Let me show you my best painting secret!
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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.