Learning to Edit

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.

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First reaction, be sure and capture:

  • The subtle shine in her hair
  • Striking blue eyes
  • Full lips
  • Lace pattern on her dress
  • The pattern on the fan
  • Chains and bead necklace
  • Print on the background fabric
  • Texture on the seat
  • Shine on her dress

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?

  • The shape of her hair is more interesting than the subtlety of texture
  • Capturing her expression is more important than specifically rendering features
  • A suggestion of lace is all
  • Change color of fan to come forward instead of sink, pattern simple more lively
  • Small bits of light and color instead of “jewelry”
  • A simple, but bold swirl of warm colors in the background
  • Enough texture

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Harmony Through limited Color continued

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.sketch

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.limitedBlog-demo1

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.limiteddemo2

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.greyshoe

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.SoMe-lr

Finished.

I’ll be teaching a class- at the Scottsdale Artists’ School April 7 &14

Harmonize Your Painting with the Limited Palette

 

Harmony Through Limited Color

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. ZornPalette-lr

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…ZornPalette-blog2

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.IMG_0659

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:

  1. Focusing on a “star”, one item that the painting is about.
  2. Other elements that visually or physically flow to the star, and around the picture plane, (the composition)
  3. A variety of angles and curves
  4. A variety of values; dark, medium and light
  5. A variety of textures, smooth, rough, etc.
  6. A dominant color, (usually the “star”)

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.

Painting Blue Light

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.IMG_0608

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.

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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.

Value-sketch

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.

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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.

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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.

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And the final-

 

 

How to Paint Nothing

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?

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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.

  • All are tallish cylinders
  • All lack saturated color, except the bit of orange inside the bucket, it’s always good to throw off consistency a little.
  • All have reflective surfaces.

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.

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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.NothingBlog2.jpg

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.NothingBlog5.jpg

And here’s the finish-

What Now?

Have you ever been two thirds into a painting and find you don’t know how to finish it?

This usually happens when working from photo reference that was cropped too close, there’s more story out there, you just can’t see it, or you veered away from your reference material with an idea, but found yourself lost in the forest. “The Girl in a Gold Dress” was the first scenario.

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I liked what was happening up to this point, but could sense things could fall apart if I didn’t pay more attention to the unity. So this is the time that I need to start asking myself some questions:

  • If I saw this painting (painted by someone else), and really liked it, what would it look like? It would be strong, and simply rendered.
  • What would make it stronger? Simplify the color, nothing weakens a painting like patches of unrelated color. Too much color can fracture an image and that’s what was starting to happen here. Get rid of the red, blue and orange. Concentrate on the main golds and violets.

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Things started to come around, less really is more.

The dress, though complex in it’s texture was fun to translate into staccato strokes of browns violets and golds.

Repurposed Paintings

After painting for awhile, we all have them. . . the stack of paintings, that won’t go away. There are small victories in certain areas, but the war was not won. They don’t warrant displaying, even in our own homes.

The best answer I’ve found to finally put them to rest, is making use of them, a repurpose paint-over. Here’s how I go about it:

  1. It’s easiest to select an old painting that is dominantly light to midtown in value. Darker paintings can be more difficult but intersting because initial lines don’t show up, using a grey mix of Ivory Black and White will work.
  2. Flip the painting upside down, which throws the original subject into abstraction, making it less distracting as the new painting takes form.
  3. Get some initial lay-in lines down, the general placement of things, too many lines promote confusion.
  4. Begin blocking in the large masses with paint and turpentine using large brushes. Blog-repurpose1

In the lower third of this paint-over you can still make out the original portrait flipped upside down. I have massed in the large shapes, paying attention to the values as they relate to one another. An old painting is such a nice surface to work on, it is essentially an oil primed canvas. blog-repurpose2

There were some heavy paint areas in the original, resulting in some raised brush work, this serves as a challenge to paint even heavier so I can work them in.Blog-final-large

The final image, notice I left some of the violet from the original painting. Allowing the old painting to show through can make the new work richer.

 

Painting Words

Have you ever had a subject you went back to time and time again, but just couldn’t figure out what to do with it?

This image from a photo shoot several years ago kept surfacing. I loved the scene, although it was not dynamic enough to warrant a painting . . . until…..I approached it like a writer telling a story.

Where did this girl live, what was her day like up until this point, what would she be doing in a hour? Only after I “fleshed her out” did I start to understand what this could become.

After extrapolating this scenario it was time to rein it in, to its’ most basic core, two words that summed it up. “Dreamer” and “Earthy”. How could I, using this reference, translate these two thoughts into paint?

“Earthy”, push rough texture, use warm orange browns and greens.

“Dreamer”, exaggerate her expression and stance

Now I had something to work with! Since there were not many browns and oranges in the scene, putting a Burnt Sienna wash over the entire surface, than letting it show through as texture would be my approach.

At this point I checked back with my original plan…whoa, no violet in the interpretation I wanted, so I had the choice of pushing this area toward brown, orange or green, I chose a grey green. Sometimes being really rigid and sticking to an idea helps guide the painting toward more harmony, this was one of those cases. 

Moving along, this was the point to refine her stance and expression.

I was happy with the outcome of using words to drive my paint application.

“Waiting”, can be seen at the Meyer Vogl Gallery, 122 Meeting St., Charleston, South Carolina in early October.

 

 

Summer, Revisited

Have you ever finished a painting you were happy with only to find that months, weeks or even days later there are some serious problem areas. Summer Breeze is such a painting.

This painting is a little larger than I usually work, 20″ x 30″, but after two weeks of planning and execution it was finished. There were many things that worked out well, OldSummerBreeze-lr

The gesture of the pose, the expression of her face, the sense of light, but as she sat on my fireplace mantle for several days I started to “feel” there were some areas that needed addressing. It was a “feeling” at first because I couldn’t pin it down enough to do something about it, and I will never go back to rework a painting unless I have a specific change in mind. Enough days had passed, it became crystal clear what was required.

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At #1, the strongest shape in the scene. It is very strong because it’s surrounded by dark, is large and is pointing to the left, drawing way to much attention to an area that is secondary,

The shape at #2 is bothersome because it appears to be the same value as the top plane of the skirt, which is the way the photo appeared because of the tendency for photos to blow out the lights. In reality this area would be darker than the upper plane which is receiving more light.

At #3 and 4#, these light shapes take away from the solid anchoring effect of the dark shadow along the bottom and add more attention to an area that shouldn’t receive any.

 

 

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At #5 I could add a little more information to follow the form of her body and make it more interesting.

All during the painting process I wrestled with that rectangle #6,  behind her head. Should I keep it or not. Now I can see, not, it adds a visual weight to the top of her head, which throws her a little off balance.

At #7, stream line her shoulder a little here to soft her.

The lower shadow area #8, could be working harder to stabilize the balance. I want it to create a more solid base for the figure. Even though there was not a supporting leg on the bench in the photo, it was needed to alleviate the floating sensation in this area.

Last but not least, the color needed adjusting. More warmth in the background wall, as well as in her skirt.

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I was happy with the changes and glad I made them. It’s never too late to go back and make things better!

Oil Painting, the best of both worlds

After many years of experimenting with different media, pastel, watercolor, acrylic, etc. why have I decided oil paint is the best choice for me? Because it has the personality traits of many other painting media all rolled into one.

“Unknown”, the painting I just completed last week was a perfect vehicle to take advance of one of my favorite properties of oil paint, transparency. walking1-lrThe finished scene would have a dominance of blue, so a transparent underpainting of warm orange reds, the opposite of blue, would be a good base to play those blues off of. I call this stage the “getting to know you, stage”. Moving around the image with washes helps to see what the flow is, how things move throughout the space.

walking2-lrHere’s an ode to watercolor, spattering the surface starts to liven things up, and give me something to work with, (or against), in the next layer. In order for the spatters to stay put and not run, the painting is placed flat on a table until dry.

walking3-lrThis stage reminds me of working with pastels. With a chunky squared off brush, laying in passages, weaving the strokes into each other. The goal here is solidifying the image, letting some under layers peek through while building up some heavier passages.

Using Gamblin Alkyd medium makes the layer dry faster, not as fast as acrylic, but enough so that I can work on top of a dry paint layer the next day.

UnknownFinalImagelrThe last stage is to refine and correct. Always correcting, it’s never to late to fix an area that just isn’t right. Refining areas that are important, and ignoring the rest.