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

Ducks-before

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-

two-ducksducks-after

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.

Harmony Through limited Color continued

In the previous post I discussed the set-up to start my limited palette painting using only Yellow Ochre, Scarlet Lake, Ivory Black and white.

The last step before the brushes come out is an important one, the value sketch. I’ve said it before; real life, a painting and a photograph are three totally different things.

Real life has no visual boundaries, a painting does. Those four edges matter to your design. The two horizontal, carry gravity, pushing down on your subject from the top and holding it in from the bottom. The two verticals, squeeze in from the sides or allow breathing room.

Real life contains a ginormous amount of value information from light to dark. Distilling it down to five or better yet, three, gives a painting strength and readability.sketch

The sketch is a visual road map to figure these things out and will be something I refer to often to keep me on track.limitedBlog-demo1

Because intense red was the focus here I wanted to infuse this color into other areas. “Real life” didn’t present this phenomenon but it’s good for “the painting”.

Moving from area to area blocking in shapes – is it darker or lighter than whats next to it, cooler or warmer? These questions lead me through the color mixtures. Since I only have three colors, it forces me to be resourceful and sensitive to what I’m seeing. If there were four reds on my palette I might opt for a warmer one, but with only yellow ochre to make adjustments it consolidates my decisions, concentrating on the value relationships instead.limiteddemo2

Time to take a cold hard look at:

Values – referring back to my sketch, I’m getting there but feel I’ve been a little conservative on the lights in the tissue, but I’m not ready to go there yet.

Composition – think I’m going to eliminate that step on the lower right, caution- lots of blank space to the left, going to think about options here.

Color – running a little too cold, warm up the background.greyshoe

After more working, a good way to check my values is by comparing a grey scale image  of the subject next to a grey scale of the painting. Need to push the lights now in the tissue, happy with the rest, time to put more interest toward the left.SoMe-lr

Finished.

I’ll be teaching a class- at the Scottsdale Artists’ School April 7 &14

Harmonize Your Painting with the Limited Palette

 

Harmony Through Limited Color

Workshops, friendly suggestions, something that caught my eye at the art supply store; all of these contribute to an overextended, bloated palette of colors. It can be a waste of time working this way. Like weeding through a stuffed closet of clothes in the morning, making too many choices is tiring.

At times like these I go back to the limited palette, like a breath of fresh air it clears my head so I can focus on the important aspects of creating a painting.

The Zorn Palette, made famous by the Swedish 19th century artist Anders Zorn is one of my favorites. ZornPalette-lr

Yellow Ochre, Scarlet Lake (he used Vermillion), White, Ivory Black. Here I’ve separated the warms from the cools with white. This selection leans toward the warm side, having two warms and only one cool, which is useful because most paintings need warmth to give them life. But they do look a little lonely…ZornPalette-blog2

By mixing neighboring colors together, warms with cools and white, the palette is beginning to open up. These are not all the possibilities by any means, but it gives me a jumping off point.IMG_0659

I set this subject up in my studio, experimented with the lightly and elements until they worked together. The things I look for when putting something like this together are:

  1. Focusing on a “star”, one item that the painting is about.
  2. Other elements that visually or physically flow to the star, and around the picture plane, (the composition)
  3. A variety of angles and curves
  4. A variety of values; dark, medium and light
  5. A variety of textures, smooth, rough, etc.
  6. A dominant color, (usually the “star”)

Notice how color is the last consideration? Sometimes we get sidetracked into thinking that “it’s all about the color”, but if the first five on the list aren’t there, no amount of color will save a painting with a weak design.

Now that the preliminaries are ironed out, the next step is the actual painting which I’ll talk about in my next blog.

Painting Blue Light

Lately I’ve been setting up random objects that have a commonality. It crossed my mind that colored light might bring several items together in a different way.

Shopping around, I found Ace Hardware had a blue LED that would work perfectly.IMG_0608

Reflection and blue light were the ideas I wanted to pull together. The white flower and silver canister made a good vehicle to showcase the blue light, while the patterned cloth showcased the reflective metal.

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This photo really exaggerates the blue, it wasn’t this intense. That’s why painting from life is so important, your eye can’t be fooled like the camera.

Because the values of light to dark are so close in this scene, a value sketch to get things organized was the first step.

Value-sketch

The goal here was to divide up all the areas, assigning either dark, medium or light value to each.

The flower “could” be the most difficult area to paint since it appears to have dark, medium and light in it. And it does, but those darks, mediums and lights must hold together as a light shape so that it doesn’t get fragmented.

Another area, the pattern, could be trouble, but I’m going to push it into mid value.

flower2

At this point, the initial lay-in is holding together the way I had envisioned. This is where it really gets fun because I can go in with different temperatures, play with edges, do whatever I want as long as I don’t step out of the value boundaries I set for myself.

flower-blog

The blue light was very deceptive, the areas it hit most seemed to be much lighter, but in reality these areas were a different color not value. This was a great exercise in observation.

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And the final-

 

 

How to Paint Nothing

Something, is a big vase of colorful flowers on a patterned table-cloth. A hand full of fruit and a cup of tea thrown in for good measure.

Nothing, is a smooth white surface with a clear jar of water, a transparent shot glass and a silver bucket.

If you want to hone you skills at seeing value better, this is the subject for you. Creating cardboard grey value scales can be tedious, so why not paint a setup that tricks you into training your eye?

NothingBlog4.jpg

I painted this from life, which is the only way to see the nuances of what really light does. I chose these three object because they had visual characteristics in common.

  • All are tallish cylinders
  • All lack saturated color, except the bit of orange inside the bucket, it’s always good to throw off consistency a little.
  • All have reflective surfaces.

My goal : to showcase the commonalities between them while giving each a distinct personality.

I started on a Baltic birch wood panel primed with toned gesso, I spent plenty of time on the drawing, no details, just making sure things were placed and sized correctly.

The painting started with getting the value of the darkest dark in the bucket. Than the orangish tone, along with the background behind it. There is no way to know how dull or bright to make this without the background tone. Too often these areas are left until late in the painting. The background and foreground set the whole key for what’s placed on them.

NothingBlog1

Moving around  I make my best guess as to what the color shapes are. When everything is basically roughed in I go back for another pass, slowing down, making refinements (corrections), to my original guesses. When a few things get nailed down, the rest comes much easier.NothingBlog2.jpg

At this point I look long and hard to see what needs to go away and what needs to be added. The bucket on the right needs the handle, the top and bottom edges need some reworking. The wall behind the items needs more paint and a little more color.NothingBlog5.jpg

And here’s the finish-

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.