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?

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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.

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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-

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Summer, Revisited

Have you ever finished a painting you were happy with only to find that months, weeks or even days later there are some serious problem areas. Summer Breeze is such a painting.

This painting is a little larger than I usually work, 20″ x 30″, but after two weeks of planning and execution it was finished. There were many things that worked out well, OldSummerBreeze-lr

The gesture of the pose, the expression of her face, the sense of light, but as she sat on my fireplace mantle for several days I started to “feel” there were some areas that needed addressing. It was a “feeling” at first because I couldn’t pin it down enough to do something about it, and I will never go back to rework a painting unless I have a specific change in mind. Enough days had passed, it became crystal clear what was required.

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At #1, the strongest shape in the scene. It is very strong because it’s surrounded by dark, is large and is pointing to the left, drawing way to much attention to an area that is secondary,

The shape at #2 is bothersome because it appears to be the same value as the top plane of the skirt, which is the way the photo appeared because of the tendency for photos to blow out the lights. In reality this area would be darker than the upper plane which is receiving more light.

At #3 and 4#, these light shapes take away from the solid anchoring effect of the dark shadow along the bottom and add more attention to an area that shouldn’t receive any.

 

 

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At #5 I could add a little more information to follow the form of her body and make it more interesting.

All during the painting process I wrestled with that rectangle #6,  behind her head. Should I keep it or not. Now I can see, not, it adds a visual weight to the top of her head, which throws her a little off balance.

At #7, stream line her shoulder a little here to soft her.

The lower shadow area #8, could be working harder to stabilize the balance. I want it to create a more solid base for the figure. Even though there was not a supporting leg on the bench in the photo, it was needed to alleviate the floating sensation in this area.

Last but not least, the color needed adjusting. More warmth in the background wall, as well as in her skirt.

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I was happy with the changes and glad I made them. It’s never too late to go back and make things better!

Who Buys Those Colors?

Going through the online art supply site, making up my order for paints I’ve often wondered who buys those strange “off colors” like Dove Grey, Grey Green or Monotint?

My question was answered last week when I attended the Joseph Lorusso  Workshop at Scottsdale Artists School.

One of the key reasons I signed up for Joseph’s class was to see how he achieves those rich but subtle color harmonies. Viewing one of his paintings is like discovering gems, little interactions of color everywhere.

The afternoon of the first day I was faced with uncorking these odd tubes of paint that were on our class supply list.  Next, trying to figure out what to do with them. Ummm…Monochrome Tint Warm, kind of a khaki beige, maybe I’ll put it right here next to the Yellow Ochre on my palette. Green Grey, maybe next to Olive Green, Yellow Grey, a lot like Monochrome. These colors felt like total strangers to me.img_2452

It took me a full week with these colors on my palette to see the unique usefulness they offered.

Joseph talked a lot about suppressing white, holding the values close. The more I studied his paintings the more I saw the magic happened in those midrange tones.greyscale

The mid-range between values 4 and 7 also happen to be where most of these “off colors” live. Now I get it! These colors are just midtone greys, mixtures I would probably end up making on my palette eventually, but now I can could easily grab these to modify other tones. If I have a value 4 red that needs to be muted,  I have a two-step process in front of me. First I need to add green, now it’s too dark, the value has slipped into 2 or 3, so I need white to bring it back to value 4, unless I use Holbein’s Green Grey which is already a value 4. Once I got the hang of these new colors they transformed from strangers to friends.

It’s always good to open up the possibilities of using new materials, seeing things a little differently. The painting below I did in open studio using some of these concepts, no white and only a small amount of Naples Yellow .peasantlr

 

 

Conserving Values

Lately I’ve really been concerned about conserving values. When I first learned to draw, the number one challenge was to see how many shades of grey I could capture in my sketch, after all, the visual world is made of hundreds, maybe thousands of shades from black to white. But the more I paint, the more I have a respect for other artists who exercise restraint with their values, which in the end produces a much stronger image.

Floating, by Robert Lemler
Floating, by Robert Lemler

For an example look at this painting by one of my favorite artists, Robert Lemler. The image on the left is the finished painting, the image on the right is the grey scale version. Removing the color in an image makes seeing the framework of values easier. This painting is mainly composed of three values and a dark accent but wow, the impact!

Painting by Casey Baugh
Painting by Casey Baugh

Another artist I admire is Casey Baugh. Here he uses two values from the high end and two from the low end to produce a more solemn, moody piece.

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I decided to work from this photo. A great subject, but as you can see the scattering of many values makes a fractured image. This happens a lot outdoors in bright sunlight, the camera makes the shadows too dark while the lights get blown out. I decided to keep the girl in the 8 to 9 value range in order to stand out against her surroundings, while everything else in the 3 to 4 value range with a few dark and light accents.

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The Traveler, by Diane Eugster

Conserving the values gave me the cohesion I was after, staying mid to light on the value scale gave the painting a freshness.