, I experience magical moments when my outer surroundings drop away and paradoxically I become more in tune with the world through my painting. Or I might put some high energy music on and just let the paint fly. Same process; different tempo.

The paintings become non-linear, non-descriptive and contain very little of recognizable images. They become an exploration of those momentary insights of the intuitive, internal and personal interior landscape.

When painting this way, there will usually come a time during the painting process wh



Angelic Cosmos