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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Discover Harmony by Squinting

Readers of this blog know by now that I'm an ardent fan of Richard Schmid. Recently while watching the critique section of his video, November, what caught my attention was the comment "the harmony is already out there." The other side of that is this: how do we see the harmony that's out there?

The clue to seeing is the simple act of squinting with our eyes so that no details of our subject are visible. But it's one of the most difficult of things to get an emerging artist to do. Everybody wants to jump right in and begin painting before taking a good look at what's there.

Try this. Look at a bare tree trunk and its surroundings. What do you see? Gray, black, brown?

Now squint your eyes so that all the details go away, stare at that tree trunk through your squint and hold it for a whopping ten seconds.

What colors are you beginning to see? Purples, oranges, blues, golds? Hold that squint a bit longer and allow the colors to settle in.

Notice how the longer you hold the squint, the more evident the colors become. And notice how all the colors are in harmony with one another.

Then, practice gathering information through the squint. What colors emerge? What values are those colors? Here's where the real truth of harmony lies. Below I've done a sampling of each value area.
I can do a painting of the entire scene with variations of these three colors. If I want to make the scene a bit more expressive, I can exaggerate the components of these colors.

I've discovered that these are mixtures of oranges and purples. Here's where I find the harmony and here's how I arrive at my color scheme. It's all out there to be discovered.

Try the above little exercise. Do it several dozen times--until it becomes habit--and you will find how easy it is to get into the habit of squinting in order to discover the harmony of your subject.


Dar Presto said...

I seem to be incapable of squinting, so I lift my eyeglasses for a similar effect. I wish I could apply this more, because it sounds so useful. I should try to make that face that I wore a lot as a teenager.

I wonder if you have any thoughts about format (size, shape, orientation) and scale (life size, sight size at arm's length or ten feet, etc), and how they apply to composition.
Thanks for all the great lessons!

Diana Moses Botkin said...

Yes! Squinting! I try to tell this to my students, too. Sometimes they get it but often they forget.

So..... do you think a lot of us have more squint lines (or shall we call them laugh line?)?

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

P.S. About squinting. I have a sign up in my studio that says, "Only paint what you see when you Squint or Scan" (scanning for seeing color since squinting rather removes it, leaving the values).

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