Can’t I Just Paint?

Before I paint, do I really have to plan? It’ll spoil the mood. Can’t I just paint?

So many factors seem to be pushing an artist to just get started quickly on a painting. We may feel inspired, excited, or the colors in the sky may be changing fast, or the weather may be cold or threatening rain. While there’s no reason we can’t occasionally jump right into painting without preliminary thought, doing so will almost always make failure more likely.

Time spent in thoughtful preparation, on the other hand, is usually well spent. Planning ahead and thinking about your goals for the painting do NOT in any way stifle creativity! You will still evaluate your work as you go along, as well as react and adjust to what is happening on your paper. Only when you have clearly defined your objectives will you be able to exploit developments as they take place during the painting process.

Simple white building.jpg

 

Take the time to DESIGN your picture. Don’t jump the gun. Study your subject for a while before starting to paint. Think about what it is that attracted you – that should be the primary statement or BIG IDEA in your painting. Everything else should be subordinate.

Ask yourself what is your focal point? What is your painting about? Think about what you want to say before you start! WHAT do you hope to achieve and HOW are you going to achieve it? Without some clear objectives, you probably will have difficulty creating something extraordinary. 

Stormy sky.jpg

 

So, to create a better painting , consider what you will emphasize in the picture. Eliminate anything that might compete with or distract from the ONE focal point and main idea. You shouldn’t try to include every daunting detail in a scene. Instead, it pays to NARROW your vision and SIMPLIFY your subject.

The key to simplifying the image you’re painting is doing CAREFUL PLANNING as well as understanding GOOD COMPOSITION. See these blog posts for more information about composition.  Read Designing A Strong Painting With Good Composition!, 10/16/2018, https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/10/16/designing-a-strong-painting/. Also, check out Simplify Your Watercolors By Focusing On Shapes!, 7/16/19, https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/07/16/simplify-your-watercolors-by-focusing-on-shapes/ .

MTS.jpg

 

Generally, good design includes foreground or a ‘lead-in’ to draw your viewer into the picture, a strong focus, and framing or supporting details. But sometimes surrounding details can be reduced, contrast around the center of interest can be increased, or features can be rearranged or eliminated completely to simplify and improve the picture. Cropping an image can be extremely helpful.

The SIMPLER your shapes, the more POWER your picture can have. It actually takes more effort to create a bold simple painting than to jump right into putting paint to paper, struggling to work out any problems as you go along.

Forsythia.jpg

 

Artist Bill Vrscak believes “the simplest statements mean the most.” He also says “A bold, simple statement respects the viewer’s intelligence. Do your viewers a favor: Don’t bore them with extraneous detail. Make your point and get out.” Further, he suggests LEAVING OUT tiny shapes that can cause confusion, large dark areas, insignificant details, and too much surface detail.

To improve you painting, forget about ‘reproducing’ nature. Start to REARRANGE it! Simplify to make your subject more interesting and effective than you found it.

I’ve got a newsletter now! Join me and get painting tips, inspiration, the latest news about classes, new art or products for sale. Subscribe here. I’ll give you a free copy of my Color Blending Tips pdf., that you can download and print.

Perspective Simplified…

Perspective is related to the appearance of things – how the image you plan to paint looks and how you represent it in two dimensions on your paper (or canvas). As artists, we are concerned with achieving a sense of space, depth, and the appearance of three dimensions. We know objects and scenes change appearance from different viewpoints and under different lighting conditions. The use of perspective to suggest space and distance is just one of the useful tools an artist can use. By using principles of perspective, we can make our work more dynamic and effective.

DIMINUTION OR REDUCTION:

The first basic perspective rule is that all objects appear to decrease in size as they recede into the distance. So, the further away an object is from the viewer, the smaller it looks. This is called DIMINUTION.

Sycamore perspective.jpg

FORESHORTENING:

Another perspective principle describes what happens as an object is revolved and seen from different angles. A coin, for example, when observed head on will appear round and maximum size, but as it is pivoted, the image we see  begins to flatten and look more elliptical, until when viewed from the side, the coin looks very like a thin line. The object has become FORESHORTENED.

CONVERGENCE:

CONVERGENCE happens when lines or edges of objects (which we know to be PARALLEL) appear to come together as they recede into the distance. Looking down a fence line, for instance, a person would see the top and bottom of the fence converging, and the space between and the thickness of the fenceposts becoming narrower into the distance.

Walk to water perspective.jpg

January thaw perspective.jpg

VANISHING POINT:

When talking about perspective, we must understand that parallel lines (such as railroad tracks) will seem to come together (converge) or meet at some point. This point on the distant horizon is called the VANISHING POINT. When looking at a fence or railroad tracks we see ONE vanishing point. The converging lines will meet at an observer’s eye level on the horizon, I.e. at the vanishing point. In real life the horizon line is not always visible (it may be located behind a mountain or building). Nevertheless, the horizon line will always be at the observer’s eye level. Therefore, EYE LEVEL can be used as the horizon line for horizontal lines in a drawing.

VIEWPOINT:

While the vanishing point will generally be at eye level on the horizon, an observer’s VIEWPOINT can change. A person can be looking up, down, or straight out. Thus, eye level/horizon line can be higher or lower in your picture, depending on viewpoint. When you look UP, you see more sky or ceiling and the eye level/horizon line will be LOW. On the other hand, when you look DOWN, you see more ground or floor and eye level/horizon line will become HIGHER.

rusty truck perspective.jpg

 

Dock perspective.jpg

So, when you draw or paint a picture, your eye level/horizon line will inform your viewer whether they are looking  up, down, or straight ahead at a scene. For instance, it you place the horizon line high, they MUST be looking down on your subject. Place the horizon line low, and you are telling your viewer they are invariably looking up at the subject.

MULTIPLE VANISHING POINTS:

With a solid rectangular object, such as a building, you will have TWO vanishing points to consider. Each visible side of the building (made of parallel lines) has its own vanishing point. If you extend the lines forming the tops and bottoms of the visible sides until they meet, and you have drawn accurately, the lines will converge at two vanishing points on the eye level/horizon line. The two vanishing points need not be located on your paper. Often, depending on your viewpoint, the vanishing points will be off your paper, or possibly one (of the two) vanishing points will extend off the paper.

Queen Anne perspective.jpg

It is possible to have THREE OR MORE vanishing points. This can happen with a complicated drawing. When there are many SETS OF PARALLEL LINES going in different directions, each set will converge toward its OWN vanishing point.

winter coming perspective.jpg

IN SUMMARY:

Begin your consideration of perspective drawings by putting in the EYE LEVEL LINE. From there, you can begin to plot perspective lines (which represent SETS OF PARALLEL LINES) that should CONVERGE toward one or several VANISHING POINTS. When there are many sets of parallel lines going in different directions, each will converge toward its OWN vanishing point.

For more in depth information on perspective, consider:

Perspective:Learn How To Create Depth and Realism, 2001, by Ray Campbell Smith.

Perspective Drawing Handbook, 1964, by Joseph D’Amelio.

Basic Perspective Drawing: A Visual Approach, 1993, by John Montague.

Perspective For Artists, 1990, by Angela Gair.

I’ve got a newsletter now! Subscribe here. I’ll give you a free copy of my color blending tip pdf.

Formats For Effective Compositions (Volume II)…

Continued from 10/30/18 post “Formats for Effective Compositions (Volume I).

Use the STEELYARD (also called the SEESAW or BIG & SMALL) format when you have a large element and a second similar but smaller object (for example, a large and a small rock or a large and a small building).  Tension and eye movement exist between the two, with the smaller mass often being a good location for the focal point.  The line or space between the two images becomes a visual link.  Since the two images are similar visually, their values also need to be similar.

Steelyard format:

IMG_3969.jpg

IMG_1983.jpg

If your focal point is near the center of the picture and you have arranged somewhat equally two other shapes similar to each other on either side of the picture, you are using the BALANCE SCALE format.  An island with shoreline on each side would be an example of such a composition.  (Remember, however: the focal point should never be at the precise center of your painting!)

Balance Scale format:

IMG_3957.jpg

IMG_5106.jpg

On the other hand, when you have NO discernible center of interest, as with a landscape vista, you could create an interlocking pattern of hills and vegetation to create eye flow using the PATTERN format.

Pattern format:

IMG_0227.jpg

 

A DIAGONAL format is useful when you want to emphasize strong slanting lines, such as steep hills or a mountain or cliff balanced by an opposing diagonal shape.

Diagonal format:

IMG_4330.jpg

Use the RADIATING LINES format when you have numerous lines radiating from a common vanishing point (for example, in a row of buildings on a city street or in a fence line).  (A variation of this format is the VARIABLE REPETITION of a line by repeating it, but each time making a progressive variation of it.  This pattern could be used in a billowing cloud formation or in a series of waves.  In this format the line variations can be different lengths or can be spaced unevenly.)

Radiating Lines format:

IMG_0251.jpg

IMG_2988.jpg

Variable Repetition format:

IMG_2103.jpg

An “S” composition relies on line mass or value to lead the eye to the center of interest.  It uses graceful curves to suggest rhythm and movement between one area of the painting and another (for instance, in a river or path or road leading the viewer’s eye to the center of interest).

“S” format:

IMG_6173.jpg

The ZIGZAG and HOOK/SPIRAL FORMATS are variations of the “S” composition.  Many variations are possible when you enter the picture space from different directions.  Plant foliage or a branch could lead the viewer into a painting and point toward a focal point of flowers or fruit.

Hook format:

IMG_4331.jpg

These formats can add energy to your painting by moving the viewer’s eye around the picture.  You may find yourself using one or more of these formats at a time, and you may even develop formats of your own.  Whatever format you choose, its name doesn’t really matter.  A format’s goal is to keep the viewer’s eye moving around your painting and thus maintain the viewer’s interest and involvement in your art.

Formats For Effective Compositions (Volume I)…

Before artists pick up their paintbrushes, they must create a composition (an arrangement or an organization) in two dimensions for their painting.  To do so, they look for shapes, values, edges, and color changes instead of things or objects like “a tree,” “a table,” or “shadows.”  Design and composition provide the framework for any painting.  By using the following guidelines and formats for placing elements in a painting, you will become a better painter.

Rather than letting a complex scene overwhelm you, use one of the following formats to help you to arrange elements in your picture (or even eliminate unnecessary elements) and to create a more strong, effective, successful painting.  Decide which of these organizational formats best suits your purpose.  Choose the format that is the closest to your inspiration; then rearrange and modify elements as necessary to make the format work.  For instance, depending on your choice of format, you can confidently move a tree or change its shape, adjust a horizon, or move furniture around in your picture.

In designing a composition, pick a format that helps create a path to move the viewer’s eye toward your center of interest.  Try to keep this focal point away from dead center or the corners or edges of your picture space.  Avoid having major shapes or lines that run parallel to the edge of the paper (with the exception of the level surface of a body of water).

One format to use in designing a painting is the RULE OF THIRDS or TIC-TAC-TOE plan.  Dividing the picture plane into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, creates intersections of these lines; those intersections are good spots for effective focal points.

Rule of Thirds format:

IMG_1706.jpg

IMG_1974.jpg

IMG_0077.jpg

 

The PYRAMID or TRIANGLE composition will give your painting a feeling of strength and stability.  The center of interest, perhaps a building or evergreen tree, should fall within the triangle or near its top.  This triangular shape moves the viewer’s eye around the composition.  It is possible to combine this format with a THREE SPOT or CIRCLE composition.

A THREE SPOT composition is useful when you need to organize repeating shapes of differing sizes, such as rocks, trees, or buildings of diminishing sizes.  Repetition and continuity are a major part of the THREE SPOT format.

In a CIRCLE or “O” format, a circle surrounds or frames the center of interest (for instance, overhanging trees surrounding a path).  The focal point will be located on or inside the circle but NOT in the circle’s center.  Framing the main subject keeps the viewer’s eye in the picture.  This format can work well with the RULE OF THIRDS or TRIANGLE composition.

Circle Format:

IMG_5994.jpg

 

The CROSS format can help you solve the problem of having mostly horizontal lines in a painting.  By adding a vertical tree, you can effectively break up an overemphasis on horizontals (for example, in a painting of a sunset).

Cross format:

IMG_6834.jpg

Use an “L” format to organize a strong vertical dark mass on the side of a painting by incorporating a similar dark mass or shadow pattern across the bottom of a painting (for example, a large tree casting shade along the shore of a brightly lit pond).

The “U” or BRIDGE format is useful when a picture includes two different-sized sides that are reaching out to each other, with the focal point located somewhere in between.  The eye is kept busy moving back and forth between the two sides.  You might us this format when you have trees or buildings (or two shores on a lake) that frame your center of interest.

Bridge format:

IMG_5835.jpg

To be continued as 11/6/18 post titled “Formats For Effective Compositions (Volume II).

Get In The Mood!

Mood is only one of the important effects we create in our efforts as artists to get our viewers to see what we want them to see. (Other main effects that we use include unity, dominance [or emphasis], variety, contrast, gradation, transitions, perspective, balance, rhythm and movement, pattern, and so on.) Establishing a mood will bring character and interest to your painting, while enhancing your subject. MOOD is the pervasive feeling evoked by your painting — for example, calm tranquility or languid, hazy heat. Mood conveys emotion to your viewer.

To intentionally create a different mood (also sometimes called ATMOSPHERE) in your painting, you might manipulate COLORS, VALUES, or CLARITY. To think about this issue more simply, you might consider first whether you want your picture to have a warm or cool feel to it ( COLORS lean toward warm or cool temperatures – see The Paint Colors and Brands on My Palette…, https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/08/28/the-paint-colors-and-brands-on-my-palette/,  my blog published 8/28/18.); then you could decide on the dominant VALUE ( lightness or darkness, such as ‘bright and cheery’ or perhaps ‘dark and foreboding’); then, you could define the CLARITY (level of detail) you hope to achieve.

You could also create mood by manipulating the SPATIAL DESIGN of a picture. For instance, a large empty expanse in a painting could be used to create a sense of ease or openness, or even bleakness or emptiness. Converging lines could be used to make the viewer feel confined, closed in, or up close to a subject. To suggest calm and tranquility, keep your main lines HORIZONTAL, with one or two vertical lines to break up the monotony. (Water in a calm scene should be smooth, with mirror-like reflections, and with clouds echoing the predominance of horizontal line.) Strident VERTICAL lines will enhance feelings of awe, even fear. (Crags and mountainsides can appear intimidating, castles will seem impregnable, especially if trees, dwellings, or figures below are made smaller.) Strong DIAGONALS suggest a sense of dynamism and movement, and diagonally directed clouds with ragged edges will produce a sensation of strong winds and restlessness. (Diagonals guided toward the focal point emphasize its importance.)

Both value and clarity will determine the lighting in your painting, which in turn, will tell you the intensity of the colors you should use.  It is the literal atmosphere that creates figurative ‘atmosphere.’ For instance, the amount of humidity, snow, rain, dust, or fog in the air determines the quality of light that gets through it, as well as the colors and amount of detail we see. Think coastal fogs, dark clouds, or misty mountains! Mood often has a tonal range or value – these ranges can be described as low key, high key or middle key. A low key painting would be dark and could give a viewer a heavy or somber feeling. A high key picture would instead have a bright and cheerful effect. A middle key painting uses a wider range of values which could be used to create a wider variety of moods.

If you want a bright, sunny picture (also called high key) with sharp clarity, you want to use colors that are mostly pure. Do a lot of wet-on-dry painting for sharpness, show distant detail, and use shadows and highlights. In contrast, if you are striving for fog or haze, most of the colors you  use will be dulled because of subdued lighting. Use wet-on-damp techniques to produce soft edges, and flatten the background shapes so that they have few details. In this way, atmosphere contributes to ‘mood.’

Why should you worry about mood? Why should you care whether you create a specific mood in a painting?  Painters care about mood because a watercolor painting without a mood is dry, generic, uninteresting, and without feeling!  Try to move beyond a mere representation or photographic copy of objects in your art. Rather than precisely copying every detail in a picture, you should aim to suggest and imply.  While creating ‘mood,’ strive to interpret a scene by choosing the details to include and the ones to leave out. There is no need to tell the viewer everything! Mood adds drama and appeal. Allow each viewer to see something different, to use THEIR imagination, to feel their own emotion, and to participate in your painting. By creating mood and atmosphere when you paint, you will be on your way to creating a visual poetry that stirs deep feeling in your audience.