Welcome to Compose. There's lots of stuff here, all about composing paintings.

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Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Matter of Focus

Do you pay close attention to what your eyes are seeing? Try this little game:
Looking at the photo below, take note of all the things that are red, then go to the next paragraph below the picture..
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Now without looking at the picture, list all the things that are blue. (Shameless disclosure:  I lifted this idea from someone else, but I don't remember who.)  If our vision is narrowed to one thing we are looking for, we're likely to miss other things.  We see what we expect to see and little else.
A new painting idea can cause the same thing to happen.  Suppose we decided to do a painting of that red umbrella to the far right. 
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 If we just dove in to paint a red umbrella, something like this could happen. 
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If it did, it would be because our focus is on "red umbrella."  We might have missed those basic shapes we see because we didn't focus on the shapes. 
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Focusing on the idea of "red", we might have missed those variations in color where very little of the umbrella is actually red, rather several variations of red in light and dark values. Look at the differences among A, B, C, D, E, and F. 
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We're better off not to focus on red umbrella at all, not even to have any expectations around "red umbrella."  When once we find a subject, we're more likely to have success if we forget all about what it is and focus our attention on asking what shapes do we see, what colors to we see, what textures...and so on.  We WILL paint what we see, it's just a matter of where we focus.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Small Changes in Value Contrast Can Give Clarity

A scene might call to be a subject for painting, but will have so much going on it has no clarity.  Scenes found in historical cities often do that, but so to other subjects.  The photo below caught my eye as typical.  The foreground monument wants attention, but is visually fused with the background structures.  Can it be given clarity?  Let's find out.
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First, let's look at what's causing the visual fusion (resulting in confusion). 
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We can see clearly the background structure and the foreground statue each contain the same degree of value contrast.  That is why they are visual fused.
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I've taken samples from the darkest darks and the lightest lights in each image, confirming how close the value contrast is in each. 
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To give that area visual clarity, we can reduce the contrast in the background structure. The illustration below shows you what will happen.  Look at it and notice to which set of squares your eye sees first.  Answer (of course):  the stronger contrasted set. 
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Applying that principle to this scene, here's what happens. 
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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Getting Rid of Eye Sores Before Beginning a Painting

Here's a photo I found on Pixabay. 
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 If I happened upon this scene while out looking for a subject to paint, I'd probably set up my easel and get to work.  But to begin working without looking for potential eye sores would be a recipe for an inferior piece before even getting started.  
For one thing, that line where the grassy hill ends and the field begins forms a tangent with the roof of the house. I'd want to move that edge down.
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 That clump of dirt to the left of the tree feels out of place.  I think I would delete that.
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The little light green bush in front is too isolated and adds clutter to an already busy scene.  It's got to go. 
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There's too much space on the left between the tree and the left edge AND that space is too much the same width of the tree.  I'll crop that. 
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 For such a busy scene, the value contrast is too strong.  To calm that down, I'll darken the sky a bit.  This will help make the light on the house the focal point.
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That really dark edge between the grassy hill and the field is too harsh, splitting that area and causing it to attract too much attention.  It needs to be subdued. 
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That takes care of most of the stuff that is visually incoherent.  From this point, I could choose to begin with this design or I could crop to a different format.
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In the crop on the left (as well as in the uncropped piece). I'm still bothered by the space of that hill being about the same width as the sky space. In the crop on the right, the widths of the tree and house are a bit too similar, but I can adjust that while composing the painting.   (Remember, we set the design, but the real composing begins with oubrushwork.)
What's important when we are selecting a subject for painting is that we look at one thing at a time and that we are willing to edit and rearrange for the best design so that when we begin composing, we have a head start.  

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Sneaking Some Time to Feed the Inner Artist

Here in the U.S., our long holiday season filled back to back activities and commitments will often rob us of our easel time, time that we all cherish and far too often wish we had more of.  Here's a fun thing you can do in your sketchbook with your feet up watching TV.  It's especially fun during a sports event, but any program where people are doing stuff on the screen will work.
It's the simplest form of gesture drawing taught by Kimon Nicolaides early in the 20th century.  Today, it remains one of the most powerful ways for artists to grab a quick idea.  One example is the sketch Andrew Wyeth did as his initial idea for Christina's World.  
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This shorthand method of studying draws only what the figure is doing, not the edges of the shapes.  It's quick, no more than 30 seconds.  Here's one I did of a man sitting.  My attention is on man sitting.  Once the pen starts moving, I follow the feeling of what the head is doing, what the torso is doing, the arms, legs and feet.  Not what it is, but what it is doing.
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Below, I've broken down a process I use to give you an idea of how it works. First, what is the head doing?
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Next, what the torso is doing?
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Finally, what the legs and feet are doing?
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Here's a page from my 2011 sketchbook done while I watching the Atlanta Braves play.

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Doing pure gesture drawing where you are capturing the movement-- only what the subject is doing-- can feed the inner artist in ways you never could believe.  Give it a try.  

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A Fun Way To Abstract

Behind every good painting is a sound abstract design.  In visual art most of the 20th century was devoted to some sort of abstraction.  Today many artists paint abstractly, but to a lot of people abstraction is meaningless. That's too bad because understanding abstraction can go a long way towards enhancing a realistic work whether photo-realistic or more impressionistic.
Here is an experiment that can open up for you one way abstraction can work.  In science, experiments often begin with setting intentions, so that's what we will do first.  The subject is the photo of tomatoes below.
OUR INTENTIONS
1. We will use only one tool, a flat brush, and with it we will use only a straight, flat stroke
2.  We will focus only on color
3.  Each stroke will take on a different direction than the previous stroke of the same color
4.  Each color is repeated at least twice.
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First pass:  Doing those four intentions, we'll place the lighter value reds of the tomatoes.
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Second Pass:  Still using the four intentions, we'll use the darker reds.
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Third Pass:  We add the lighter greens.
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Fourth pass:  We add the darker greens.
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Fifth pass:  The lighter grays.
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Sixth pass: The darker neutral reds
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Seventh pass:  The darker grays
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Eighth pass:  The middle value greens
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Ninth pass:  More light grays and the abstract is complete
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The sequence of color selection doesn't matter.  What matters is following the four intentions.  
 
Here is the subject and the abstract that grew out of it..  Why not try choosing a photo and abstracting it using this process.
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Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Scoop on Harmonizing Your Painting

Art reflects life, one way or another.  The discord we've all felt in recent weeks with the political dissonance in the States reminds me of how our painting, too, can become dissonant when it loses harmony.  It's no different from a musical instrument being out of tune, something that can sour our senses in a flash.  
Harmony means everything is in tune with its light source.  Just as sound frequency tunes a musical instrument, wave lengths of light will tune a painting.  The delivery of wave lengths from a light source causes whatever is lit by that source to be in harmonious light. To keep a painting harmonious, we use that principle.
Here's a chart showing the wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum.
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This photo is of tulips in bright sunlight.  Even though we see various colors, they feel in harmony because they are all under the same color of light.  Another more scientific way to say it is that the same wave lengths are hitting everything we see, in the 570 wavelength range.
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Next, we change the wave lengths to a more orange light, making them a bit longer.  Still, everything is in harmony.
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We change the wave lengths again to a blue-violet range, considerably shortening them.  The scene is still in harmony.
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But when we isolate the frontal yellow tulip and put it under a warmer light of longer lengths, leaving everything else in a cooler shorter length waves of  light, we throw it out of harmony.
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To put it back into harmony, we simply add to its color the blue-violet light being received by its surroundings.  We do that in painting, too. 
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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Vibrant Grays on a Cloudy Day

Many artists live in locations where sunny days are rare with not many opportunities to paint outside under a strong light source. We've been told that it's best to paint when the light is good, but maybe that advice is a bit short-sighted.  In fact, just by turning up the volume a little, we can push drab neutrals to become an appealing painting.​​​​​​​
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In the above photo, the scene on the left appears drab and gray.  The one on the right has the hue warmed and the intensity slightly raised.   Although this is a computer tweak it shows how little it takes to add some life to the bleak scene, but with our paint and brushes we can take it much further just by exploring the potential within an intensity scale.
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Let's begin with our knowledge that all neutrals are made of a set of complements.  With that in mind, we can take any set of complement at their highest intensity and by gradually adding one into the other like I've done above, we can create the complete scale of intensities that the two colors are capable of yielding when mixed together.  By choosing mixes from either the right or the left of the neutrals, we can interpret the scene as being in subdued light while creating a compelling painting. 
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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Finding Your Style

By their styles, do your recognize the artists who did these three portraits?
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What about these three landscapes?  Can you recognize by these styles who painted each of them? 
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Even if you don't know the artists by their work, you can see within each work a distinctiveness, something that sets each artist's work apart even though they might be influenced by the era in which they painted.   
WHAT MAKES STYLE
All my life I've been fascinated by listening to the different ways pianists play Beethovan's Moonlight Sonata.  Even more fascinating is that when you familiarize yourself with master pianists, it's easy to recognize their playing without being told who the performer is. The same is true for artists: when an artist has command of skills and composing principles, their work is recognizable from across the room.
So, how is this possible?  
Style is not something we invent.  It is our natural "handwriting."  It is the result of being in command of our skills to the point that we no longer have to think about the "how to" and delve straight into responding to what we see, interpreting it in a way that pleases us.  To try to force that to fit into a trend or to how another artist might do it is to truncate our own artist's voice in favor of imitating a style.
IT'S ALL ABOUT BEING NATURAL
Below the word "artist" is written by seven different people. The same word communicates seven unique interpretations.   Each style derived from thousands of repetitive strokes over the course of one's lifetime, writing without thinking about how it's being done.  Today, the mastery of these strokes creates the word "artist" as a concept.
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 Just as our handwriting evolves over our lifetime, so does our painting style emerge with every brushstroke we make.  When first we began to form letters, we did so deliberately, carefully forming their shapes.  As we became comfortable with the skill of writing, we no longer had to think about forming the shapes.  The thoughts transmit themselves through the shapes.  Today, those who know our handwriting will recognize it as ours unless we distort it.
So it is with our painting style! 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Fall Colors in Shadow

Try this.  Looking at this photo, squint your eyes so that all the details go away, stare and hold it for a few seconds. 
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Notice that within those luscious colors, what you are seeing is mostly in shadow?.  
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Even though the colors are striking, the brightness we see is mostly pieces of sky visible through the foliage.   All the shadowed areas are easier to discern if we take away the color.  
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 If you compare the mid-to-dark areas of the value scale to the blurred monotone photo, it become obvious how minimal the light is in the scene.  At the same time, if we pluck any one of those leaves and look at individually, it would appear something like this.
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Here's a closeup view of one of the sections. Notice the difference in the color of the leaf above not in shadow and the leaves below in shadow.
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Once we recognize that an area of color is in shadow, we know immediately that regardless of how brilliant it seems to us, the only way we can interpret it accurately is to reduce the value and intensity of hues we recognize.  Here are some suggested combinations for you to play with to make that discovery. 
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