Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Tuesday Tip #28: Power of Suggestion

It's Superman day today so he'll help out with today's tip. Since I posted a comic book character the tip comes from a comic book artist, however it can be used on any medium or storytelling format.
From the book, "How to Draw Noir Comics" by Shawn Martinbrough comes this tip that's been told many ways before but sometimes it just takes a different voice before it clicks.
"There are artists who are phenomenal that draw everything, and I mean everything. However, it has been my experience in life that a large percentage of people enjoy solving puzzles. They enjoy filling in the blanks.  This applies to art as well. The impresssionist period is such a respected and revolutionary period in art history for this very reason.  The artists of that era suggested and implied the forms that they were painting.  They did not finish every line or complete every form, which was the accepted style of painting.  This form of suggestion can make the image more interesting, because that much more is left to the viewer's imagination." 
The Man of Steel here is clearly being coy and it's all suggested by the way he's holding his hand and the expression on his face.  Neither part of the drawing, his hand or his face, has more than a few simple lines. Actually the entire drawing is nothing but simple lines and shapes yet that's all you need.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Tuesday Tip #27: Put the Fun in Fundamentals

Back in 2003 the movie Uptown Girls came out. It was about a spoiled rich girl who ended up broke because her accountant stole all of her money. She had to find a job and she wound up becoming a nanny to another spoiled rich girl. The funny thing was the nanny was a fly by the seat of her pants type and the younger girl was an uptight perfectionist. Her philosophy was that, "fundamentals are the building blocks of fun". It's an entertaining movie, give it a watch if you have time. The whole point of that was the younger girl had a point, but was too uptight, at the time, to see it. It's the old adage, learn the rules so you can break them. Or as Picasso said, "Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist."  It took the two opposing personalities to come to some sort of understanding for them both to realise the rules are good but every once in awhile you need to cut loose.
If you remember, I wrote another post about breaking the rules. You can read that here if you missed it. It was showing an example of how I broke the, never place your center of interest in the center rule. That sketch worked perhaps because it broke one rule but followed others. The sketch in this post breaks that rule of, never have an even number of objects in your composition. I don't know who made up that rule but...keep reading and you'll see why this particular rule should be broken. I know artists who have come across a great scene but refused to paint it because it had an even number of objects. God forbid the idyllic farm scene can't be painted because there are four silos instead of three or five.
In the above sketch there are four geese. Should I have not drawn this because it has four objects?
Here's one with an odd number of geese. Is this one better simply because it has an odd number? To me this one is boring. All of the geese are facing in the same direction and they're all pretty much doing the same thing. The one with four geese has more contrast, which makes it more interesting to look at. The uneven spacing of the four geese is more pleasing than the geese that are all in a row.
Here are the same three geese as above.  It's an odd number so it should work, right? Removing the two smaller geese makes this sketch more boring than the last. Why? The contrast from the larger to smaller geese is gone. The rule of "not having an even number of objects" has probably been horribly translated over the years. Like a super bad game of telephone, the original statement was probably more like, never have objects evenly placed or evenly sized. This is one of those things that you should try for yourself. If you subscribe to the rule of never having an even amount of objects in a painting ask yourself why and try breaking that rule to see if you can make it work.

Devil's advocate.  The first sketch with four geese is still more compelling to me. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Tuesday Tip #26: Design Over Correctness

Iris 7x5" ink on Bristol 
This past weekend I was in a plein air competition.  The best thing about these competitions is getting together with other artists and having great conversations about what we do. One of them asked how important realism was in plein air painting. He said he's been to competitions where some artists paint exactly what's there. He mentioned that an onlooker once commented that he was just "making up the colours" while he was painting. As in, he wasn't painting local colours.  After that he felt that maybe he was doing the scene injustice or perhaps breaking some cardinal rule. Honestly I could type a whole chapter on that topic alone, but it's a good segway for what this week's tip is about.
Recently someone asked me if I'd teach a class on how to do Notan. The request took me by surprise because I never considered that anyone would need a class on something like that. Then I remembered the book by Arthur Wesley Dow, Composition Understanding Line, Notan and Color. There are several chapters on Notan.  I skimmed through the parts on Notan to see if there was anything that could be used to help teach Notan to other people and I came across this one sentence that relates to the question the aforementioned artist had. "Effort must be concentrated on the arrangement, not on botanical correctness".  Dow was writing about using flower arrangements to study composition and Notan. If you take out the word botanical in that sentence you can use it for any type of composition. Effort must be concentrated on design, not correctness. If you wanted absolute correctness I have some tips on photography I can share with you. As for a painting/drawing, the arrangement/design of the composition is what's going to make or break your painting.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tuesday Tip #25: Simplify the Scene

Orange and Yellow Iris 7x5 oil on canvas panel
Since I've been trying to learn watercolour it feels like I've neglected my oil paint so when I left the house this morning to go find something to paint I grabbed my oils and hit the road. I was glad I did because the irises are in full bloom and I know I can't do them justice in watercolour.
Flowers are difficult to paint especially if you're painting them outside. Bugs, wind, changing light, they're all there to add to the frustration and intimidation of painting something so delicate.  Probably the biggest difficulty painting flowers is wrapping your mind around the complexity of all of it. Flowers are simple shapes but the foreshortening of the petals is tricky and all of the stems and leaves around them make for a confusing composition. What you have to do is simplify the scene. This goes for anything really. What I do is draw in the lines of my primary interest. My focus was on that one particular iris so I only drew it in and left out all of the details from the other leaves and stems. You can see I went in at the end with some random strokes to suggest the tall leaves that grow around the irises.  Only drawing in my primary focus helped me keep the painting about that one flower and made it easier for me to paint. I wasn't looking all around trying to figure out what I left out or if some random leaf was leaning right or left.

Here's a photo I took of a different iris that was there.  If you squint your eyes you can see how easy it is to simplify the scene. The darks and lights stand out fairly easily on this one. Hopefully you can see that you don't need to paint in every single leaf and detail in order for it to tell the story.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tuesday Tip #24: When to Say When

Graphite sketch on white sulphite drawing paper. 
This week's tip comes from the book I mentioned last week, Keys to Sketching. Stopping to think about it, it sounds silly to have instructions on how to sketch. Isn't sketching just scribbling and doodling?  It can be. It's probably a lot like dancing. The thing is, most of the tips on sketching should be applied to a finished painting. That part can be compared to driving a car. When you first learn to drive a car you take the precautions, check your mirrors, make sure the seat's adjusted, etc. before you put the car in gear. After driving for several years you probably don't do any of those little checks, you just turn the car on, throw it in gear and down the road you go. You probably even drive down the road and ask yourself, did I stop at that stop sign back there? So yes, these fundamentals of sketching are just as important for sketches and sketches are important for successful paintings. Also, checking the mirrors in your car and using your turn signals are just as important now as they were when you first learned to drive.
Enough about that, this week's tip is about that nagging question we have when working on a painting, when is it finished? I've never met an artists who hasn't asked that question either out loud or to themselves. How do you know when the painting is done? That part's not like dancing, the song doesn't end. What I didn't know is that you have to know this about a sketch as well. I've always been under the impression that a sketch was sort of a free for all, anything goes, do what you want. I s'pose it can be but what this book says makes more sense than flying by the seat of your pants.
"Perhaps the most difficult thing to learn in sketching is when to stop. There seems an almost constant demand to continue, adding first a detail here, a refinement there. If the process is repeated for long, the sketch will lose its freshness. While it is never easy to know precisely when a sketch is finished, perhaps the best signal is the instant when you start to look around for something more to add.  This impulse, responding more to the urge to work than the need to develop a specific area, is often a sure indication that the sketch is finished".

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Tuesday Tip #23: Act Casual

Tree-Lined Road 7x5" watercolour sketch on Stonehenge Kraft paper
Sometimes I think I have an addiction to art supplies and books. Lord knows what it means when I buy a book about art. I was at the junk store the other day and found a book called "Keys to Sketching".  It was only a dollar so I thought what the heck.  Surprisingly it's very well written with great examples. One thing that stood out to me was the definition of a sketch. I've had this conversation with tons of artists and everyone seems to disagree what a sketch is. The author, S.H. McGuire, describes it like this, "Sketching, as we treat it here, is a more casual statement. Usually done in a brief span of time, a sketch records the artist's spontaneous impression of something he sees. He does not labor over a sketch. There is an unstudied immediacy that is reflected in the work".  They go on to pose the question that perhaps it's the spontaneity in the sketch that viewers find more satisfying and meaningful than in a finished painting.
Perhaps this is why sketching is so important. It allows you to be spontaneous and have fun. It also turns out to be a powerful tool. As McGuire points out the artist doesn't labor over a sketch and the statement is casual.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Tuesday Tip #22: Aiding the Insipiration

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of painting with two lovely ladies and their pack of Australian shepherds. One of the girls is younger in her art career and made a comment about how she has the enthusiasm and energy to draw and paint but when she goes to do it she's lacking in inspiration. What to draw? What to paint? It can be tough when you're first starting out.  What can be even more tough is sifting through all of the tips on how and what to paint.
There are some people who suggest word prompts and they have lists readily available to you. They're lists that can vary from words that are supposed to evoke emotion, or just a sound effect that's supposed to spark your imagination. If you're going to go the list route this guy, Phil McAndrew, has done it right. The prompts are specific enough but give you enough creative freedom. Click here for his list. Number 39 is motorcycles, so my sketch above is motorcycles.
Another approach on what to draw is draw everything around you. Sounds like a jerky thing to say, I know, but it's true. I've drawn the view of my desk a couple of times when I couldn't find inspiration elsewhere. I often find myself sketching my dogs. Now I have tulips that I can practice on and soon I'll have other flowers in the yard. Stuff on TV, pictures in the newspaper or magazines. I used to log on to Pinterest every morning, set a timer for 30 minutes, and drew whatever came up. That was actually fun because it forced me to draw things that I wouldn't normally draw.
I think when you're first starting out the problem with inspiration is people think it's supposed to be a big shiny beacon that will guide you to fortune and glory. It's not some magical fairy that sprinkles dust on you, or a cake that says "draw me".  Look around wherever you are and if something catches your eye, draw it. You should attempt to draw everything and anything and eventually you'll learn what you like and dislike and you won't have to wait for inspiration to tap you on your shoulder.  Once you figure out what you like to draw you'll find it's like an addiction and you'll search for more of what you like.