Thursday, 29 April 2010
Sometimes I can get too tied up in detail and lose the bigger picture. It can be nice to relax a little and forget about getting averything in exactly the right place. When I am in a mood obsessed with detail I find myself counting leaves on trees even though I am sure no-one will ever know how many leaves there were in my souce photo, somehow it puts my mind to rest to get them right. I sometimes stumble across painting tutorials on satelite tv channels where an 'artist' is showing how to give the impression of bushes and trees with just a few brush strokes, I'm sorry but I detest this style of painting. The result is something you might find frescoed on the wall of a tacky mediterreanean restaurant, at best. At worst the result is a clichéd and over-stylized image which insults the observer with an assumption that they don't know what a tree really looks like.
On the other hand too much detail can make a painting look amateur if it isn't done well. I sometimes find myself trying to get all the detail of a window frame in when in reality such detail wouldn't be noticed at such a distance. This is especially a waste of time if you want the eye to be drawn to some interesting interaction between figures in the mid-distance instead of some wonkey windows in the background where the frames are almost as thick as the panes of glass.
I was getting a bit fed up over agonising over detail in my last few paintings so I decided to have a bit of fun painting over an old one of a raindrop which I didn't really like. I've included a photo of the original canvas, as you can see it's loaded with texture. As it was it was impossible to get any fine detail so I had to focus on the big picture and do a lot of squinting to try to get the overall balance of colours and tones. The result is that close up it looks a little messy but from a distance it captures the light and reflections. I almost got sidetracked trying to draw all the lines in the straw mat the glass is sitting on but I realised before it was too late and loosened up a bit.
Another thing I would add as a final point is not to be afraid of using grey in colourful paintings, as you can see I used a lot of grey in the reflections in the glass and it fits perfectly with the brightness of the image.
Wednesday, 3 March 2010
One of the great struggles in drawing and painting, for me at least, is the conceptual mind interfering with what I see in front of me. Instead of painting what I see I end up painting what I think I see, not what is really there. A face may become more stylized or a shadow lose its uniqueness. Maybe this is good for some art if you want to express yourself or part of your personality, but what I find beautiful in a painting is to see the light and form of a moment interpreted in paint. I'm still learning so half of my painting turn out awful and the thing I paricularly don't like is when they look amateurish and cliched, this is normally a result of me going on autopilot and painting what I thought was there instead of what really was there.
The point is to see your painting as it really is and this can be done in various ways. Looking in the mirror is a great one. Sometimes I'm amazed at how odd my painting looks when held in a mirror: massive jaw, wonky eyes, it's embarrassing. A hand held mirror can be useful to see both the picture and the subject at the same time. A computer can be used to flip the image or simplify it in various ways: if you are having trouble seeing the tones you can increase the contrast until it's almost black and white, or you can apply a filter to try to get a different view of the picture, with limited layers for example. You can even apply a filter to imitate the image in paint and then paint the computer's painting. I used to do this more but to be honest the more you paint the easier disctinctions are to see, plus there is something to be said for a human's interptetation. Now I like to get everything in the right place and I let my eye interpret the hues and tones. Everyone seems to use Photoshop but I found the completely free PhotoScape was fantastic and the things you can do with the hues can help with any electrically lit photos you have that may look yellow. Play with the sliders and curves too much though and you will end up with something that looks very artificial, use with caution but a little boost on the contrast never hurt anybody.
Another useful trick if you are working from a photograph is to look at your painting and the photo upside down. This can help you to see the shapes you are working from rather than what your mind thinks they should look like: it can be easy to make the eyes too oval or the whites of the eyes too white. The painting of my dad I posted earlier I painted completely upside down at first. When I flipped it I had got some of the features a bit wrong (the size of the forehead made him look a but like Homer Simpson) but it had captured something special about my dad. It's a kind of magic to project somebody's character through the careful placement of colour and form.
The final tool I can think of for the moment, and the subject of the post, is the very useful observation of negative space in viewing a subject. Look at the spaces between the shapes as much as you look at the shapes and things will slot together better. It's a meditation on the Taoist duality of fullness and emptiness, existence and non-existence, but not really, I'm just being pretentious. It is actually just trying to see what is really there.
Friday, 29 January 2010
I have been painting a lot this month. At the moment I am experimenting with underpainting. I frequently paint directly onto a white canvas but applying a wash of colour mixed with turpuntine can have a great impact on how the painting develops. In this painting of my old friends Sandy and Rebecca I painted the canvas with a wash of burnt sienna. It had to be transparent so as not to obscure the pencil drawing I had done underneath (when painting people I almost always carefully draw an outline in pencil first, it can save a lot of time later when you are trying to obtain a likeness). I mixed the burnt sienna with turps and used a rag to wipe back the paint when the pencil underdrawing was not clearly visible. I had previously fixed the pencil underdrawing with cheap hairspray, this stops the graphite from muddying the underpainting, I am surprised the turpuntine doesn't dissove the hairspray, but it seems to work fine.
Other colours can be used as a wash, I read recently about an artist who does wonderful portraits first covering the canvas with a mixture of flesh tone and grey. As you can see from the painting of Sandy and Rebecca, the underpainting enabled me to leave spaces between subsequent blocks of colour, saving me time and also unifying the colours in the painting. If you look closely you will notice that Sandy's shirt, hand and pint glass are captured very simply. I actually got a bit bored at this point and decided that if I put too much detail in the hand it might detract from his face...excuses, excuses. Even Sandy's face reveals a lot of the underpainting showing through.
Sunday, 3 January 2010
Saturday, 2 January 2010
Of the two drawings I've provided in today's post, the first is of my English student Mariana Galan's granddaughter, and the second is my driving instructor Oscar's baby. I just passed my driving test in Spanish so as a thank you for putting up with me I drew his baby.
Friday, 1 January 2010
I enjoy drawing in pencil very much: there is so much less to worry about regarding colour and tone when using graphite than working in paint. My friends also seem to appreciate my drawings more than my paintings: maybe they look more professional, maybe, like black and white photography, they just look classier. Either way I get lots of people asking me to do black and white pictures of their children and grandchildren, as well as the occasional grandmother and grandfather.
Here are two old men I drew freehand from photos in the newspaper. The first is actually of the owner of Harrods, Mohammed Al Fayed, but I wasn't interested in getting a likeness. I had seen some interesting cross-hatching in a gallery in Edinburgh and I wanted to have a go at it. If you look closely you can see I employed wavey cross-hatching to build up the shades, I think it turned out quite well. The second was also an interesting photo I found in a newspaper. I like to start a pencil drawing with a hard pencil and then move step by step to softer pencils as the drawing requires deeper and deeper tones. In this way I usually don't have to use an eraser as the hard pencil lines are almost invisible when you get to the 6B-9B. However, I do like to use a putty rubber at the final stages to add highlights. In these two drawings I wasn't concerned about achieving a likeness, but if I had been drawing someone's child I would probably have started by drawing a grid on the photo and paper to get the proportions exactly right, I don't want to offend any parents by making their babies ugly. I'll post some photos of children later this month.