To see like an artist is the goal. There are two side to this. The natural response and one we learn. The natural response is emotional and intuitive. Artists need to respond and paint emotionally. The response that we learn is through technique and practice.
One part of technique that add the punch to a painting is how we see and paint shapes. The second is the relationship between light and dark values. Sounds like life actually.
Shapes can simplify the complex into something that we can better understand. We humans understand and respond to strong uncomplicated shapes. Maybe it is hardwired into us from evolution. After all recognising a shape and responding to it quickly could save lives.
These days we respond to advertising and other signage because of simplified or stylised shapes. Add to this a strong light/dark contrast in values and we are drawn to the shape instinctively. So it makes sense to use this idea in painting too. Caravaggio understood this with his powerful use of light and dark contrasts.
Paul Cezanne pushed the idea of shapes to the point where perspective was almost broken. He simplified a vast landscape into a series of shapes devoid of detail, but still suggesting what was there for the viewer's mind to fill in.
Without adapting reality through shapes and values an opportunity is lost to create something different. To bring in the artist's emotional content that will excite the viewer's imagination.
How to paint with more impact and emotion? Look at powerful value contrast and simple strong shapes. What about colour? Yes colour adds much to a painting, but take a look at black and white photographs and recognise the power of shapes and values. Think of Ansel Adams photos and the message is clear.
I have encouraged many art students to focus on painting studies using simplified shapes and strong values. The best way to start is to look for the big dominant mass shapes. Then draw them in black and white. This is also called a notan painting. From this simple exercise the process of developing a strong painting can begin.
Below is a short video extract from my course, Learn To Paint With Impact, demonstrating how to use this technique. Try it yourself.
Plein Air Painting With Watercolor
Try watercolor sketches for a quick and simpler way to do plein air painting
Does the thought of setting up an easel with all of your oil painting kit outdoors make you cringe? For many new to plein air painting the inconvenience of carrying much equipment and and materials can make an outdoor adventure seem daunting. Oil paints pose problems with cleaning up with hazardous solvents too. There is another option using watercolors.
It is true that once you have an oil painting system in place plein air painting becomes simpler. However watercolor painting gives you all the benefits of plein air with a fraction of the equipment and materials. I recently took my standard watercolor kit and reduced it further until I could have it all fitting into a small should bag.
The kit consisted of:
What about the paints? I selected a range of watercolor paints and squeezed sufficient amounts into the folding palette before setting out. Another option of course is to use watercolor pans, but I prefer tubes.
All of this fitted into a small sling bag. An easel? I had an MDF board that is about A4 in size to which I could tape the paper with masking tape. The board also doubles as a backing board in my carry bag to keep the contents safe.
With this light kit I set out to the beach and was able to complete a sketch quickly and easily. The quick drying watercolors made the finished product easy to transport. Watercolor painting lends itself to quick and spontaneous work, which is ideal for plein air painting. It encourages quick thinking and commitment, but you can still plan your composition beforehand using a pencil.
This approach can be used for informal journals, sketches or more resolved watercolor painting. The choice is yours. The experience is a lot of fun too. There is less focus on setting up and more time to get on with the painting process itself.
Try watercolor journaling as a way to break into regular plein air painting. I am sure it will be a fun experience.
The Obsessive Artist
...if you are designing a jumbo jet then we would hope that there is a bit more work going into the project.
What image does the word obsessive conjure up in your mind? A negative one I should imagine. Perhaps even behaviour that needs some professional help? Certainly obsessive behaviour can suggest extreme conduct that has negative consequences. There is however a good side to obsessive behaviour too. There is scope for all of us to be a bit more obsessive about our passions. Artists can take note that being obsessive is a good thing and should be encouraged. Not sure? Take a leaf out of the book of science!
Recently I watched an excellent documentary on BBC called In Search of Science hosted by Professor Brian Cox. You may have seen it although I do admit that I came across it by chance. It was all about scientists that have contributed immensely to our knowledge about the natural world. The show started with a look at Sir isaac Newton. That giant of genius who amazingly was born in 1642! They were still burning witches back then and here was this man with a modern intellect simply centuries before his time. Newton was obsessive about observing the natural world and finding solutions to problems. This was a good thing since his natural laws, proven by him through extensive experimentation, changed the world of science forever.
There were examples of other incredible achievements by obsessive scientists. All very well I thought. These boffins lived a long time ago. But then a mathematician came on who is working at the moment on one of the most perplexing problems. Finding an answer to why the universe exists at all. Not only that, but being able to prove it mathematically. What makes a genius? According to this mathematician the drive to focus and solve a problem long after others would give up distinguishes many geniuses from the rest of us. Ten years of work is required to claim some sort of mastery on any topic. So a genius, or more correctly a master, has an insatiable curiosity and drive to solve the problems of whatever interests him or her.
It was argued that for most people, especially in this age of distraction, there is only a superficial interest in anything. We tend to gloss over topics. Nobody gets stuck in to master something anymore. Generalisations yes, but true? Just google it and you can get away with most anything it seems. But if you are designing a jumbo jet then we would hope that there is a bit more work going into the project.
Should artists not also become obsessive about their art? Imagine if we could acquire the skill and knowledge of artists that we admire simply by working hard at our art. Does that seem like a good bargain? So what if it is a ten year plus deal. Many others may argue that it is a waste of time. That all the effort to master something like art will never keep the wallet fat. What about those scientists who plugged away without reward or recognition until late in their lives? Perhaps to be vindicated years after their passing. Where they misguided?
Take Paul Cezanne and Claude Monet for example. Two artists who persisted and struggled against popular opinion until they were acknowledged as titans of art in their later life. What if they were not obsessive?
The answer is that your life's purpose is at stake. There is no escaping this. What brings joy to the artist is art. To ignore it will bring regret. To accept your purpose will bring peace. Money is not the purpose, but there will be enough of it attracted to cover your needs and some luxuries too.
It seems that if our purpose in life is at stake that we should be obsessive about it. We should work at our tasks, solve problems, grow in knowledge and always seek the next question so that we may answer it empahatically. The artist need not be embarassed about it or apologise if the chores are delayed.
Obsess a little. Create a lot.
Use Photo References Effectively
Photo references are an essential part of every artist's studio process. From recording scenes, step-by-step process or to record the finished work and much more. In this video I look at online software like www.pickmonkey.com to assess composition, value and colour of a reference for a potential painting.
Malcolm Dewey: Artist. Country: South Africa