Sunday, June 29, 2014

Drawing Leads to Painting

Two things have recently resulted in my drawing for drawing's sake. For quite a long time the only drawing I've done is comps and prep sketches for paintings. But by not drawing the world around you, you cut off an interaction that is the starting point of creating. Where do ideas come from? They don't arrive full blown. Or at least not very many do. When you draw, you see things.

The first thing that led me to break out my sketchbook and draw, was that I wanted to set an example for my students ... to encourage them to start sketching as part of their day. It took only a few pages in my sketchbook to rekindle the desire to draw. I had forgotten the zen-like absorption and peace that falls over me when I draw. I love that it is back in my life.

The second revelation was that the moment I started to draw, I started to have ideas. I saw interesting things. I noticed the way a tree stood out in front of a hill. I saw the value pattern in a row of windows on the upper story of what had appeared initially to be a very ordinary building.

I became an renewed advocate of the belief that to be a good painter you have to be a good drawer. For the past three months, my painting class has included a drawing session one day out of the month. I am so happy with the results for my students that I am permanently adding one drawing class a month to my painting courses.

I also started the Temecula Urban Sketchers. Quite a few of the beginning drawers I have met have asked questions about how to move from drawing to painting. Many urban sketchers sketch and then add watercolor to their graphite or ink drawings. Watercolor or gouache is certainly more portable than sketching in oils. My suggestion is start small ... and just start. The easiest way is with a small kit with a limited palette, using water brushes. You can carry that and a pen or pencil in a pocket.

Cathy Johnson uses a muted primary palette (red, yellow, blue) of Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet, Gold Ochre and Indigo.

In this example, Johnson uses four colors; Venetian Red, Payne's Gray, Yellow Ochre and Phthalo Blue.  She has everything she needs in each little kit ... a pencil or pen, a water brush and color.

Vladimir Tuporshin also has a very minimal kit, but one with a few more colors. He has only six items; watercolor box, ink pen, waterbrush, a clip, a fold of paper towel and a moleskine watercolor notebook.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Taeil Kim, the Painting Process

Three short videos by artist Taeil Kim illustrate many of the painting steps we have been talking about in class.

Taeil Kim describes the process in the first video as the sketch, basic values and relating the values.
  • He draws the subject with the dark shapes created by the woman's features and hair. He is careful with the placement, but from the first stroke a painting is a process of refining earlier decisions. No decision is locked in.
  • He lays in the basic values with large color spots. There is no detail yet.
  • He determines the values by relating them to each other and to the background wash.

In the second video, Kim describes the next steps as a refinement of color and value, focus on edge control and detail.
  • He continues to assess his color and value decisions, using accurate relationships between values and color of the light, halftone and shadow planes.
  • He breaks initial larger color spots into smaller color spots, while preserving the values of the larger masses.
  • As he continues to assess the color spots he works on the edges between them, creating a range of hard to soft.
  • Detail is left to the last.

Taeil Kim takes us through the entire process of painting a portrait.
  • His initial block-in uses shapes more than line. He blocks in the dark shapes of the features and hair. The drawing is reduced to an abstract of only two values, light and dark.
  • He begins to add his color spots, again relating value and color. He starts with large masses of light, halftone and shadow.
  • Detail is a matter of breaking the larger shapes into smaller shapes, the smaller into even smaller. You can refine this to the point of a finely rendered portrait. In this case, he takes the process of refinement much further than in the example above with very subtle value relationships and soft edges.
  • The process from start to finish is fluid. No decision is final. It is open to improvement and refinement.

Monday, June 9, 2014

On Location and in the Studio

Frederick Church, Ridges in the Blue Mountain, 1865

I came across this oil sketch by Frederick Church. It accomplishes what a plein air sketch should - it observes. The actual scene was probably more complicated, but the artist used one receding hill to record the color of the mountain from foreground, to mid-ground to background and to record the color of the mountain at the top in light and the bottom in shadow. He also records the color of the mountain in both sunlight and cloud cover. The sketch has everything the artist needs as reference to paint a larger, more detailed painting of the mountain range in the studio. So, I went looking for the studio painting. I may have found it.

Frederick Church, Scene in the Blue Mountains

I don't know if the studio painting was painted by Church from this particular plein air sketch, but it was certainly painted from the knowledge and reference gained from other on location sketches. The plein air sketch has an immediacy that the studio painting lacks, but the larger painting has more detail that the limited time on location doesn't permit. The studio painting wouldn't be possible without the study. I found several other paintings by Church of the same mountain.

Frederic Church, Blue Mountains, graphite and oil

This oil and graphite sketch looks like an on location drawing of the geology of the mountain range. Church studied the subject carefully. He knows how the planes of the mountain work. This informs the studio paintings.

Frederick Church, In the Blue Mountains

"In the Blue Mountains" is a studio painting of the same mountain on a day when the color of the light and the atmosphere were very different. I didn't find it, but I am sure there is an on location sketch that recorded the color in this situation.

Working from life, on location, and taking the time to do color and drawing studies leads to good studio works. Beginning painters often overlook the study and practice that painting requires. They jump straight to the masterpiece without enough information about the color or structure of the subject.

Here is another set of paintings by Jim Wodark that I am guessing are the on location sketch and the studio painting. Both paintings have a real sense of the the light and the location. I love the immediacy and accuracy of painting on location. It is rare to recapture that onsite accuracy in the studio piece. But back in the studio, the artist can put time into design, composition and detail which creates an equally valuable result.

Jim Wodark, Evening Eucalyptus,  8 x 8"

Jim Wodark, Eucalyptus Evening, 20 x 24"

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Cover the Canvas

One of the first things that Sergei Bongart said to students was to cover the canvas.  He would not critique any other aspect of your painting until you had the first pass down on the canvas and it was completely covered, with no bare or white areas of canvas showing. Every teacher I have ever taken from, who knew what they were doing, gave the same advice.

Why is it so important to cover the canvas? Because no color spot can be evaluated on its own, only in relation to the other color spots. Whether you work on a white canvas or a toned canvas - that canvas will influence how you see the color spots you put on it. Until you cover the canvas you cannot assess the color relationships without that influence. The first pass is your best guess. It will be inaccurate. It is impossible for it not to be inaccurate.  You have nothing to relate the color spots to. That's why you don't spend a lot of time on the first pass. You have to get the canvas covered before you can really begin. Then, with each succeeding pass assess each color spot and if it needs correction, correct it. That is how the painting process works.

After you have covered the canvas, use the three properties of color to assess and improve the color relationships between the color spots? The three properties of color are:
  • Hue - Identify the color family (red, blue, yellow, green, orange, violet).  Within that color family is it warm or cool?
  • Chroma - Is it bright or dull?
  • Value - Is it light or dark?
That's it. Relate any two color spots within the painting based on the three properties. Which is the warmest. Which the coolest. Which the brightest or dullest. Which the lightest or darkest.

Let's look more closely at the properties of color using red as an example.
  • Hue
    • A warm red has a bias towards yellow - an orangey red like coral
    • A cool red has a bias towards blue - a violet red like magenta
  • Chroma
    • A bright red is not toned by the complement - fire engine red
    • A dull red is toned by the complement - terra cotta red
  • Value
    • A light red has white or a lighter value color added - pink
    • A dark red has black or a darker value color added - burgundy red
To correct color relationships in your painting, relate or compare similar things, using the three properties as a basis for comparison.
  • Compare all the greens; compare all the reds, etc.
  • Compare all the light values - which is the lightest
  • Compare all the dark values - which is the darkest
  • Compare all the bright colors - which is the brightest
  • Compare all the dull colors - which is the dullest
Cover the canvas, compare and correct.