What makes the “right” frame?

Several years ago I went to an unusual event. Models were hired by a local photography studio, and all those who had a digital SLR camera could take pictures for a price.

Ten or so of us stood in line for our turn at five minutes with the model. This meant directing her while using the props and strobe lights that were available in the space.

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This young woman stood out with her pink dreadlocks/shaved head hair style, heavy makeup and cartoon tattoos . I sensed that under all the distractions there was a whole other girl, so that’s the girl that I painted.

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For a long time this was the frame on the painting. When I took it out the other day it was clear this was not a good choice. Why?

These are the things I look at now when choosing a frame;

-What is the dominant temperature? Warm, which the gold frame is . . however

-What is the largest area of color (or dominant color), medium size color, accent color? Dark brown, orange and gold, some blues (in order). This is the problem

By putting a gold frame on this, it is adding way more gold to the overall image, making gold no longer an accent in the piece, and throwing the balance in the painting off.

Also the bright gold next to the dark background makes it hard to see the subtle darks, the eye just can’t get past the jarring move from light gold frame to dark background.

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My husband John made this frame for her that is so much better. This ebonized Red Oak, dark wood frame enhances the colors in the background, while the nail head trim matches the edginess of the subject.

The next time you choose a frame, ask yourself if it continues with the balance you’ve developed, being a supporting cast member, or is it screaming for attention over your subject.

 

 

One Subject, Two Times

Have you ever painted a subject, only to end up with something that was almost there…but not quite?

This is one of those subjects.

What was it that made me want to paint this scene of a young woman in an 18th century dress?

  • The idea of a traditional subject painted in a contemporary way intrigued me.
  • The possibilities of a strong design, with the tall vertical girl pushing horizontally into the large dark space to the left.
  • The colors, I’m always drawn to blues, greens and violets.

The first painting seen belowUnknownFinalImagelr

I like the division of space into a variety of shapes. I like the background texture; but is it too different from the subject. The girl  has very linear strokes and marks, the background more gauze like. The colors in the background are too warm on the left and too pink on the right. Which means they don’t relate to the girl. So there is a kind of disconnect here.

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Looking at a painting in grey scale (black and white), always helps me to see why things didn’t work out.

What I want to see are dark areas that are connected. As you can see in the skirt area, they are too scattered, while the dark shape of the bottom of her hair is too isolated from the other darks. It doesn’t matter if this is how it really looked, it is our job to change things to make a better visual statement.

The light areas should be around the center of interest, her face, and they are, but the shapes just aren’t interesting enough.

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In this painting by John Singer Sargent notice how the darks are connected and hold together across the painting, he was a master of value control.

The final version below-Unknownfinal2019-lr

This version is more of what I was looking for. The background shares tints, tones and shades of the blues, greens and violets of the dress in both the lighter right side and darker left side.Unknowngrey2019-lr

In this grey scale of the painting the darks are a solid shape on the left with an interesting edge as it meets the tall vertical of the girl. The lights are also more interesting and descriptive.

It took a year and a half to realize what needed to be done, be patient, your eye will tell you what to do eventually,

 

 

Painting Better Backgrounds

The poor lowly background. It’s got a bad rap, it’s second rate, an after thought, that thing behind the good stuff. This is the farthest thing from the truth.

Have you ever seen one of “those” paintings, maybe a portrait, where the main character has been plastered on a flat background made up of a random color? This may have been done in desperation after completing the “interesting” part, what do I fill in that space with, she has red hair so a blue background would make her stand out, or if I paint it brown, it will just go away.

The fact is, the background is the most important part of the painting. Would you start building a house before you knew where your boundaries were, or buy some furniture when you had no idea what room you were putting it in? It’s working backwards.

The background tells me everything I need to know about my main subject, the world it breathes in, the air that surrounds it.

I always start a painting with the background until I get a feel for what’s going on in the world of my subject. What temperature is the light, is it bouncing around or sucked into heavy fabrics. What are the main color notes, these are the tones to use in the flesh. Notice the beginning stages of my latest painting below –Finish2LR

The dark greens in the foliage told me that the darks in her hair were the same color and value. Likewise the reds in the flowers told me her hand needed to be the same. The blues in the distant window casings were the blues in the foreground accessories.Finish4LR

The gold in the table is the gold in her hair, The violet in the flowers means violet in the flesh tone, everything connected. Painting like this is so much easier than trying to figure out every mixture from scratch, also it works harmony into every item.

FinishLR11In the final image above I finally painted in the dress, this was the most subtle passage. By the time I got there, the accessories on the table told me what I needed to do.

Below is a slide show of the entire painting, photographed every half hour until completion.