Revealing the Tricks of Richard Schmid

Make your art a gift of inspiration to others to work toward better things.”

Richard Schmid

The celebrated contemporary painter, Richard Schmid, certainly lives up to his advice in the above quote. His virtuosic work has galvanized representational painters for the past fifty years, elevating Schmid to a living legend among artists in the genre—often being compared to masters like John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, and other influential artists of the late 19th century.

The above painting is a beautiful example of Schmid’s style. This piece is very much like a symphony of well-applied techniques, working in perfect harmony toward the final image. The execution of strong composition, use of edge, value, drawing, and interest are just a few of the key players in the success of this masterful work, which we will study closely here.

The composition of this piece is achieved in several clever ways. To begin with, the direction of lines throughout the painting move the eye toward the focal point, the hands. Notice how the arms, mirror, and folds of cloth direct one’s attention—corralling our eyes ultimately to the main area of interest. This is also achieved through the use of value, as the arms and hands are much brighter than the contrasting environment. When one “squints down”—using a technique often referenced by Schmid—one can notice how the bright shapes of the arms are the most unique structures in the overall composition, standing out from the more nebulous forms throughout the rest of the image. By squinting, we also can appreciate that the overall composition remains balanced in value, where the rear wall shadow is compensated by the dark plant and bookshelf. All of these features set the strong base upon which the other technical aspects of the painting can be used effectively.

The use of edge is one of Richard Schmid’s most mastered tools, invoking excitement, realism, and directing the interest of his painting’s audience. Hard edges are used very sparingly in this painting, found most notably in the carefully rendered hands of the figure, but in three other areas as well: the mirror, the flower, and the kettle. These four emphasized areas serve almost as a secondary composition, overlaid upon the first, sending our eyes bouncing between each item, helping to tell the story of the scene. The soft edges used elsewhere invoke the gentle feeling of the natural daylight, coming from an unseen window. The lost edge in the bottom left corner, where the curtain and table would have met, was a smart omission, as the alternative would have detracted from the overall composition.

The use of value here has already been mentioned in terms of composition, but it is also Schmid’s other most well-employed technique, which helps to achieve a strong sense of realism. Schmid’s ability to accurately render values of light is one of the most gripping features of his paintings. His careful attention to the “falling off” of value in this scene clearly communicates the quality of light entering the room. This, in combination with the neutral temperature of the light, one feels that this painting was likely made on an overcast day. In addition to Schmid’s careful attention to proportion and the accurately drawn figure, one is struck with a very realistic painting.

The final bits of interest—or the “jewellery” as Schmid sometimes calls them—are the dabs of color that help give the painting its extra sparkle. Without those cool notes of blue scattered sparsely around the image, the painting would not have achieved the same sort of serenity it ultimately has. Another dynamic element of interest comes from the handling of the brushstrokes, in particular, the rendering of the leaves and the cloth in the foreground, which have a kinetic energy to them, appearing as though motion blurred. This sense of movement adds excitement to what could have been a more subdued or static scene.

It’s always a joy to study the works of this wonderful painter. If you enjoyed this analysis of Richard Schmid’s work, please let me know in the comments and perhaps share this page with others who may also benefit. Did you notice anything else that strikes you about the painting? Which painters inspire you? I’d love to hear from you below.

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