Painting Relationships

“Life on the Edge”
watercolor 22 x 30 inches
New painters are usually held in absolute hypnotic focus on the details of a subject. That seems to end in frustration most often. That frustration comes when ‘something isn’t quite right’ and the painter cannot identify what it is.

It usually has to do with relationships. What relationships, you ask?

How red might behaves next to green will be different than how it behaves next to, say for example, violet. How one value reads next to a darker value might be quite different in how it might read next to a more medium value. In other words, everything in every painting reads in the context in which it lies. If a triangle shape is the only triangle in a group of many circles, the triangle will seem way out of place, or will absolutely draw the eye due to its’ difference. (contrast!)

As I was painting this piece, the tops of the dark cypress (seen over the edge of the ridge and between the face of the big bluff) they drew the eye away from the focal point at the top left of the painting. Not good! So . . .how to fix it? It was merely a value relationship problem: the bluffs were lighter in value then . . .I had established a contrast that wasn’t consistent with the rest of the painting. Darken the cliff face . . .and keep the color contrasts at a minimum . . .was the solution.

Several difficulties like this arose all through this painting. The beach and the edges along the foam and sand were dangerously distracting the eye, also. Again, value differences and sharply defined edges (sudden value changes) pulled the eye away from what was important in the painting. The beach is meant as a quiet area to rest the eye, not attract it. The white of the foam had to be calmed, the edges blurred, the values brought closer were all slight but significant adjustments that were needed for all the different pieces in that area to relate and act as a whole, rather than individual parts.

Contrasts are what make a painting work, but building harmonies with them and setting up transitions and gradations between contrasts is a great challenge. It goes beyond painting “things” and “details.” As artists, our charge is to paint relationships.

18 thoughts on “Painting Relationships”

  1. Ah, you make it all sound so easy, Mike. Years of experience, I imagine, are what makes you see these discrepancies that often befuddle me. You’re right – so often we know something “isn’t right,” but are unsure what to do about it and what will make it right. Good post – lots of info there and worth reading again, which I think I will do right now.

  2. What wonderful strength in this piece… very glad I subscribed to your blog.

    Sometimes, always working alone, I forget to challenge myself. It is in facing challenges that we become so actively involved in the creative process. Teaching the known can also drain the energy and passion from my work. Your tight compositions and warm use of colour is a good wake-up call in every way.

  3. Mike, thanks for all the valuable information about how to make a great design work. Your ability to articulate all this information always amazes me. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Mike,

    It is really great that you’ve taken the time to explain the aspects of relationships so thoroughly. Thank you; I see this material as becoming “Chapter 7 part one” of your future book…

    Wonderful painting…

  5. Hey There Ms. Carpenter! Thanks for the compliment! Let’s not let this secret outta the bag, but I have those befuddling discrepancies, too. It is developing the ability to look past what is obvious (the subject) and look at the marks of the paint that helps us painters to truly ‘see.’

  6. Kay thanks sooo much for your thoughts . . . .I am envious that you have the privilege of painting in Italia !! Whadda life you’ve got!

    Let me just say this “tight” composition was laid in first with a four inch wide brush!!

  7. Hey there, Mary! Glad you continue to come by. I wish I could articulate it better, actually. I keep trying to understand this painting stuff myself.

  8. Ah! Silvina !!! I have missed you, girlfriend !! I keep checking in at your site and find such terrific changes in your work. I wish I could boast such growth!

  9. Hey There Mr. Owen!!! Nice to have you stop in.

    For those who visit this comment section, be sure to visit Tom’s blog. He is a master watercolor painter and teacher.

    I wish I lived closer to you Tom so we could get together from time to time.

  10. Hey Brent . . . .those “earth tones” are all pure color glazes. If you could see the painting up close, there is a ton of color variation in them. Try clicking on the image to see it larger.

    Thanks for the positive comments, Brent.

  11. Ha! Chapter seven, eh, Hank? May I ask what I should put into chapters 1 through 6? ;-))

    Thanks, ole buddy, for your praise. It has always meant a lot to me. I hope you are putting brush to paper yourself.

  12. Beautiful Mike. The color and transitions are gorgeous! I plan to spend some time here to learn. Thanks for the time you put into your informative posts. Best, /Lee

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