Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Little Artistic License

I'm taking a break from other topics to just do a brief explanation of how I might find a painting
in a photo reference from a scene.

This is a photo taken by a friend of mine, Tom.
He sent it to me in the hopes that I might paint it, and it was such a great photo, I knew right away that it had good potential.
I loved the warm colors, and the great value contrast between the boy and the dark tree shapes behind him. I have blurred this photo a little to reduce all the tiny detail. This is just less distracting for me, and I can focus on the larger shapes.
I didn't think this needed a great deal of editing, but I did see one change I wanted to make right away. Here's a few plans, drawn in Photoshop.

In our western culture, we read from left to right. This includes paintings. We tend to enter a painting on the left and read across. So, if the center of interest comes right away, the eye stops there and has no desire to continue into the painting. The boy and boat came "too soon" into the journey in the painting, and I knew that I needed to move them.
Also, I felt that the weeds which run across the bottom of the picture could be arranged to create some directional lines to further lead the eye into the painting. Additionally, and this is a small thing, but the boy's head and the tree behind him have an unfortunate alignment, and one of them needs to move over! Look for these kind of things as you design your painting, and make intelligent choices to avoid them being a distraction in the finished work. finally I cropped the whole thing down to concentrate on the boy.

Here is the finished painting. You can see that I moved the boat over further to the right. It is definitely the focus of the painting, both by color and value contrast. To get there, I opened up the water a bit at the bottom of the painting, and the line of the water lilies now lead the eye up toward the boat, rather than blocking the way into the scene. The few brighter tree trunks catch the eye, leading it then to the dead stump, and then back to the boy. This kind of circular journey keeps the viewer engaged in the painting, and is a good thing to aim for.

That's it! Just a few design changes! Artistic license? Nature seldom, if ever, hands us a perfect composition, so these decisions we make are what really creates art out of what we see in front of us. Beware of trying to be too literal and copy what you see - design it!!

Monday, October 12, 2009

What Color is White, part 3: Temperature

We've been talking about how to approach painting white objects. Rather than just focusing on the local or native color of an object (whether it is white, or any other color), we will want to
ask ourselves some questions to help us observe what is really going on with light, shadow, value, color temperature, etc. The third question is:

3. Is the color warmer or cooler than what it is adjacent to?

To really observe what kind of color note to put in your painting, look at how the object in question relates to its environment. Just as the value needs to be evaluated, so does the color temperature. Is it warmer? Cooler? White objects, whether they be part of a still life, or in a landscape, even though they are "white" can still be either a warm white or a cool white. White objects in particular can have really subtle differences and it can take careful observation to see these nuances. The teapot in the painting above is really a creamy white, with some imperfections in the glaze, being quite old. The bowl was more of a bluish white. It was very subtle in real life, and you may not be able to tell from this photograph.

And another question is:
4. Is it getting reflected light? Any remotely smooth surface is almost certain to have some reflected light if there is bright illumination. This happens outdoors just as much as indoors. The shadow side of a white house can have rich, beautiful color reflected back up onto it, from grass, or flowers, or anything else that might be nearby.
The teapot above has reflected light from both the bowl, which shows up as a slightly bluish reflection, and the tabletop itself and grapes, which add a reddish glow to the underside of the spout. Below is the painting and I have edited out those reflected lights. The shadow still reads as a shadow, but the teapot no longer relates to the rest of the painting - without the reflected lights, not only is a chance for beautiful subtle color variation missed, but the unity of the panting suffers as well.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What color is white, part 2 (with cows)

I promised cows, so here she is. What a lovely lady. She is really a great example to illustrate the point of our second question. That question is:

2. Is the value darker or lighter than what it is adjacent to?

It's all relative. It matters little what the local or native color of an object is. Much more important is how is the light or shadow affecting that color?

And here's where our bovine friend comes in.
Look at the black portion of her coat where it is in the sunlight. Now look at the white portion of her coat in shadow. Let's say, under her belly behind her front leg. Can you see that the white in shadow is actually darker than the black in sunlight? Who'd a thunk it?
If we get caught up in what the native color of something is, we'd never think to paint the shadow white that dark, or the sunlit black that high in value! That's why we need to carefully observe and check our values against one another.

A white church silhouetted against a morning sky could easily be quite a bit darker than the sky.
If you find yourself having to paint outlines around a white building to get it to "show up" against the sky, then it is probably a matter of incorrect values.
Here's the Cutler Bldg. steeple here in town as an example.

We've already seen in yesterday's post that the shadow portion of a white teapot can be very dark.

Here's another picture of cows just because I like 'em.
Tomorrow, maybe we'll have baby ducks or kittens or something.

What Color is White?

Actually, the question could be, "what color is anything?" but I've chosen white because we often, as painters, get hung up with the color of something we're trying to paint, and white seems to cause the most problems of all.
Here's our first example:

that sample cropped from the painting is part of the white teapot. "But it's not white!" you say.


What happens to us as we stand before a landscape, or a beautiful still life arrangement, is that we look at the objects and think of what they are in a literal sense. "That's a white house", we say to ourselves. Or maybe, " I'll be painting that beautiful white ceramic bowl with the blue design on it."

What we are really painting is how our eyes react to the light, or lack of light, on an object.

A better way to approach painting anything, no matter what the object, is to first ask a couple of questions.
1. Is it in the light or in the shadow? (news flash: it has to be in one or the other!!)
2. Is the value darker or lighter than what it is adjacent to?
3. Is the color warmer or cooler than what it is adjacent to?
4. Is it getting reflected light?
5. Is it part of the focal point of this painting?

I'll be looking at those questions a little bit in the next few posts. For tonight, here's the first one.

1. Is it in the light or in the shadow?

What we're really painting is how our eyes react to light. So, forget for the moment what you think the literal color of something is. Forget that it is a "white house" and just look at how the light is falling, or not falling on it. Paint that color, whether it be a pale yellow or a deep purple, or a greenish orange. A good rule of thumb is that if something is in shadow, it's probably darker than you think it is.
Another consideration, especially troublesome with white, is that you almost NEVER use pure white. A white ceramic bowl, in the light, will still not be pure white. You must leave room for that very brightest spot of highlight where the light hits the high point of the object. THAT highlight MIGHT be pure white, but if you paint the whole lit section of a bowl white, then you have nowhere to go to put the highlight. So, consider a "light white" for your lit section, and a "dark white" for the shadow side.

Next post: Cows and values!