Archive for October, 2017

Casting new light on the subject

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

One of my goals for October is to study the effect of unusually colored light sources.  Such study helps train my eye to see the real colors before me—not just the local color we expect to see but how that color is influenced by the color of the light.   The colors within shadows and reflections are also affected by the unusual color of the light, as well.

"What Shell I Paint"  (watercolor, 10"x8", #171001w)

“What Shell I Paint” (watercolor, 10″x8″ #171001w)

One of the studies I made was of a still life in whites with warm, earth-tone influences.  I used a red bulb to illuminate it so that even highlights on the white satin shone as a pale pink.   The shadows were strongly influenced with turquoise—the complement of the red light cast by this specific bulb.  But because most of the elements of the still life were reflective, bouncing the red light back into the turquoise shadows, the colors of the light and shadow combined into variations of lilac.

Not surprisingly, the red light emphasized the warmth of the warm color spots on the subject, enriching its appearance and enhancing its appeal, while the cool shadow areas provided a contrasting foil.  Incorporating some muted yellows and warm browns helped balance the color harmony, which could otherwise have appeared too “sweet.”

Practice and Trying To Do Our Level Best

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

It’s important to understand artistic principles, but when it comes to painting, the rubber meets the road in the application phase.  There’s a lot to keep in mind in planning and preparing to paint a composition. But even when it’s carefully planned, the execution of a painting is another matter entirely:  Can we stick to the plan?  Can we maintain the dynamic balance as the composition develops?  Can we keep the value range where we intend it?  Does the edgework enhance the sense of perspective?  Is the level of detail appropriate in each area of the composition?  Are hue and saturation variations used to their greatest effect?  …

There will almost certainly be changes made during the painting process.  Some will be intentional; others will be inadvertent.  Regular practice will help an artist recognize and identify which variances are improvements and which are detrimental to the work and should be re-addressed.

Practice is immeasurably valuable to a painter.  Purely mental exercises, from observing and making mental note of the physical world around us, to recognizing how those elements may be used to develop an artistic concept for a composition, are a form of practice.  I find that careful observation is an invaluable skill that can be practiced at all hours, with or without pencil or brush in hand.  And envisioning concepts for paintings can be practiced continually as we talk with other people, become aware of world events, or recognize personal passions.

But active, more concrete practice is crucial both to instill artistic principles in our minds and to incorporate them into our planning stages.  This includes rough sketches, selection of media, value studies, palette planning, color studies, and other carefully considered preliminary work before the final composition is undertaken.

Physical practice is equally crucial for training our intellects to either follow or intentionally deviate from the plans we have made and to train our hands to manipulate our tools masterfully to successfully execute our intentions.

Following our plans necessitates practicing ongoing comparisons among the subject, the preliminary plans and studies, and the ultimate composition.  Even if the subject is not literal but imagined, we must have a clear understanding of the “subject in kind”—that is, a solid anatomical or mechanical understanding of the subject’s form and appearance and how it would move if it were literal.

Training our hands includes practice in developing application techniques and the gradual discovery of our natural style, creating specific types of marks with our implements—whether brushes, palette knives, fingers, or other tools—and in understanding, anticipating, and controlling the consistency and working qualities of our media with all the variations we choose to incorporate.

None of it is easy.  It all takes time and ongoing effort to develop a working understanding, and to exceed and surpass our current level’s “best.”  But it’s worth it.

Am I doing my “level best”?  I wish I could say that I always manage to.  But though I welcome the challenge to get there, I rarely fully succeed and often become discouraged in the attempt, because however far I get, “better” is just a step beyond.  And the better I get, the more difficult the struggle becomes to exceed my current level’s best.