Sunday, January 17, 2010

Examples of "Concept" in Painting

I have mentioned before about the need to have a "big idea" when you go to paint something. This big idea, or concept, will direct all the decisions in your painting. There are many different examples of what such a concept might be, so I thought I'd just put a few here with examples.
When I started this painting of three onions, what I wanted to do was to have one focused area of light. That was the big idea - one spot of light in a large area of dark. So, as I painted, every brushstroke was measured against that big idea. I can tell you that the green glass bottle was not nearly that subdued - there were many more bright highlights and reflected lights bouncing all over it. But had I painted it exactly that way, my concept would have been lost. As it was, I wanted the focus to be on that one bright spot of the foreground onion and the one big hightlight on the glass. Everything else had to take second place. So I painted just enough of the glass to indicate it's existance and shape, but kept it in the background.

The concept for this painting was a close color harmony. Everything in the painting is a shade of orange or green. The tabletop was not really that color. It was the usual brown. But, in keeping with the concept, I indicated an old painted surface which incorporated the colors that comprised my original concept.

Here, the idea was also a color concept, but it was to have one spot of rich color (in this case the red of the two apples) against a sea of very muted, almost "non-color." I wanted the attention to zoom right to those apples. Even the other two apples are reduced in saturation so that the focus is the main pair. That pot (which is old, and very heavy) is actually red. I love the shape of it and the texture. But I knew that I could not paint it red without detracting from the
original idea of rich color against a grave background. So, the pot was painted a darker version of the background color. The tabletop incorporates some of the red, but only right in the area under the two main apples. Again, focusing the attention of the viewer where I want them to look.

So, I hope this is helpful. Stop to think before you ever begin a painting. Ask yourself, "What do I want to say? What is this painting really ABOUT?" That will become your concept. Then, paint the concept, instead of simply recording what is in front of you.

I know, I know, I still haven't done the demo of painting clear water, but things have just been too crazy around here. I'll get to it one of these days.


Judy P. said...

Beautiful paintings that are clear examples of the information you want to convey. I always look forward to your postings, Deb; I learn something new every time!

Deb said...

Thanks for the kind words, Judy. Always good to hear from you. I am loving your toys series, especially the little people - boy, do we have some memories of those too!
Check out Judy's blog at

billspaintingmn said...

Deb, this is really good stuff.
You paint Beautifully!
This is news to me. I've never heard it put this way before. This
is very helpful to me!
I'm going to practice this on my next paint, I think it will help a lot.
Your paintings have my attention, they are enjoyable to see.
Things are alway crazy around here. Take it easy Deb!

Constance McLennan said...

Hi, Deb--I just found your blog, which I'm enjoying a lot. I have a question from a post awhile back, if you wouldn't mind--the one about priming a canvas. I'm eager to try this, but yhy flake white rather than any other white--or any other color, for that matter? Thanks.

Connie said...

Oops--that was supposed to be "WHY flake white . . ."

Deb said...

Hi Constance,
Thanks for checking out the blog! The reason for flake white is because it is lead based. This formulation is not only historically the choice of painters over the generations, but it was selected because lead white is more flexible a ground.. it will give without cracking, thus making a good choice for the underpainting. You can tone the lead white as you put it on if you want
to do that, or tone the canvas after the priming is dry.

Hope that helps!

Deb said...

Hi Bill!
Thanks for checking out the blog and the kind words.
This is perhaps just a different take on what Stape says about design.. that design can't be observed into
a painting. I think we have two choices... we can simply be a recorder of what we see, or we can be an
interpreter. By selecting a concept or big idea, we are choosing those elements of either the landscape or
still life or portrait that further our idea and design, and eliminating or diminishing those that don't... that's being an interpreter - saying something with the language of color, value, edges, design, etc. Otherwise, we are just "painting stuff".

How's the weather in MN?
Snowing here today.