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-

 

 

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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.

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.

Michael Carson Workshop

Living in Phoenix definitely has it’s perks. One of them is living near the Scottsdale Artists School, where 50 or more well known artists teach workshops throughout the year.

One particular class that appeared on the schedule caught my eye. Contemporary figurative painter Michael Carson was offering a class. I’d seen Carson’s work online and at the Bonner David Gallery in downtown Scottsdale. You can imagine my disappointment when the class filled up right away, which only left me with a spot on the waiting list.

Fortunately a second class was formed and I was in!

The workshop just wrapped up Saturday with a fabulous morning demo. Michael painted beautiful Dakota Acosta, the process is shown below.

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Michael Carson Demonstration

Working on a resin surface which he created himself by pouring a two part mixture over a wooden panel, he roughed in the basic lines of her face hair and shirt with Warm Grey. Notice the darker bleeding of the oil around these lines, an interesting effect. The resin appears to have a matte finish because the surface has been sanded to relieve the slickness.  Next the Warm grey was used to very carefully fill in the shadow shapes, followed by a massing in of the flesh areas with Yellow Grey.

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Michael Carson Demonstration

Dimension started appearing as he used Brilliant yellow on top of the Yellow grey. Warm hints of Schevenings Purple Brown began to form the mouth.

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Michael Carson Demonstration

Things really started to take shape as he worked into the eyes, carefully shaping the lighter areas, Next the underside of the nose and lips, all with very meticulous brush work.

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Michael Carson Demonstration

In the last session he went into the shirt, massing in with Warm Grey, than stopped to decide if he wanted to add the bright blue in the lower left area. I said to myself “no Michael don’t do it, don’t do it” and then…. he did it….and it worked! Successfully breaking two rules of painting, never add a color at the end of a painting not used elsewhere, and, always put the brightest color next to the center of interest.

So why did it work? Because that face is rendered with such finesse and sensitivity that nothing else could possibly take away from it.

Getting Away from Literal

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

What to do when your paints get taken away-

 

Wow, this happened to me in second grade, now it’s happened again.

Because of circumstances beyond our control John and I are in . . well. . . John would say “real estate hell”, I would call it an escrow holding pattern.

Living in an empty house with only a mattress in the living room is not an ideal situation. All of my art supplies from my easel to my paints are in storage containers in transit to Phoenix. The good news is that losing one’s self in art can be as simple as a pencil and pad of paper.

Wish it was this...
Wish it was this…
But it's like this
But it’s like this
During this journey I’ve discovered a website that has partially saved my sanity.
Russian artist, Stan Prokopenko, who is an instructor at the nationally known Jeffrey Watts Atelier has created an online course focused on anatomy for artists. It’s called Proko.com
What really strikes me about this site is;
From the outside in

I’ve always had a hard time with anatomical charts of front or back facing diagrams with color coded muscles to memorize. This “inside outward” approach seems so removed from what we are working with as artists. Stan’s approach starts with the outside surface, and works inward.

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Stan’s outside in approach
The old muscle chart
The old muscle chart

When painting from a live model, have you ever had a situation where the lighting was so poor that minimal anatomical information was evident, leaving you to “make things up?”. That’s fine if you’re a landscape painter, pushing a tree over or adding a mountain, but if it’s a figure “things” can’t be randomly manipulated…unless you have a working knowledge of what’s happening under the surface. This opens up a world of possibilities to enhance the design, movement and expression in a painting.

Stan has lots of hands on lessons, just watching the videos will not give you the full benefit, picking up a pencil and doing “the work” that Stan lays out will make a huge difference in understanding anatomy for artists.
Stan has an off beat sense of humor that makes a dry subject more enjoyable to learn. Check it out, let me know what you think-