Cynthia Duff Artist Review


Landscapes in paintings has been a favorite subject matter for artist’s for thousands of years. The earliest pure landscapes are found in Greek frescos from around 1500 B.C.E. However, it was not until landscape paintings saw their beginnings in East Asian art when spiritual elements were included that drew from philosophical traditions such as Daoism. In these ink paintings, human presence was only glimpsed and the focus was entirely on the landscape. They focused on balance, harmony and the use of positive and negative space to create dreamlike landscapes that made the viewer see more that just a pretty place. These imaginary landscapes became the most prestigious form of visual art as the aesthetic theory of the region placed imagination above all else in importance. 
Travelers Among Mountains and Streams, 960-1279 Fran Kuan
Travelers Among Mountains and Streams, 960-1279

The Western interpretation of landscape painting had new noticeable influences and major contrasts from Asian landscape paintings. Most notably was the low position landscape painting occupied in the Western art world until the 19th century. The natural world was certainly present in the art world previously, however the landscapes and natural elements always acted as secondary focuses for artists who’s primary focus was on the human influence in the landscapes they occupied. From these history focused paintings, landscape painting branched off and became its own valued artistic subject matter in the West. In the United States, the Hudson River School which was prominent in the middle to late 19th century is possibly the best-known native development in landscape art. This mid century art movement depicted American landscapes such as the Hudson River Valley, the Catskills and the Adirondack mountains. Similarly to Eastern Asian landscapes, these paintings were created to evoke an emotional response from the viewer and not to simply serve as a place for man to occupy.


A View of the Mountains Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains 1839 Thomas Cole 
A View of the Mountains Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains, 1839 Thomas Cole

Cynthia Duff paints what she loves, the Colorado landscapes that she calls home. She has new ways of showcasing the beauty of nature that depart from traditional depictions of landscapes. Most noticeably, Cynthia “fractures” her paintings into flowing and defined sections. These sections allow her to show different times of day in one landscape through changes in color saturation and values, providing the viewer a holistic landscape experience. Cynthia has also branched away from the traditional paint on canvas to working on birch panels with a combination of paint and wood stains. Birch wood is playable and is often bent by the artist so the painting literally lifts away from the wall towards the viewer. This interesting combination of medium and styles makes Cynthia Duff’s landscape paintings unique, new, and identifiably hers. 


Principals of Art:

Space: Space is created in Cynthia’s paintings from a change in details, saturation of colors and values. In Water’s Enlightenment, notice how the details in the water are far crisper and larger in proportion than the trees in the background. This transition of fading details and size indicates that the trees are further away, thus creating space in the composition.

Color: Cynthia’s color varies from bold and bright to subdued and natural. Whichever color scheme she decides upon, she uses colors that work well together and convey the mood she is creating. In Water’s Enlightenment, Cynthia uses an earthy and organic color pallet which makes the flashes of gold leaf shine out brilliantly. The color scheme allows for large portions of untouched wood to blend and heighten visual interest with it’s beauty.  

Shape: Shapes are most noticeable in the fractioning that Cynthia creates in all of her paintings. Notice the clear a distinct lines in the sky of Water’s Enlightenment and how they reflect the similar shapes found in the foreground. These flowing and non representational shapes add flow and movement to the painting.

Form: Circle is to shape as sphere is to form. Shapes transform into forms in Cynthia’s work when she plays with perspective and changing values. In Water’s Enlightenment, note how forms are created in the foreground where the water pours over the rocks that peak out from behind the flowing water. This overlapping perspective shows depth and thus creates form.

Value: Value relates to the tint/shade of a hue (color). Every color can be tinted by adding white or shaded by adding black. The purpose of considering value in a painting is to help create both dimension and a mood. Changing values show up in every different portion of fractured sections in Cynthia’s paintings. These different fractured sections are meant to show different times of day. For instance, some will have the bright vivid colors of a sunset, while others will have the washed out look of mid day sun. These changes in values help Cynthia create a cohesive look into a landscapes and it’s varying appearances depending on the time of day. Changes in value also create depth and dimension. You can see this in Water’s Enlightenment in the gradual fade of color and value saturation as the water recedes into the background and becomes less vibrant and bold.

Texture: Texture is most beautifully noted in the visible grains of wood that are visible in portions of Cynthia’s paintings. Cynthia uses a combination of acrylic washes and wood stains to enhance the naturally occurring textures and patterns of the birch wood. These organic flowing lines create a natural rhythm in her work and offer a subtle interesting texture.

Line: Lines are used to create the shapes that fracture Cynthia’s landscapes. These lines are free flowing and created by the artist as she progresses through her painting process. There is freedom and spontaneity in her line work which gives the viewer a sense of creative liberation while viewing her work. These lines work together throughout the composition to build a flow that moves the viewer’s eye.

Revealed Charm Cynthia Duff Painting


Principals of Design:

Balance: Balance is created by counterbalancing the focal point against the rest of the composition. In Water’s Enlightenment Cynthia balances the visual weight of the lower two thirds of the composition which is larger in proportion with the more detailed but smaller in proportion area of the upper third.

Unity: The unity of a piece is what creates a sense of completeness. The fracturing lines create unity in Cynthia’s work as they are present in every portion of the composition. The lines lead the viewer’s eye around the composition and unify every portion of the painting. 

Variety: Variety is what adds interest into a work of art. The varieties of changing values in each fractured section make the painting interesting for the viewer and add visual variety.

Emphasis: Emphasis is what the artist uses to create a focal point. Focal points can vary viewer to viewer, but a truly successful composition will have one clear focal point that the eye is continually drawn to over and over again. The emphasis in Water’s Enlightenment is in the foreground and the cascading water. The water has gold and metal flakes that catch light and draw the eye just as water does in nature. The water also has the deepest and brightest areas of value in the painting, which naturally attracts the eye.

Movement: Movement implies motion is a snapshot of time. Movement is clear in Water’s Enlightenment, as the water is flowing down the rock face towards the viewer. Movement is also created in Cynthia’s work with the visible wood grain and the way the fractioning reveals it. Often times the wood grain will appear to be indicating a directional change, which adds subtle impressions of movement and prompts the eye to move around the composition.

Pattern: Think of pattern as the visual skeleton that organizes the parts of a composition. This underlying structure uses consistent and regular repetition. You can have both natural and man made pattern. Pattern use can be seen in the trees of Water’s Enlightenment in how they repeat horizontally across the composition.

Perspective: Perspective is what’s creates a three dimensional painting vs a two dimensional painting. In all landscape painting, demonstrating atmospheric perspective is imperative to creating a successful composition. Cynthia shows perspective by decreasing size, detail and value as the imagery recedes into the background.


Cynthia paints with acrylic paints and wood stains on a birch wood panel. She started working on birch due to it’s playability and ability to be bent, finding that it a beautiful surface to work upon. Some of Cynthia’s paintings actually bend off of the wall, like Water’s Enlightenment does, while others are a flat surface mounted on birch. 

To showcase the beautiful wood grains of the birch, Cynthia works with both wood stains and acrylic paint washes to enhance the wood grains in certain portions of the composition. She “fractures” her paintings by masking off sections and working in them independently so she can show different times of day in the single composition. It is a layering process that develops as she creates the painting. To add extra emphasis and interest, Cynthia will often add metal flakes, such as gold, copper, and silver into her paintings. These reflective metal flakes catch the light and the eye.

Cynthia mounts her compositions on a separate panel of stained birch. This elegant presentation showcases the painting and completes the piece as a whole.