Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Real Start

My last post dealt with the different ways to start a painting.  But what is even more important is what should happen before you start the start.  As a still life painter, I have the ability to totally design my composition.  I have to know what I want to say and how I am going to arrange my cherished objects to achieve that goal.  Some call it concept or intentions.  Whatever you want to call it, much has to be decided as you move objects around and make choices about color and value.  One of those decisions is how to design your image.

My work now reflects something that I'm finding is a must in my compositions--strong lights and darks.  Chiaroscuro is the term used to mean light/dark in paintings.  This was a classic compositional motif used by the Dutch masters of the 17th century.  Does this mean that your major mass is dark with small shapes of light?  Not necessarily. 

A strong pattern can have lights connected with lights on a major dark field, but you can also have darks connected with darks on a major light field.  Your middle tone needs to marry with one or the other.  The fewer the values the better to make for a strong pattern!  This idea is supported by  Daniel Gerhartz in his Technical Insights from his book "Not Far From Home."  Design at its simplest, in my opinion, should be an arrangement of shapes that have a dominance of either dark or light and should be woven together with a thread that lyrically carries the eye to the focal point and around the canvas.  The thread is often comprised of the least dominant value that is either literally connected to or leading to the next progression of shapes that follow the pattern.

Some artists are calling themselves "abstract realists."  This idea makes perfect sense to me.  A Chiaroscuro painting, for example, makes use of light and dark patterns; if compressed into a grayscale and then posterized the resulting image looks like a black and white abstraction (Notan).  Such an abstraction can be powerfully seen from across a room. I am personally drawn to paintings with strong patterns of light and dark .  Here are a few that curl my toes.

                                                                 Daniel Gerhartz

                                                                 Nancy Guzik

                                                            Deborah Elmquist

Are there other compositional designs?  Of course.  But for me a strong pattern is my first choice when my concept is about capturing the path of light or dark.  Remember, there really are no hard and fast rule, or formulas for good compositions.  Knowing what you have to say comes first, then the design follows. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Alla Prima II Has Arrived

I just received my copy of Alla Prima II authored by Richard Schmid and Katie Swatland.  Opening the package was like Christmas all over again.  His first book is on my bookshelf and well worn but from all I read, the expanded edition would be chocked full of new information. And it was.  I'm about a third of the way through because I'm trying to soak in all his wonderful insights about painting. 

Richard Schmid is a master among masters in his art BUT his ability to articulate what he does and why is what I am drawn to.  There is no dogmatic views about how he approaches the making of art.  He realizes that an artist's skill level has to be taken into how he paints and how to start a painting.  No other book that I have read does this. 

Starts are extremely important, in my opinion, and Schmid describes each one in detail with many examples of his own work.  He also gives the advantages and drawbacks to each one. There are six.
   1.  Line and Mass Block-In:  This gives the painter more control, especially when one is in the learning stage. 

   2.  Transparent (Oil) Monochrome Block-In:  The start is a step up from the previous one.  It is a nearly complete value study done with one color family on a white lead oil primed canvas.  When carried to a full value stage will resemble something like an old enlarged sepia photo.

3.  Transparent Monochrome as a Finished Painting:  The above painting is an example of both #2 and #3 because it is so pleasing it can stand on its own.

4.  Impressionistic Block-In:  It is the most unstructured of all the ways Schmid uses to start a painting.  The process begins with an extravagant jumble of colors applied as a scumble over his entire canvas until he gets a sense of the light that he is after. Drawing is NOT given immediate attention.  There is often no dividing line between the beginning and middle stages of a work. 

5.  Full Color Accurate Block-In:  Similar to #4 but in that they are ways to get into serious painting from the very beginning.  It is his favorite start.  It begins with a full color block-in with a light tone applied as a turpentine wash and then a light scumble over the entire canvas. Once it is set enough, he applies the general color and values of the larger masses immediately.  The shapes are painted carefully but as non-detailed as possible.  He describes in detail what comes next in his thinking and process.

6.  Selective Start (Or, The Big Bang Method):  The previous five starts go from a whole to its parts.  In this method he goes from the parts to the whole.  This is a method that evolved along the way as his skilled developed.  He selects a small part of the subject, finishes it, selects the adjoining part, finishes that, selects the next, does the same, and so one-and-on with all the parts, until they are all joined to complete the painting.

As a side note, I once heard a well know artists joke about this start saying "I start with an eyelash and . . ha, ha, ha." Obviously, this is not the only way he paints, but it gets laughs.  This start is really a testament to his extraordinary skills.

This topic is only one of the many chapters that are chocked full of information an artists needs to develop as a painter.  Some of the other chapters are:  drawing from life, values, edges, color and light, palette and vital charts, color harmony, composition, painting from life, painting from photos, to name a few.  Well worth the price both in soft or hard cover edition.  In the spring this year, a companion book with be available with MORE information that couldn't be put in this book. 

I've added a few more images of some of my favorite paintings that move me at a visceral level.

I have realized that limited color speaks to me more than brighter chroma colors.  In part, I think that's why these images are so compelling.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Finishing 2013 with a Big Bang

Big bang-no it's not the TV show but a  painting that is bigger than 1200 sq. inches.  It was a great year and in the last quarter, I had quite a few big bangers find new homes.  Sooo off to the studio to replace those empty spots on the gallery walls.  These paintings require a stamina that can really take it out of me and luckily I finished these two before the holidays but just didn't get around to posting them on the blog.

Earth Light is a 30" x 40" oil on linen and was an attempt to capture a luminescent light that filled the room from my north light.  Edges was another major part of this painting especially in the fabric and lace.

The second painting was lots of fun.  The pot comes from a Largo potter whose company name is The Hairy Potter.  Why hairy?  The pinkish color comes from our Florida Spanish moss that has been soak in a solution of iron, copper, and salt.  After it has been fired a second time wrapped in the moss it is removed and horse hair is laid strategically on the 1100 degree pot.  The hair singes into the surface curling as it penetrates the surface.  I love painting interesting pots and this one was no exception. It's 36"x 36" but I haven't named it yet.  Any suggestions?

The handle comes from our native driftwood that is found on our beaches and lakes. It's all one piece and has a beautiful natural patina.  Happy New Year and happy painting. 
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