Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tuesday Tip #7: The Big Truths

In the last post I mentioned the term "pattern" and how it's confusing.  I've been working on a post about it and it's not quite ready. The big issue, I think, is the choice of vocabulary. The way some people explain it is sideways from the way another explains the same thing. After reading dozens of tutorials and explanations I realised everyone was saying the same thing but using different terminology and some were using really bad visual examples. In order to not further confuse the issue I'm going to continue working on it.  So this week it's a continuation of confusing terminology. Perhaps this is why we're painters, we communicate better non-verbally. We reach and struggle to grasp the words when we could easily just demonstrate it in a painting. 
Back to Andrew Loomis and his P's and C's.  While I was searching for the correct words to use to explain pattern I re-read part of Loomis's book and I found a part that I wanted to share. While highlighting that particular part of the book it reminded me of being a kid in school.  I don't know how long highlighter markers have been around but I remember them being the latest and greatest study tool back in the 80s.  The teacher was so excited for us to use them and she explained that they were for highlighting important words in textbooks. Obviously I had to make the argument that all of the words in the textbook were important. You, and I'm sure the teacher did, think I'm just arguing semantics but it's important to communicate correctly. Don't be lazy with your choice of words, there are millions of them to use, use the right one to best get your point across. What the teacher should have said was, highlight the KEY words. If the words are in a textbook and I'm required to read them, they better all be important words but there are some that are KEY to understanding the topic.  This goes for the same as when you paint. Sure everything you put in your painting should be important but there are key elements that you want to focus on.  So imagine your painting as a textbook and you're going to use your fancy highlighting marker to make the most important (KEY) words stand out. How do you do that? Here's what Loomis says,"The artist won't go wrong when he can see the big truths, or what he feels to be the big truths. If he looks for the big planes, the big lights and shadows, the big values and relationships, he will do a better job. One can easily get lost in a lot of little truths without seeing the big ones. The leaf compared to the bulk and mass of the tree itself is the difference between the big truths and the little ones, or between big vision and eyesight.".  When reading that I envisioned the big truths as being those key words that I should highlight in the textbook and the little truths were the rest. The little truths, or non-key words, are still important because they hold the sentence/painting together. I suppose you could think of it as the main actor, supporting actors and stage props. They're all important to put a play together but the main actor is going to do the most important parts that the audience will want to focus on. I'll try to demonstrate with a photo now.
This is the photo reference I used for the painted sketch up above. This picture hasn't been manipulated in photoshop, it's exactly what came from the camera on automatic settings.   
This one has been edited to emphasize all of the "little truths".  Every little tiny detail is highlighted.  It's harsh and unpleasant to look at. You don't know which part to focus in on.  Some artists say you need a place to "rest your eyes".  This picture has no resting place.
This one has been edited to be somewhere in between the two photos above. Most of the fine, tiny details, or "little truths", have been softened.  Simply by taking the focus off of the little truths the big truths emerge and the composition is much more pleasant. I  did further edits in the sketch in order to highlight the key part of the painting also known as focal point.
Here they are side by side for easier comparison. The language barrier will always be there so hopefully by demonstrating with photos and paintings makes it a little easier to comprehend.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tuesday Tip: #6 P's and Thank You

225 S. Canal St  7x5" ink on Bristol
In Andrew Loomis's book, Successful Drawing, he writes about the 5 P's and the 5 C's.  I think there needs to be one more P added to the list and that's part of the tip for this Tuesday.
Loomis's fives P's are;

  1. Proportion- the three dimensions.
  2. Placement- a position in space
  3. Perspective-relationship of viewpoint to subject
  4. Planes-surface appearance as defined by light and shadow
  5. Pattern-the deliberate arrangement of the tones of a subject
I'm adding number six, Practice. Practice practice practice. If it sounds like I'm nagging you to practice then that's on you. If you don't want to practice then it won't feel like nagging. If you know you should be but you aren't it will sound like nagging, so again, it's all on you. If you feel guilty for not doing something that's not my fault. In another book I found this, "Remember the pianist who said that if he did not practice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know." Truly there is no better P than practice. 
If it weren't for practice I wouldn't have been able to do the above sketch. It utilizes most of the P's as well. Proportion was considered from the start. What would this look like in a landscape view? The height of the building wouldn't come into play as much and maybe it would feel like more of an intimate setting. Instead I wanted to emphasize the grand size of the building. Placement was considered with the few standing figures. I could have thrown them in any old place but I put some consideration as to where they'd be best placed to make a nice composition.  Perhaps they could have been placed somewhere else but it's a bit of a gamble and another reason why we should do sketches and think first. Perspective, hopefully this one is obvious.  I knew it was going to be a difficult subject so I went for an easy one-point perspective. I didn't want to start the new year off by pulling all of my hair out so I took the easy route. Planes, again this one should be easy considering I did a black and white ink drawing, but you can see where perspective plays a big role for my planes to work correctly. The white floor and the white walls could easily be seen as a flat plane but hopefully the strong vertical lines of the columns and horizontal lines of the benches help break up those planes. Pattern, pattern is the one I struggle with the most. Or used to for sure. When I hear the word pattern I think of textiles and those types of patterns. Polka dots, stripes, paisley, PATTERNS. This one is more about putting lights and darks down to emphasize each other. Pattern might be harder to explain with these black and white drawings so maybe I'll do a Tuesday tip on that by itself. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Tuesday Tip #5.75: Reference Photos

Hopefully this talk about photo references isn't getting boring for you because there's no time like the present to put those references to good use. I'm probably one of the few crazies who has been going out every day. I've been taking one of the dogs for a walk and then we take pictures of the snow and ice, then if it's not too cold we sit in the car and paint. Well, I paint Petey sits and does his best to be a good boy. The temperature has been in the negative numbers which is good motivation to sit inside and work from reference material.  
My tip for this week is; cut out random photos from the newspaper and practice drawing them.  You can use magazines too but I've found that newspapers have people in the most realistic poses.   When I was a kid I liked the National Enquirer for pictures. You could always find a starlet who had an affair with the "bat boy" or something and the pictures were the worst, which made them more fun to draw. They really did print the worst pictures of any movie star which was actually great reference because that's probably closer to reality than an over posed photo.  You can also look at photos on the internet too but I hear way too many people say once they look at one thing they're off looking at something else and they're lost down that rabbit hole. If you don't get distracted easily go for it, otherwise the newspaper has finally found its usefulness again. Another good thing about using the newspaper is that the quality isn't that great therefore you won't get too hung up on drawing all of the little details. Below you can see some of the photos I cut out and some of the quick sketches I did from them. Above is a sketch I did from a couple of references. I turned a newspaper picture of people looking at the eclipse and a picture of a crab into the cover of "Attack of the Crab". See, photo references can be fun if you use them properly. 
Something else worth mentioning, it's #learnuary.  Yea I typed it correctly. The Etherington brothers have all sorts of informative posts for illustrators and they've turned January into Learnuary, which is a weird way of saying they're great and want to share their knowledge for free. They're trying to encourage you to learn something new every day in January so go check them out on their blog here, or on instagram, twitter and all that sort of thing.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Tuesday Tips #5.5

 So the last post I was trying to explain the many pitfalls of relying too much on a photograph for the information you need to create a painting. This time I'm hopefully going to point out some other reasons why your camera and photos aren't giving you the correct information and I'm also going to touch on  how filters, auto setting and polarized lenses are going to corrupt your reference photos.
I'm going to start with non-photo issues first though. The best way to paint real life is to go out and paint it, no photo reference and certainly no sunglasses. This photo of the two frogs are of the same exact frogs, same lighting, same camera, and same camera settings. The only difference is I set different sunglasses in front of them.  The differences can be subtle but if you look closely at the red frog you can see how the different lenses affect the way the red shows up in photographs and how the white backgrounds are greatly effected by the type and colour of lens.
You definitely don't want to be wearing sunnies while painting people.  
Getting back to photo references and how you shouldn't copy them.  Last week I used the word plagiarize and I want to make it clear that it was a metaphor, or analogy, or whatever non-literal way of taking things there is. No, you shouldn't use someone else's photograph without their permission but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about don't take a photo then go back to your studio and copy every thing in the photo. You could also look at it this way. The camera and the photos printed from them are going to lie to you so copying it is going to perpetuate a lie. It's like retelling gossip. Aside from your computer screens not being calibrated to show the correct colours, or just different from someone else's, you're most likely using settings on your camera that give you the wrong info to begin with. If you have your camera set to auto then you're getting misinformation. HOWEVER, if you're simply using the photo for reference, like you should, an auto setting is perfect. Knowing that you're taking a photo that is giving you false information should put you in the mindset to make adjustments to your painting. If you still don't believe me about your camera giving you false info please take the time to check out this article about how auto white balance is probably screwing up your photos. If you don't feel like reading scroll down to the pictures. There are three photos of the same exact sky but using different auto white balance settings. Again, if you're only using a photo for reference, and not to copy exactly what's there, it shouldn't matter what setting it's in because you, as an artist, can paint the sky whatever colour you want.  Don't chain yourself to the photo. Don't say I have to paint the sky pink because that's what colour it is in the picture, or you have to paint in all 2,567 tree branches or blades of grass because they're in the photo. 
The last thing I'll touch on here are polarized lenses. The photo here came from this article explaining how polarized lenses work and how they're not always a good idea. Hopefully the other photos already gave you a good enough reason to not paint plein air while wearing sunglasses but if they didn't add this one to the pile. The other thing about polarized lenses are that you may be using one on your camera and it's also skewing your reference photos. Polarized lenses do a really great job of removing glare and making colours vibrant, but they also remove a lot of information. Then there's the polarized windows in your car too. A lot of new cars have tempered windows for the rear and passenger windows. During the tempering process something called stress birefringence happens. The tempering is done so if the window breaks it doesn't break in sharp pieces. The effect of the process is basically having two polarized lenses for windows. So keep that in mind if you snap photos through passenger windows. 
In no way am I saying you should abandon your camera and photos and only paint from real life. We all know that sometimes that's just not possible. What I am saying is, when you grab that photo to paint from don't copy it. All of this information I'm throwing at you is simply to show you how your photo references aren't true to life to begin with so why bother copying them? 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas

I know it's not Tuesday but I wanted to post this to wish you all a Merry Christmas. I hope you come back on Tuesday because I've worked out what I hope to be an informative post.
So Merry Christmas and all that stuff. Here's my Christmas pickle.  For those of you who don't know, that's an ink sketch of my dog named Pickles. Recently I was at a store and saw a pickle ornament and thought it was fun, goes along with Pickles. Then I read the story about it, something to the effect that in Germany it's tradition to hide a pickle in the Christmas tree and whoever finds it gets an extra gift. I don't know any German who has followed this tradition so I think that whoever made up the story got an extra gift for tricking people into buying a ridiculous ornament. Whatever your traditions are I hope they bring you happiness and joy and all that sort of thing.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Tuedsay Tip #5: Photo References

"In extremely low light, such as under moonlight or starlight, our eyes actually begin to see in monochrome."
Let's start with some vocabulary shall we?
REFERENCE noun  use of a source of information in order to ascertain something. verb provide (a book or article) with citations of authorities.
Second word is..............
PLAGIARISM noun the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own. (a synonym of plagiarism is copying)
Perhaps if you started thinking of photo references as you think of references when writing papers in school you won't plagiarize so much. I don't know about you but when I had to write my first paper my teacher put the fear of prison in me. She had the class believing we'd be hung at high noon if we copied someone else's words and tried to pass them off as our own. Then there was the reference sheet that went along with that paper. Why was it so important? Because it's the fastest way for someone else to check and see if you copied word for word. Why is copying word for word so wrong? Because it's not your work and you shouldn't be so lazy, among other things. So how does this apply to using photo references?
First off, that's just it, they're references. If you want to plagiarize a photo why not just be a photographer? If you're just going to paint what's exactly in a photograph you're missing the point of being a painter.
Second, a photo just isn't that good of a reference. Every time a new iPhone comes out people go nuts over the new camera in them. Big deal, it will never be as good as the human eyes. You may make some piss poor excuses about how your eyesight isn't that good anymore or you can't zoom in with your eyes like you can on a camera, blah blah. Here's the thing a camera is monocular and humans are binocular. Unless you're One-Eyed Willy, then it's debatable. And if you don't understand how this makes much of a difference, wear an eye patch for a day and try to paint, or do anything for that matter. Here is a link to a very well written article comparing and contrasting the eyes and a camera.
If you click that link and scroll down to item three; Sensitivity and Dynamic Range, you'll see an example of the main differences with our eyes and our cameras and why we need to not plagiarize our photos.  This explains that our eyes can focus back and forth from near to far where a camera can not. The 3 photos partially demonstrate a technique some photographers use called bracketing. Bracketing is taking three photos where one is underexposed, an auto camera setting and overexposed in order to get the best exposure. But if you're bothering with all of that why not just hang up the paint brushes and focuses on being a photographer?
Third, you can't trust a photo. I know the saying, pictures or it didn't happen, but that's highly debatable. Give me a couple of hours with Photoshop and I'll have Pee-Wee Hermann, the Pope and Darth Vader playing pin the tail on the donkey.  Point is, point and shoot cameras and cameras on phones have settings and technology that are there to make even the worst photographer take a passable photo. A great photographer can take a good photo with any kind of camera, they don't need a fancy one with a selfie setting.  Someone who's just taking a quick photo with no interest in being good at it needs the extras to help them out and they do, by removing shadows, automatically taking out glare and autofocus to name just a few. But the even bigger problems for painters using photos for reference is when you upload the photos to a computer or print them out. Computers, or any electronic device that you're going to display your photo reference probably isn't calibrated to accurately show the colours that the sensor in your camera captured and they're 100% not going to show you the same as what you saw in real life with your eyes. Then there's the glare from those devices, etc. Move your laptop screen around or hold you tablet at an angle, the colours will look different.  Printing the photos will give different results as well. What type of paper it's printed on, the chemical mixture, or if you're printing it out on a laser or inkjet printer. They all have an effect on your photo and therefore an effect on your reference material.  Printed photographs fade as well, there are a lot things to factor in here.
Here's a real life example, I had a conversation with someone about a painting they were working on. They asked me what needed to be done to make it look better. The first thing I noticed that was off was the lack of a shadow.  I could clearly see it was a sunny day. Some of the buildings and vehicles that were in the painting had highlights and such, showing that the sun was shining on them. If I were there in person I would easily be able to point out the fact that these objects were casting shadows, but the artist shot back at me with their fact that there are no shadows in the photo so they didn't put them in. This is the problem, or part of the problem.  It's a reference for a reason, it's not something you should copy word for word. Again, if you're just going to copy what's in the photograph then be a photographer. The photo may have been old and the shadows were faded away. The photographer may have taken an overexposed photo which would "bleach" out the shadows. There are a gazillion reasons why the photo didn't show shadows, but common knowledge says that all of the other conditions in the photo would imply there were shadows in real life.
Getting the experience of painting from life you'll accumulate the knowledge to fill in the gaps of your reference photos. In other words, you'll be able to write the paper for your teacher, in your own words, site your references and not plagiarize.
Next time I'm going to try to explain another effect that happens with a camera vs. eyes and polarized lenses. It seemed like too much to cover in this one post. In no way did I even scratch the surface of this topic, there's so much more to learn but I hope I picked some of the more obvious reasons why you shouldn't be copying photographs.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tuesday Tip #4: Beware the Bargain Beauty

This can be said for just about anything you're going to spend your hard earned money on. If you want something that's good and is going to last save your money and buy the best you can afford. If you're not looking for long term use then feel free to go cheap.
For artists, buying supplies and tools can be one of the most agonizing parts of the whole process. You have a lot of people telling you what brand they prefer, what colours they use, so on and so forth. Unless you're planning on becoming a master forger there's no need to purchase everything your favourite painter uses. There's a chance that your favourite painter is also getting paid to say they prefer one brand over another when secretly they don't. On the other hand it's nice to know what other painters are using because when you go to the store or look at the catalogs the choices are overwhelming. We need somewhere to start. A lot of times our impulses tell us in order to try new things we should buy cheap so we can try out all of them. DON'T do that. In college one of the drawing instructors was big into using gouache and we all wanted to try it. Back then I was in the mind of more is better so I bought the cheapest, but biggest, sets of gouache I could find. I used them once and threw them away. Threw them away because the quality was so poor that cheap kids' tempera paint put it to shame. I wasted money and had regrets. If I had been smart I would have purchased fewer paints of a better quality. Paint, especially watercolour, grants us the luxury of only having to buy a few tubes and mixing from them.
Another thing to consider is canvas and paper. When I got back into painting I went out and bought a huge roll of canvas because I was going to go gung ho and paint big and paint a lot. I still have 85% of that roll of canvas taking up space in my studio. I don't even really like painting on canvas.  If I had purchased a couple of ready made canvases, used them first, then remembered why I didn't like it I would have saved money and space. Same with paper. I've taken workshops where the teacher recommends a specific paper to use and like an idiot I went out and bought pads and pads of paper when I could have just bought a single sheet and tried it first. At the time I figured if the teacher was telling me to use it it must be the best. Maybe it's the best for them but I have loads of it taking up precious space in the studio. (An aside note on this particular example, if you're taking a class and the supply list includes specific material like paper, ask the instructor if they sell sheets or samples that you can purchase at the class).
This even goes as far as pencils. PENCILS!  The art supply snobs are most prevalent in the world of comic books, at least when it comes to pencils, ink and brushes. If you're not dipping a Winsor Newton Series 7 in your bottle of ink you're just not doing it right! That's a load of bologna right there, but some people buy into it, literally. I've been to demos where some of the most prolific artists were demonstrating their skills and all they were asked was, what kind of pencil are you using. REALLY!?  Like the magic pencil is doing all of the work. Have you ever been to a restaurant where you really enjoyed the meal and thought to yourself, hmmm I wonder what kind of pots and pans that chef uses because the food was really good?  I doubt it, so why do we do that to artists? When I was a kid I used a school pencil and a fine tip Sharpie.  The other day I got out one of those yellow school pencils and turned out the drawing I used for this post. I started out with a fine tip marker but switched to ink, but the point is, it's not how expensive or what brand of pencil it really is how you use it. Or more importantly how often you use it.
Honestly, painting and drawing aren't easy to begin with so why pile on regret by spending a lot of money on supplies you don't need or won't use more than once? Just because an item's on sale doesn't make it a good purchase, especially if you're never going to use it.
Stay tuned for the upcoming tips as I'll be writing about limited supplies, what to save on, what to splurge on and tools you can purchase that will be multi-functional to help save money and space.