Still Life Approaches
Starting a Painting
Become a Better Painter
Return to Stage 2
Student Values vs Artistic Values
Large Painting Workthrough
Still life Approaches
Too many still life paintings have a
kind of "typical subject" range. For many young painters,
this conflicts with their desire to be serious contemporary artists, they rarely see an inspired still life and they avoid the genre altogether. Still life painting doesn't have to be hackneyed, it can be brilliant and inspired. It has the potential to engage
the viewer on any level, beauty, symbolism, artistic aesthetic,
self revelation, political statement, etc.- just exactly as art
is intended, in a traditional or contemporary way.
Among the countless ways to approach the subject, I feel the two most
important are; what strategy you use to begin the painting
and what you choose for the subjects. First, what you choose; Although
you might find that many things you’d like to paint might
be considered “typical,” this in itself isn't a good reason to pass it up. You can also pass by the unexpected and uncommon subject/object by thinking that it might look like you are just trying to be different! The choice should be guided by what you want to paint, what interests you right now rather than how it will strike someone else. Choosing with this criteria develops an independent artistic profile. It is this process of choice that you will go through in any genre and it shouldn't be any different with still life. The second aspect;
you do have choices about how you begin. The most common approach
is to first make the choice of things/objects that will be the subject
of the still life- an object orientation. As figurative painters,
the subject/object choosing eventually becomes part of the process
anyway, but starting with the objects first, though a tried and
true method, can be a truly aggravating process to some. I include
myself. Looking through a viewfinder, arranging and rearranging,
adding and substituting, changing tones and colors, changing vantage
points, lighting, the changes and variables can quickly get overwhelming.
Sometimes it works very well, but when it doesn’t, it’s
good to know a useful alternative.
A nearly opposite approach to object orientation
is to begin with the underlying abstract qualities; the design,
the space division, the color patterning, etc., and following success
at that (doing something that pleases you), fitting the subject/objects
into the abstraction you have made. The abstract qualities of a
work of art, figurative or not, are a very big deal. They are vital
to the power of the piece and the exposition of the artist’s
aesthetics (for that painting). They can just as surely pull you
from across the room all by themselves as any subject would. The
painter Vuillard comes to mind. I found many of his paintings, because
of their compelling abstract qualities, would command my attention
before I knew what the subject was! In other words their qualities
were "stand-alone"and compelling without a subject. I find
many Andrew Wyeth's paintings also have this quality.
There are many mediums you can work in to
begin this way, and the approach can be everything in-between directly
making an oil painting (just about color and design), to other preliminary
mediums including collage. If you have never tried collage or abstract
painting, you’ll have to take it on faith that your aesthetics
will kick in and you will not have any problem deciding what you
like and what you don’t. Look through a body of work by Kurt
Schwitters for example: his abstract collages are the top of the
line -but you will prefer some over others. The reason for that is
simple and complicated at the same time. We know we have preferences
but can’t explain them fully, because we can’t access
the part of our mind that holds instincts.
Collages and abstract designs may not always
suggest a masterpiece, but it can get you off the dime and start
the creative process.
On April 13, the subject of our class was basic digital manipulation
using Adobe Photoshop CS. Thanks to Connie McArthur for her generous
gift of the digital projector!
Some follow-up notes: Displaying a live histogram on the monitor of your camera
before/while shooting is a time saver when it comes to making sure
of your exposure. It's an option on most digital cameras. On Nikon
it's not a menu option though, it's a button on the back that cycles
4 monitor displays. The disp button!
In 2005, in response to a question
about making yourself a better painter I wrote: Do a version of
the (oil) painting in a less controllable medium. Watercolor or
gauche would be good choices. A full year later, while trying to
make a watercolor part of my process, it dawned on me there was
yet another even more basic preparatory tool—one that many
of us skip past in our haste to start painting. To do a watercolor,
(most watercolors) you need to have a drawing on the paper first!
That’s not necessarily true with an oil painting, working from the general to the specific is about modifying shape areas. I have to admit
line drawing itself was disappearing from my process. Drawing is the
best thing you can do to make yourself a better painter! Draw your
subject or parts of the subject-before you start the painting.
Most of us have
some idea of what a drawing is supposed to be, or how it is
“supposed” to look. The kind of drawing I’m referring
to should not be confused with the one you might do on your canvas
or the ones you will be showing to anyone, passing judgment on,
or even saving. To explore the subject and to learn about how to
represent its different elements, make “working drawings”.
Plain pencil and paper. Line. Not tone. It seems to make sense to
many of us that if we can see the subject clearly, we understand
it without any problem. Sure. A working drawing can quickly test
that assumption and reveal exactly where more study is necessary.
I’m delighted when my drawing reveals I can represent something
of the subject with knowledge and understanding, and I’m as
surprised as anyone when the red flag goes up. This kind of drawing
is really a perfect way to get a heads-up on what needs extra attention—before
you begin. When you do begin painting, you’ll be drawing with
masses instead of lines- true. Color and tone can have such a dramatic
effect though, they sometimes disguise a lack of understanding in
the drawing. Invariably, when I spend time on working drawings,
there are fewer speed bumps! That’s a big deal because it
saves time and reduces stress. Taking some time to fully grasp the
shapes and proportions in your subject in the working drawing means
you’ll have a much better chance of representing it successfully
when the painting begins. Conversely, if you do nothing beforehand,
you will probably find yourself solving many additional shape problems
ON TOP OF the normal color, value, and design considerations. The
creative process is hard enough. Why waste time scraping off paint,
losing momentum, composure, and confidence if some of it can be
at it, let’s not gloss over the issue of self-confidence.
The worst outcome of getting stuck with one small problem after
another in every painting is that after a while, it starts to make
you skittish. It erodes your confidence. You become convinced that
only you have to work so hard to get it right: EVERYONE ELSE CAN
DRAW BETTER. Then, usually, as you buy into that, you stop investing
time in drawing. It only reminds you of your weaknesses (when it
might not be one)! This erosion of confidence has a negative impact
on your equilibrium as an artist. Talk about a vicious cycle!So how do you
get out of it? . . . First of all, get over being self-conscious
about the working drawings. No one need ever see these efforts at
problem-solving. Think of these scribbles as personal notation,
the same kind of preparatory trial-and-error you would undertake
to solve a puzzle, draft a letter, or sketch a plan for constructing
a piece of furniture. When you’re finished, these study efforts
are meant to be discarded. They don’t represent your artistic
skills to anyone and are not meant to be judged (especially not
by you). If you think of the preparatory drawings this way, you
can’t go wrong, even when you only partially solve a problem.
Anything you can understand before the painting is in progress saves
many headaches and a lot of time.
Finally, keep in mind that parts of the painting that go well as
a result of doing these drawings are the real proof that you CAN
draw. To remind myself TO draw and that I CAN draw, I keep a small
reminder pinned up in my studio that reads: “IT’S PART
OF THE SKILL-SET, KNUCKLEHEAD!”
1/19/06 Starting a painting
In starting a painting, it really helps to get something on the
canvas that you can count on. A few colors or values that are “nearly
correct” act as a guide with which we can compare other colors
and values. Most artists agree that getting down a few areas you
are fairly certain about really makes for a great block-in and
a great start.Students are anxious to get something in place that they feel confidant about,
but they always seem to choose to work on a part of the drawing
instead. I say “instead” because drawing is a different
part of the problem. Many students don’t realize that since
they are using paint anyway, it can be pretty tough to stick to
the drawing without starting to use colors and values to suggest
light and shadow. This can lead to a series of effects that push
the painting into the murky middle; and more times than not, by
the time you have the canvas covered and a whole relationship put
together, you have to change what you settled for in that beginning.
you start the block-in, think of every single part of the painting
as being equal in importance. It’s the whole effect that should
concern you, not making this part or that part better. At this stage
of the painting, the three elements that should concern you are:
1) The darkest area, 2) the lightest area (not dark accents or light
accents), and 3) if there is one, a high chroma color (a saturated
primary or secondary color). These elements are easy to identify,
they are generally more about value than color, and they can be
slightly changed if necessary at a later stage. But most importantly,
they play a huge role in the accuracy of the color/value guesses
that you make in that critical first stage of the block in—when
all parts of the painting “are still created equal.”
shape of your figure in the painting is related to where you put
that color/value, but it represents only a few of the many colors
and values you have to paint in to form the total relationship.
Once you have indicated the placement and size of the figure, get
those "nearly correct " parts established so you they
can play their role and help. Don’t worry about refining the
drawing until you have guessed and corrected all those different
parts! As I said, drawing is a different concern, it's part of the
development after you have the base effect established.For
more on this idea, see the 2/2/05 entry. It is a key issue as we
start painting from life.
class for 2006 began last week. In addition to painting the figure,
we discussed a general orientation to painting from life, most of
which involves becoming a student of nature and learning to see
more objectively. The classroom goal is to put a great deal of effort
into making the subject “look like it looks.” In attempting
that, we try to put ourselves into a frame of mind where discovery
is the motivation as well as the job at hand. What colors, values
and shapes do I need to make? What creates the visual excitement
here? How do I do it?
1/10/06 Painting from Life Orientation
know the classroom goal will not be the same as your artistic goal.
That’s why I’m urging you to put that aside for the
moment, in order to study and imitate nature. The benefits are numerous.
For example, in an attempt to make colors or values that better
describe what you see, you will expand your color-mixing ability. You will adopt the habit of an open mind (not assuming you already
know what colors or values it will take). These two top the list.
a blank canvas, it's very tempting to get in a big hurry and start
establishing some important individual part. This isn't a good plan.
You can never be certain about a value or color without considering
its visual context (all the adjacent colors and values). The surrounding
colors and values very greatly influence how any individual part
looks. When beginning the painting, first develop a simplification
where the general color areas all play against each other. You make
your best guess at these different areas, spreading them out in
roughly their right place and the canvas covered! When you can see
a right relationship of shapes, colors and values, even just as
simple areas, your ability to make corrections will be greatly enhanced.
Therefore, in the beginning of the painting, creating this inter-reltionship
(commonly called a block-in) is even more important than accurate
drawing. Some enjoy the process more when they work out more drawing
first, which is fine. You are attempting to get this early stage
set up so when directly compared, your painting looks the very much
the same as the subject (in general color and tone).
In painting from life outdoors, the moving light, sometimes
a moving target (!), and often the lack of time, take some getting
used to. It is definitely not easy. At first the difficulties
seem to heighten the sense of “risk”. The stress and
inconveniences—lugging gear, travel, weather and changing
light conditions—they are all part of what we learn to manage
in order to discover how something we see works on canvas. However, before
you add on the expectation that you will make something wonderful,
get in the frame of mind to play and discover. It will add many new possibilities
to what you might bring back for your efforts, whether it's a painterly rendition or the
collection of useful color notes to make a larger painting.
study nature to learn and expand. It’s not easy, but painting
from life skills help us find a way to translate
what we see.
If it doesn't appear to work on the canvas with the first guesses, we apply a habit of trying to be more objective and start to test other possibilites. Practice does pay off in this area. More than the results, the value of being flexible and adventuresome right has incalculable value.
It builds artistic
independence and a confidence in your ability to solve problems. That alone makes it worth the effort.
I'd like to replace my previous comments on beauty with something
more substantial. Here it is- a book on the subject with a bibliography
that is amazing in itself!. "Beauty ;The Invisible Embrace"
by John O'Donohue. Bob Wornall, a most generous friend, mentioned
it early this week and then brought me a copy the next day! Reading
the introduction, which is terrific, I began to realize how far-reaching
the topic is and how many brilliant people have devoted themselves
to writing about it. Beauty is a subject that many of us, to an
extent we probably haven't realized, have spent most of our lives
trying to focus on. I feel that at least the introduction of the
book should be required reading for me and every artist (of any
kind) because John O'Donohue has done some extraordinary thinking
and writing. About beauty. There is a sample chapter at his website;
4/20/05 Student Values vs Artistic Values
In the last two weeks, a discussion (argument) has begun about whether the goals of "painting from life" in the classroom is a high standard which should be applied to one's own painting or if your individual artistic goal is the higher standard. There were some feelings expressed
that letting go of a true fidelity
to nature would be tantamount to blessing whatever anyone
wanted to do. Creativity, self expression, and interpretationshould all be considered smoke and mirrors. The implication is that artists who take pride in their creative and interpretive work just haven't developed the skills. That assertion also tends to imply skill is the ultimate virtue and virtuoso painters are also the greatest artists. If it were true and the greatest possible
artistic achievement was to make the subject look absolutely
the way it looks, then we would have
put down our brushes and paint long ago and picked up cameras and
videocams instead. They do a much better job of recording
the way things really look. Art, painting specifically, derives
it's magic from suggesting and then allowing the participation
of the viewer. Ask any artist you admire, especially if he or she
is a naturalist with considrable painting from life skills.
They all agree. No matter how strong the commitment to
the subject or reference in the beginning, at some point you stop trying
to making it look right and begin to pay attention to the continuity, design and emphasis. Without the artistic
interpretations, it is just a skillful life study. A point of view and imagination are not substitutes for skills, they play vitally important roles for the artist.
3/24/05 Return to Stage 2
Portrait painting from life and studying "painting from life" are exactly the same thing..... only you are not going to get paid for it! As we know from biographies of John Singer
Sargent, some of his sitters probably thought they might be
posing for quite a bit longer than they'd hoped. Sargent had many portrait
subjects that he found difficult and would often rub out his efforts at the end of a day's session. He wanted to characterize the
sitter accurately but with the least amount of information.
When we see his work on portraits, no matter what the actual number of days it took, we find it looks effortless. He had a very clear idea of what he wanted and he obviously was not hesitant about beginning over when he fell short of his goal. Since much of the time in class you are doing the same thing a portrait painter would, doesn't it seem reasonable that you would
also have to rub off what you have from time to time? Because
you have tried to include too many facts, part of the drawing is off or the color is wrong? I rarely see anyone rubbing anything off, people just keep adding and adding until the end of class. And the bits they are working on get smaller and smaller with absolutely no hope of changing the basic error. Have you stopped
looking at the whole thing? Are working one part to death?
Let's agree that if Sargent had to start over sometimes, we will too.
to take paint off or put your work back into an earlier stage of development is an important part of mastering the medium. It's the only
intelligent way to restate or correct some basic flaw. It's also the only way to
apply that good information that you have discovered (maybe by doing it wrong first), to give yourself
another chance. You have to be brave and start trying it when that something that is bothering you isn't getting fixed.
3/16/05Becoming a Better Painter
One night, years ago, I asked a respected friend what could I do to get
better? He was also a painter but ten years older. There was no answer.
He knew I was working hard on drawing and painting fundamentals. I guess
he didn't want to say," Just work harder". He shrugged. The disappointment
passed, but if someone asked me that question now, some thirty years later,
this is what I would say. Try and adopt a medium or two that are by their
nature less capable of capturing full color and value. The perfect example
to use would be a woodblock print. ('ala Gustave Bauman) There are many
others but the point is this; doing an oil painting is like writing a novel
without an editor. It's really open-ended. By comparison, doing a woodblock
print forces you to make an enormous reduction of facts. You must limit
yourself to JUST ENOUGH. There is tremendous value in trying to do this.
If you can't get a handle on the essentials of what you are attempting to
portray, your results will be very poor, without character. Working toward
success in a "limited" medium gives a renewed understanding
of what the term "essential" means, why we draw to discover, and why understanding
always beats "faking" it. Our best painters are not considered
great because they render details better than everyone else. They've built details upon a solid design and fine drawing. Working in other mediums helps you understand the great value
of "just enough". Simplicity is an important addition to your fundamental artistic understandings.
Large Painting Workthrough
Wouldn't it be great if we could work from life on any subject we wanted
for as long as we wanted? I don't work fast enough sometimes to complete even
a small painting in the time that's actually available. On Thursday last
week I answered a question about making a large painting in the studio by
describing what I do. It's difficult to imagine doing a large painting
subject when you are wondering if you have a good enough life study reference
or adequate photographic reference. I get worried I will make a huge investment in time and end up with nothing to show for it. Over the years, many paintings of mine went south halfway
or three-quarters through and I had to start the whole thing again. The
reason was poor preparation. I didn't have any idea what color areas I 'd
have problems with, I didn't work out part of the design well enough, and
many other difficulties that all resulted in wasted time
and wasted materials. I changed that by dedicating some time beforehand
to a work-through piece. It is a painting the same size as the one I want
to do. Working fast, no worries about ruining this part or that, scraping
and repainting as changes are required, it is dedicated purely to "giving
it a go". I discover quite a bit about the upcoming problems; a lot
of how NOT to do it, color ranges and tonal coordination- you name it. Best
of all, I can see a rough version of what it looks
like in paint. It takes away some of my hesitancy to start the actual painting and
in some cases I can just use that version because the gain doing it again would fall into a catagory of diminishing returns. A practical detail; if the painting is very large, using the classic method of upsizing keeps relative proprtions easy to establish in a short amount of time. Draw a grid on your final drawing or photo reference, draw the same grid on your empty canvas. You can quickly rough in where things will be.
2/24/05 Subject Matter
Having introduced and explained the why’s and wherefore’s of "painting from life", it's time to mix in a few thoughts on things that concern the artist part of you. It is the idea that your artistic development should advance as your skills advance. Artistic development is the more important part because it’s the process of taking responsibility for the what and why of your subject matter. It is a difficult process because there’s no way to know for sure if things are going in the right direction, there’s no one to reassure you. Given the inherent self doubt, the lack of a fully formed viewpoint in the beginning, getting “good” looks a lot easier. It’s natural to want to work on skills until a certain level of expectation is met, but some stay at it even when the diminishing returns signal “go on to something else”. If you are in your early 20s, there may be time to burn, but in our class, most are just recently finding time to be serious students again, turning professional or already professional. Time is a critical factor. We realize working on skills etc. is a quest for the rest of our lives…keep drawing and painting. It seems we never get where we'd like to be, but we do improve with the effort we put into it. Given that, putting off dealing with artistic development is ill advised.
The most down-to-earth way of understanding what I mean by becoming an artist is this: you must begin to pay attention to what you want to paint because the process you are involved in is sharing something with others. As in all the Arts. Those "what" choices are near the heart of you- what has meaning for you. The idea that this is not necessary or important is a strange one. There is no catagory of things in your life where you don't make a choice, from the books you read to the clothes you wear. All the experiences of your life, the events you participated in as well as the what you were taught, influenced you in some way. They created a sense of direction for the choices you make. In art, think of it as aesthetics. Yours is unique. Just exercise it as you do for other things. This is one technique. Notice thoughts which inspire you. Pay attention to what you enjoy and stop to record it. Find a way to keep these mental notes on yourself from evaporating, from being lost in the shuffle. A moment, a place, an emotion, a theory, an opinion, whatever; it provides a connection to what in the future might be a painting- the bits of inspiration come from many sources. They will keep coming and they are unique to you. There is an evolution to it. Start a list and keep adding to it. It's likely that many of those inspirations will eventually lead to the most important paintings you will do.
Since many of the bits you put on the list will be considerably less than fully formed ideas for a painting, it's natural that the concept of idea development be the next part of the process. Using the "next action" technique (originating and well explained in the book "Getting Things Done" by David Allen), each idea will have a small next step that you can take to keep it growing towards a painting. Go back to this place, call someone, remember that peonys bloom in June, put money away for a plane ticket to …..some might have a few actions and others many. I gave some specific examples in class last week, but it's easy to understand that it takes a series of small steps to get from any idea to an actual painting. Think about putting a post-it-note next to each idea on the list and write the next action you can take. It might seem this is the last thing your life needs - another list. At first. But the inspirations that trigger your artistic nature and a method to hold and advance them is far from “just” another list. The way to distinguish yourself artistically, among your peers or in "Gallery World" is to become involved in the process of finding out what the authentic you really is . The ideas can be vague at first, but in time, they sort themselves out and are essentially the content of the dictum "To thine own self be true." Artistic development is part automatic and part conscious attention. More than you know, you are remembered for the choice of subject you make. Artistic development has a starting point and very much like the skills, you can expect improvement when you continue to invest effort.
STARTING THE PAINTING Here is one good way to begin a painting
from life. First, with pencil, charcoal or a brush, make some marks on the
canvas that show the general proportions of the subject or the way you have
planned the composition. You should attempt to suggest the major divisions
rather than being precise. Next, starting with the the easiest colors to
guess right, start to scumble in your best guess for each of these different
divisions. The easiest colors to guess correctly are the darks, the very
lights, and the high chroma colors. Two good reasons for starting with those
are; by comparison, subtle colors and middle values are harder to guess
right against the white canvas, and, once the highs and lows of the value
scale are on the canvas, you have quickly established some of the most important
parts. After those key areas, keep making your best guess at the color for
each of the other areas until you have coved all the unpainted parts. I
keep saying guess because you really can't accurately judge the value and
color until all the major parts exist in an overall realtionship. They
all play on each other, color against color and value against value. There
is no correctness without the color next to it being correct also. The next; part
of this two-part phase is to go back and re-evaluate with "directpcomparison"
all those guesses, now that they actually are in a working relationship.
Start with the important ones you established first. Foran example, we'll
use a high chroma color. When you can see your guess and the actual color
side-by-side, you can easily detect if your guess for that color is more
intense, less intense, if the color shifts a little in hue, or if the value
is lighter or darker. Change it as indicated! When that has been adjusted,
you can move on to another element and compare that. And change it if needed,
or not. You never try to establish a subtle color until you have put all
the easy and obvious corrections in first. The subtle areas are more difficult,
they need all the help you can offer around them. I know it's hard to stay
with it at this point. The natural inclination is to move on to the head
or center of interest as soon as the canvas is covered. No problem -if you
are familiar with the color range and the light. What I'm suggesting is
this; a good method for painting from life is one with which you can develop
good facts and color information from subjects and light conditions that
are new to you. With a good method, you can explore subjects that you might
never have had the courage to attempt, a good thing for an artist. If you
keep focused on evaluating most of your guesses and correcting them, if
you keep in mind that every part is equal at this stage and there are no
important and unimportant areas, you will establish fairly rapidly a foundation
of colors and values that you can easily see produce the general visual
effect. I think that getting a generally correct foundation down in the
early stages of a painting is priceless. It is a confidence builder with
which you can move into the middle phases of development and really have
your best shot at nailing down that "important" part.
P.S. Scumble means to spread a full bodied paint thinly, without solvent
or medium. A semi-opaque layer results.
"What do I mix to make THAT color?" Let's face it, the question
never goes away. It's; the challenge in every painting from start to finish.
We use our experience to formulate each best guess, then test it and modify
it as needed. In the beginning, some method of sorting out color mixing
is essential. By now, you have all had some training, either from a class
or a book, but when I hear the question asked at the League, I feel it's
important to pass on the single most valuable thing I took from art school.
That was the great color charts I learned how to make at the American Academy
of Art in 1963. It was a pre-requisite to make them all before you could
start painting in Mr. Mosby's class. They showed the interaction of colors
we used on our "Rubens" palette. Cad. yellow, cad. red, yellow
ochre, terra rosa, alizarin c., burnt sienna, viridian, cobalt blue, ult.
blue and black. A complete discription of the whole process, including illustrations
of the charts, is covered by Richard Schmid in his book; "Alla Prima".
(Chapter 7, "Light and Shadow" pages 130-137) He also studied
at the Academy with William Mosby. After they were made, you had a wonderful
visual dictionary that you could look at to help figure out a simple color
combination either to correct a guess that went wide of the mark or as a
starting point for some difficult spot.; The combinations shown on the charts
couldn't cover everything possible, but what they did show covered a very
wide spectrum and they were easy to recreate. Not counting the white, they
were always only two colors mixed together. We'll take some time to talk
about their use in the very near future.
In last week's class, a reproduction of a portrait painting by Modigliani
showed the use of many small and different colors in the face. These different
spots of color, in different areas, reflect tone value differences, local
color differences, and a relative; warm against cool" color difference.
They are a vital part of revealing form and creating the illusion of real
light. Painting "from life" is when all these things are well
within our grasp to see. While they are apparent, we try to record them.
our classroom, there is a noticeable warm and cool temperature difference
to the lights and shadows on our model. Our incandescent light source produces
warm light and the flourescent (ambient) light produces cool light. Not
unlike the effect of sunshine with blue skies. The power of this play of
warm colors against cool colors, part of the excitement we can see in the
three-dimensional world, was shown to add an extra dimension of luminosity
to figurative painting. (a two-dimensional world) It was the work of the
Impressionists, Monet and Cezanne in particular, that demonstrated how powerful
this "warm against cool" color could be. Though we know about
it and can learn to observe it, it is still an enormous challenge to try
and record some of those subtle color changes in oil paint!
The two most important methods to use in "painting from life"
are (1.) a direct comparison and (2.) viewing the painting from some distance.
In the book "On the Art of Drawing" by Robert Fawcett there is
an illustration that shows how direct comparison is set up. (In Chapter
4. Drawing Naturally, p. 48-49) When you turn your canvas directly towards
the subject, you can see both almost at the same time.This allows you to
easily notice differences in shape, color and tone. Since the goal of our
classroom work is to paint it the way it looks, this method is a great one.
The second method is equally useful. Getting back about 12-15 ft. from the
painting, in a position where you can still see a direct comparison, you
can visually test whether the corrections you made were actually successful.
It's easy to see if they were or not from that distance and very difficult
to access when you are close. Getting back has many other benefits. The
most important of these is that from a distance, all the attachment to strokes
and broken color effects are taken out of the equation. It forces you to
look at the general impact and avoids the temptation to assume the painting
is wonderful because of certain accidental qualities. In the first stages
of a painting, from life, these techniques really keep us on track in telling
the truth about how it looks. They help establish the solid foundations
necessary for further development of the painting and the artistic expression.
Last night, the subject was about getting "digital reference"
back in perspective. I agree, it is a huge advantage over conventional photography
to be able to manipulate our photo reference and generate useful extra information.
But, in the last couple of months, I've seen young painters who are so absorbed
in generating corrected flat reference and so enamored of their digital
gear, they abandon making on location paintings or studies. Because of the
inconvienence and occassional less than satisfying results, it must be tempting
to get out on location less frequently (now) or not at all (later). I strongly
emphasize again that the painting should start with the best information
possible about the color and value. That comes directly from your subject.
If you ask yourself when was the last time you worked the process by doing
the first version from life, and you can't remember, I'd like to point out
that in attempting world-class results, it's not smart to skip the most
important step of all. Don't just give "painting from life" lip
service. Get out there, get your gear squared away, and get the good information.
You will gain more in the long run to make this a viable part of your painting
process. Without it, there is a huge uncertainlty factor, another topic
Our "Painting From Life" class has started for 2005. Painting
from life as I use the term, is any subject painted directly from nature.
Developing skills and procedures for this enables you to gather information
from a source that far exceeds what a photographic or digital reference
could provide. It means your ability to see those inter-relationships of
color and value, as well as your artistic interpretation, can be much better
informed. It is the ultimate opportunity for discovery and study, the best
opportunity to sort out visual information. Being there and seeing it is
a rich experience, but representing it in paint is our goal. On location
or working in class, it's important to take each subject as a new problem
to be solved and not assume you know what will work. I believe the extent
to which you do this determines the quality of your representation. The
class will focus on that primary goal, to improve your ability to represent
nature as you see it. Artistic interpretation will become secondary, to
concentrate on the fundamental skills that will eventually enable it.
The question of how to keep the oil paint on a palette from drying up or skinning
over between classes comes up each year. No one asks about keeping their painting
from drying or becoming unworkable. The perfect solution for both; put it in a
freezer. I used to make that suggestion for palettes, knowing that almost everyone
could put it in their refrigerator freezer. One year though, Dianne Massey/Dunbar
took the idea to it's logical extreme and let me know that she was doing it with
paintings! Of course this meant she was making room in a freezer chest or had
a freezer especially for paintings. One day last year I decided to try it because
if it worked well, I could imagine some real benefits, if not, I had frozen food
storage. I bought an average sized chest freezer. It will hold a 30x30 easily.
And it did what I’d hoped it would. I don't think the importance and value of
this piece of equipment can be overestimated. We would all like to work on a painting
untill we finish it, but it's difficult if not impossible sometimes. The reverse
is true, sometimes you need a day or two away from a painting to get a fresh eye
but you can't imagine trying to battle back into a dried up painting. Because
I put the painting I'm working on in the freezer every night, I never get stressed
anymore about the painting getting gummy or dry when I have to take care of other
things and can't paint. When I do get back to work on it, after a day or a few
days, it's virtually the same as when I stopped. Still open. You can imagine the
possibilitiies for your own work schedule. The reason? Molecular activity decreases
as the temperature decreases. That means if it is in the freezer, the oxidation
of the oil is slowed down to a rate where it would take three weeks or more to
dry as much as it would in 24 hours at normal temperatures.
Bad news dept. We still need to shoot transparencies of our paintings for use
in print media. In a telephone conversation yesterday with Susan Frolicher
of Southwest Art Magazine, I asked her why the most wonderfully done, large digital
file of a given painting- corrected by the artist, is not a better source for
a magazine than a 35mm slide. The reasons, including the fact there aren't standards
in place for digital comparable to the ones for existing technology, all point
to getting the old camera out again. So, go buy some slide film, and face the
reality. All the great options you have in digital will still be useful
for the web and for preparing reference. A 35mm slide is still what the print
If you need to make a bigger print for your photo reference and you see your resolution
heading down under 50 as you try, the good news is upsampling is OK now! It was
discouraged in the past. "......we find that we can generally upsample digital
captures to at least 200% with a single shot camera.....and still get very acceptable
results." p. 563 Real
World Adobe Photoshop CS. That means in the image size dialog box, with
resample checked, you can simply double the resolution (or better) to get that
bigger print instead of trading off on the resolution.