How to Simplify a Complex Subject

Simplify, simplify, simplify, you’ve heard it a hundred times, but how do you really do it?

I’m going to walk through a recent painting showing the steps I went through to make it easier for me to paint.

Here is the original image. 

I liked the gesture of her putting on a shoe, also the lighting was interesting. But the photo was taken on a stage with all sorts of things in the background that had nothing to do with her. It needed to go someplace else. O.K. she’s in her closet, packed with dresses, and shoes, lots of shoes, on the floor and in boxes. Now I’ve got something to run with.

Even though this may seem like a lot of stuff, I’m organizing it into  three big shapes, the simplify.

So first the initial drawing, it doesn’t need to show everything but it does need to be accurate.

Now is the the time to revisit those big shapes, which are:

• The girl, her seat and the floor (shape 1)

* All the clothes, the wall and the shoes (shape 2)

• The stack of boxes (shape 3)

So how  am I going to hold them together?

• Shape 1, this shape will contain the darkest darks, the lightest lights and the most intense color. All those things add up to the most important shape, nothing else will be allowed to upstage this shape.

• Shape 2, this shape will fall into a medium value of muted warm tones.

• Shape 3, this shape will also be midtones with muted colors used in shape 1.

In the image above I layed in a flat tone behind the girl so I could better judge my values. Here I have roughed in the girl, and the floor, just the big important shapes, keeping in mind how I want to hold her together. Yes, there is a lot more information within her that I could paint, but I have to force myself to move on. Some of things like strands of hair that I really like, may not even be necessary in the final painting, focusing on the whole instead of the parts, simplifies.

Generalizing shape #2, mixing several tones next to each other on my palette really helps to keep these close in value and saturation while getting a variety of reddish, yellowish and blueish tones. Working from the most obvious shapes to the more subtle, knowing the ones near her face should be more interesting. Some of this may stay untouched for the rest of the painting, some may be redone, but I’m working on getting a base here to work with. Next on to shape #3 the boxes.

Everything is massed in now, it’s time to take a hard look at how things are fitting together. I see I will need to adjust the color on the boxes to harmonize more. It’s like a song, there is a high note and a low note. I have already established the warm and cool extremes, so I see some “off” notes like the orange box and the orangey red box.

The design is holding together, which is the priority, so I will go in and adjust everything with an eye on the whole, taking care to not have the big shapes fall apart.

Having a plan and limitations for each area gives me the freedom to express what’s there, it’s having no limitations that will give me brain freeze, just too many options!

As I paint some things may change, it’s always good to be open to something you never even considered.

Final painting “Her Happy Place”

Oil Painting, the best of both worlds

After many years of experimenting with different media, pastel, watercolor, acrylic, etc. why have I decided oil paint is the best choice for me? Because it has the personality traits of many other painting media all rolled into one.

“Unknown”, the painting I just completed last week was a perfect vehicle to take advance of one of my favorite properties of oil paint, transparency. walking1-lrThe finished scene would have a dominance of blue, so a transparent underpainting of warm orange reds, the opposite of blue, would be a good base to play those blues off of. I call this stage the “getting to know you, stage”. Moving around the image with washes helps to see what the flow is, how things move throughout the space.

walking2-lrHere’s an ode to watercolor, spattering the surface starts to liven things up, and give me something to work with, (or against), in the next layer. In order for the spatters to stay put and not run, the painting is placed flat on a table until dry.

walking3-lrThis stage reminds me of working with pastels. With a chunky squared off brush, laying in passages, weaving the strokes into each other. The goal here is solidifying the image, letting some under layers peek through while building up some heavier passages.

Using Gamblin Alkyd medium makes the layer dry faster, not as fast as acrylic, but enough so that I can work on top of a dry paint layer the next day.

UnknownFinalImagelrThe last stage is to refine and correct. Always correcting, it’s never to late to fix an area that just isn’t right. Refining areas that are important, and ignoring the rest.

Making it More

Friday at SAS we had a lovely model with a complex setup. Her outfit was shocking orange and bright white, silver sequins, ruffles, three large hoops woven in and out of her arms.

A wonderful costume for her performance on stage but how can it transfer to a painting?  I begin by asking the question

How do I create harmony ?

Minimize the colors, minimize the shapes, this means zooming in on a selected area which will create fewer shapes.

O.K. now I have a direction to take. Since there was a lot of orange in the scene I chose burnt sienna, this will give me a large range of values. Cadmium orange will be good for a strong shot of color in the midtone range. Cadmium red seemed a good choice for the duller mid to dark values (when mixed with white, it will actually appear grayish compared to the oranges.)
acrobat1lr

Feeling that there is more energy in the head and torso area, this is where I will focus.acrobat2lr

As I took this further some things were gained, others lost.

Back in the studio, minus the model, plus a reference photo I have more questions, which usually start with…

If I saw a better version of this painting what would it look like?

It would have more interplay between the background and foreground, there is too much separation in this image. It would also have a livelier mood, more expressive brushwork. More texture, shine v/s dull, smooth v/s rough. And last but not least check the drawing for proportion errors.

The Acrobat, by Diane Eugster
The Acrobat, by Diane Eugster

In short how can I make this more of what I want, push it without breaking it!

 

Back to Painting Again!

Getting somewhat settled into our new Phoenix home, it is finally time to work in the studio. Still tripping over boxes …. where’s that ruler and X-acto knife, I know there’s more solvent somewhere….. but anyway it felt great to be face to face with a canvas again.

I took the opportunity to attend an open studio session for 5 hours on friday at Scottsdale Artists School, knowing that I would complete the painting at home.

julian-lr-1

Basic block in. I can’t believe I forgot the basic rule of painting glasses, and was reminded by another artist in the class…paint the eyes first, than put the glasses on.

julian-lr-2

At this point my concern was blocking in the masses with the right shape and temperature. Decided to use a limited palette to put the focus on textures; yellow ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber and ivory black. Could have got away using the burnt umber instead of black but wanted to get those cold darks on the tie and vest.final-letter

The first thing I like to do when getting back to the studio is evaluate what I have so far and where I want to go. Looking at the painting, not the reference photo making a list (spelling and grammar are the last things on my mind), of what needs to be done helps me to focus and not get off track.

julian-lr-final
Julian with a Hat

After four more hours in the studio, the end result is the painting below.

 

To Sum it Up …

We are nearing the end of our 6 month stay in Scottsdale. To recap, John and I decided to celebrate our 20th anniversary by temporarily living in an “art friendly” city, our choice was Scottsdale Arizona.

Why Scottsdale? I have enjoyed attended workshops at the Scottsdale Artists School over the last 15 years. Other art destinations are within easy driving distance, like Sedona and Tucson. The outlying desert regions have a multitude of hiking trail, biking trails (for John) and interesting locations to paint.

What we didn’t expect to happen after 3 months was moving here. So an extended vacation has turned into a life changing event as we have listed our home in Las Vegas for sale and put in a contingency offer for a house in Phoenix.

To sum up the last 6 months I decided a slide show of the work I have completed while here would say it best. Most of the paintings were done from life at the open studio sessions at Scottsdale Artists School.

Some days I experimented with different techniques, some days the paint just seemed to flow while others were a struggle. I learned a lot by painting a lot, and watching some very talented artists. So here are the images in a slide show, in the order they were painted…if you have trouble with the embedded file, try this link

 

Experimenting with Values

Bagel Girl by Diane Eugster

It’s comfortable to have a painting process that I can depend on, steps that if followed will usually carry me through to a positive end…but sometimes that can be boring. To shake things up I decided to play with values.

Values can be used in several ways;

Basic Values– using dark to light to render the illusion of three dimension. Creating the effect of depth on a flat surface. How could it be a bad thing for all the elements in a painting to be rendered in the correct values ?
Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 12.43.33 PM

Value changes create contrast. If a painting has many contrasting areas sprinkled throughout, it can be confusing, sending the viewers’ eye all over the place.

Narrow Values– any colors placed side by side of the same value will harmonize a painting. It will also cause a certain flatness which may or may not be desired.

All rights reserved by Life Through the Lens
All rights reserved by Life Through the Lens

The photo above consists of various colors, but it’s the narrow value range that holds it together.

values

In the above bars the first one has totally unrelated colors but a narrow (dark range) of values, making them easy on the eyes, not like the one below, which contains colors in the same family as above but different values, nothing I’d like to look at for too long!

Selected Values- Choosing which values to narrow and which to exaggerate in order to create a pleasing design within the painting.

I chose to use this method because my subject had various elements which I wanted to hold together while designing the area within the canvas.

Since I wanted to concentrate on this one concept a limited palette was used , Cadmium Red Deep, Yellow Ochre, black and white.

Bagel Girl by Diane Eugster
Bagel Girl by Diane Eugster

The way I approached this was to hold back on the values until everything in the image was in place. By the time this was done I had a good feeling of how I wanted this to visually move, it may sound funny but I had to get to know her and her world before this came together for me. The rough texture seemed right for this earthy subject.

Girl In a Chair
Counting the Minutes by Diane Eugster

Another painting using the same palette. Controlling the values to express more of what I felt and saw instead of …just what I saw.

Using Pattern in Paintings

 

Lately I’ve been incorporating more patterns into my paintings. I’ve long admired how other artists like Gustav Klimt and Henri Matisse used this tool. What can patterns do for a painting?

  • Add motion, the repetitive component of a pattern takes the viewer’s eye on a visual journey, which can work for you as a tool to lead the eye in a painting.
  • Add interest, backgrounds can get….well…..boring, patterns can liven up an otherwise static background. This is something I learned in Sunny Apinchapong’s workshop. I can hear him behind my shoulder saying “don’t paint it like that, it’s boring, break it up!”
  • Add to your story, instead of putting your subject in a room or landscape that tells more about “their world” , use a pattern that conveys the mood you want to evoke. If the scene is set up from the beginning this way, it’s a great way to get a solid direction going.
  • Keeping harmony, there’s nothing worse than a background that doesn’t share color harmony with the main subject. Patterns are a great way to weave foreground tones into the background and vice a versa.

    Coral and Sage by Diane Eugster
    Coral and Sage by Diane Eugster

 

Workshop’s Over Now What

It’s been a week since I finished the Sunny Apinchapong workshop and I am still hearing his words as I paint, which is a good thing.

Sometimes coming away from a workshop can leave me with a let down feeling, like that was exciting and stimulating but now I’m on my own.

White flowers in a Vase, by Diane Eugster
White flowers in a Vase, by Diane Eugster

Sunny gave me so much to work on, here are a few of his mantras:

  1. Mass in with a big brush, you’re not ready to start the painting, keep roughing in those large shapes!
  2. Compare, compare, compare, is that lighter or darker than that passage over there? Look, look, look
  3. Trust yourself, don’t think too much, just get it down!
  4. Is that area really that orange, it’s orangish, not orange!
  5. Check your edges, if two dark object meet with a soft line in the shadow, join them together as one!

The still-life above was a challenge, at first all the white flowers looked very similar, but I searched for the small differences in color and found them, I compared the shape of this one to that one and saw the differences. I knocked back the colors when they were not subtle enough.

Pitch and a Basket, by Diane Eugster
Pitch and a Basket, by Diane Eugster

The same applied to the still-life above, in order to paint better I need to see better. Detail is not what I’m looking for but ways to translate the complications of the really world into paint.

Painting the Color of Light

Since finishing up with the Robert Lemler workshop at SAS I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea that light has color temperature.

When outside in the late afternoon, the sun starting to go down, the color of light is very warm. Everything the late afternoon light falls on will have warmth (orange) in the color while the shadows will have cool or blue tones.

Cool light comes from LEDs or the sky on a cloudy day. The result is everything illuminated by it will have cool tones in it, the shadows will be warm.

Paintings that use these principles will have a heightened sense of brightness while still having vivid color. Getting control of this concept, one can exaggerate it for special effect. An artist who used this in all of his work was Joaquin Sorolla.

Painting by Sorrolla
Painting by Sorolla

In the painting above by  Sorolla I’ve noted just a few of the many temperature changes. These areas are patches of the same color, but one in light and one in shadow.

Here are three paintings I’ve done using  this principle.

Painting by Diane Eugster
Painting by Diane Eugster

This portrait sketch has a cool light, warm shadow relationship.

Painting by Diane Eugster
Painting by Diane Eugster

This painting, a warm light with cool shadows. Even though there are some warmer areas in the shadow, cool dominates with grays, blues and greens.

Painting by Diane Eugster
Painting by Diane Eugster

Here a cool light falls on the figure with warmth in the shadows.

I’m going to start paying special attention to see how this works outside and inside.

Composition is King

How the painting is put together, the design, the composition will always be the most important element of painting to me.

That’s why I have a list of images in queue ready to be started but waiting for a solution to design problems. This is one of those images. Even though it had a lot going for it, the colors were washed out and the photo was flat, no real contrast. Having no distinguishable dark areas and light makes it hard to compose a painting, so I decided to really push the values where I needed them in order to make a good break up of the space.Ticket-draw

An exploratory sketch, my way to flesh out the idea, confirmed that this could work. Of course you never really know until some paint is on the canvas, but it seemed the odds were good for success!ticket-draw2

Starting with the darks, the framework, the anchor, I used Burnt Sienna to get a warm glow underneath the build up of paint I was planning to do. I wanted to keep the darks moving through the picture. I remember once someone said you should be able to walk across the darks in your paintings.

Ticket to Ride by Diane Eugster
Ticket to Ride by Diane Eugster

I used Gamblin’s oil priming on the canvas for this painting, it creates a slick surface but provides a ground where a lot of textural effects can be used, which was great for this subject with old wood surfaces.