Saturday, May 31, 2014

Figures and heads: Practice exercises

Here are some previous posts that are concerned with the figure as a subject. They focus on seeing in layers, and on knowing when to be careful/carefree. No surprise there.
Look them over and see what stands out for you to practice. This coming week the Tuesday morning class and the Wednesday afternoon class will have models. The Wednesday morning class and the Monday night class will work on self- portraits, with a model the final week. I think.

Well, that was weird. Try going online and looking for a few well lit nudes to paint from. You'll see what I mean.
Here are a couple of images that can get you started seeing the figure as a sequence of layers.

In this figure the warm side and the cool side are the same value. How would you approach painting that?

Try painting the whole figure as a single color silhouette. See if you can get used to starting from the inside of the form and working toward the outside edge, instead of drawing the profile and then coloring it in. I know nobody's watching, so you could just draw an out line and fill it in, but really, try it the other way, at least a couple of times. Use your brush to make shapes rather than lines.
Make some of your silhouettes in a very pale wash. Remember the tendency we saw in the portraits to make the first layer too dark. Better to make it too light. Well, best to make it just right, but too light leaves plenty of room for the shadows to contrast sufficiently.
Next, paint the shadow shapes as a layer by itself. The idea is to get used to seeing it as a separate layer that you can hold in suspension while you focus on the lights.
Finally, put the two layers together, adding a few accent darks where they are needed (creases, hair, eyes,. etc.)
Remember, it is not necessary to have a flawless figure present right from the start. When you are applying the first layer, you still have 2 or 3 opportunities to clarify the edges and proportions. Putting in a background can be a powerful tool in this regard.
Have fun, and don't spend all your painting time on the web.

Here are a few images that might inspire you to make more general statements in the figurative work we'll be doing for the next two weeks.
Kim Froshin

David Park
Richard Diebenkorn

These paintings are based more on shapes than lines. Even in the Diebenkorn if you took away the lines, the figure would still be fully present, much as it is in Kim Froshin's exciting painting. An edge, rather than a line can make a more convincing object in space. 
Take another look at these three images with the relationship between the figure and the ground in mind. There's a big opportunity here for defining shapes, and it can come late in the sequence of layers. Be sure to take advantage of that from time to time.
So, your homework? If you can get someone in your house to hold still, great. Otherwise, look for photos online, or in magazines that feature distinct shadows on a figure, clothed or not. Keep the drawing to a minimum. Paint shapes!

 Layers: Shadow Patterns on Heads

Look for a photo of a head that features a strong shadow pattern. Imagine it as a series of layers: First, an overall pale wash to represent the illuminated skin tone, into which color variations of similar value can be placed. Then, a shadow pattern, which can also be given soft edged variations, and, finally, the few darkest darks, like pupils and nostrils. 
If you prefer, try working in monochrome, so you won't be distracted by color. Remember to choose a single color rather than a mixed one, and make sure it's a color that can get dark enough to represent the deepest darks.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The middle value layer

As we the end of the term we will spend some time working on figures and portraiture. Seeing in layers is an essential part of both. We've focused in the past on the role the darks and the lights play. Now let's try isolating the mid-value shapes to see how much of the content they carry.

How important are the middle values, painting by painting? 
To answer this question, it seems like a good idea to practice seeing the middle values as an isolated layer, apart from the influence of the lights and the darks. Just as we sometimes paint the darks alone, to see how much of the story they tell, the same approach may reveal the role the mid-tones play in a given image.
Here are a couple of images that seem to rely on the middle values for essential information. Try quick rendering of only the mid-value shapes. Keep it simple. Lift your brush from the page as little as possible. Make the darks middle value, too. The ares that are closer to white than to middle  should be left white.
If the layer goes on the paper good and wet, you will have time to vary the color of the wash without creating overlap lines. The fewer individual shapes you use, the easier it should be to get an instant "read" of the content.
This one is mostly middle-value
Squint! Round the darks down to mid-value and the lights down to white.
Keep it fluid! Colors added to the wash will run together somewhat, but those few darks will pull it together later.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Monday Night and Wednesday Morning: Shadows

Quick! Here’s the homework, so you can go out in this sunshine and look at shadows.
Find a sunlit surface, like a tree trunk, or a dog house, with shadow on part of it,  and which casts a shadow on another surface (the ground, a sleeping dog).
How much darker is the shadow area?
How does the color change?
What kind of edge does the shadow have?
When you have the answers to all the questions, you should be able to apply the paint very confidently and efficiently. To practice getting it  “right” on the first try, resolve not to correct any of your attempts. Instead, take note of what needs to be changed and paint another version. 
Use a piece of practice paper to try out color, edges and value. When you make the overall wash for the local color (the sunlit surface), make a large patch of it on the practice sheet, too. Then you can test your shadows there and see for sure whether they satisfy you.
Please bring in all the flops.
in case it gets cloudy, here are some shadowy scenes:

Intermediate Homework: The Important Thing

Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon, also wrote a wonderful book called The Important Thing, in which she talks about familiar things, listing their features. Snow, for example, is cold, and it falls from the sky, and tickles your nose when you tilt your head back to watch it, but the importantthing about snow is that it is white.
We are doing something similar when we paint. The many features of our subject present themselves, all jostling one another for the spotlight. To know better what needs to be in the picture and what is optional, it helps to decide what the important thing is to you.
Find an image that appeals to you and take time to identify what you want to focus on in the scene. This is not necessarily a "focal point", or a center of interest. It may be a feeling, rather than a particular spot on the page. Keep it in mind when you make decisions about palette, cropping, how the page is oriented, which shapes need to be separated and which combined...everything, in other words.
When we put them up on the wall next week, we can try guessing what the important thing was to you.
Have fun

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Everyone's Homework:

Working with watercolor often involves beginning with the lights and progressing toward the darks, which presents the challenge of needing to look past the darks to see what the subject would look like without them. Painting a quick study of the darks alone can help overcome this obstacle.

The bold graphic image of just the darks on a white background is quite memorable. Having isolated the darks once, it will be easier to peel them away from the lights and mid-values in your imagination, so that the first layers of a painting become clear.

You can also use the black/white study to discover the role the final layer plays in providing the narrative content of the scene. If the darks are revealed as the main source of the story the painting tells, you know you can be more casual with the earlier layers.

For homework, look for an image with strong darks and lights, like one of these, below, and then make a small, quick, darks-only study.

In each of these, it would be necessary to round the mid-values up or down. As a general guideline, if a shape is closer to white than to mid-value, make it white. If it's closer to black than mid-value, make it black. The study will reveal where greater subtlety is needed.

When you have finished the study, please do one of the following:

1)  Dry the study thoroughly. Now quickly and loosely, paint the lights and mid-values right over the darks. Be efficient with your brushwork. If you go back and forth with your brush too much the darks will run.


If you've been having trouble making the first layers carefree, even when you've seen that it's the darks that will provide the definition, the exercise below ensures that your lights and middles will not be overly controlled.

2) On a separate piece of paper, make a study of the lights and middle values with no hard edges. Really. Wet the paper well (not dripping, but shiny), and paint quickly. When you intend to save whites, make the area you leave unpainted extra large, so the paint will not swallow it up as it diffuses.

When the wet on wet study is dry, apply the darks.