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.

You Talking to Me


“You Talking to Me”.  Watercolor.  36 X 36

Why Sea Turtles?    I have been made aware of the plight of these magnificent creatures.   They are dangerously close to extinction.  Given the fact they lived at the same time dinosaurs roamed our planet it seems a travesty they may now be on their way to extinction.  Our planet can not afford to lose them.     I fell in love with their story and their pre-historic beauty.   I hope by looking at my paintings folks will become more curious and protective about them.

Successfully auctioned at KVIE for $900.00


“You Talking to Me”.  Note cards $3.50 ea.

Celestial Canopy


30 X 40   Watercolor

I am convinced the era in which we live is an era of pivotal change.    As a species we are exploring the Universe and the microscopic.   There is always both chaos and beauty in change.   The more we know the less we understand.  The wider our understanding the wider the perimeter of our unknowing.  It is this paradox I am attempting to illustrate.  What, who and why are we?

Earth and Sky Merging

Earth & Sky Merging

24 x 30   Watercolor

Earthy tones for landscape and sky.  The electrical storm adds a turbulence to the landscape, with an acoustical effect to the atmosphere.  Once again the color temperature of the earth could be represented by the abstract shapes.  The mystical vortex is represented by the white area of the painting as a door to another dimension as in the paperback written by Neanna Miller and the Sedona red rocks sleepy artist community.

The color red in most red and brown rocks are small amounts of  hematite.  Native Americans used this to make pigments.   Hematite is an important pigment as well. It is known as “red ochre” used on cave walls, painting faces and bodies all over the world.   Most paint is made from pulverized minerals.  The blue here could be Azurite, the orange – Cinnabar, and the yellow – Jarosite.

I named my homestead Red Rock Ranch because we have so much Iron in our rock here too, in Tuolumne County.  With it’s share of lightning storms, rivers, and Red Hills.

Angelic Cosmos

Angelic Cosmos
“The Cosmos is the Spaceship of the imagination”, according to Carl Sagan.

Could Angels actually exist?  This painting is an exploration of  self discovery in the parts of our brain that most of us do not dare to go in. What part of our DNA is the soul?  As we evolve can we become angels?  When we try to listen to the best part of us – can we become God like, so good that we can tap into a parallel reality?  These are questions that this painting delves into, as a painter I must find the unknown parts of my sub-conscious and listen until it emerges into my conscious and then painting – like a spaceship traveling through the inner recesses of the mind:  

The colors of the Cosmos are wavelengths, gases and temperatures; a certain temperature will glow to a certain wavelength of light.  There are many light sources in the visible spectrum.  Shorter wavelengths are blue, longer are red or green.  The Angel’s dress has a rainbow effect to contrast against the gaseous orange.  “The physical universe is a closed system, but the imagination is not.’   The orange wavelength in the visible spectrum is 590 nm which is a longer wavelength.  Color temperature is a characteristic of visible light – against a black body.

Neon is a chemical element found in the Universe and is usually orange -red, which is the color I chose for the background : Neon derived from the Greek word New.  Neon is an inert gas and is very rare on Earth.  Yes, back to earth…. and the visible spectrum.

Color temperature, light source and brainwaves are all part of the artistic mind in search for matters of the soul – – I found an angel in this piece – now to figure out why!

Watercolor 30 x 40 Unframed


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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