Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Beginning and Intermediate Homework 5/23/12 Keeping it Abstract

Layer by layer, as our paintings evolve from general information to specific, they move toward an increasingly detailed interpretation of the subject. Depending on your style, you decide the point at which you have described the content sufficiently. If your assessment is reasonable, the viewer - that alter ego in waiting - will meet you halfway.

How you translate a subject into shapes of just the "right" colors and values is largely a matter of setting aside what the content of the scene means to you, and looking strictly at form. A white house in shadow, for example, is not white, but thinking of it as "a white house" can confuse the process of deciding how to paint it. When we shift our attention to observing form, we are stepping into the realm of the abstract, where form is simply form, and the eye overrules the mind.

This can be a slippery process, since understanding the meaning of what we observe is a basic survival instinct. Keeping your vision abstract involves deliberately changing channels. T make it easier, try asking these questions of whatever part of the scene you are about to paint. With your brush loaded and ready to apply a new layer, ask about:

Proportion: What percentage of the overall shape is the new color? 20%? 40%? A little more than half?
This is a very general way of looking at a subject, on a par with, "what color do I need?"

Distribution: How is the new color distributed throughout the overall shape? Is it regularly spaced? Concentrated in certain areas? Always in predictable locations? Random?

Pattern: What kind of marks will be appropriate? Rectilinear? Organic? Vertical? Diagonal? Are they connected? Separate? Square? Round?

The answers to questions like these are abstract qualities. They progress from general observations toward more specific ones, but they do not require checking to see if you are making a good version of the subject. A fair amount of faith is involved in believing that your observation of purely formal aspects of the scene will result in a reasonable interpretation of the content. Can it really be true that knowing that your marks need to be horizontal, roughly rectangular, and cover about 75% of the big shape will be enough to tell the story?

In fact, as painters we ask this kind of question all the time. Before your brush touches the paper, we are used to asking what color we need, how dark, and how wet the brush and the paper are. These are abstract questions, too. Here we are just extending the familiar process to include how the brush should behave.
The image below is made up of a just a few major shapes - Water, yellow-green banks, forest. For each one, try asking the questions outlined above.

Now choose an image of your own, and make a painting that proceeds entirely on the faith that pure form will get the job done. When you get to the stage of making small dark strokes, stop. Set the picture up on the table, or pin it to the wall and stand as far back as you can get. What do you think? If it tells the story, you have made a realist image without ever becoming specific. This may have enormous repercussions, or it may just shake things up a little. In any case, it should serve to remind you that with watercolor, it is not only possible, but also wise to stay abstract as long as possible. Given our common tendency to get specific prematurely, this is important news.
Have fun.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Intermediate Homework 5/11/12 Simplifying the figure

Now that the model has gone home, all we have to refer to are the many studies we made in class. Ideally, there are enough of them to inform choices about color, value, wetness and composition without being distracted by the infinite subtlety of the figure standing before us.

Let's tip the form/content scale a bit toward form:

Using your studies as a guide, make a few versions of the pose that begin with letting go of accuracy and subtlety. Choose a variable and make a painting in which, for example, the value range is greatly exaggerated. Or another in which the values are in the ballpark, but the colors are fanciful. Or one where the colors are true, but the edges are all soft. Or all hard.
You get the idea. Have a wild time.

Kim Froshin

Beginning Homework 5/11/12 Finding the essentials

Most of the visual information we perceive in a subject does not need to be included in a painting. A big part of the artist's job is to identify what is essential and what is optional. Which elements of your subject describe its fundamental nature?

Choose a simple object, like the onions we painted in class, or a persimmon, a milk jug, a glass of water - something that will not require fastidious drawing.

Set up the light source so that there is a clear and simple shadow pattern. Including a cast shadow is a good idea.

Paint a monochrome version first, emphasizing the darkest darks and the lightest lights. Leave out most of the subtle middle values to find out how important they really are.

Paint several versions in color, with an eye toward discovering which features do the real work of defining the subject. Let go of accuracy as you learn what matters.

When you feel that you have a good sense of which strokes and washes tell the story, put away the actual object and the studies, and paint one or two from memory. Now that you have answered the basic question, you are free to give all your attention to laying down some juicy paint!

Comments are welcome, by the way.

Silver Cup                   Lars Lerin

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Beginning watercolor homework, 5/2/12 Monochrome value study

Seeing past color to read value is an essential painting skill. It can seem impossible when you first start to practice it, but a couple of questions can help bring the task into focus.

"How dark is the part I'm about to paint compared to what I already know?
Value is relative. Every area of a painting is assigned a value compared to its adjacent shapes. Look for something darker and something lighter than the shape in question to discover the range within which it falls.

What is the darkest thing in the picture?
What is the lightest?
If you are unsure of the value of a given shape, ask yourself if it is closer to the lightest thing or the darkest. That gets it in the ballpark. From there you can bump it a little in one direction or the other till it feels just right.

This week, make a 5 value ( White, light gray, middle, dark gray, black) monochrome study of an image that appeals to you. To assess the information that is available from the study, ask where you need more subtlety or more specificity. When you are sure you have answered the big value questions, use the study as a road map to guide a full color version of the subject.
Bring the study and the painting to the critique.
Have fun.

intermediate watercolor homework: Assessing your work

Every once in a while it's a good idea to pin up several of your recent works and stand back to see what is revealed. To be sure not to get overwhelmed, aim for just one revelation at a time. What is your current bugaboo?
You probably have a feeling for an aspect of your painting practice that needs some work. In my case it's my unwillingness to combine shapes of similar value. I know that having fewer shapes will strengthen my paintings, but I can't seem to let individual shapes merge into one bigger form. As usual, it's about letting go.
If you are aware of something that has been nagging you, start there. The purpose of the review is to come up with a plan for one thing to work on. How will you use your strengths to support your weaknesses? If you have no idea what you should take on as a task, let the paintings tell you. This involves awareness skills that we all need to practice. If nothing surfaces, hang the paintings upside down.
Bring in an example or two of what you notice, and let the crowd make suggestions. Think of it as spring cleaning.