My Paintings, trials and inspirations….
In the previous post I explained how I begin a painting. Selecting a subject, manipulating and enhancing it, than finally using the dynamic symmetry grid.
When it comes to painting, usually I shy away from mechanical tools but I’ve found the grid to be flexible and very helpful.
Used by the Old Masters to the Impressionists, it’s like having an artist friend with a great eye for composition.
Each space within the grid has a harmony within the whole and where multiple lines overlap “eyes” form which are prime places for important elements.
In the image above left (the one I ended up choosing), you can see how her left arm lines up, so does the top of her hat and the bottom of the tree foliage. Her straight foot ends at a line while her other leg followed the angle of another. Things can also be pushed and pulled to fall better. For instance I changed the angle of the shadow under the tree to conform more to the diagonal line of the grid.
The version in the center and right would have also worked, but with these, more information would have to be added on the left side.
The next thing I like to do is create a small color study. Up until a few years ago this seemed like a waste of time to me. Why paint a miniature version of my painting?
I’ve since realized the terrific value in these little jewels. As artists we are not copying what we see but transforming it into our vision. This takes experimental thinking.
It can be very disheartening to scrape off large areas of your painting because it doesn’t harmonize or has the wrong value. Enough changing around of things on a large painting ends up looking forced and overworked, anything but fresh.
In the color study above I set the value range, decided the temperature extremes and began to get more excited when seeing my vision in paint.
When I paint the larger version there’s still lots of room to “try some things out”, but within an established frame work it’s much more fun!
Instead of taking a piece of my painting process and blogging about it, though I’d take one painting from the start to finish.
It’s taken me many years to come up an order, a chain of events, a way to get my head in the right place to create something that feels good to me.
First comes the choice of subject. Below is what I’ll be working with. This is a very personal thing. The reason I chose this is it has several things I’m drawn to.
Now starts the problem solving . The first thing is evaluating the composition. There needs to be more space above her head, so what do I fill that space with? Going back to the original photo shoot, searching for a shot from this angle with more tree showing….bingo, found this photo.
Time to take both photos into Photoshop for some reworking. There are several easy ways to do this which I won’t go into, but knowing your way around Photoshop is a handy skill to have.
This is a little rough around the edges, you can see where I cloned some bushes to the lower right and have some hard edges at the top, but I can surely work with this in the painting. The balance of things is looking much better. The final test is to place the photo within a dynamic symmetry grid. If you’re not familiar with this, here’s one below.
In the next post I show you what I’m looking for as I place her inside the grid.
When faced with a subject rich in visual content it’s easy to get sucked into render mode. Not wanting to miss a nuance or glimmer can leave your painting scattered and weak.
Landscape artist Lori Putnam said ” it’s not what you include, but what you leave out”, which is a monumental statement for figure painters as well.
First reaction, be sure and capture:
Now for the editing, I ask myself, what can I leave out in order to make something else more important and what can I change for more impact?
These are all based on what is important to me personally, your version would be different according to what appeals to you.
Beginning with a thumbnail value sketch helps to organize the design.
Her face and right arm will be the lightest value. Hair, pillows on the sides and hand darkest (not totally sold on the hand standing out that much, have to see how it works in the actual painting), everything else will be midtone.
Next the color sketch. There is nothing more disheartening than scraping a large area off because the color doesn’t work. This small sketch makes the actual painting more fun. Having all the options in the world can be stifling, working within boundaries is actually freeing to me.
I thought it was finished at this point…..but no…….a couple things really bothered me.
The first was the hand, it was painted in a way which nothing else was, with a light and shadow side, everything else is flat. I also missed my dark shape in that position.
The other thing was the fan, it was not pulling it’s weight in the painting.
Adjustments to these area gave me what I had envisioned and a way to keep my dark shape while reworking the hand into something simpler.
In the previous post I discussed the set-up to start my limited palette painting using only Yellow Ochre, Scarlet Lake, Ivory Black and white.
The last step before the brushes come out is an important one, the value sketch. I’ve said it before; real life, a painting and a photograph are three totally different things.
Real life has no visual boundaries, a painting does. Those four edges matter to your design. The two horizontal, carry gravity, pushing down on your subject from the top and holding it in from the bottom. The two verticals, squeeze in from the sides or allow breathing room.
Real life contains a ginormous amount of value information from light to dark. Distilling it down to five or better yet, three, gives a painting strength and readability.
The sketch is a visual road map to figure these things out and will be something I refer to often to keep me on track.
Because intense red was the focus here I wanted to infuse this color into other areas. “Real life” didn’t present this phenomenon but it’s good for “the painting”.
Moving from area to area blocking in shapes – is it darker or lighter than whats next to it, cooler or warmer? These questions lead me through the color mixtures. Since I only have three colors, it forces me to be resourceful and sensitive to what I’m seeing. If there were four reds on my palette I might opt for a warmer one, but with only yellow ochre to make adjustments it consolidates my decisions, concentrating on the value relationships instead.
Time to take a cold hard look at:
Values – referring back to my sketch, I’m getting there but feel I’ve been a little conservative on the lights in the tissue, but I’m not ready to go there yet.
Composition – think I’m going to eliminate that step on the lower right, caution- lots of blank space to the left, going to think about options here.
Color – running a little too cold, warm up the background.
After more working, a good way to check my values is by comparing a grey scale image of the subject next to a grey scale of the painting. Need to push the lights now in the tissue, happy with the rest, time to put more interest toward the left.
I’ll be teaching a class- at the Scottsdale Artists’ School April 7 &14
Harmonize Your Painting with the Limited Palette
Workshops, friendly suggestions, something that caught my eye at the art supply store; all of these contribute to an overextended, bloated palette of colors. It can be a waste of time working this way. Like weeding through a stuffed closet of clothes in the morning, making too many choices is tiring.
At times like these I go back to the limited palette, like a breath of fresh air it clears my head so I can focus on the important aspects of creating a painting.
The Zorn Palette, made famous by the Swedish 19th century artist Anders Zorn is one of my favorites.
Yellow Ochre, Scarlet Lake (he used Vermillion), White, Ivory Black. Here I’ve separated the warms from the cools with white. This selection leans toward the warm side, having two warms and only one cool, which is useful because most paintings need warmth to give them life. But they do look a little lonely…
By mixing neighboring colors together, warms with cools and white, the palette is beginning to open up. These are not all the possibilities by any means, but it gives me a jumping off point.
I set this subject up in my studio, experimented with the lightly and elements until they worked together. The things I look for when putting something like this together are:
Notice how color is the last consideration? Sometimes we get sidetracked into thinking that “it’s all about the color”, but if the first five on the list aren’t there, no amount of color will save a painting with a weak design.
Now that the preliminaries are ironed out, the next step is the actual painting which I’ll talk about in my next blog.
Lately I’ve been setting up random objects that have a commonality. It crossed my mind that colored light might bring several items together in a different way.
Shopping around, I found Ace Hardware had a blue LED that would work perfectly.
Reflection and blue light were the ideas I wanted to pull together. The white flower and silver canister made a good vehicle to showcase the blue light, while the patterned cloth showcased the reflective metal.
This photo really exaggerates the blue, it wasn’t this intense. That’s why painting from life is so important, your eye can’t be fooled like the camera.
Because the values of light to dark are so close in this scene, a value sketch to get things organized was the first step.
The goal here was to divide up all the areas, assigning either dark, medium or light value to each.
The flower “could” be the most difficult area to paint since it appears to have dark, medium and light in it. And it does, but those darks, mediums and lights must hold together as a light shape so that it doesn’t get fragmented.
Another area, the pattern, could be trouble, but I’m going to push it into mid value.
At this point, the initial lay-in is holding together the way I had envisioned. This is where it really gets fun because I can go in with different temperatures, play with edges, do whatever I want as long as I don’t step out of the value boundaries I set for myself.
The blue light was very deceptive, the areas it hit most seemed to be much lighter, but in reality these areas were a different color not value. This was a great exercise in observation.
And the final-
Something, is a big vase of colorful flowers on a patterned table-cloth. A hand full of fruit and a cup of tea thrown in for good measure.
Nothing, is a smooth white surface with a clear jar of water, a transparent shot glass and a silver bucket.
If you want to hone you skills at seeing value better, this is the subject for you. Creating cardboard grey value scales can be tedious, so why not paint a setup that tricks you into training your eye?
I painted this from life, which is the only way to see the nuances of what really light does. I chose these three object because they had visual characteristics in common.
My goal : to showcase the commonalities between them while giving each a distinct personality.
I started on a Baltic birch wood panel primed with toned gesso, I spent plenty of time on the drawing, no details, just making sure things were placed and sized correctly.
The painting started with getting the value of the darkest dark in the bucket. Than the orangish tone, along with the background behind it. There is no way to know how dull or bright to make this without the background tone. Too often these areas are left until late in the painting. The background and foreground set the whole key for what’s placed on them.
Moving around I make my best guess as to what the color shapes are. When everything is basically roughed in I go back for another pass, slowing down, making refinements (corrections), to my original guesses. When a few things get nailed down, the rest comes much easier.
At this point I look long and hard to see what needs to go away and what needs to be added. The bucket on the right needs the handle, the top and bottom edges need some reworking. The wall behind the items needs more paint and a little more color.
And here’s the finish-