After posting a non objective piece last week, I immediately ran to the easel to do another. Sketches were already done and I was psyched to hit a home run! I have worked on this piece daily for over a week, putting in three to four hours per day.
There are plenty of those who are saying under their breath, “I don’t like these pictures of Linemen.” In other words, they might be thinking that these ‘pictures’ aren’t cute enough or pretty enough to decorate their house. Many painters today subconsciously appraise paintings from that point of view. Those artists are confined to thinking purely about the subject of the painting and how precious it might be in a decorative environment, instead of assessing the painting on the basis of its artistic merit.
That said, I have been wrestling with this subject for a few months and today I broke through to a new level of thinking. I finally was able to separate my compulsive little pea brain from trying to replicate the subject and moved into considering the abstract composition FIRST. What a difference it makes!
Seriously, I do know better. In fact, I teach this in my classes. But it isn’t always easy to make the shift. I might be the teacher, but I am vulnerable to habit just like the next person.
Let me illustrate what I am writing about . . . .refer to the sketches you see above . . . . . . .there is, essentially, two values in each of these sketches. It wasn’t until I reached the bottom sketch that I realized that I should consider the dark values as ONE SHAPE and how it sits in the rectangle or the square! Notice the little teeny sketch to the right of the bottom sketch. Doesn’t that abstract shape appeal to your sense of design? It certainly does mine! It was there that I realized (once again my mind says, Oh! I remember!!) that it isn’t the details but the arrangement of the value shapes and the ratio of their sizes that appeals to our deep abstract aesthetic senses.
Knowing that, I grabbed an old painting, flipped it to the backside, and began drawing in the big dark shape. Once drawn, I could see where some modifications were necessary . . . namely to move from a rectangle to a square format . . .there was an awkward space on the left. Then, the decision to put the horizontals at a slight oblique also added a nice tension to the composition. Also, I recognized that the crossbar on the background pole was not a good angle, so revised that, too, in order to drive the eye to the white helmets.
Once drawn, I pulled the three inch brush from its holster and began sloppily painting intp the dark shape and made sure to slop some color variation into the shape but keep the values the same (that was yesterday). The lights and the darks were set . . . .I left it to dry until today . . . .(and worried a bit about the light shapes of the light on the back of the one figure and the light helmets. I was concerned that those light shapes were too isolated.) It needed more of an abstraction of light passing through the composition.
In short, I lifted here and there to add more of a passage of light through the piece, enhanced a few darks here and there, pushed a few warm cool contrasts and carefully kept myself from ever considering details. . . . .or logic. For example, I decided not to fill in the cross bar brace and not to put an underside dark on the crossbar to the left of the pole . . . .why? Because those details would disturb the composition. Yes, those details would make sense but would affect the negative shapes.
I know this is a long explanation, but I believe this to be the place where I break through in the series to much stronger work. Thanks for being patient.
“Bucket Crane II”
Watercolor 22 x 30 inches
So many times I have painted a subject too small for the size of the format on which I was painting (the paper.)
Whaddayamean, Mike? Too small? The details were right. The ‘picture’ looked like the subject.
Yes, yes. I understand. But one must look beyond the details and see the RELATIONSHIP of sizes in subject versus the rectangle in which one paints. The comparison says soooo much!
Usually, for the subject to have the necessary power in a painting, BIG is the answer . . . . . . .so big that it crowds the edges and spills over the edges of the rectangle to assert its power. Or those shapes may appear to be floating in space and not connected to anything if the subject shapes are too small for the size of the paper.
There are times, however, when that feeling of floating in space might be necessary. . . . . . .like the painting above. I painted this idea once before in the previous post. If you compare the two paintings, one can see there is quite a different feeling in this versus the last. In this piece, the shape appears further from the viewer and definitely higher off the ground. If you fear heights as I do, then a painting like this might affect you emotionally putting a shiver of fear into your consciousness.
This is where it makes a lot of sense to sketch first (before painting) and do so inside of a rectangle of the same proportions as that on which you will be painting. By doing so, one can see (and should examine) the size relationship between the rectangle and the subject. It matters!!!
Yes, OCD! Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I think I have it. Maybe not full tilt, but I certainly act it, now and then. I wonder if it is something I eat. . . . .
When I thought about it, I had to ask WHY was I painting this subject . . .(the big ship) ? It was the immensity of it that grabbed me, then the light and how that golden morning set colors into a different world. It sure as heck is NOT about the details or correctness of the ship.
So, back to the sketch book! . . . . and to play with some color ideas. The reason for the color investigations is that the superstructure of the bridge of the ship is white . . .but against the sky in that light it was actually quite dark. So, how do I put that rascal in the painting, make it dark, and still get it to read as white? Now there is a question for you!
To get this painting on the right track, for once I actually have had to resort to perspective and vanishing points. I need to exaggerate the perspective to make the blocky nature of the bridge of the ship more interesting. It’s a shape thing !
Then I MUST put scale to work. So, I have decided that rather than having a path in a park like I had yesterday, I should put in a road with cars travelling on it . . . .and the comparison of those . . .and a few palms . . .will send a clear message of enormity.
It has taken me several sketches to come to these conclusions. I can feel it now. I am getting closer. Now that I have this in mind, I must decide on technique to fit the mood. I still have more decisions to make and challenges to resolve. Does this EVER get easy???
I have been playing with the same motif of the cliffs and bluffs along our coast for as long as I have been painting. Against the sky or the sea, the cliff is nothing more than a severe bump or rise out of a flat area. What makes a “bump” entertaining? Go on, tell me ! what?
The answer is not in the reality, but in what the artist creates. The more we copy what we ‘see’ as reality, the more mundane it can become. So the artist must do something to arrest the viewer and hold his attention. Or, the painting must hold some degree of shock value, I suppose. The artist only has a few tools to play with: Value, Shape, Color, Texture and Line. That is it. Value, shape and color hold the greatest potential for developing that ingredient of ‘shock’ or ‘visual stimulus.’ (Notice that details are not mentioned! . . .or considered . . .it is NOT details that matter.)
So, here is my shot at value, shape and color to carry the day with a ‘bump.’ I long ago let go of the photos and the actual subject to help me. Sketches from memory and establishing a strong compositional design (value sketch) before doing any painting is the basis for a strong, bold painting.