My Paintings, trials and inspirations….
The real world and a painting are two totally different things.
You’re standing in front of the model, here lovely Marisa. Interesting costume, nice pose, that rug with the oriental design is great, what a wonderful group of objects by her feet, all shiny and shimmery…
You’ve been there before, you want to paint it all but….you are limited…..by your boundaries, the canvas. Those four edges restricting the world you can paint.
On a recent open studio session at SAS this is how I made those decisions.
I wanted to paint those silver vessels on the floor, I wanted to paint her shoes, but…
more importantly I based my composition on how small I was willing to make the head and where on the canvas boundary to place it comfortably, not too high, too low, too near the edge.
What I didn’t concern myself with yet was the actual color, bright green and magenta. Instead getting neutral value blocks in that filled the space well was what I was after.
Here I was thinking, how is the visual information going to enter my boundaries, how comfortable is it to explore the scene leading to her face? What I gave up was her legs and shoes, too much information where I don’t want you to look. The bright green and magenta just didn’t matter anymore.
Now that “things” are basically the way I want them, what is fighting my original intent? The dark edge next to her uplifted hand in the previous image was causing a tension, pushing against her, so it’s eliminated here. Also the dark shape in the lower area of her dress was distracting.
This is where it really gets fun, adding pattern, textures, refining her expression…and knowing when to stop!
Going through the online art supply site, making up my order for paints I’ve often wondered who buys those strange “off colors” like Dove Grey, Grey Green or Monotint?
One of the key reasons I signed up for Joseph’s class was to see how he achieves those rich but subtle color harmonies. Viewing one of his paintings is like discovering gems, little interactions of color everywhere.
The afternoon of the first day I was faced with uncorking these odd tubes of paint that were on our class supply list. Next, trying to figure out what to do with them. Ummm…Monochrome Tint Warm, kind of a khaki beige, maybe I’ll put it right here next to the Yellow Ochre on my palette. Green Grey, maybe next to Olive Green, Yellow Grey, a lot like Monochrome. These colors felt like total strangers to me.
It took me a full week with these colors on my palette to see the unique usefulness they offered.
Joseph talked a lot about suppressing white, holding the values close. The more I studied his paintings the more I saw the magic happened in those midrange tones.
The mid-range between values 4 and 7 also happen to be where most of these “off colors” live. Now I get it! These colors are just midtone greys, mixtures I would probably end up making on my palette eventually, but now I can could easily grab these to modify other tones. If I have a value 4 red that needs to be muted, I have a two-step process in front of me. First I need to add green, now it’s too dark, the value has slipped into 2 or 3, so I need white to bring it back to value 4, unless I use Holbein’s Green Grey which is already a value 4. Once I got the hang of these new colors they transformed from strangers to friends.
It’s always good to open up the possibilities of using new materials, seeing things a little differently. The painting below I did in open studio using some of these concepts, no white and only a small amount of Naples Yellow .
After painting for many years, one day in a open studio session I realized something, something big. I didn’t have to paint what I was looking at. I had options. I could leave something out, add something, make something smaller or bigger, change the colors. In short, get away from a literal representation of the subject.
Why would someone want to do that?
Here is the original subject, in an open studio session. It was a nice scene but at this point I wasn’t sure what I felt about it.
So at this point I liked some of the color relationships that were happening. I went on to spend about five hours on this pose, than I finally realized who she was . . .or rather who I wanted her to be.
Pushing and pulling different areas brought out what I wanted to say about her. Getting away from literal is one of the greatest freedoms of painting.
If I had come across this photo five years ago it would have been deleted. But working out the kinks with this kind of thing over and over has helped me to mine out the content and ignore the rest.
It all starts with the question…what about this image interests me enough to think it would make a painting? The light falling on the girl with a rake and the fact that she makes a strong diagonal composition.
A terrific eye path up the right side to her hat, down to the rake and over to the bottom right of her skirt and around and around. It’s important to examine all the elements in the photo and ask .. are they helping to make my point or taking away from it.
I have numbered and circled some areas.
1. This couple didn’t mean to photo bomb my subject but they have to go.
2. This path leads out of the image on the left, conflicting with the triangle composition. It also has a strong contrast to everything else, drawing attention to itself …got to go.
3. There are a large assortment of shrubs of different textures tones and sizes. I feel it makes the area too complicated and does not enhance my motive, the girl.
4. The lone shrub in the front is just a blockade to the flow of the composition.
O.k., so if I remove these things, what do I replace them with? Going back to the original photo and using the basics of what’s there is the answer. The distant foliage can be greatly simplified into two colors of the same value against a large darker mass of green.
In place of the light path the dirt can go further back and the greenery can come forward until they meet. The dark shadows under the shrubs also disrupts the triangular flow of the composition so it’s eliminated.
So what I end up with is the essence of what I wanted to say in “Summer Sun”.
Have you ever held onto an image in hopes of painting it one day, you pass over it periodically but always end up choosing something else.
This is one of those images. Why did I want to paint it? I liked the mood of stems and leaves going in all directions while the girl, among the chaos pumped water from an old iron pump. What kept holding me back was my perception of its complexity.
I decided it was time to paint it or discard it, so the struggle began, but with a happy ending.
Here are some of the “tricks”, methods I used in order to make this scene paintable to me.
Before starting I searched for the patterns that would make the best eye path through the scene.Studying the foliage I could see how using some of the longest stems to lead upward around and down would make a good composition.
Omitting a bright area of sky in the upper left helped to direct the interest into the central part of the scene instead of up and out the corner.
After the face was established I used stripes of paper to mask off areas so I could concentrate on others, it felt less overwhelming and helped me to actually see what was going on.
When I felt painters’ fatigue creeping in I even set my phone on a 15 minute timer. Every time the alarm went off I turned the painting and photo a quarter turn. Working on it upside down and sideways offered a new perspective and freed my mind up to just think shapes instead of objects.
The more I finished the easier it was to continue with the remainder, until it seemed I said all I wanted to say about this scene.
Many times when painting a subject from life there just isn’t enough time to finish, or quality control starts to diminish when “artist fatigue” sets in.
The next day, back in the studio, armed with some photos, one taken a little overexposed to see what’s happening in the shadows and one underexposed to see what’s happening in the lightest areas, it’s time to take a hard look. This is one of the greatest ways to develop a keener eye.
So, how do I take it further? Writing down what I like so far;
Now, what could elevate this, if I saw a more advanced version of this painting at an art show, what is it that would make me stop and look?
After taking it further with the changes below-
Opportunities for texture
In the beginning when trying to “taking it further” it may seem hard to spot what you need to do, but keep looking with a critical eye and you will soon develop a knack for seeing which direction to take.
When sitting (or standing) in front of a new subject my first consideration is what’s the point? Why am I painting this thing, because it’s there is the worst possible reason. I’ve got to have a point of view, a motive for lifting the brush to the canvas.
My subject; a young woman with ringlets, red hair and a period dress, sitting stoically upright in a chair. The obvious road to take; a somber earth tone palette with quiet softened edges. My motive, to not paint it this way.
At this point I’m starting to discover the color world she will be living in. It’s now a mater of refining the drawing, deciding how much to include. Is every ruffle necessary or will it take away from the whole. For me, it’s more about what I can put in that makes my point the best, and what I can leave out, just fluff.
Working with a palette knife was a good way to get the rough textures to play against the smooth. The finished painting ” Wedgwood and Lilac” reflects the way I felt and what I wanted to say about her.