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!