When looking at a reference photo, seeing all of the elements that make up the scene or subject can be difficult. There might be lots of colors, strong shadows, crowds of people, or a small forest of signs and light poles.
A great way to practice finding what’s important is to take a marker to a magazine. Open to a random photo, and start tracing out elements.
In this first image, I simply outlined the shapes in the model’s face. Rather than pick out features, I looked for transitions in light and shadow that marked the changing planes in her face and hands.
The second image was an attempt to find the common values linking the shapes. What I discovered is that one basic value extends from the blue labels on the left, through the pink cap and into the red label.
The goal of the third exercise was to define the light/dark pattern I would establish for a painting. The group at the table, as center of interest, would be the largest, lightest area. The rest of the lights should balance the composition and lead the eye to the table.
All of these concepts would be explored further prior to painting any of the subjects, but they’re very helpful in training the eye to make connections.
“Detail” can be a scary word; many people think of it only as cat’s whiskers, individual leaves on a tree, and other “fine print.”
When you think of detail in terms of a painting, it’s really all of the elements that make up a scene or subject. Shapes, objects, values, colors, reflections, edges, lines, transitions – the decision becomes which ones tell the story you want to convey.
This short video compares a reference photo to the finished painting, showing what details stayed, and which ones were downplayed or removed.
Having an Anti-Art day? On Anti-Art days, the brushes don’t feel right in the hand; pencil leads break, papers tear, the pigments don’t mix the way we expect, and every layer of paint feels like a muddled mess. Great. You managed to schedule two hours of studio time, and the remaining hour and 45 minutes stretches ahead of you like an eternity. No worries! There are lots of ways to fill time in the studio:
- Inspect your art tools. Whether you paint, sculpt, draw or collage, you probably have a lot of tools laying around. Gather your brushes, and give them a once-over. Clean what you can, purge what you don’t use, and make notes on which need replacement. Pull your pens and pencils out for a tune-up: sharpen leads, check that pens are working, sort by type and color, and stow duplicates. Clean storage cases of broken leads, eraser “scraps,” bits of paper and other debris.
- Refresh your palette and paints. Pry out cracked, dried cakes of watercolors, and leave the newly-cleaned well empty for a while. Either wipe out dirty favorites or empty the well, filling with fresh pigment. Check tubes of paint to make sure lids are secure, and toss tubes that are empty or have dried out. Order up replacement paints, or snap a photo with your phone so you know what to pick up at the art supply store.
- Watch an art tutorial. From YouTube to artists’ websites to Facebook Live and DVDs, there are great resources for learning from other artists. This can be a great time to check out an artist or technique in a genre you’re unfamiliar with. Don’t expect to work along with the artist, just kick back with a notepad or tablet and take it in.
- Update your website. Does your site display your freshest work? Is your bio up-to-date? What about your gallery or online store – are sold works marked, or removed? Is your “latest accomplishment” more than six months old?
- Organize reference photos. This is a tough one! Those of us that work from reference photos have hundreds, if not thousands of digital files. Start small by creating folders for each type: landscape, sky, portrait, dogs, buildings, cars, etc. Then, just dump everything you come across into the appropriate folder. Later, you can go back and evaluate the images in each folder and decide which are the best/most useful.
- Create an inspiration wall. Do you have a box or basket full of pages pulled from magazines, scraps of fabric or wrapping paper, greeting cards, internet memes or paint swatches? Get them out where you can see them and be inspired!
- Revisit a favorite art book. It seems like art books reproduce on the shelf, quickly growing from three to ten to a full bookcase. Grab a book or two and flip through them. Make notes or mark useful information. If nothing strikes you as noteworthy, consider donating the book to your art association or local school.
- Start or update your inventory. Whether you give your paintings to friends, take on frequent commissions, have an Etsy shop or sell in galleries, it’s a great idea to have an inventory of finished paintings. There are online resources available, or you can start a spreadsheet in Excel.
- Grab a coloring book. I know, it’s trendy right now, but coloring books are a great way to practice shading, color blending and setting a light source. Often, when we color our own sketches, we start to take things too seriously, and become afraid of “ruining” it. Coloring books are inexpensive, and are meant to be temporary, so it’s easier to “let go” and just play.
- Clean the studio. Clear off the table and give it a good scrubbing; wash the window(s), empty the trash, replace light bulbs, re-shelve books, file papers…after 15 minutes of this, you just may be ready to create art again!
Fort Casey, on Whidbey Island in Washington State, is full of interesting sights. Built in the late 1890s, the fort is located on a strategic point at the entrance to Puget Sound. On late Saturday afternoons during summer, it’s common to see a convoy of cruise ships leaving Seattle for Alaskan waters.
While preserved as a state park and National Historic Monument, age is catching up with the concrete and metal. Lime leaching out of the walls and rust eating away at metal make the fort a favorite place to photograph texture and color. My painting “Flight” was inspired by a stairway there.
On a recent visit, this rusted…something…caught my attention. I love how the jagged shape of it reaches into the sky, with the “eye of the needle” barely hanging on. The dilemma will be, what format to paint it in? Tall & narrow, conventional rectangle, or square? Decisions, decisions…
A couple of weeks ago I shared a tall painting that was in progress. This marks a new direction in my work over the past year. The tall, narrow format allows for a real emphasis on skies, one of my favorite subjects. (I’ve also flipped it to wide and short, as in “Spotlight,” the Appaloosa painting.)
Here is an update on the San Juan Island painting, which is nearly finished. The new one, depicting Mt. Rainier, is in the “roughed in” stage. It will get quite a bit more work in the foreground, and most likely some more color in the sky.
> Saturday, Sept. 16, 12:00 – 2:00 p.m. at the Bellevue Daniel Smith store. <
Starting to prepare for a 2-hour, hands-on class focused on identifying detail in a scene or subject. No, don’t run away!
It’s about seeing all of the information that is present, not rendering the fine print. We’ll experiment with a variety of methods for choosing which details are important to the story you want to tell with your drawing or painting.
More details coming soon!