Posts Tagged ‘gray’


Sunday, May 1st, 2011

110302 Ceiling Fan

I recently played with a value study in shades of gray (actually a blend of brown madder and indigo) to capture the push-pull of a white fan against a white ceiling in the dusky half-light of early morning.

What is “push-pull” in art? It is the use of color, value, intensity, and shape to fool the eye into perceiving an object as being farther or nearer than the actual surface on which it is depicted. By extension, we also perceive the object as being farther or nearer than other elements surrounding it.

The artist Hans Hofmann painted in abstracts to explore the concept of push-pull. His idea was that by applying a push-pull technique in non-representational art, visual tension could still be created, providing a sense of depth, movement, and spacial relationships on a flat canvas. He accomplished this through juxtaposition of various colors and shapes, allowing their relationships to provide a satisfying challenge to our senses.

We perceive certain values and intensities of color as being nearer or farther from us in relation to other values and intensities around them. Similarly, because of our life experiences in this multi-dimensional world, we come to perceive one shape as appearing to be in front of or behind another.

Although Hofmann painted in abstracts, the same push-full concept and techniques can be applied to representational work as well, as I have done in “Ceiling Fan” (#110302). My intent in this case was not to explore the push-pull of color or intensity but solely of value.

Next time I’ll show an example of push-pull in a full-color painting.

Atmospheric Effects

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Misty Morn on Gator Alley

As I drove down Alligator Alley (a long, straight stretch of I-75 that crosses the Everglades) one misty morning, I was intrigued by two things, in particular. The first was the way the foliage appeared layered by graduated gray values, separated by expanses of thin haze. The second fascination was the way the light and shade dappled the chain-link fencing, which is used to keep animals off the highway. I felt challenged to depict the patterning through watercolor.

One problem posed by my composition (#101105, “Misty Morn on ‘Gator Alley,” shown above) was the sky. The sun was strong and still comparatively close to the horizon. The light was bright enough, despite the haze, to cast clear shadows along the fence and to bring out brilliant colors in the grass. Yet the sky was not altogether clear and blue. Although I incorporated a pale cobalt wash to provide a hint of hue, it wasn’t enough to break up the vast expanse in the upper left corner of the painting. I didn’t want to depict a strong sky color or delineate clouds, which would have belied my intent, and since the haze itself was actually a thin, low-lying cloud. So I introduced a bird to break up the area and to provide a sense of “life” and motion.

The sheer simplicity of the composition is much of what makes it succeed.

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.