Respecting Your Boundaries

The real world and a painting are two totally different things.

You’re standing in front of the model, here lovely Marisa. Interesting costume, nice pose, that rug with the oriental design is great, what a wonderful group of objects by her feet, all shiny and shimmery…

You’ve been there before, you want to paint it all but….you are limited…..by your boundaries, the canvas. Those four edges restricting the world you can paint.

On a recent open studio session at SAS this is how I made those decisions.

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I wanted to paint those silver vessels on the floor, I wanted to paint her shoes, but…Reclinelr1

more importantly I based my composition on how small I was willing to make the head and where on the canvas  boundary to place it comfortably, not too high, too low, too near the edge.

What I didn’t concern myself with yet was the actual color, bright green and magenta. Instead getting neutral value blocks in that filled the space well was what I was after.reclinglr2

Here I was thinking, how is the visual information going to enter my boundaries, how comfortable is it to explore the scene leading to her face? What I gave up was her legs and shoes, too much information where I don’t want you to look. The bright green and magenta just didn’t matter anymore.reclinelr3

Now that “things” are basically the way I want them, what is fighting my original intent? The dark edge next to her uplifted hand in the previous image was causing a tension, pushing against her, so it’s eliminated here. Also the dark shape in the lower area of her dress was distracting.relinlrfinal

This is where it really gets fun, adding pattern, textures, refining her expression…and knowing when to stop!

Taking it Further

Many times when painting a subject from life there just isn’t enough time to finish, or quality control starts to diminish when “artist fatigue” sets in.

The next day, back in the studio, armed with some photos, one taken a little overexposed to see what’s happening in the shadows and one underexposed to see what’s happening in the lightest areas, it’s time to take a hard look. This is one of the greatest ways to develop a keener eye.

So, how do I take it further? Writing down what I like so far;

  • The strong sense of light on her face, an almost stark quality
  • The composition

Now, what could elevate this, if I saw a more advanced version of this painting at an art show, what is it that would make me stop and look?

  • Correct any drawing/value problems that would take away from the whole
  • Work the edges to lead the eye around the painting and not distract
  • Play up the textures1920rough-lrI began in the studio at this point-

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After taking it further with the changes below-

Drawing problems;

  • her left hand and right hands- needed reshaping and softening
  • her left arm, take the value lighter and reshape
  • her knee, not in the right place
  • chin, a little more pointed

Opportunities for texture

  • highlight on her headband
  • shine on her dress
  • fur and sparkles on coat, right side
  • background needs a little more chroma
  • work items on table for more interest

In the beginning when trying to “taking it further” it may seem hard to spot what you need to do, but keep looking with a critical eye and you will soon develop a knack for seeing which direction to take.

 

What’s The Point?

When sitting (or standing) in front of a new subject my first consideration is what’s the point? Why am I painting this thing, because it’s there is the worst possible reason. I’ve got to have a point of view, a motive for lifting the brush to the canvas.

My subject; a young woman with ringlets, red hair and a period dress, sitting stoically upright in a chair. The obvious road to take; a somber earth tone palette with quiet softened edges. My motive, to not paint it this way.

How about a primary limited palette of Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium yellow. This choice could help to keep the color lively even in the flesh tones. wedge1-lr

The initial block in, pushing the color – maybe too far, but I can always take it back later if needed. Separating the dark from the light, which is important for holding on to the form.wedge2-lr

At this point I’m starting to discover the color world she will be living in. It’s now a mater of refining the drawing, deciding how much to include. Is every ruffle necessary or will it take away from the whole. For me, it’s more about what I can put in that makes my point the best, and what I can leave out, just fluff.wedge3-lr

Working with a palette knife was a good way to get the rough textures to play against the smooth. The finished painting ” Wedgwood and Lilac” reflects the way I felt and what I wanted to say about her.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Julian with a Hat

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

 

Being your own Best Critic

Training your critical eye is one of the best tools to improve painting skills. After all who can you depend on to be available anytime, who knows and understands what you’re trying to do……you.

Here are three ways that have helped me to become my best art critic;

Attend open studio sessions, while there, walk around the room and really look at what others are doing. Find several people who are more experienced, see how they have handled areas that you are struggling with. Take pictures of their work (if they give you permission), and study it later. What things are they doing that could elevate your work, more varied edges, more subtle colors, using warm passages against cool etc.

Before you try the next suggestion you might say “what’s the point, just go on to something else”. I’ve found to take my work to the next level I need to dig deeper, take an unbiased look at my paintings, remove myself from it’s creation and ask these questions;

If I saw another version of this painting in a gallery and really liked it, how would it be different from my version? I did this with my painting below.pinkdressOriglr

The big things;

The shape of her skirt would be more interesting, as it is, one half is a mirror image of the other. It could also have more form, there must be a top plane, front planes and side planes, but where are they? More variety in color, even though it’s not totally a flat color, the surface suffers from sameness. More movement, the diagonal at the bottom of the skirt  has the potential for a more interesting edge.

The background could be cooler. The main character should call the shots on the painting temperature. She is built with very cool tones, I don’t believe her world would have that much orange in it.

The small things;

The girl’s posture is a little stiff, so is her expression. Before I rework her head I better make sure it’s in the right place, (which it wasn’t).

Can I make this more than a girl in a big skirt?PinkDresslr

Going through several days of revisions, I think it’s finally a better version of it’s former self! I definitely learned some things on this one!

Portrait to Pin

Sometimes I like to build a step by step of a painting and make a Pinterest Pin out of it. This was a recent open studio session, with an abbreviated breakdown of my process –

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Choosing a Direction

Friday in open studio at Scottsdale Artists School I was presented with a young woman in a long wool coat. Just painting what was before me could have produced something lackluster. Yes, the model was attractive and the coat interesting but that’s not enough. Thinking about how I wanted to portray this young woman with a long wool coat, was the key to a successful painting.

She could be a Russian spy……or

A homeless teen with an oversized coat……or

A New Yorker, in the 50’s….or

A Vogue model…..yes, this is the one I like best

Having an idea of the elements to exaggerate in the scene helped me make decisions working through it. The long graceful lines in her coat screamed grace and fashion, one hand  in a pocket, the other at her side gave her some attitude, her hair an isometrical wave. Picking out these things and exaggerating them  provided  a strong direction to take. wool1

I wanted to get the coat shape in right away, since it was the largest, most important thing in the image.

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Working on a toned surface saved a lot of time. The mid-tones are already there, making it easy to judge the lights against. The light source was cool, so her flesh tones had alizarin, lemon yellow and white in them. Working now to quickly get the background in so I can see all the pieces and how they work together.wool3

At this point everything is blocked in and I like the value (dark and light), patterns, my job from here on out is to develop more interest in each area while keeping the values close. The face gets some shadows, but all fairly light to keep the face together and not fracture it with dark tones.WoolCoatlr

I debated on using the stripes in the background and decided they would make an interesting contrast to the fluid lines in the coat. Since taking David Shevlino’s workshop I have been reaching for my 1″ flat synthetic brushes all the time, they enable a long stroke with sharp or soft edges depending on how it’s angled.

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