Thursday, October 28, 2010

MY BOOK reprise...

I just wanted to leave a note here letting you all know that I posted a link to the book, Gouache Paintings in Small Scale, in the left-hand sidebar. You should be able to click on it and go to the order page easily. We discovered that you have to put in the amount first, then click Add to Cart.

You can now get priority shipping at the same cost as regular shipping, so you can hold this little book in your hands in 5 days, they say. I hope you enjoy it.


Palette Shift class results

Today's class turned out to be really fun and instructive! We made three little sketch-paintings, the same size and on the same paper, one in grayscale, one from the original photograph and one that shifted the palette slightly. Above is a snapshot of the three 6x6" paintings I did in class today. They're on UART400, a paper I'm really enjoying.

Here's my original photograph and a grayscale copy of it.

I think it's a good idea to paint grayscale sketches from color photos. It can be instructive to compare a grayscale photo to your grayscale painting after you paint it. The skill of translating color to value is irreplaceable, I think, and derived from practice recording values the way you do it on location.

To paint the second one, I selected a palette of 10-20 sticks using my color wheel. That way I limited what I was using and didn't start to throw in the kitchen sink. It's primarily a blue-orange-green palette.

I also selected a palette for the third one, this time looking at the photo and the color wheel, and shifting all the colors. I like the adventurous quality of the color.

You can play with little color sketch plans like these to see what works and analyze the values and colors, learn how to make things harmonize differently, and challenge yourself to learn more about color relationships. I might use a combination of colors from both of these color pieces to make a third one, and then start to refine my color decisions before finally painting a version that is, say, 18x18" in size. I wouldn't pre-select the entire palette of colors when I do the larger piece, because by then I don't have to. I really know where I'm heading and can freely interpret the color as I paint. Oddly enough, planning results in freedom!

Here are a couple of paintings done by my talented students:

Nancy's first one

Nancy's second one

Kris's two paintings

Great job! Keep going, gang!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Class 5— October 28 — Palette Shift

A subtle shift in color can make a difference in mood, energy and place, so at this class we’re going to do three small (4x6” to 6x9”) paintings, one in grayscale and two others with a limited color scheme. We’ll slightly shift the palette and see the beauty of using subtle varieties of colors for each one. 

I want you to find a photograph that invites a harmonic color scheme, perhaps one that has a majority of one color, such as warm pinks and violets at sunset, or a blue lake and mountain reflections. Be sure it has a dynamic range of values, too, with some strong contrasting dark and light colors.  Bring your color wheel with you to class, as well as three pieces of paper or canvas that are all the same size. 

Analyze your photograph and select the single most important color in it. For instance, in this photograph, choose the color you think is the key color. Spend time analyzing which color you believe is most influential. There is no right answer, it's up to you as the artist, but I think you can see that there is a definite color bias.

Then I want you to take a few minutes to look at this wonderful online tool, called THE GAMUT MASK. It's not absolutely necessary to do this for our class on Thursday, but I've found it very interesting and thought provoking. If you're using pastels you won't be mixing colors, but you can select a harmonious palette that you can then shift slightly one direction or the other on the palette. Play around with it, if you like, to see how a subtle shift in color can affect things. Use that predominant color and find the gamut of colors you want to use in your little paintings. 

For instance, here are two color schemes I might use, the first based on what I see in the original photo, and the second a much more purple-orange version of it. 

In class we'll do a much more traditional approach. We'll make a quick grayscale painting from the photograph, finding the values. This need not be a detailed painting, only a rendition to help you see the values. It's helpful to bring a grayscale version of the photo:

You can use a range of gray pastels, or black and white paint. The idea is to find those values, assign a set of colors to use (inspired by the original color photo--the first palette) and paint a small version of that, and then shift the palette (the second one) and paint it again, this time from the grayscale painting. All three paintings should be on the same surface, painted the same size, but any kind of paper is fine with me. I think white or neutral toned paper or canvas will be best.

This is a fun and demanding exercise, so come prepared to dig in and really think about COLOR!!

Also bring last week's paintings to show, as always. I'll be curious to know how you did with a complex background. 

See you on Thursday,

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Complexity class results

The demonstration painting, shown above, was the result of about an hour's work to show the class how to interpret a very intricate and complex background. The key element to a successful background is that it must support the subject of the painting effectively, without unduly drawing the eye, functioning to move the eye to the subject. To do this you have to use a combination of techniques, among them patterning the light and dark, and repeating the characteristic shapes, colors or textures found there.

Remember that there are five elements you must manipulate to achieve the illusion of depth: cooler color, lighter value, less detail, softer edges, less contrast. It's probably be best to begin with a ground color that is the general value of the subject you’re painting, or very nearly so. Neutral colors are easier to work against, but saturated color can be visually exciting. The value of the color is more important than its intensity. Choose carefully.I chose a cool gray in a medium-dark value for my demonstration painting.

I find it’s easier to lay down the sky color, when its seen, before beginning any elements that reside against it. An underdrawing in soft charcoal can determine the areas where the sky will obtrude into the snarl of trees, for instance. I suggest using a thicker application of sky color in openings and a very, very light color application, perhaps a shade darker than the open sky, where branches will lie against it.

Examine a snarl of close branches behind the subject of the painting, such as a forest might present. Notice that you can sort out areas where the growth is denser, perhaps larger branches or trunks, and places where the crisscrossed branches are lighter in color, value and amount. Squint your eyes to see, not the actual branches but the impression of them created by values. Rather than trying to paint every branch, which is overwhelming, begin with the larger areas of darks (which may only be medium in value, depending on the scene), and lay them in over the sky color using the flat of your pastel stick. Use lighter strokes and lighter colors where the branches thin, thinking of areas of value, NOT branches. Thick and thin, medium to light, no matter what the value begin with the flat side of your pastel, not the point.

If you find thick trees immediately behind your subject, analyze the large light and dark areas of value that create the impression of a wooded hillside or tree-covered slope. The distant trees may not be tremendously different looking than the closer tree, especially in a photo, but remember that if you were there standing on site looking at them you would be able to see the effect of air, whether the camera catches this or not. So decide how far the trees are from the subject, or whatever is behind it, and keep them uniform at the same distance. For instance, let’s say you have background trees on the left side and the right side, with some farther away in the middle. Those trees that line up, despite being on different sides, must appear to have the same amount of detail along the edges, be the same color and value, and have the same amount of light and dark to look uniformly distant. The farther grove of trees will of course have less of all these elements.

Patterning can be a huge part of this illusion. Squint like crazy to see this. Record the repeated patterns you see with an area of value, forsaking any kind of descriptive detail. Think in terms of value, using shapes of light and dark, the repeated line or stroke that’s most characteristic, and then color.

Blur or manipulate the photograph to help you see the complex background subjectively rather than objectively. I often use Photoshop to blur and crosshatch the background area behind my subject matter, in order to be able to analyze the shapes and values. Sometimes I reduce the color or saturation, as that can be distracting, but sometimes I don’t. I will also sit down and do a pencil drawing of the subject, on a separate sheet of paper (not as an underdrawing, that is), which forces me to see the complex background as an area of values patterned with light and dark.

Use whatever helps you to mass the areas of complexity into shapes and values, and then select effective colors. It’s most advisable to paint this area that's behind previous to painting the subject in front of it, although small adjustments are possible and often necessary. Just think logically about the complex ground—you can’t really paint all the teensy branches and leaves well, nor should you need to. It’s like haiku poetry, suggesting enough to satisfy the mind of your viewer and let them enjoy looking at the subject.

Here's another painting of mine, done long ago, that illustrates how to simplify the background. There were a lot of trees and brush in the photograph, but they have become patterns of light, medium and dark values that suggest all kinds of things to the viewer. 

I also shared my new gouache book, Small Scale Paintings in Gouache, with the class. I'm so thrilled with this little book. It has 68 of my 2.5" x 3.5" paintings in it, three step-by-step demonstrations, and a little about my history, including a portion of the article published in Watercolor Artist last February.

It's easy to preview and buy it, if anyone is interested. Here's the Blurb page where you can see all the details. Be sure to click on the little View Screen square in the lower right-hand corner when you get there to enlarge the image to fill your monitor.  Blurb ships to many countries. Check here to see if they ship to your area.

Keep going, gang!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Class 4— October 21— Complexity Behind it All

San Carlos, pastel, 12" x 12"
At this class I’m going to try to help you see and understand better how to approach a complex background that resides behind your subject matter by patterning light and dark, as well as identifying and repeating shapes, colors and textures. Your photo should have something like a tangled forest or textured hillside overlapped by the subject matter in front of it.

Look for a photograph something like this:

I often take my photos into Photoshop to manipulate them. For instance, you might do something such as this, blurring the area behind so that you see it as shapes.

Or it can be helpful to do a drawing from a complex photo that reduces the tangles to areas of value and patterns, so if you have time this week you might try a pencil drawing such as the one below to help you see the areas of complexity as values and shapes only. Bring the drawing(s) along with your photo(s).

Any kind or size paper is fine with me, but I always think it's a good idea to consider the amount of information in the painting and how you plan to paint it, and then choose the size of the paper to suit it. It can be hard to cram a lot of background shapes onto an 8x10" paper, so choose accordingly. 

Bring your night paintings done last week to show, as usual. I want to talk about the night paintings, and see the results on the black boards you made.

See you on Thursday,

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Night class results

Painting night scenes on the black boards we made today was really an interesting experiment. I love the textural  qualities they have, and it's quite effective working on the very dark color.

We began with a review of last week's class devoted to turning up the contrast. Here are a few pieces we analyzed. None of them is quite finished, but the resolution is coming along on each one.

Lisa (we saw the beginning stage last post)
Adriana (done on a black board, but painted last week)


The lecture was just about right out of the chapter on painting the night from my book, with a few other excursions. The basic rules of painting the night go like this:
  • Use colorful darks, not just black.
  • Accentuate the patterns of the lights.
  • Use exciting colors in the light areas.
  • Look for haloes around light bulbs.
  • Moonlight can cast pale shadows.
  • Use medium-light colors, not white, for most stars.
  • City lights form strings of colored lights following streets.
  • Keep city lights in perspective, massing them in the distance.
I think it's a good idea to crop and recompose the photograph before printing it, if you can, but thumbnails or sketches can do that job just as well. I like to print out my photo close to the same size as the board, if that's practical, which it was today. Most of us were working on 8x10" boards.

Probably the most interesting part of the day was making and working on these toothy boards. Barb Clark brought all the supplies we need, including the pre-primed Masonite panels, black (and various other colors) of Art Spectrum Colourfix Primer, and foam brushes. The process is simple. She uses a couple of different textural approaches. In the first she just lets the strokes go catywampus (HER word) creating a nice scumble of ridges and textures. In the second she places the strokes all in one direction, lets it dry, and runs the strokes the other direction, creating a sort of canvas-like look. In both cases she lets the first application dry and applies a second coat.

I did my demonstration on one of the boards. It's not too far along but you can see how it's coming. I loved working with the dark ground, which makes the colors just glow. I didn't leave the black 'raw', but covered it with deep, rich dark colors, as you can see. The black ground is still evident throughout the piece, and will be when it's finished. Barb told us that one nice thing about using the primer is that if you over-blend something and lose the contrast you can brush off the pastel, even in just a small area, and reapply some of the Primer, thinned down with water, to recover the same surface. Very convenient! I enjoyed the way the catywampus texture made the tree look snarled with little branches almost effortlessly.

I'll carry this painting farther, of course, but we wanted to get our hands dirty. This was serious stuff, as you can see from the looks on their faces. Don't worry, we lightened up! It was a fun class and the results looked promising.

You're doing great. Keep going, gang!


Monday, October 11, 2010

Class 3— October 14— Night

Night Street, pastel, 12" x 9"

Find a nighttime photo with an interesting pattern of colorful lights to paint. We’ll analyze what makes the nighttime painting successful, painting on dark paper. We’ll discuss how you can make your own dark colored surface for this painting.

We'll start our class with a review of the work done last week, so bring along your contrast paintings
Then I'll do a lecture/demonstration on painting the night, and after that concludes I've asked Barb Clark to show us how she makes her toothy, black Masonite boards. 

Painting the glow of lights at night can be fascinating. I find it's best to work on a dark colored surface, making the addition of light streamlined. Black or very dark paper is sometimes hard to come by, so in the past we've "blackened" Wallis paper by adding a thick layer of very dark pastel and spraying it with water. It takes time to stretch it flat and, once done, it fills a bit of the tooth. 

Since most of you work in pastel, I'll demonstrate a night painting on one of Barb's hand-made boards using pastel, but I'm also anxious to give gouache a try on it. If you're working in another medium I hope you enjoy the idea of using a black or very dark ground. You might want to prime your surface with black gesso.

Find a good night photograph (not a sunset, as that's a different issue.) I have some photographs I'll bring, but take a look around and see what you can find or shoot this week. It really doesn't matter what the subject is, as long as it has an interesting pattern of lights against the dark. You can paint the big vista with city lights spread out, or the closer city scene, or anything else you find. Something like this:

Albuquerque panorama

Nighttime at El Pinto

If you would also like to make your own board you need to give Barb $3 in cash, please. The ones she provides are 8"x10", unless you want to bring a larger Masonite panel, or another surface such as rag mat or heavyweight watercolor paper. In choosing a photograph, you need to consider the scale of the board. It's very challenging to paint a vast panorama on small surface, not to mention detailing tiny spots of light on a toothy surface, so choose wisely, grasshopper. 

I'll be wearing my messy clothes so I can make my own board. See you on Thursday!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Turn Up the Contrast class results


I think this turned out to be a really good class! I always enjoy the energy of a larger group and our ranks swelled a bit today, which was fun. Good to see a few of you I hadn't seen in a long time, too... 

I offered a series of questions and asserted some pretty basic things about contrasting values and the role they play in composition. I don't think any of the things I said were a mystery to anyone there, but reminders can be good. If you want more details on this, visit the chapter in my book blog titled Letting Value Lead.

Think about these:
  • Value contrast creates a composition. No contrast, no picture. 
  • Value contrast is most evident when black is next to white. 
  • Strong contrast is useful for controlling attention. The greater the difference, the more attention the area attracts.
  • Value contrasts lead the viewer into and around the painting in an interesting, planned way.
  • Similar values placed together are not as visually interesting as highly contrasting values, which tend to attract the eye.
  • Middle values usually provide the framework for the painting, with light and dark value contrast giving the work its visual impact.
  • When the value range is reduced the eye still goes to the area of maximum contrast, but the design loses impact. 
  • A wider range of tonal values will have a stronger impact.
You construct the composition by creating a wide range of tones, controlling the movement of your viewer’s eye, and creating interest in the painting. Value contrast plays a big part in painting, the most important of which is moving the eye around, manipulating attention. More contrast, more interesting. Less contrast, less interesting. Value contrast is the visual impact of a painting, the oomph, the pizzazz, or lack thereof.

If your composition lacks a lot of contrasting values it’s visually boring. Oddly, if your composition is consistently high in contrast all over, it’s also boring. So it isn’t about just upping the contrast to make the painting interesting. Instead you have to control the contrast to move the eye. Create your value structure with well-placed medium values, massed together, providing the underlying organization, and place stronger contrasts in key areas to attract attention, and then modulate the remaining values to induce further movement around the painting.

Here's a peek at my painting in progress. First my plan, next to the photograph. I often make a plan and then see where it goes as I paint. It helps me to think it through beforehand. The reality became somewhat different, as you can imagine. 

 How can I improve the contrast to direct the eye in the painting?

In grayscale you can see that it’s very dramatic, but the light is outlining the cloud because it’s backlit. Most of the light contrast is on the right-hand side. It’s awkward to attract the eye so close to the edge. So to remedy this, I plan to move the top of the cloud to the left, and create more of that light sheen in a pattern leading the eye around the cloud.

Rather than make it two twin clouds overlapping, I’ll reduce it to one cloud, off-center in the composition, and draw out some of the interesting smaller clouds on the right to create an overall shape that points the eye into the cloud itself.

The contrast on the ground needs to remain dull, supportive but not attractive to the eye, as do the smaller, lower clouds. The blue of the sky should be dark enough to give the lights real pop, while remaining believable. 

And as you can see, I decided to move the cloud to the right, instead of the left, creating a sinuous movement of the whole cloud with the smaller, sparkling clouds in front.

I saw some dynamite work in progress, too. None of these is finished, of course, but I hope you can see how talented my students are!






And this shows a few of the gals at work in our spacious classroom with wonderful light.

At work in the classroom.
Patti brought in a sculpture of a crow and is sight measuring it, of course.

It's going well. Keep going, gang!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Class 2— October 7— Turn Up the Contrast

Contrast is one of the elements that creates movement and gives pizzazz to a painting. Find a photo that has a good range of values from dark to light. In this class we’ll ask how we can create effective contrast that draws and moves the eye. 
Have you ever noticed that the winning paintings at most shows are high contrast pieces? They have an excellent range of strong light and dark values. Does every winning painting have sock-it-to-you high contrast? Well, maybe not, but it has enough of a range of values that it's effective and interesting. Value is a basic property of color, of course, and is in essence the motor that drives where your viewer's eye moves. You have to control that movement to make your composition compelling, whatever the subject matter might be. 

At this week's class I'll do a demonstration that develops the grayscale underdrawing to create a composition with excellent contrast that moves your eye into the area of interest. We'll discuss the motivating factors and talk a bit about how value and color are linked. 

Find a photo that interests you, with a stimulating value contrast in the area of greatest interest. Bring both a color and grayscale copy of it to class to use for your painting. It can be any subject matter, and any size. 

Look for something like these, which I reduced to grayscale, as well:

(c) photo: Don Ketchek,  'Bobby'
(c) photo: Don Ketchek,  'Bobby'

Please bring your paintings from our 3-D class last week so we can discuss that class together. I'll be interested to know how you liked it. 

See you on Thursday!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The 3-D Painting class results

What gives depth to a painting? There are several "depth clues" that all of us use fairly routinely and hardly think about, like perspective, value and color shift. But there are a few others that seem elementary but often do not come under scrutiny. I decided to examine these clues and challenge my students to think about them more clearly.

I find that most of us understand one-point linear perspective, which is the convergence of the road, river or railroad tracks in the distance, and even two-point perspective, making both sides of the barn recede. We might not have studied all the rules, but in our minds we get that. 

Aerial perspective, on the other hand, is a tool my students have had drummed into them over and over. John Carlson's Law of Aerial Perspective states: All colors become cooler in color and lighter in value as they recede from the eye, except white. 

The rest of these clues are fairly simple but together can add great depth to a vista.
  • Think about relational proportions, for instance, in which larger objects appear nearer. That can become more complicated when a small object is closer and a large one farther away. They can look about the same size, which may be literally accurate but destroys the illusion of depth.
  • Modeling shapes gives form to objects in the composition, which is another key element in creating three-dimensionality. A well-rounded tree or bush, or modeled mountain or mesa adds to the illusion.
  • Overlapping shapes is another biggie. We all know that things in front overlap things behind. I always tell my students they must paint what's behind before painting what's in front, and part of the reason is this overlapping, which adds more to the illusion. 
  • Your point of view can also contribute depth clues. Think of the ant's eye view verses the bird's eye view. A high viewpoint gives majesty to the vista, while the low one adds drama and intrigue. Both enhance the sense of depth by engaging the viewer in feeling small or large, low or high.
  • Shapes can create depth by contributing directional forces. The shape of masses of value add dramatic depth when seen as one, such as the 'arrow' of a grasses and low-growing shrubbery in the foreground pointing the eye into the distance.

We spent some time looking at a few of my paintings, examining the various depth clues in them. In the portrait the depth is a few inches from the back of the hat to nose tip, accomplished using color, while in the figure painting it's the overlapping of shoulder and chin. In the floral painting (a gouache piece), the clues are color contrasts and dark-light contrasts, along with overlapping shapes. The shapes of the shadows contribute some depth clues to the trees, while linear perspective is at work in the painting of the window.

I asked my students to take some time to sketch out the composition they planned to use for the painting and identify, as well as enhance, some of the depth clues they saw there. Here's a nice drawing done by Adriana:

I saw some very nice work starting to take shape in the class, but will wait until next week to show you some of the results. It seemed to clarify some things for folks, at least making us think more seriously about things we often take for granted.

Good work, gang!