Many years ago a teacher at an art workshop said to paint shapes and not things. That really bothered me because I wanted to say paint a tree not a shape. Over the years I have learned that if the various shapes are painted beautifully then the thing is beautiful and more so the reality of what you want the viewer to see. That is not to say that you do not at some time during the painting process think more and more of the thing you are wanting to paint. Below is an image where I enjoyed the creation of a shape that in the end was a tree trunk. The joy is in the shape of things.
How do we hold our brush when we paint? I remember years ago at a workshop watching an artist use his brush. He was going around the room touching up student's paintings. He held his arm out full length and his hand was at the end of the brush with it full length. He could make strokes of paint that brought their paintings to life. I remember the student paintings looking great to me but after his few strokes of paint they looked awesome. Years before that I was taught you should move your hand further back on the brush if you are painting too tight. Sometimes we can paint holding the brush like a baton and other times hold it like we are holding a fork and other times like we are holding a pencil. It is all in how we express it.
I believe painting in layers can give excitement to a painting. By that I mean when painting some shapes it is beautiful to paint a shape with a color, then add layers of color over it leaving some of the underlying colors showing. I will give an example. The Teddy Bear has a tan look to it, but there are various colors within it.
There are a couple of drawing exercises. One is contour drawing. That is where you cannot look at what you are drawing unless you stop moving the pencil. In this exercise you are to imagine that your pencil tip is actually resting on the edge of the object you are drawing. In this exercise you are then drawing what you see and not what you think you see. I heard an artist say once, “A chair does not sit on the floor. It SITS on the floor." I once watched an artist speak out loud what she was thinking as she did a control drawing. The logical side of her brain was battling the creative side. Like, “If you don’t turn that pencil now you are going to have a bad drawing.”
The other kind of practice is gesture drawing where one rapidly scribbles in a form either still or moving. Try it watching a sports event and do a person rapidly. It is amazing how you can then put edges around them which gives you a much more live form.
You are probably familiar with the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.
Years ago I was taught, before computers were in heavy use, to buy red cellophane from an architecture supply store. You could put it over the painting and see value instead of color. A couple of years ago I bought John Lennon red lens flip up sunglasses. I went to Wilson Park and plein air painted by myself. I think I have plein air painted alone only two times. I need to do more of it. Anyway, they really worked. I could not see my palette colors but knew about where they were generally located. I blocked in the attempted mixes on the canvas based on the value I could see. I stopped using the glasses once the values were blocked in then finished the painting. It was really an awesome day though the wind blew so strong it blew my easel over and spilled mineral spirits on my shoe. I enjoyed visiting with people who came by that day. Plein air painting makes for a good day. Sadly I do not do enough of it. I hope we block our paintings in with not so much thought of color like wearing Rose Colored Glasses.
I enjoy painting sunflowers. Looking closely In the center of the flower before the seeds begin to form to me it is like looking at a carpet closeup, but that is just me. When I paint the center then I need to think carpet so that my brush moves loosely in that thought. I know that sounds like I am out in left field, but I have noticed I have been doing that more lately. There seems to be a difference between painting something in a structured way compared to letting your thought of the place or thing being transferred to your brush when applying the paint. I have found fine tuning, if any, is much more creative when applying the finishing touches. Lately in painting, I believe if we think less and express more we will have an expressive brush.
I remember 40 years ago I took a piece of my art to a frame shop. It was a watercolor. The frame shop owner tossed the painting on the floor to look at it. Being new at art, I thought that was some kind of an art world thing. I later learned there are different ways to look at your work to study it for errors like hold your painting up to a mirror or looking at it upside down. In any case, lately I try to not get into to big of a hurry to say a painting is finished. At least for me, at times I may become too easily satisfied with the painting I called finished. It pays to study it over and over again after we think a painting is finished. An even better painting may result in pausing before we put it out for others to see. Finished? It is a good question, I believe.
This probably is not an accurate definition of vignette but I was taught years ago that a vignette painting is one in which a part of the painting comes within an inch of each edge of the paper or canvas. Anyway the edges of the painting, whether a vignette or not, are important. Early on I would regularly do a painting and then realize I did not not consider the edges and then fill them in with something. I was told once in a workshop that if you have 2” along the edge of the painting and it does not relate to the rest of the painting then you have a problem. Seems I just could not learn. Once I showed a fine artist friend in Santa Fe one of my paintings and ask her to critique it. She said just cut off 2” of one side of the painting and it would be fine. That just irritated me that I still could not see it. I cut off the edge and sold it. If the edges are considered first at the beginning of a painting things go a lot easier for us. It is good to be edgy.
When I was working in watercolor years ago, one of the things I predetermined was the intensity of the colors. Back then I determined the intensity based on value. As an example I might make all the mid-values basically intense (MVI), the lighter values dull (LVD) and the dark values dull (DVD). That left me several options:
MVI-LVD-DVD MVD-LVI-DVI MVD-LVI-DVD MVI-LVD-DVI MVI-LVI-DVD MVD-LVD-DVDKind of Boring MVI-LVI-DVI Kind of Garish
I know, I know you might not want to do that but it is an interesting design principle. It is good I think for us to try new things. It is a creative thing I believe So That Is The Question - Intensity or No Intensity?
Years ago I took a workshop from someone who had the neatest color wheels. It was like she had taken a world with the insides being all colors and values. Then she had horizontal slices of her world. The higher the slices the lighter the values of all the color wheel. The lower slices had darker values of all the color wheel. I was just thinking wouldn’t it be beautiful to have vertical slices of that world. That would be beautifully different.
I did a still life painting once of a patchwork quilt. As I remember each had a gradation of color and value and I tried to have the adjacent patch be such that it’s color was a different temperature i.e. warm against cool, etc. It was a watercolor painting and I wanted to enter it in a competition but an artist said that some of the colors of the quilt were too intense. With watercolor that meant I had to think opposite the color wheel on each color and value to tone it down. That was a good exercise in thinking across the color wheel and how you cut it.
I hope someone does vertical cuts of a color world. That would be something to see. Beauty can be simply on how you slice it.
I took a workshop once years ago and the instructor said, “Don’t paint flowers like someone is taking their picture and telling them to Smile. He said that flowers should not all be looking one direction like looking at a camera. His statement has always stuck with me. Flowers are so full of life. Some are young and some are old. Some are looking for the sun and some are not. Some are standing tall and proud and some are tired and hanging down. Some are full of color and some are not. Some are complexed and some are not.
There are so many ways to start out laying out the shapes of flowers on a canvas. They can be blocked in value shapes or they can be out- lined to determine their placement on the canvas. I have at times outlined flowers with many petals by only sketching in the general angles and not tried to put each little angle of all the petals of the other edge of the flower. That way you end up with the flower being the right overall shape. The details can be filled in later.
Two examples of flowers I hope you study are in the art website under private collections. One is titled Eternally Creating and Days End.
Flowers smile in different directions.
Years ago I worked in watercolor for 20 years. I believe it is the hardest and sometimes most unforgiving medium. Staining color such as Alizarin Crimson cannot be totally removed even by putting the watercolor paper in a bathtub and scrubbing it. Because watercolor sometimes has an unforgiving nature, I did more preplanning than I do with oil painting. Of course, maybe I should do the same with oil. One of the things I did in pre-planning was to paint a value sketch using Paynes Grey and Pro white on notebook paper. I was taught that there should be three basic general overall values i.e. dark, midtone and light. I was also taught they should be of different amounts. By that I mean if you added up all pieces of dark values, all the pieces of mid tone values and all the pieces of light values they should not be of the same amount. It is like Papa Bear, Momma Bear and Baby Bear. I think if they are unequal the painting has more interest. More interesting I think than a two value painting such as a small white dot on a dark background. In the painting under the tab Still Life in this website there is a painting titled: A New Day. In it is a Large Dark (Papa Bear), a small mid-tone (Baby Bear) with light (Momma Bear). Also in the painting under the tab Private Collection is a painting Titled: In a Mirror Dimly. In this painting the Papa Bear is the dark, the Momma Bear is the mid-tone and the Baby Bear is the light. Like someone said all rules are there to be broken but the Bears are a thought.
Edges in paintings can be Edgy i.e. by definition it can be an anxious, uneasy thing to do or it can be original and offbeat. I was taught early on to paint shapes and not things. That bothered me because for example I wanted to paint a tree. I think now that painting shapes in the beginning of a painting is a good thing. You can block in beautiful values and color in the beginning without being so concerned about things. Some say a positive shape is an object like a tree and that usually is the subject matter where the negative shape is not. To me it is more complicated than that. That does not make me right. Along the edge of a shape in regard to value there can be dark against light, light against dark, lost and defused edges. Said another way there can be hard edges, soft edges and lost edges. If you look at the painting titled: Shine On Me under the Still Life tab in this website you can see when you look at the outer edge of the pitcher shape light against dark, dark against light, defused edge and lost edge. You can also look under landscape on the website at the painting titled: Served Well and following along the edges of the farm equipment you may see hard edges, soft edges and lost edges. Edges can be uncomplicated, peaceful and wonderful or they can be complicated, edgy and wonderful too. I pray that God guides our paint brushes to Glorify Him.
I think it is important how a painting leads the viewer around the painting by how the shapes, values, colors, line and their placement are designed. That is not to say I am always successful in doing it all the time. Also sometimes a painting can be viewed like a stage where there is a star and costars and the placement of those characters can be important so that the eye is always brought back to the star but appreciating the costars in the process. We could and do sometimes paint shapes just for the beauty of the shape but even then that shape can have been designed in such a way as to make the eye travel back to the point of interest.
Early in my art education in a workshop we were told that we should not think about the next painting being our masterpiece. We were told to think the painting we were working on was to be our masterpiece. I think the more we paint and learn the more confidence we have in believing we can paint a masterpiece. I think that no matter how bad the beginning of a painting looks it can be our best work. It can be what we wanted to express. I have watched wonderful artists paint and they do not seem worried about what someone watching them thinks. To do that we must paint with confidence and joy.
I recently watched a known artist doing a portrait painting. At the beginning of the painting it did not look like much but gradually began to look beautiful. Close to the end of his painting I kept thinking the mouth does not look right. He waited until the end to put on his finishing touches and that included the mouth and the eyes. The person in the painting then came to life. The artist knew what he was doing and was not thinking about what everyone thought but was painting with confidence.
Continuing to learn and persevere is a confidence builder and Glorifies God that gave us the gift.
I read a thought provoking book someone gave me. It is a New York Times Bestseller titled STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST by Austin Kleon. It makes me think about years ago when I gave a demo to Mid-Southern Watercolorist in Little Rock. I was talking about how people take a workshop from someone they admire and then want to paint like them. I used a parallel of a new carpenter wanting to create something like a master carpenter they admired. I said that even if they could do it then people would think it was done by the master carpenter. Over the years I have seen art work and I believe I knew who they had taken a workshop from. I think now that that is OK, but the more we study many other artists we admire than we hopefully begin to express things in our own way. It is a blessing to continue to learn.