3 Ways to Energize Your Painting

Running a cash register, practicing scales on a piano or . . . painting. Doing anything over and over for a long period of time can lead to boredom. When you are bored while painting, your audience will also be bored when they look at it. Yes, complacency blows the spark out. On the flip side, when you are invested and mesmerized by what you’re working on, it can’t help but permeate into your work.

When I find myself in this comatose state here are three things to try:

1. Start a painting with no preplanning. I know after years of talking about value plans, color sketches and dynamic symmetry grids have I lost it? No, if you have been doing this preliminary work, good for you. It’s all part of the virtual tool box in your head, now give it a test. Start with a subject, grab a charcoal or paint brush and get it down, shape by shape. Not sure about the color? Get it on there, stop every 30 minutes of so, evaluate, make adjustments and go on.

2. Start a new painting on top of an old one. When beginning a painting on a white canvas it can be hours until something exciting emerges. Using a old painting as your underpainting is like a head start. Don’t dwell on which one to use for the new subject, those colors that don’t exist in the new subject could be just what it needs. Below are two old paintings, with the beginnings of a new one.

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3. Be patient with your next painting. I like to work on two or three paintings at once. This is a great way to not rush toward “finishing” a painting. As I get tired or, god forbid, bored, with a painting, I turn it to the wall, pulling it out in a couple days. What’s the rush anyway? There are very few fantastic paintings that are rushed right through, beginning to end. I ask myself “what does it need, to be it’s best self?” It may be, I need to get rid of something, too many values, or colors. Training your eye, getting away from it helps to depersonalize. Pretend someone else painted this and asked you what to do next? The painting below took many sessions of minor adjustments that just couldn’t have been banged out in a couple days. Would you rather have a few successful paintings that took some time and patience or a closet full of “just good enough” ones.slowlight-lr

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,

 

 

Simplify and Exaggerate

BalletcropblogThis is a image I’ve had for at least seven years, in fact it was painted once before.

It’s fun to come back and see how your eye for design has changed. The first time around I saw it as ; lacking color contrast (in the flesh tones) and having a weak composition.

The key is to simplify and exaggerate. Keying in on the simple shapes means grouping things together, even if they don’t look like anything, that might be alright or they may morph into something that is recognizable later.blog-shoe1

I chose a square format and starting with anchoring dark shapes to the top and bottom,  focusing on a triangular design. It’s always good to have the center of interest attached to  an edge so that it doesn’t appear to float in the space.blo-shoe2

At this point it’s more about deciphering the light condition. This took place in a large rehearsal room with lots of overhead lights plus more light coming in large windows. No wonder things appeared washed-out, but looking closer reveals how the light is showing the form, like on the top plane of her back.

All that clutter on the right is reduced to a violet patch of color. blog-shoe3

Here, all the areas have been generally massed in and decisions need to be made.

  • First, do I want to bring back some of the information in the background? Yes, it will help with the story to give some clues about her surroundings.
  • Is there anything that doesn’t help the story or composition? Yes, her distant arm bend is a tangent with the foreground hand and shoe she’s holding. Speaking of the shoe, it doesn’t read well as a shoe, could I edit the shape to make it more shoe like?blog-shoe4

I like that arm outstretched more, plus the shoe and distant ballet information simplified!

 

 

A Painting Critique “Aquarius”

I’ve been doing a series of stilllife paintings featuring clear water in clear vessels, thought I’d have some fun with it so I chose this subject.

I usually like to start off with a drawing, why?duck-draw

  • I can explore the subject in a simpler form, no color, no paint.
  • Helps to organize the values and see where “pushing them around” could benefit the painting.
  • Helps to imagine how I may want to exaggerate or suppress some things to make a stronger statement

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After about 4 hours I was at this point, 90% finished. This is a good time to get away for at least 8 hours in order to get a fresh eye on the scene.

O.K., this is when I put away the reference and go in for what I call “last looks”.

1. The color of the ducks is too cold, remember, even if this is the actual color that was in the reference, your responsibility is not to record it, but to make it what will be the aesthetic best choice. It’s also hard to see the one duck in front of the other. So…

  • Warm up the color, dull the back duck by add a small amount of background color to it.

2.The table appears too flat and disconnected to the ducks……

  • Add yellow to the table where the light hits it most (lower right corner), making it diminish as it goes to the shadows.

3. The highlight on the upper left bowl is confusing, highlight on lower left of bowl too bland. Both of these add activity to an already active area…..

  • Eliminate upper and lower highlight, try it on the left instead (where it could use some interest).

4. Yellow in ducks seems isolated, would like to see more of it in the scene…..

  • Work some yellow into the background.

5. Towel texture could be played up more…..

  • Soften the towel edge as it overlaps the bowl on lower left, as well as the far right edges against the table.

6. Edge of bowl on right and left not symmetrical…..

  • Look at it in a mirror, upside down, whatever it takes to see how I need to correct this.

Compare the before and after images of the painting below-

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After a coat of Liquin and another hour I was able to vastly improve this image.

Next painting, take an extra hour or so to see how far you can take it!

Gypsy Skirt

Why did I decide to paint this subject? Was it the simple curved composition, the cool tones plus rich reds, the quiet mood…yes, all those things. So I begin by looking at my options with a couple of small value studies. How can I push what I want to say, the feelings I have for the subject?value.studies.blog

First a little line drawing, than layout paper over it. This way I don’t have to redraw the image over and over, it’s visible through the paper, so with two pens, one black, one grey (the paper is the white), I can quickly try out different combinations.

It’s about disassembling the parts and putting it back together. In the left sketch, the  foliage, skirt, top of bench and shadows underneath are the darkest value. Everything else is medium except the light falling on her right side. Hmmmmm….this could work, but that big dark foliage kind of pushes down on her, creating a heaviness.

The sketch on the right holds the darks to her hair, skirt and the under shadows. Everything else is grey except her face, body and shirt are the light tone. Without the dark behind her head she seems taller, lifted. This is definitely the directions I want to go. Either one would work, but the one on the right is what “I” want to say about this scene. This is where getting away from being too literal can be really fun. It’s all about choices.

Next on to the color study, I already have the drawing, the one I used under the value sketches. What are the variables here; this is a scene in the shade, so there are going to be lots of cool tones. Going to want to play with some warms also or this might get too cold. An underpainting wash of warm violet and red orange would work well.

If I’m thinking about doing this in my painting, I need to do it in my color sketch, or they aren’t the same thing at all.

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The sketch with Quinacridone Magenta and Cadmium Red Light wash. I like to let my undertones dry completely, that way I can paint over them or scrape back to them.

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The small color study. Notice I’m not trying to match the values to the previous plan but I am matching the relationship of each area next to another. Squinting will help you see that the darks are the hair, skirt and shadows under the bench, the mediums are everything else except her face arms and shirt which are the lights. There are some accent darks and lights here and there but it still holds to the original plan.

The questions that I want to get answered here;

How cold should my coolest color be, and how warm should my warmest color be?

How dark is my darkest dark going to be and how light is my light?

Which colors and values work best next to each other?

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In the final painting there was lots of room to”open up” the color study, work more interest into areas. Having solved some of the bigger problems up front allowed me to have more fun and freedom in the actual painting.

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.

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!

Developing a Critical Eye

I’m always trying to sharpen my skills at evaluating my own work.

The absolute best time to do this is on day two of a new painting.

Day one got things started and developed to a certain point until painting fatigue kicked in and my decisions started going south.

On day two the first thing I do is sit down, notebook in hand, and begin training my eye to really see what the painting needs to be successful.

Below is a recent painting, Angelina, at the end of day one.

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Here’s my critical list of things that needed attention;

  • Light panel on side of face needs value adjustment
  • Far arm too thin
  • Dress at knee more rounded
  • Soften fabric, near her hands
  • Color to right of face in background more green, less violet
  • Get rid of dark shape on right, use mid value grey green, (I like to put in all the general shapes that are actually in the background, and get rid of them later if needed, in this case it was distracting and added nothing to the scene).
  • I also do a visual check of the drawing, dropping vertical and horizontal lines to see if things are lining up where they should be.
  • And a distraction check, is there anything drawing attention out of the painting, things in the corners etc.

These may seem like little things, but they add up to a big disconnect in the painting.

Below is the finished painting, minus the rose in her hair, not sure if it was a compositional thing (the rose being the same shape and parallel to her forehead), or esthetic , too contrived, anyway I think it’s better gone.

I feel sure I would not have gotten this result without my critical list to start the day.

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Angelina by Diane Eugster