Monday, April 25, 2011

Why Am I Painting This?

Today's post will focus on one simple idea.
You must first answer the question "Why am I painting this?" in order to move toward a successful painting.

I 'd like to demonstrate the difference between  just painting what is in front of you, and first finding out WHY you want to paint something.
Above is a little demonstration.. a 15 min. sketch of a friend's old farmhouse.   So, here I am, standing with my easel in the happy little field,  blithely painting away exactly what I see in front of me.. and this IS pretty much exactly what was there.  But this little sketch says nothing, it has no power.. even if I had finessed details and spent lots of time making it look "good", it still has nothing to say. In short, it is AWFUL.
Why?  Because, for this demonstration, I did not ask myself the important question "what is it about this scene that catches my eye?  What is it that intrigues me, or makes me want to paint it?  Had I first stopped to ask myself that question, then I would have realized that it is the sunlight hitting the side of the house that captured my imagination. I like the way it lights up the house and throws a shadow across it.

Ah, so now, I tell myself, "I like that sunlight. That's what I want to describe. I want viewers to see that, and feel the warmth of it as it slants across the house."
NOW, I have something to paint. I've talked about this before. I call it a "concept".  We dont want to just paint things, we want to portray ideas. Painting should be like poetry - a poetic statement about the subject matter, not a book report in dull detail.  Now that I have asked myself that important question "why am I painting this?", I now know what it is that I want to describe.  I have a concept.

So, now I can start to organize, design, and orchestrate all the elements I see in front of me so that my viewers can see that concept too.

 What is actually there is secondary in importance to the concept.

I have free reign to remove, change, darken, lighten, enlarge, subordinate,  and a host of other actions in order to get my point across.

So, if I take some time to really look at the scene, I see that I am going to have to orchestrate the way the light flows across this painting in order to make viewers see that sunlight too.  There are several other major design flaws in the "paint it as I saw it version".  I won't go into all those, (see if you can find the changes in the "before and after" versions) but the main thing is that I want that light to pop right out of the painting. I want it to be THE BIG IDEA  that everybody sees.  so, below is one solution.

One way to emphasize something is by value contrast.  Here I darkened the adjoining sections of the house and barn so that by contrast, the lit side looks even brighter.
You can also use directional lines to draw attention to something. The shaft of light I invented does this.
Another tool in your painter's toolbox is moving elements around.  I moved several things here. 
I also lightened the sky on that side of the painting to further enhance the idea of light coming from that direction.

This is of course, just an example, not a finished painting, But even this quick little sketch has some poetry and strength.  It all comes from first asking myself "why am I painting this?" and, having gotten that answer, to use every means possible to make THAT the focus of the painting.

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