Saturday, January 1, 2011

How to manipulate a Subject for a Better Painting-Part 2

Here is a image of the completed painting-
Below is an image of the gray value pattern, the original photo and the painting, with some explanations.
In the first photo the area circled and labeled 1 draws the eye to the edge with it's dark shape, this is way too distracting and does not follow the flow of the painting (depicted in purple in the second image). In the gray value sketch I minimized this area, and in the final painting kept that plan.

Number 2 is an area that was blown out in the photo, not only made lighter than it really was but again a distraction at the edge of the painting. In this case it does follow the flow of the painting but grabs your eye at an edge. In the final painting I held onto this plan.

Number 3 is a glaring highlight at a corner- this kind of thing is so tempting for a beginner to "put in at all cost". But you can see it not only does not follow the flow but pulls your eye to a corner, the worst place to have your eye go because you can visually get stuck there.

The color is something I did not mention but is also open to much manipulation. The temptation is to paint bright things just as bright as you possibly can, but just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Keeping color harmony within the image means suppressing some areas.  A oneness between all the objects happens when  colors are shared. It's surprising how much you can change the color from the original objects and it still be acceptable.  This is what I meant by a painting is a totally different thing from real life or a photo.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How to manipulate a Subject for a Better Painting

Subjects come in two types;  Nature i.e. the real world or a photograph. I have found over the years, real life, a photographic image and a painting are three totally different things.

When you stand in front of nature your subject is limited by your human comprehension. We can only see so far in the distance and the amount of colors that exist are more than we can visually see.

A photo on the other hand is limited by mechanical means. The light areas in the photo will loose detail as well as the shadow or dark areas, while the lens will distort shapes, for instance we've all seen a photo when someone's face was too close to the camera making it look huge and strangely curved. This happens throughout a photo in a less detectable but inaccurate way.

Just accepting nature or a photo at face value, using it "as is" does not usually net the best painting and it's also a boring way to proceed.  To create a painting that works the subject needs to be manipulated in order to make it work, here's an example:

This is a photo I took of some greens apples, a cantaloupe and flowers on a silver platter. It has a lot of the makings of a good painting but I'll need to see it differently to find out it's best potential. I'll use grey markers in a maximum of 5 shades of grey and a layout pad.

My goal is to break the image into simple shapes of shades of gray, I use shapes because a painting is made up of shapes unlike a drawing which is made up of lines. The fewer shades I use the stronger the design. I ask myself how I can join several smaller areas into one larger shade of gray while still making the image "read" as what it is. I am trying to create eye movement around and not out of the scene.
Here is the marker value sketch made from the original photo. In my next post I'll show the resulting painting and some of the choices I made manipulating the subject.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Through the Window continued...

    At this point I don't want to get caught up in any one area too long, which could throw things out of balance. When I'm processing what I'm seeing in order to translate objects into a painting it's necessary to forget  conventional thinking.
    After years of seeing things, an apple, a car etc. we all develop a kind of visual shorthand of identifying "things", we don't have to analyze a car to know what it is with a quick glance.  The opposite of this is to look at things as if you've never seen them before, and don't assume anything about them. Looking for shapes, than deciding what color to make the shape as well as what happens on the edges of the shape is how I move forward - don't think sail- think triangle of pale blue.

   Here is the finished painting. The difference between this stage and the previous is just more moving around the image and grabbing more shapes to develop.
   A few words about detail - the beginning painter believes the magic of a great painting are the details brought to near reality. This has some truth but can also be lethal for a painting. There are two major problems with this approach:

1. If everything is rendered in detail there is no room for the viewers' own personal interpretation of the painting, everything is completely spelled out for you
2. The human eye does not focus on everything at once, try it- stare at something and notice how things in your peripheral vision are fuzzier

  The strength of using details is to keep them in the areas that you, as the artist, want the viewer to look and dwell longer, the areas that you feel add the most clarity to your story.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

From the Window

    This painting is from our trip to Seattle to visit Rich and Jen this past May. One afternoon we read about the "Old Wooden Boat Museum". Of course this was right up John's alley, him being interested in all things wood. There was a wealth of interesting vessels, most of them on the water still. As part of the museum there was a building that housed a boat makers' library and classroom. The classroom looked out over the water, where students could learn about everything from navigation to canoe building.

    The ideal situation would have been to set up my easel right there and paint. Unfortunately I didn't have my supplies that day. Painting from a subject live is a great way to get some excitement in your painting right from the start.  If I don't have that I do everything to create a positive studio atmosphere, such as use a clear, large (8"x 10", at least) reference photo. The other thing I do is create "a situation" in the first layer of the painting. The underpainting washes shown here are the opposite color that they will be in the finished painting. This gives me a direction, in this case I need to work away from what is here.
  Why would I do this? It's not enough to just move forward copying objects the way they look, that is a boring way to work - why not just blow the photo up and call it good? What excites me in other artists work is to see how they handled the paint, how they translated what they saw, so wanting my painting to be something I want to look as well, I try and cause some trouble for myself that I can work out of- or not.

     Here is the painting after some initial paint application. In these large wood areas I am putting every tone of brown from blue/brown to yellow/brown to achieve some variety. The colors I am using are Cadmium Yellow light, Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, Cadmium Orange, Burnt Sienna, Terra Rosa, Ultramarine blue, Cobalt Blue, Manganese Blue and of course Titanium White. At this point it doesn't matter which brown goes where, just getting an interesting surface started...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Cotton vs. Linen

    Up until this month I have mostly used cotton canvas to paint on. Why? It is easy to obtain, all of the art supply stores stock it as well as craft stores like Michaels etc. There are many different finishes from very smooth to a heavy rough surface, but what is available in prestretched canvases is usually a thin weight with a uniform woven texture. The priming ,(coating on the raw canvas) is a white acrylic gesso.
    If you stretch your own canvas over stretcher bars, cotton is fairly easy to stretch as it has a slight give to it. For my work, I usually stretch raw cotton, than put three coats of Liquitex acrylic gesso on top. The canvas shrinks slightly producing a drum tight surface to work on.
    Painting is not only about the subject but the way the paint lays on the painting surface as well. Wanting to see something different in my work I decided to try a roll of linen canvas.
   I decided to use an oil primed linen canvas because this is a more traditional treatment and I was ready to try something new, but traditional. I found it is a challenge to find canvas finished this way because the oil priming, which is white lead paint is not a process that is looked favorably on in the US. I found a brand not manufactured here and ordered a roll.
   I decided to paint two similar pictures at the same time in order to really see the differences in the surfaces of the oil primed linen and the acrylic primed cotton. Below are the two paintings.

The one at the top is on cotton canvas, the one on the bottom, linen

    Each painting has identical colors of paint, I applied it to one than to the other, but the one on linen appears darker. 
    The second thing is the painting on cotton has a smoother almost homogenous appearance, while the linen has a more organic look.
   The feel of the surface was also different. The oil primed surface allowed the paint to sit on it and be easily pushed around by the brush, while the acrylic primed cotton, being much more absorbent, pulled the oil from the paint causing it to be more difficult to manipulate. Below is a close-up view of both.

Acrylic primed on cotton

Oil primed on linen

    The linen surface made it easier to achieve variety in the brushwork, producing a more interesting image to look at. Somehow this creates more depth also. Give this a try for yourself, experiment with different surfaces, you may find one you like a lot better than what you are using.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Setting up the palette-

     As I set up a new palette today, I thought I'd share the paints I use. After several months my palette ends up looking like this-

    I can still use it but when I add more paint on top of what is here, the dried layers underneath tend to suck the oil out of the new paint, leaving it too dry to work with. As shown here I usually work on a sheet of 16" x 20" glass with a 2" rim around two edges made from masonite. This rim serves to "corral" the paint, keeping it from taking over the surface. Before I did this, the paint would creep into the center mixing area little by little over the weeks, until I had a mixing area of about 5 square inches to work in. 
   You can see this masonite piece clearer below;
    This palette is smaller than above, 12" x 16" and I have used plexiglas because I will be traveling with it. A piece of beige paper is placed under the plex so that I can see white paint clearly and judge values better. The masonite piece is treated with 2 coats of shellac or the oil in the paint will be drawn out by the porous surface of the masonite. The colors I use vary slightly but these are the basics: from lower left- Burnt Umber, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Viridian, Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Light, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Red Medium, Alizarin Crimson, Terra Rosa and Burnt Sienna. This whole palette is sitting inside the Masterson Palette keeper which has a soft plastic lid which snaps on to help keep things air tight and prolong the working time of the paint.
   Keeping the cool colors on one side of the white and the warm on the other is a good way to organize. Whatever way you decide to layout your colors always do it the same everytime, so that you can get what you need fast.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Head Study: General Grant

    Does this character look familiar? I wasn't lucky enough to have the original pose for me but I did see someone taking on his likeness at the Civil War reenactment at Spring Mountain Ranch near Las Vegas last spring. These types of affairs are great for getting some wonderful reference photos to paint from. Whenever I see a renaissance faire etc. advertised I am in the car with my camera.
   I began this like the previous head study, with a general tone on the canvas. This time I used the shadow on the face as the guide to determine the general color because the majority of the face is in shadow.

   The colors I used were Cadmium Red Medium, Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, Viridian Green, Cobalt Blue and White. I started working around the image, massing in one color area against another, always asking myself is the shape darker or lighter than what it's next to?  Is the color warmer or cooler? Everything is relative and depends on what it is next to in order to appear as it does. This can go a long way in your freedom to manipulate something the way you want it. For instance if I wanted his face to look really red, I would surround him with a green (the compliment) background.

  Going into the shadow shape on the face, it's a matter of breaking it up in to subshapes, going one shade darker in the crevices with a mixture of Alizarin Crimson, Terra Rosa and Viridian. Getting the sense of sunshine is a matter of adding some warmth into every light struck area.

    He's getting tidied up somewhat here. This is the time I really need to slow down and ask myself if I have missed anything that is important or have included something that really doesn't add to the effect.

  A few minor details and that's it!