Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tuesday Tip #32: There's No Such Thing As a Smart Brush

In Ian Roberts' book, Mastering Composition, he talks about how in workshops he goes up to a student and the brush is moving back and forth but nobody's home. "You obviously can't expect the brush to do the work for you. Brushes just aren't that smart. If your brush is moving but your attention has wandered, stop and regroup".  I find myself doing that when mixing paint. I'll be mixing and mixing and then, hmmm, what was I mixing this for? That's when I step back and take a breath and refocus. These little black and white ink drawings make it easy on me, I don't have to mix paint, I just have to keep my mind on one thing. Everyone I know has, at least once in their life, walked into a room and asked, why did I come in here? The normal reaction is to regroup, collect your thoughts and try to remember what it was you were doing.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Tuesday Tip #31: Proportions

Proportion can be tricky when you're first starting out.  When most people start out they're mostly worried about drawing things correctly, making it look as realistic as possible. That's great if you're drawing individual objects, but when you start putting the objects in place to create a painting the proportions must be correct in order to convey depth. In the sketch above the railroad lights are the same exact objects, and if they were taken down, in real life, and laid side by side they'd be the same exact size, but when looking down the street at them, the ones closest to me appear larger and get smaller as they go back. When you're out plein air painting or just sketching this can be tough because often times we focus on each individual object and make it the size we see it.  If you step back from your drawing/painting and it seems to be flat check and see if your proportions might be off.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Tuesday Tip #30: Keep Your Facts to Yourself

Watercolour Study 5x9" on Saunders Waterford paper
This tip comes from John F. Carlson's book, "Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting".  When I came across this particular paragraph, which I'll share in a moment, it had me scratching my head. He suggests we do NOT want hard facts. My first thought was, yes I do. I want to only know truths, tell me what's really happening, or did happen. Then I thought more about it, people/society crave misinformation. Why? So that they can speculate on it. People want to be included in the conversation so if you leave out some information people can get involved, have conversations about it, research the topic on their own, etc.
Here's what Carlson had to say, "Too much reality in a picture is always a disappointment to the imaginative soul.  We love suggestion and not hard facts.  A picture should be music in form and color, with the subject-matter the vehicle.  We must not imitate the externals of nature with so much fidelity that the picture fails to evoke that wonderful teasing recurrence of emotion that marks the contemplation of a work of art."
Think about some of the most famous pieces of art. The Mona Lisa has been talked about for decades and the conversation is almost always about the missing information. Who is she? Where was she from? Did his assistants help DaVinci paint it?  There are endless amounts of questions because those details were left out of the painting. Manet's Olympia is another great example. These are both realistic paintings, not abstract or overly impressionistic, but there are not enough hard facts presented which leaves room for people to speculate.
How does this translate into a tip? Plain and simple, you don't need all of the details. Here's another way to think about it, remember dialing 0 and a friendly voice came on the line and asked how they could help you? They didn't chit chat, they gave you the information you asked for and done. Then you could take that information and do with it what you want.  When you're painting you should be that telephone operator giving the most important information and letting the viewer fill in the rest.
On the other hand, if you don't want the viewer to interact with your work, if you don't want any unresolved questions then by all means paint in every detail so that it can't be speculated on later.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Tuesday Tip #29: Go Green

Lake Starker 6x9" watercolour on Stonehenge Kraft paper
Yesterday morning I met up with a fellow plein air painter. I got to the location first so I looked for the shadiest spot I could find. It was 730AM and already hitting 90F with about 90% humidity. I was not going to paint in the sun. When Barb showed up she commented on two things, the ideal shady spot and the scenery was limited to a lot of trees and GREEN.  She also made a great point, any opportunity to practice painting trees is worth it because, if you're a landscape painter, you're going to have to paint trees eventually. That's a great attitude to take out with you when you go paint.
As far as painting green on green on green, it's tough. Every artist has probably, at some point, complained about struggling with painting greens. If you've ever taken a workshop with David Garrison you've probably heard him say that a lot of artists fail with their greens because they don't put enough red in them. In school they taught us that if we wanted to make grey use red and green. So how will adding reds to the greens make the foliage look better?  The answer isn't easy, it's one of those you just have to do it to understand it type things. But here's a video of a guy mixing greens and red. You're probably going to want to mute this one.

The mixing of the paint that he's doing gives you more realistic greens as opposed to a green that comes straight from the tube. Different trees have different leaves and they're all going to be a different shade of green.  Same goes with the grass.   If mixing in the bright cad red is too intimidating for you start by mixing in burnt sienna to your yellow and blue mix to see what you get. If you're still too timid to mix in reds try starting with a red, or nice earth colour, toned substrate and see what that does. 

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.