Posts Tagged ‘background’

A Limited Palette

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Wave to Me Frondly

Viewers may wonder how a painter can create a color-rich scene without using a palette overflowing with paint choices. The key to successfully using a limited palette is in choosing a few primary-based paints that work well together and that blend to create the supplemental secondary and tertiary hues needed.

In “Wave to Me Frondly” (#110108), I used only four paints–three primaries and a secondary color: new gamboge, indigo blue, brown madder, and sap green. (Despite it’s name, “brown madder” actually is considered a red.) All four of these colors have a warm cast, which helps to convey the warmth of the sun-lit scene.

I began with a background wash of a mixture of new gamboge and brown madder, varying the proportions as I washed them across the paper so the background wouldn’t be all the same flat blend. Most of the fronds are painted with a blend of brown madder and sap green, with some indigo blue added in the darkest areas. A pale wash of pure indigo tints the highlights on the fronds, and an extra bit of new gamboge brightens the sun-kissed spots on the leaves. I dropped in some extra areas of brown madder at the end of the painting process to help balance the nearly-finished painting. But no additional paint colors were needed.

If you like this discussion of paints, you might also be interested in reading “A Palette to My Taste” (December 1, 2010),“Staying Out of the Mud” (March 1, 2011), and “Selecting Paints” (to appear later this year).

Reworking erroneous alterations

Friday, October 15th, 2010

When a painting is “finished” enough to be given a title and inventory number, it may not have really been completed at all. I often have second … and third … and fourth … and even more … thoughts about a painting long after it has been set aside as complete. Usually, any subsequent changes I make are based on careful evaluation and are judiciously executed. Occasionally, however, I come to regret my alterations.

090105 Fritzie in Profile, version 1

In this early example of my work, the original painting (#090105) of a grey schnauzer, Fritzie, was largely pastel toned. I went against my better judgment and darkened the background to a mid-tone to comply with someone else’s suggestion. Although the dog’s white eyebrows show up better against the contrasting background, the painting lost its luminosity with the loss of the light background. The dog’s coat looks duller, and the painting as a whole appears flatter.

090105 Fritzie in Profile, version 2

My main problem with this painting was that I didn’t trust my own style and interpretation of the subject. Instead, in changing it, it lost its magic. To punch up the color, I would have done better to darken and enrich the colors in the dog’s coat rather than changing the background.

I decided that the overall appearance could be improved by increasing the contrast. I began by darkening the background even further, beyond its current mid-tone.

090105 Fritzie in Profile, version 3

I also increased the color in the dog, darkening the collar, eyes, nose, and interior of the ear, adding some gamboges (yellow) to areas of the coat, and introducing some of the background hues into the beard. The darker background colors seemed too intense for the gray dog, so I mottled them with sprays of water, which moderated the values and added texture.

Alterations aren’t always beneficial. Whenever I realize I’ve goofed big-time, my options are to (1) leave it as it is, cut my losses, and start over from scratch or (2) keep tweaking it to try to salvage what I can. Did the alterations I made succeed? For what I was attempting to do—return focus to the dog and increase contrast in the picture—I feel that my efforts succeeded fairly well. On the other hand, no changes I make at this point will reclaim the luminosity of the original version that I spoiled by fiddling with the background in the first place.

What does a new subject matter?

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Cayman Cockerel

I’ve been having fun painting various animals this spring, including this colorful rooster.  His lines and blend of colors intrigued me, so I was inspired to reproduce his likeness in watercolor.  Typical of birds throughout Grand Cayman, I found this one strutting his stuff in Hell.  (Yes, that really is the name of a village there.)

When I paint the same subject repeatedly, I tend to get into a rut, using the same techniques and similar colors.  When I try a new subject like this one, however, it’s easier to break out of that rut to try new techniques, experiment with color or lighting, and give myself a chance to really grow as an artist.

In this painting I used more wet-in-wet painting technique than I have had a tendency to do in the past.  I didn’t entirely abandon my wet-on-dry technique, incorporating it for the sake of feather texture.  I also used masking fluid in some areas and found it beneficial to lift some of the color, particularly in the tail and wing feathers and to soften the edges of the masked areas.  But I also took the opportunity to play with the foreground a bit, splattering it with various colors of paint, echoing those used in the bird, to simulate gravel.  The background wash has also been lightly sprinkled with clear water to add texture and interest to the understated haze.

Like many pictures I’ve taken of animals, the photos did not come out exactly as I would have preferred, but I was able to make necessary adjustments for the sake of the painting.  The bird’s body was incorporated from one photograph; the face and wattle (resized to fit) were from another.

What is your background?

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

In order to feature the two figures in “The Challenge,” I decided to minimize the background, which, in the reference photograph, was a rather busy room.  I tried the same composition using both a dark (#090704) and a light (#090706) background.  The resulting difference was dramatic.  (This item is categorized under The School of Oops not because it was a mistake but because I learned a great lesson from my experimentation.  You’re invited to comment on the “lab” results.)

The Challenge 1

The dark background draws attention to the playing board, lit by a glaring, bare bulb almost directly overhead, which also fades the players’ features into shadow.  Focus is on the board and the impending move.  The question posed is “Who…or what… is challenging whom?”

The Challenge 2

The light background, on the other hand, draws attention to the two players, rather than to the board, and suggests a higher level of ambient light that reflects more color into the players’ faces.  The play here is only a moment away from that in the other version as the player in blue now contemplates the board.  Is he reassessing the position into which he’s just placed his opponent, or is he evaluating his own predicament?

Not only does the background I chose for each version affect how the viewer interprets the scene, but it affected my own approach and response to the subject matter as I painted.  My treatment of the details in the two versions is somewhat different, partly because of the tone set by the different backgrounds.

I would be interested to hear comments regarding your preference of the two versions and why you feel about each the way you do.