Archive for the ‘The School of Oops’ Category

The Value of Counterpoint

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

Last time I wrote about adjusting values to separate the planes between foreground and far distance, which helps to indicate atmospheric perspective.

I was reminded of another use of values as I worked in oils recently. I have used this same subject for several different studies, in a variety of media.  (For a variation of this subject in watercolor, see #140913w – Maritime Study in White, currently in the Landscape, Seascape, and Beaches gallery.)

150906.1---S-Margherita-Har

In my first go at this painting of Santa Margherita Harbor (above, #150906o) I left the masts the same value from top to bottom. A friend pointed out that I’d lost an opportunity to strengthen the image by introducing counterpoint in the masts. He was absolutely right.  I had entirely overlooked it.

The painting became much more interesting when I applied the principle of counterpoint, making the masts and guywires light against the dark hills, and darker against the lighter sky, as you can see below.

150906o Santa Margherita Harbor

 

Again, it was a very minor change that made a lot of difference. The medium matters less than the principles we apply.

Cleaning Up a Wishy-Washy Painting

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

While in Italy this past spring, I made a few quick pen-and-watercolor sketches in the mountains where we were staying. One, in particular, has continued to dissatisfy me because of its flatness. I understood the reason it happened, despite understanding the principles that would have prevented the problem: There was little variation in value, and thereby little differentiation of depth. This was caused by the weak washes I used while making the quick rendering. A thunderstorm had been rapidly approaching, and, in order to finish the sketch before rain reached my position, I didn’t take time on location to adjust the richness of the washes.  This was probably a wise decision because, even as I packed away my supplies, the first spatters of the deluge arrived.

I recently retouched the sketch to improve the atmospheric perspective. It didn’t require much–just a few darker areas in the foreground, made by using a stronger mixture of the same pigments. (When using transparent watercolor, the underlying white of the paper shows more easily through a thinner wash of pigment, creating a lighter value when compared to areas covered by a more dense mixture of paint).

I thought it was a good opportunity to show both versions here to illustrate the difference a change in value can make.

This is the original version.  When comparing the two versions, you will notice that the warm lighting in the first photograph affects the overall color cast of the painting, whereas in the revised photograph, there is greater difference between the warm and cooler tones, which also contributes to the sense of depth.  The colors of the actual painting fall somewhere between the colors of the two photographs.

150512m View of Licciana Nardi

The foreground is the same value (level of lightness or darkness) as the distant mountains. In fact, most of the foliage, village, and surrounding countryside are all virtually the same value, differentiated primarily by changes in hue. This becomes very apparent when we look at a black and white version, in which most of the image is all roughly the same level of gray.

150512m View of Licciana Nardi, b&w

The warmer hues and higher saturation (less muted colors) in the foreground help to suggest their closer proximity to the viewer, but because of the limited value range, the image still does not provide a strong sense of depth.

In the revised version below, the values in the foreground have been deepened by using denser pigment, especially in shaded areas, to make them appear closer to the viewer, while the more distant planes are allowed to remain lighter.  It’s still not great as a finished painting, but is more acceptable now as a quick reference sketch.

150512m---Licciana-Nardi-re

It’s a principle worth paying attention to … unless a thunderstorm is imminent.

Studying the Studio

Saturday, August 15th, 2015

Almost two months on crutches this summer has provided ample time for a reality check and a reevaluation of what’s important in an art studio.

Although I had expected that the enforced “downtime” would increase my art productivity, I quickly realized that my greatest productivity would not be in quite the areas I had anticipated.

The key word was accessibility.

I had considered my compact art studio (a repurposed guest bedroom) to be space efficient and accessible for storing and retrieving my supplies and finished work. Limited mobility, however, made me realize that it isn’t efficient to have to move furniture to access corner storage recesses, to move a standing easel to get into the matting closet, to use a stepladder to reach the top of the drying rack, or to relocate frames to open the taboret drawers. Oops.

The first change was to order a portable table easel, which I could use on any table (and adjacent to virtually any chair) in the house. In conjunction with that, I downsized my large watercolor palette to a more portable size and design. And, though I was able to produce some small pieces, I resigned myself to postponing such tasks as matting and framing until I could move around more freely.

My increased productivity actually appeared in areas I had previously relegated to secondary and “support” pursuits. These included researching and ordering supplies, planning marketing strategies, preparing my ebook, Elements of Great Composition, for publishing via KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing, through Amazon), and writing various marketing and publicity materials. In-person classes were replaced by on-line mentoring.

As I gradually become more mobile, I’m in the process of mentally redesigning my studio space. My goals include:
– Doing away with …any sub-professional materials that take up valuable space, …all sub-par work that cannot be redeemed, …general paper clutter, …and tchotchkes/gadgets/miscellany that serve no beneficial purpose.
– Relocating stock to increase ease of access.
– Maintaining inviting work areas to encourage spontaneous creativity.
– Creating an “inspiration” area to set up still life arrangements with controllable lighting.

The changes won’t all happen immediately. But unless I establish specific goals to strive for now, it’s very unlikely that my hopes of making the studio more user friendly will happen at all in the foreseeable future. Who was it who said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”? I can’t let crutches be my excuse,… or allow my excuses to become a crutch!

From drawing board to Kindle

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

Coming soon, for an e-reader near you…

The manuscript is finished and polished, and illustrations are in position. I’ve been struggling to get the files uploaded for Kindle, converted, and previewed to verify a satisfactory presentation, then tweaked, and uploaded again to go through the conversion and verification process again, and again, and again….

Will it eventually cause me to leave my perfectionist tendencies behind? Probably not. Though my increasing frustration level could definitely be a determining factor.

My concerns about why some of the chapter headings inexplicably justify to the full page width, while others don’t, may seem inconsequential to many readers. But, as a former book editor who has professionally designed numerous textbooks, I find it difficult to overlook major editorial glitches and glaring inconsistencies. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that these, like many other aspects of e-formatting, are out of my hands.

Other issues, such as image sizing and positioning (and even the opening page…despite having clearly designated a starting point), are apparently totally beyond my control. So, to paraphrase the serenity prayer, “God, grant me the perspective to accept the things I cannot change, perseverance to change the things I can, and the perception to recognize the difference.”

Having also attempted to verify the appearance on as many different Kindle and mobile devices as possible, I have been astonished at the differences that show up. And I’m afraid that most of these inconsistencies will be unavoidable, since they appear to be due to coding peculiarities introduced in the KDP transpositions rather than anything I do (or don’t do) in formatting the manuscript.

I do understand that page proportions, line length, and page length must change from one kind of device to another, resulting in different page breaks, depending on the reading device used. But I had supposed that there should be some logic and consistency in alignments, and in whether a line is justified (stretching out the words and sometimes individual letters to fit the page width) or simply be allowed to remain unjustified before breaking onto the following line, even within an otherwise entirely justified paragraph. I find neither rhyme nor reason (nor can I get any explanation) for it. It just is.

Similarly, while I have taken into account the fact that some devices display in only black and white, and have tried to select images that can be read well both in black and white and in color, I would have expected images to at least maintain their relative proportions rather than being elongated when translated into narrower formats such as iPhones. Most devices show the illustrations almost the full page width (though indented to match paragraph indentions). Some devices proportion them down to a somewhat narrower width (and, in my opinion, they look better for doing so). So, depending on how your device configures them, … well, that’s just what it’s going to be.

I also recognize that, in many cases, fonts, font sizes, and justification can also be adjusted by the viewer, so there’s little point in expecting them to follow a single specification. But I would have supposed that basic text fonts would still look like … well, at least similar text fonts across the board. I obviously still have a lot to learn.

As I attempt to resolve those issues that are within my control, I am anticipating a release date on August 1 for Elements of Great Composition, to be available exclusively through Amazon. It’s taking me a while to ensure that it’s being published in as professional a manner as possible.

In my opinion, KDP is better equipped to publish books incorporating straight, unillustrated text than books heavy in illustrations, like this one. I must say, though, that, despite the inherent peculiarities of e-publishing, self-publishing through KDP is much faster (if not always easier) than the old, traditional publishing process.

For my readers, an additional benefit of opting for KDP is that, particularly for a book like this, with a high proportion of illustrations in relation to text, e-publishing will allow me to keep the pricing much lower than I could ever have hoped to in a hard-copy format. As it is, I’ll be able to make it available at a great value –for less than the cover price of many monthly magazines. So stay tuned!

Remember the target date: August 1, 2015!

Approaching self-portraiture

Friday, May 1st, 2015

A lot of us cringe when we see photographs of ourselves because we don’t like how they depict us. Our image in a photograph is not what we’re used to seeing in a mirror because, the fact is, we’re not built entirely symmetrically. Any aspect that is asymmetrical appears to be exaggerated—doubly so—whenever we see it photographed.

Historically, when artists have drawn or painted portraits, they usually referred to a mirror image. Since photography has come onto the scene, we have had the choice of which to derive our self-portraits from.

150309p Self Portrait

I have chosen to use photographs for my own self-portraiture (including #150409p, above) for two reasons. First, a photograph records my features as most people are used to seeing me, so a mirror image would appear to them to be as “wrong” and distorted as a photographic image appears to me.

The irony is that when preparing for the self-portrait above, I shot the reference photograph in a mirror but forgot to reverse the image before drawing from it. So what you see here is actually the mirror image that I am more familiar with. It does help to be able to chuckle at our own mistakes!

The second reason I like to work from a photograph is that, working from a less familiar image, I am less inclined to succumb to vanity and either consciously or unconsciously “improve” certain features to make them appear more attractive to my own eye. This is because I am forced to accept the reality of the less familiar image as though it were an entirely separate person. If I should try to “correct” my appearance from a photographic image, I would almost certainly be distorting it away from the perception others have of my actual appearance.

I do hope I managed to refrain from succumbing to that temptation in the self-portrait shown here.

Of course, this raises the question of why I should go to the trouble of drawing or painting a self-portrait if I’m taking a photograph anyway. I’ll address that question next time.