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Friday, May 4, 2012

Switching a Few Gears

Let's switch gears a bit and take a look at our work habits.

No matter our style of painting or our personality, there are ways to enable our painting process to move along more smoothly if we practice just four simple tips:
  1. Do quick idea studies before beginning to paint.
  2. Squint, not just once, but often throughout the process.
  3. From time to time, turn the piece upside down to check how the composition is working.
  4. Stand back--often.
Doing idea studies: 
Call them scribbles, gesture drawings, concept drawings, preliminary sketches--the label doesn't matter.  What does matter is that we get involved with the subject we've chosen before we begin to paint it, and that we explore a few composing options while we are becoming acquainted with the subject.  It is surprising what we see once we make the first quick sketch.

Here is one of my idea studies and a painting that followed:

"Sautee Herefords"    OIl on Canvas    2008

Here are a couple of idea studies Andrew Wyeth did for his painting, "Karl."
Andrew Wyeth     Studies for "Karl"

Andrew Wyeth     "Karl"   Egg Tempera  
As you can see, neither my little gesture drawing nor Wyeth's initial sketches depict our final compositions.  Rather, they are both initial reactions to what each of us saw, a kind of private note-taking, getting to know the subject while  mulling over how the composition might work.

Nine times out of ten, it's the details of the images that get between us a good composing.  To squint at the subject, not just once, but often from beginning to end switches our attention to the structure of the whole thing, showing us how darks are connected, how lights flow from one area to another, how an array of colors fall into a simple value range.

Then squinting at the painting itself enables us to see how the parts are fitting together and how what's happening within the painting is relating to the subject matter.  It's as crucial to the overall process as the brushstrokes themselves.

Dianne Mize  "A Look Back"   Oil on Canvas

Turning the painting upside-down:  
Turning the painting on its head periodically during its development can tell us volumes about how the composition is working.  Oddly, if it's working right side up, the composition will work upside-down.

Here's one Pat Weaver's paintings.  Notice how her composition works both ways.

Pat Weaver       "Racetrack"     Watercolor

Standing Back:
     We can't really see how a painting is developing unless we put some distance between it and ourselves.  Several times during the process, it's a good idea to stand back at least ten feet from the painting to see how the whole thing is coming together.  The larger the painting, the further we need to stand back.  Even very small works are more accurately seen from some distance.

With all the things we're giving attention to during the act of painting, it's easy to let slide the more simple things we can to do to keep check on what's going on.  If you're not already practicing them, I recommend these four tips as keys to better composing and stronger painting.


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