Friday, May 8, 2015

Everybody's Homework 5/6/15 Plein air Painting: Simplifying the Landscape, Part 2: Simple, Simple, Simple!

There are definitely ways that plein air work is easier than painting from photographs, as we saw last week. A photo, however, has a frame - a limited scope - while the vastness of nature (or the city) goes on in every direction. When I'm excited by the "rightness" of my surroundings I want to include everything.

Trying to cram all the glorious features of a setting into my painting is rarely a good place to start. When I'm getting to know a new subject it's not just a visual exercise. I am also getting used to just being in this place. I do need to become familiar with the light, the palette, the shapes and the textures, but even more importantly, I need to simply relax and open up to the environment. Starting out with an very ambitious panorama is usually a recipe for disappointment. Better to begin with success. Take a smaller bite. Keep it simple right from the start.

I love all the parts of this scene; the primary colored machines, the crazy diagonal booms and shadows, the puddles! It's chock full of interesting imagery.  If I had a wider angle lens I probably would have included even more. But when I reassess the image from a painter's point of view, I can see that it is mostly all the same value and color. That warm, pale pinkish neutral is an overall matrix, into which the spots of color are set, like random gemstones. In a painting, they would probably be at odds with each other for attention.
Zooming in on a single accent changes the emphasis from a scattered surface to a simple arrangement of shapes and values.

Once I've started thinking in terms of reducing the scope of the subject, I can see a couple of other simple changes that would refine a painting. In between the building with the hole and the one wrapped in scaffolding there's yet another building in progress (must be Capitol Hill). I'd take that one out and let the blue fill the gap, allowing the light sky and mid-value ground shapes to interlock - a  more interesting composition.

If I can remember not to take on too much right away, I look for a part of the scene that has relatively few shapes and a clear and simple arrangement of light, middle and dark value. Look over the images below. Some already display the kind of clarity and simplicity I'm talking about. Some would benefit from cropping, or moving the shapes around a bit.

Here's an awkwardly composed picture. What could you do to pull it together?

Something's not right with this image. The shapes seem pretty well balanced, but the values are off. Try changing the values here and there, one shape at a time. You can do this by making a quick pencil sketch, or a monochrome study. Skip the details. The question to address concerns the shapes and their values - what you see when your eyes are almost squinted shut. It might help to...

If you get a chance to work outdoors, spend some time looking for a simple scene within the panorama. Make quick sketches to refine the shapes and their values. Paint a shape-dominant version of the scene . Next, make another version with just a little embellishment. Stop while you still feel like more detail would be better (shove, shove! Bully, bully!)

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