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,

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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!

White on White, Clear on Clear

There are numerous things in the physical world that are more difficult to paint. White on white and clear on clear are on that list. Why? looking at the other side of the spectrum may help to answer that.

What are some easier subjects to paint?

  • Red barns against blue skies in green fields
  • Bright flowers in colorful vases
  • Sunsets from photographs

 

These things share color intensity that are close to “right out of the tube”.

 

What if color is dropped to an extremely low intensity as in white objects next to white objects or clear liquid in a clear vessel? It gets real interesting.

My recent painting “Potion” shared both of these traits, I discovered something that made this challenge easier for me.

Working from both life and a photo at the same time. We know that working from life is the real deal, accurate color, values, shapes, it’s all there. However sometimes our eyes have a hard time seeing the subtlest of subtleties, that’s when the photo comes to the rescue.

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My set up above, painting on the left, real life in the middle and my image on the computer on the right.

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This is the photo of the setup. Notice the glowing area, top left in the jar. In real life it was so brilliant I could not see what shape it was and how it transitioned to the dark around it. In the photo it is very clear what is happening. However the colors in that transition are not in the photo but real life.

The long fold of fabric coming down from the jar was such a subtle difference from the flat white behind it , the photo showed me there was a slight value difference and also exaggerated the color difference. So I chose to use values and colors between both bits of information.

Many other areas were made easier by referring to both. Richer colors and textures from life, values from the photo.Potion-final-lr

 

The finished painting “Potion” can be seen at “Plunge” a group show at, Meyer Vogl Gallery in Charleston, SC, from December 7-28.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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And done.

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Repurposed Paintings

After painting for awhile, we all have them. . . the stack of paintings, that won’t go away. There are small victories in certain areas, but the war was not won. They don’t warrant displaying, even in our own homes.

The best answer I’ve found to finally put them to rest, is making use of them, a repurpose paint-over. Here’s how I go about it:

  1. It’s easiest to select an old painting that is dominantly light to midtown in value. Darker paintings can be more difficult but intersting because initial lines don’t show up, using a grey mix of Ivory Black and White will work.
  2. Flip the painting upside down, which throws the original subject into abstraction, making it less distracting as the new painting takes form.
  3. Get some initial lay-in lines down, the general placement of things, too many lines promote confusion.
  4. Begin blocking in the large masses with paint and turpentine using large brushes. Blog-repurpose1

In the lower third of this paint-over you can still make out the original portrait flipped upside down. I have massed in the large shapes, paying attention to the values as they relate to one another. An old painting is such a nice surface to work on, it is essentially an oil primed canvas. blog-repurpose2

There were some heavy paint areas in the original, resulting in some raised brush work, this serves as a challenge to paint even heavier so I can work them in.Blog-final-large

The final image, notice I left some of the violet from the original painting. Allowing the old painting to show through can make the new work richer.

 

Excuse me You’re in my Picture”

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If I had come across this photo five years ago it would have been deleted. But working out the kinks with this kind of thing over and over has helped me to mine out the content and ignore the rest.

It all starts with the question…what about this image interests me enough to think it would make a painting?  The light falling on the girl with a rake and the fact that she makes a strong diagonal composition.

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A terrific eye path up the right side to her hat, down to the rake and over to the bottom right of her skirt and around and around. It’s important to examine all the elements in the photo and ask .. are they helping to make my point or taking away from it.

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I have numbered and circled some areas.

1. This couple didn’t mean to photo bomb my subject but they have to go.

2. This path leads out of the image on the left, conflicting with the triangle composition. It also has a strong contrast to everything else, drawing attention to itself …got to go.

3. There are a large assortment of shrubs of different textures tones and sizes. I feel it makes the area too complicated and does not enhance my motive, the girl.

4. The lone shrub in the front is just a blockade to the flow of the composition.

O.k., so if I remove these things, what do I replace them with? Going back to the original photo and using the basics of what’s there is the answer. The distant foliage can be greatly simplified into two colors of the same value against a large darker mass of green.

In place of the light path the dirt can go further back and the greenery can come forward until they meet. The dark shadows under the shrubs also disrupts the triangular flow of the composition so it’s eliminated.

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So what I end up with is the essence of what I wanted to say in “Summer Sun”.