Transforming a Subject

I’ve talked before about painting what you would like to see instead of what you are looking at. In other words, most subjects can be improved, and it’s up to us, the artist, to make the most of it.

But how do you get from point A to point B? Over the years I’ve come up with several techniques to open up the possiblities.

Here’s  my original reference trix1-blog

Coming to grips with what interested you in the subject to begin with is a good place to start. These are the things that you want to hold on to. My list was:

  • Her eclectic outfit
  • The way the light falls on her
  • Her gesture, carefree and confident
  • The triangle shape that her body makes
  • The white, lime green and dark blue

Ok, now what I don’t like, these are what I will lose:

  • The colors in the background, dark red, gold
  • The stuff in the background and foreground
  • Hard to read areas like her right sleeve falling over her leg and her hands showing under her leg
  • Not sure about the pattern on the ottoman yet

I want to dive in and really get to know the subject, the best way to do this is a drawing, yes, just a piece of paper a pencil and eraser. Moving from shape to shape, with these simple tools the rhythm reveals itself. Where the values should go lighter and darker. If I eliminated some of the background stuff, what simple shape would work to lead the eye around the image. What simple lines would make her expression what I want it to be?sketch

These simple drawings are were I start to get excited about what the painting could be.

Determining a solid composition is next. Using a piece of paper (which serves as white), two felt markers, one black, one midtone grey. It’s time to play with these three values in order to nail down something cohesive. A time saver is to lay tracing paper over the above drawing and mass in the value shapes. Do several of these to expand the possibilities.blockIn

You might say, “fine that works with black white and grey, but how does this translate to full color paint?”.

It’s about getting control of the values. Everything that’s reading as white here can be lots of different colors but all in a very close, light value range. The same with the grey in the background. It’s in these midtones where intense color can happen, lots of colors, all kept in the same value range.

I’m still open to change things as the painting developes, but this has freed me from the confines of the actual subject.firsttixlrThis is what I came up with. You can see I used some things from the value sketch like keeping her all light value except the scarf and a few accent darks. I used a vertical division in the background though not exactly what I had in the sketch. The point is all these steps help to open up what you might want to try. Of course there is the feeling that you want the thing to have, that can also drive your decisions.

There were two things that kept bothering me about the image above. One was she was not solidly anchored to the side. The other was she appeared to be floating because the value of her seat was too dark. So as one thing is changed, the painting tells me what I should do next.StarryNightlrWhen I anchored her with a mid value blue, the horizontal blue stripe higher was too much. She needed a softer expression and more warmth with a red violet.

She’s finally what I want her to be.

 

 

 

Advertisements

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.

color.sketch.blog

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.

bench.color.lr

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?

gypsyskirt.lr

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.

One Painting beginning to End, part III

In the last post of this three part blog we talked about using the grid and the importance of a color study.

When ready to paint my set-up is; have my original thumbnail value sketch on the wall infront of me, have the color study next to the painting. As the painting progresses they will become more important while the original subject becomes less.

Taping a piece of clear acetate over the study makes it easy to try out mixtures right on the little painting.

blog.acetate

Below is my palette for the study, yes I take a picture of it. The intention is to start the larger version right away but….the air conditioning breaks down in July, or unexpected guests come to stay….all kinds of things can happen, and I don’t want to rethink everything again.

blog.palette.jpg

Notice how I hold the value groups together. This is how I think when painting, so my palette should reflect this. If there is chaos and discourse on the palette, so the painting follows. Note; on the larger painting, there will be three times this much paint, not different colors but the volume of it.

From left to right; Hansa Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Scarlet, White, Olive Green, Thalo Green, Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin, Burnt Sienna, Magenta, Black, and Oleopasto medium.

blog.numbered

The numbers signify the order of the areas painted. I start with the darkest darks, it’s easy to go too dark which makes the colors dull and unreadable. Mixtures of Thalo Green plus blue or yellow ochre applied with a palette knife.

After the darkest darks on to the lightest lights, the sunlit orange area. As in the other area not being too dark, this area shouldn’t be too light, or again I lose color identity. My question ; how dark can I go and still read as light, this has been answered in the study so I take my cue from there. So the key has been set for the painting, just like the highest and lowest note in a song. Everything will fit within the established boundaries of lightest and warmest area vs. the darkest coolest area.

The area #4 is easy, just compare it in temperature and value to the two neighboring areas. This is how I paint, relationships, sometimes there is an underpainting tone, but always about one area reacting to another.

Notice how the figure is established only after the background? Because this is the world she lives in, the air she breaths. So many times a painting suffers from “stuck on figure” syndrome. The figure is taken almost to completion than a background fills in around it without a lot of thought concerning the give and take between figure and background.

Last.look.final

This is what I call the “last look”. What can elevate this, what is taking away from the whole?. My written list of tasks is on the right. Sorry, it’s hard to read because I scratched through them as completed. Here’s what I wrote:

  • Greenery lower right in shadow – work some leaf shapes into the light, creating steps like in the study.
  • Three rocks, change shape and or color, too much unity.
  • Ankle crossing over, try taking out light bit.
  • Fill in grass lower edge, paint too thin.
  • Work warm greenery in sun, more foliage shape and description.
  • Green area above her head more warmth
  • Put pattern on dress

OrangeTreeGirl.lr

And done.

 

One Painting Beginning to End, part II

In the previous post I explained how I begin a painting. Selecting a subject, manipulating and enhancing it, than finally using the dynamic symmetry grid.

When it comes to painting, usually I shy away from mechanical tools but I’ve found the grid to be flexible and very helpful.

Used by the Old Masters to the Impressionists, it’s like having an artist friend with a great eye for composition. 3crops.blog

Each space within the grid has a harmony within the whole and where multiple lines overlap “eyes” form which are prime places for important elements.

In the image above left (the one I ended up choosing), you can see how her left arm lines up, so does the top of her hat and the bottom of the tree foliage. Her straight foot ends at a line while her other leg followed the angle of another. Things can also be pushed and pulled to fall better. For instance I changed the angle of the shadow under the tree to conform more to the diagonal line of the grid.

The version in the center and right would have also worked, but with these,  more information would have to be added on the left side.

The next thing I like to do is create a small color study. Up until a few years ago this seemed like a waste of time to me. Why paint a miniature version of my painting?blog.colorstudy

I’ve since realized the terrific value in these little jewels. As artists we are not copying what we see but transforming it into our vision. This takes experimental thinking.

It can be very disheartening to scrape off large areas of your painting because it doesn’t harmonize or has the wrong value. Enough changing around of things on a large painting ends up looking forced and overworked, anything but fresh.

In the color study above I set the value range, decided the temperature extremes and began to get more excited when seeing my vision in paint.

When I paint the larger version there’s still lots of room to “try some things out”, but within an established frame work it’s much more fun!

 

One Painting beginning to End

OrangeTreeGirl.lr
All the Small Things by Diane Eugster

Instead of taking a piece of my painting process and blogging about it, though I’d take one painting from the start to finish.

It’s taken me many years to come up an order, a chain of events, a way to get my head in the right place to create something that feels good to me.

First comes the choice of subject. Below is what I’ll be working with. This is a very personal thing. The reason I chose this is it has several things I’m drawn to.

  • A sense of casual ease
  • Cool tones
  • Simplicity

subject1.blog

Now starts the problem solving . The first thing is evaluating the composition. There needs to be more space above her head, so what do I fill that space with? Going back to the original photo shoot, searching for a shot from this angle with more tree showing….bingo, found this photo.

subject2.blog

Time to take both photos into Photoshop for some reworking. There are several easy ways to do this which I won’t go into, but knowing your way around Photoshop is a handy skill to have.

subject3.withtree.blog.jpg

This is a little rough around the edges, you can see where I cloned some bushes to the lower right and have some hard edges at the top, but I can surely work with this in the painting. The balance of things is looking much better. The final test is to place the photo within a dynamic symmetry grid. If you’re not familiar with this, here’s one below.grid1.blog

  • The outside dimensions are the same as the painting.
  • Divided in half lengthwise and crosswise.
  • Divided diagonally from corner to corner.
  • Lines are projected from the corners which are 45 degrees to the diagonals.
  • Additional lines can be dropped where diagonals meet horizontals and verticals and horizontals cross verticals.
  • Wherever multiple lines cross there is an eye, a prime place for important information.

In the next post I show you what I’m looking for as I place her inside the grid.

 

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.

IMG_0295

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.

sketchlr

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.

IMG_0810

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.

Essencenotfinal-lr

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.

Essence.final.lr

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.

 

 

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.