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

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Thinking with a Color Wheel

Learning to think with a color wheel can take a lot of guess work out of getting the right color while painting.  First, we train ourselves to call colors we see by their hues rather than common names. For example, some might name the color of these stacked rocks beige, but what hues do we see?

If identifying the hues eludes you, hold up a color wheel next to the subject.  Close your eyes for a few seconds then, open your eyes and without thinking, name the wheel's hues that feel closest to the subject's hue.  Don't allow yourself to THINK about it.  Just respond.

Test It
     Rarely do we see hues at their fullest saturation, so we might need to make some adjustments.  If we don't have a tube color of the intensity we need, our next move is to reduce the saturation with a complement.  Here are the steps I suggest for testing out the hues you named.
Step 1:  Find a tube color closest to hue.
Step 2:  If it is darker than the subject, adjust its value with white.
Step 3:  Find a tube color closest to its complement.  If you don't have that color, mix it.  
Step 4:  If the mixture is darker than the subject's hue, raise its value with white.
Step 5:  Gradually bring the complement mixed in Step 4 into the value adjusted mix in Step 2.  That should tell you if your correctly named the hue.

color wheel  

After a series of experiences like this, we can automatically read a color by the wheel.  The payoff is that while painting, when we see a color about which we are uncertain, we can "think with the color wheel" and easily find it.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Setting Up a Limited Palette

Let's play with color.  The photo below has in it a number of colors.  Coming up with a limited palette scheme for this can take us on an enlightening adventure.  

A limited palette that follows a scheme has inherent harmonizing potential.  But knowing how to find that scheme can be challenging.  Here's a four-step process I use:

1.  Identify visible hues
The major hues I see (top to bottom) are blue, yellow-green, yellow and orange.

2.  Begin with one or two hues you see.  I'm choosing two--blue and yellow that I can combine for a third hue I see, yellow-green.
Blue + yellow=green, giving me a range from yellow to yellow green to green to blue green to blue.

So it looks like both Ultramarine Blue and Hansa Yellow Light could be candidates to yield at least three hues I see--blue, yellow and yellow-green.  

3. Find these chosen hue's complements
The complement of blue is orange, so I can add to the palette
Quinacridone Burnt Orange (a good candidate because mixed with hansa yellow light, it will produce the oranges I see plus provide a range of darks)
The complement of yellow is purple, possibly Dioxozine Purple. (This will give a range from yellow to yellow ochre to brownish purple to purple as well as a good range of values).

4.  Test the scheme
     By doing these steps, I've come up with a possible limit palette scheme of blue, orange, yellow and purple--two sets of complements that, when I plot them on the color wheel, show up as a double split complementary scheme.  JOILĂ€!

A double split complementary scheme is any two sets of complements formed from colors on either side of a single set of complements.
Mixing with these complements plus white, I can get the lower intensity hues I see, especially in the vase and on the rock window casing.
    Just to be sure, I squeeze out onto the palette these choices along with white and explore all the possible hue, value and intensity mixes I can come up with from various combinations of Ultramarine Blue, Hansa Yellow Light, Quinacridone Burnt Orange, Dioxazine Purple and Titanium White.  THERE'S where I begin to see potential.

   If you'd like to learn more about ways to work with color schemes, take a look at Series 10, four video tutorials on Transposing Color found HERE.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Why Notan?

Let's take a little journey with notan.
Using this photo as our subject without doing a notan study, we might ignore some key shadow patterns that unite the composition.  Because we know there is white on both horses and a light colored fence behind them, we might not notice that the majority of the fence is in shadow and that portions of the white of the horses also are in shadow just as portions of their dark colors are in light.  Neither might we see that terrible tangent where the top of the horses' backs mesh with the bottom fence line back of the pasture.
Any strategy that causes us to refocus our attention enables us to discover things that otherwise we might not see.  By switching our focus from horses to shadow shapes, not allowing ourselves to see the images themselves, we discover an inner-connectedness within the fields of light and the fields of shadow.

Notice how the upper field of light merges into one shape when we get rid of the tangent by lowering the edge of the pasture shape.  And notice the pattern of not-in-shadow that emerges when we acknowledge the light on the dark colors of the frontal horse.
Notice how the upper field of light merges into one shape when we get rid of the tangent by lowering the edge of the pasture shape.  And notice the pattern of not-in-shadow that emerges when we acknowledge the light on the dark colors of the frontal horse.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Translating Notan Excerpts

Notan: A Creative Journey

The subject is Herefords grazing.  One cow is looking out at the audience while the other three go about their business.  Light coming from the left joins with shadows entering from the bottom and upper right to create the context within which we see these subjects in their environment.  This interrelating of shadow and light creates the Notan of the scene. 


Notan is a Japanese word meaning dark-light.  Its original visual use was to create two-dimensional designs in black and white, the purest and most ancient we know being the yin yang symbol.

The Notan concept relating to visual thinking didn't enter western art until the 19th century when we believe it was introduced by Oriental art scholar, Ernest F. Fenollosa.  In the early 1920s, American artist and teacher, Arthur Wesley Dow, a colleague of Fenollosa, was the first to apply Notan as a principle to Western art in his book, Composition.  In this text he attempts to blend the Eastern concept of dark/light with the Western approach to negative/positive.

But Dow was handicapped by the mainstream trend of his time.  Consequently, his efforts could not transcend that attitude beyond abstraction.  With that era's concern being two-dimensional space rather than a translation of images within space, shadow as a construct of light was not a consideration.  He took the idea of Notan as far as he could within the context of his time.  We sometimes forget that during the Abstraction Expressionist era, shadow and light gave way to negative-positive shapes and value relationships.  

What Dow did though was to introduce an idea that has become a valuable tool for realistic painters today.  Even though he could not quite see the Notan construct in the natural world, subsequent artists have seen it clearly.  Like any discovery, this one began with an insight that eventually became a working tool.  Today we understand it as a principle with which we can comprehend shadow and light and one we can use to undergird the composing process.

Winter Morning on the Tallulah   Oil on Canvas
For several decades, my personal work has been based on Notan. It is the basis for all our instructional videos.  Our newest series digs deep into the Notan process, showing how we capture and create Notan, how we can find variations with in it and how we can creatively translate it into a painting.  We hope you will find within these tutorials a breakthrough that will burst your creative stream wide open.