A painting is theater.

With all the hype that came out recently with the release of “Hamilton” on the Disney channel, my daughter and I have been binge-watching musicals. Ohh man, so good. And it was while watching “Newsies” that I was reminded of how a painting is just like a theatrical production. I have talked a lot in my workshops on how a good painting is really a well-choreographed story.

In the beginning of the musical “Newsies” the main characters are all introduced and are dancing around an amazing and elaborate set. Figures go whizzing around each other flipping and bouncing around, and yet I found that I could always keep track of the main lead actor. No matter where he went around the stage. Why?

Well, because everyone else was dressed in the rather same neutralized colors. Lots of textures and even funky socks, but only the main guy had on a cobalt blue shirt. A bulls-eye. So no matter where he went on the stage you can easily find him. Even if you were seated in the nosebleed seats (before Covid) you could still easily follow him around. You understand what he is doing especially when he is talking because of how his clothing and his actions draw attention to him- as the director and the writer planned it. Yes, this is very deliberate planning.

I have found artists rarely think of themselves as in control of their images. Guess what? You have all the control in the world right at your fingertips. Maybe that is one reason why I am in love with painting so much. (closet control-freak that I am.) When I have no control over my life or what is happening around me, I can control the chroma of a color to suit my story. I can control my compositions to make you look where I want you to look. My main “opera singer” is on my stage and she is being heard in my images because I make the other elements – the other actors – secondary to her and look to her while she is belting out an aria.

What if everyone on stage were singing at the top of their lungs? All screaming to look at them?


That is what most paintings suffer from in my humble opinion. Chaos. Be the director in your musical. Choreograph your “dancers” so they don’t conflict with your love story. I dare you to take control.

Watch that your backgrounds aren’t taking over the image. Are your edges supporting where you want the viewers to look? They may not have tickets to the performance, but they are looking for the principals in your image anyway. Can you channel your focus through color? Through shape? Through a story?

Intention. Start with that. The rest of the theater will follow.

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