Moving Toward the Story 2

This is a continuation of the first blog on this subject “Moving Toward the Story”.

It’s time to reevaluate what’s happening here, this is done by asking questions.

What do I like so far;

  • The subtle play of red showing through the grey
  • The big interesting shapes in the truck

What I don’t like so far;

  • The area of her face and hat in shadow are looking too harsh now
  • Still not sure about the blue behind her head
  • Areas still need more developing, but which areas?

O.K., so those were design related things, now…..how about the story? I want the young woman to have some mystery about her. What is her situation, who is she? I want to keep her upper face in total shadow so that you can add her expression. Since there won’t be information in the upper part of her face I need to explain who she is by other things; such as her stance, her clothing, even the texture of her hair.

To set the scene to fit my narrative, the truck needs to be older and in the country. At this point I’m really liking the black and grey against the background so am not going to add the subtle colors that were intended at the beginning. This is where “listening to the painting” is so important, sometimes we can steam roll right over something that is better than we originally planned.

Finished painting, Pure Americana

When color is no longer a concern, value does the heavy lifting. Just because I have all the values to work with between black and white, doesn’t mean I should use them all, in fact I want to use as few as possible. Adding more detail to a painting is really a matter of breaking the big shapes into littler ones with more values. The more an image gets broken down the weaker it becomes. The big interesting shapes become what I call “mushy”.

I also want to orchestrate the values, not following the reference image exactly, but using it only for the information I want.

Where do I want the most emphasis? In the girls face and outstretched arm, so that will be the only area that goes to total black.

What role does the truck play? Supporting cast. Really hold back on the values here. How few can I use to explain just enough, three.

And that blue passage behind her head that I wasn’t sure of at the beginning….I really like it now, adds to the Americana feel, in fact the title of the painting is “Pure Americana”.

Continued on Moving Toward the Story 3

Developing the Idea, part 2

This is part two of Developing the Idea, view part one here.

The image on the right is after, what I call “the first pass”. Instead of looking at the subject I’m more interested in how the eye is moving through the painting. So I evaluate the shapes.

1. There are three parallel edges that make up her arm, the light falling on the arm and her dress. This is boring, I’ll get rid of one of these by using color instead of value to define the light falling on her arm.

2. This edge on the lower right of her dress is weak, am going to straighten it a bit.

3. I want to emphasis this sweeping edge so I need to push back her left arm and shirt by making them darker to move toward the background more.

4. Her hair at her forehead needs to be adjusted, directing the eye in more of a horizontal motion across her head.

After a couple days work

You can see the changes I’ve made. This is the point I stop and take a long hard look at where I am and where I want to be.

This is when it’s of great benefit to know what you like. What I’m talking about is what attracts you to other paintings? This is a very personal thing, the more you’re in tune to this the stronger your work will be.

Below are “my feelings” about this image;

She is too literal, I need more interesting hard edges to make the image bolder.

The color is too warm overall, cooler images appeal to me more.

I want more contrast, and movement, so lightening and cooling the sky is a good choice, also add more blues in the grass. Using a variety of lines; rough, smooth, long and short at the edges to get some interesting movement.

I think about the possibilities; I would love to make the bucket old and rusty …. but….I would have to sacrifice the interest of the shiny texture against the rough texture of her apron…in the end my decision is not to change it. But the idea is, to consider all the possible choices you have.

Since I’m going back to her hair, a simple sketch helps me to design her hair with the purpose of moving the eye across it in a intentional direction.

This simple sketch helps me see how I want her hair to move.

After these adjustments the image below is the final painting “Keeping’ It Real”.

In the final image notice how the original warm wash is still showing through in some areas, just enough to add a slight vibration and texture richness.

Stretched Canvas vs Wood Panels

One thing I’ve learned in my many years of painting is that “the best way” to do something is a hard term to use. There are so many ways to express yourself in paint, that only you can decide what’s “best” for you.

What I can say however, is what’s best for the way I work, and my “best surface” to paint on is definitely wood panels.

Why do I prefer them over the traditional stretched canvas?

The surface texture; you are the master of your texture from eggshell smooth to gritty rough, depending on how you prime it. I like a random brushstroke finish, which I achieve with a large brush. I’ve illustrated this process in the video below. Yes, you can purchase canvas in varying degrees of roughness, but I can decide on the fly how I want the surface for a painting to be and create it without leaving the studio.

Support structure; a panel is a very solid surface, it will stand up to techniques like heavy palette knife scrapping and sanding, which I like to do to diffuse dry areas or take down a heavy buildup. A panel stores safely and unfazed while stretched canvases can get dented and even wavy while being stored. The type of wood I use is 1/4″ MDF, which is a medium density fiber board. It has no grain like plywood, it is wood fibers fused together with adhesive to form a very sturdy sheet.

You can purchase panels from art supply stores of buy sheets from home improvement centers, but you will need a saw to cut it because the sheets are large. Most places will cut it for a price. It would be worth buying a saw to do it yourself if you like the surface.

Check out my video on priming wood panels here.

Recent Photo Shoot

I always get excited to procure a new group of photo references. A generous friend with an antique/gift shop in downtown Scottsdale agreed to lend me her store as a backdrop. I found a lovely model and the rest was magic.

Even though the store is in a commercial setting, the landscaped front with paths, trees and bushes lent theirselves to a wooded scene.

The first step is always a small sketch. The goals are

  • To “get to know” the subject. Find out where might I have some trouble, where might I simplify? (Pay attention to the angle on the face, and the upper body twist to the lower body)
  • To figure out the simple three value, pattern, in order to lead the eye (use the bits of light on her and the foliage to lead the eye)
  • To find out what I want to emphasize (her head and hands)Hatthumbnail

Next the small color study. I’ve heard people say “why do a small version of the painting, just to do it again larger”.

My answer is, it’s a way to experiment with some color directions that are not necessarily in the original image, but could be more exciting. I much rather “play” on a 4″x6″ piece of canvas than try something on the 12″x 22″ only to scrape it off when it doesn’t look right. hatSketch

This little sketch has answered some questions for me;

Will a warm underpainting benefit this image (yes)

How can I organize the image into warm against cool? There is lots of room for fine-tuning and what I like to call “color runs”. A color run is a transition of colors of the same value but different hues, like in her shirt, going from warm blues to cool blues to pinks and violets.BeneathTheTreeslr

You can see how the colors got more complex in the final version. The skirt for example ended up with many more color notes as did the foreground foliage. The small color sketch just gave me a jumping off point.

 

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.

Making an Entrance…

A sweeping staircase, a crystal lit foyer, open iron gates or a cobblestone walkway would be great, unfortunately many times we’re left standing on the curb with no path to the front door.

A painting can leave you with that same feeling, you want to get in but enthusiasm is lost trying to figure it out.

Here are some examples of welcoming  entrances –

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Miss Helen Duinham, John Singer Sargent

 

 

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Breezy Day, Zhaoming Wu

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John Asaro

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Home Fields, John Singer Sargent

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Vincent Van Gogh

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Drying Out, Lori Putnam

Usually the most effective way to enter a painting seems to be-

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I’ve found taking a photo of the subject with my phone, than making a quick cropping makes it easier to visualize the best place to cut off the bottom for a good design lead in,  especially helpful when working from life.

Here is a subject I recently painted, and how I decided to crop it.irenelr
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I began blocking this in from the bottom up. It’s tempting to start with the area of most interest, the head, and work down from there, but too many times I have been left with awkward shapes at the bottom, spending way too much time trying to “make it work”.

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Latin Influence, Diane Eugster

Before the Painting, Came the Sketch

Before beginning most paintings these days I like to do an exploratory sketch. Why?

It’s very relaxing, just me, a pencil, paper, what could be more simple than that. No easel, kind of a Zen thing, getting lost in the shapes and tones.

These sketches are for no other reason than for me to get to know my subject better. In the process many potential problems get solved, the link between the subject and the painting, resulting in a road map to the destination.

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Above is the reference, the mood brought me in but the sketch told me what I needed to do.

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– I can see the pattern on the rug does nothing to help the mood, also a soft graduation in the foreground would put more focus on her legs.

– Pushing her head slightly forward and down will exaggerate the pose.

– Using the idea of lights (seen to the right of her head), but larger, and more of them will guide the eye and add to the mood.

– Was wondering if I wanted to keep that drape on the far right, and yes, it’s a good anchor.

– Not sure what I want to do with the color yet, but the idea of black and white is appealing in many ways.

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While actually painting I also stop and sketch areas that need more clarity, such as the simplified shapes in the hair, the light planes that fall on the face and how the head is sitting on the shoulders.

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As I approached the end of the painting I relied on my initial sketch instead of the subject to remind me of what was important.