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?
- Very few subjects live or in a photo have all the qualities of a good painting. After all life, a photograph and a painting are three totally different things.
- I have something personal to express about the subject, different from what you have, because you and I and the next person have a totally different set of experiences. This is when it really gets fun!
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.