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Creating Form and Space in a Painting.

How can I create the look of a three-dimensional object or scene on a flat piece of paper? An artist creates form in a picture, in part, through the use of TONAL VALUES: lights and darks will suggest weight and mass in your painting. In other words, contrast and variation of values (lights and darks) will indicate form, space, and depth. SHADOWS appear as SHAPES lying on the surface of an object, following the contours and revealing the form of the underlying object.

LIGHT ON CURVED AND FLAT OBJECTS.

Many of the objects you paint will be a combination of CURVED and FLAT surfaces. Light interacts differently with each of these surfaces, so pay attention to value changes in order to paint a convincing illusion of three-dimensional form.

On a curved surface, darks and lights change constantly and smoothly. When painting a curved object look for a core shadow with reflected light on the dark side as well as a slight shadow on the light side. The change from light to dark on a curved object is GRADUAL across its surface. The direction of the light shining on the curved object determines where different shadows and lights will fall.

In contrast, a viewer can perceive flat surfaces because of a contrast of value between EACH of the surfaces. Each side of a cube, for instance, receives a different proportion of light. Value does NOT stay constant across each surface, but changes slightly as each side recedes.

COLOR VS. BLACK AND WHITE.

Color is made up of both HUE (the name of the pure color) and TONE. Each color (hue) has the quality of lightness or darkness. (Yellow has a lighter tone, for instance, than purple.) Differences in the tone of a color are easy to see when the colors used are not very intense (or strong). However, the brilliance or intensity of colors can interfere with your ability to isolate and focus only on the lightness/darkness of color, thus making it difficult to judge tonal values in a painting. SQUINTING your eyes can help you see the proper tone. As you squint, look only for the difference in lightness or darkness of an area.

A black/white GRAY SCALE (a card with gradations of white, gray, and black) can make it easier to judge tone in your picture. Alternatively, make a black and white copy of your reference photo, or draw a value sketch of your scene including lights, mid-values, and darks for reference while painting. In black and white you will see the tonal values of the subject ( and not the color). This new way of seeing will help you compose, simplify, and adjust values in your painting. With practice, you will be better able to recognize tones and values and to control them.

When you look at your painting subject, look for a range of tones from light to dark. However, keep in mind that TONE in a picture is always RELATIVE. Observe the strength of tone in one area of the picture in relation to all the other tones. When you squint, you will notice that highlights and darks are visible to you while non-essential details tend to blur. Try to simplify your image into at least three (no more than five) tonal values, e.g. light, dark, mid-tone. You can start your painting with pale undertones to establish the layout of your composition. Leave highlights as the white of the paper. Mid-tones are painted next, overlapping some layers to build up color. Dark tones are usually the final layer of building up color in your painting. Having the lighter layers painted, you will find it easier to evaluate just how dark you need to paint your darkest colors.

CONTRAST OF TONE/VALUE.

CONTRAST (the relative difference between light and dark areas in a painting) is one of the ways in which the brain distinguishes one thing from another. The stronger the contrast, the more it attracts attention. Contrast helps a viewer differentiate between subject and background in a painting and directs the viewer’s eye to the center of interest, especially when the center of interest is the point of greatest contrast.

Contrast is dynamic, contributing excitement, attracting attention, and relieving monotony. Contrast creates a tension between the opposing elements, a push and pull, to provide visual strength and make a forceful statement in a painting. (COUNTERCHANGE is the term used for placing light and dark tones next to each other to create impact.) Every artist wants to paint a picture that has some impact! To create a stimulating painting, include strong contrasts.

Contrast in VALUE is the most common form of contrast used by artists. Other possible types of contrast are contrast in temperature, in energy, and in purity of color (bright or muted). While painting, artists try to arrange and modify the values of various parts of a picture, depending on what they want to emphasize. Sometimes they alter values from how those values appear in reality to whatever the artists need to make a stronger composition. If you squint at your painting and certain areas blend into each other, you may need to add more contrast in your work. If you make shadows darker or lose some detail in the bright highlights, you can make your painting more dramatic. If your picture looks dull, with all areas the same tone, you may need to increase the tonal range. Make sure that darker and lighter tones alternate across the painting and that there is tonal variation WITHIN each wash for variety.

Early Morning, Early Spring.jpg

In the above watercolor painting, note the contrasts in tone and color temperature in particular. Are there soft and hard edges? What draws your attention in this picture? What techniques suggest depth and three dimensions?

EDGE VARIATION.

Since VARIATION is important in watercolor, also allow some edges (perhaps in shaded areas and highlights) to merge into areas of similar tone and to be less detailed. (This is called LOST AND FOUND, or HARD AND SOFT EDGES, or fading and disappearing edges, or broken or inferred edges.) When edges appear or disappear or are soft, they create a sense of movement in a painting, allowing the viewers to imagine or interpret what they see. In contrast, hard edges define SHAPES and hold or direct the viewers’ eye. By employing hard and soft edges, the  artist can further refine the creation of distance, depth, and form.

PERSPECTIVE.

Also use PERSPECTIVE ( a succession of spatial planes receding into the distance) to help you create believable space and form. When you place a light-toned object in front of a darker one, it appears to be positioned in front of the other spatially. Larger objects appear closer than smaller ones.

IN SUMMARY.

Tonal counterchange (light against dark) not only appeals to the eye but also creates shape and depth in a painting. Light and shadow across the surface of an object reveal the form of that object. Strong tonal contrast and a varied range of tones create the illusion of space and suggest three-dimensional form.

The Paint Colors and Brands On My Watercolor Palette…

In the early days, pigments for painting were rare! The specific ingredients and recipes for making paints were closely guarded secrets. These paints were made by hand from soils, minerals, animal matter, and other materials. The paint did not keep well and had to be made frequently from scratch.

MODERN PIGMENTS.

Modern pigments, although still using some of the same ingredients, are manufactured from a wide variety of substances, often through complicated chemical processes. Many more different pigments are available to painters today, with an incredibly wide range of color choices. Because we now have so many colors to choose from, it is necessary to narrow down the options and simplify.

COLOR NAMES AND PIGMENT NUMBERS.

A painter can’t possibly use every tube color out there, and there is such overlap between brands and ‘named colors’ offered that it wouldn’t make sense to try every one. Be aware that the name given on each tube can be very deceptive! For instance, some ‘raw siennas’ are not really raw sienna at all, but are made from the yellow ochre pigment. A ‘sap green’ in one brand looks different and is made from very different ingredients than ‘sap green’ from another company. The color you think you’re buying is not necessarily what you get! Further, some paints offered are unreliable and fade when exposed to sunlight.

What’s to be done? READ LABELS (just like at the grocery store) to know what you’re getting and to get the best products. On tubes of watercolor pigment, look for the pigment LETTERS and NUMBERS printed on each tube to tell you what the paint is actually made from – companies often include this information in small print on the tube. The letters indicate the pigment hue (color); for example, PB means ‘pigment blue,’ and PR stands for ‘pigment red.’ The numbers that follow the letters are those assigned internationally for that pigment material; for example, a true viridian paint contains PG18 (or ‘pigment green number 18), not something else that might look like viridian.

Using pigment letters and numbers instead of just color names will help you learn to be more aware of what paints you are using. Gordon MacKenzie, in his book The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook: Landscapes, goes into a lot of detail explaining which pigments to AVOID because of unreliability. Mr. MacKenzie also shares which brands have the BEST quality in which colors. (It is interesting that no one brand offers the best quality in every color they produce!)

COLOR.

In choosing colors for my watercolor palette, I tried to consider color characteristics. The FOUR characteristics  of color to think about are: 1. HUE is the name of the pure simple color, e.g. blue, yellow, red. (Hue describes the pigment’s location on the color wheel.) 2. VALUE is a pigment’s lightness or darkness. 3. INTENSITY is the brilliance or saturation of a color. (A pigment can be dulled by adding its complementary color – the color opposite it on the color wheel – which in the right amount produces gray.) 4. TEMPERATURE is warmth or coolness of a color. Reds, oranges, yellows are said to be warm, while greens, blues, or violets are thought of as cool. A color or hue can ‘lean’ toward either the warm side or the cool side, and the direction it leans affects how it behaves during color mixing with another hue. In order to be able to mix pigments into a wider range of colors, try to choose both a warm and a cool version of the primary hues.

Color Wheel.jpeg

COLOR WHEEL.

On the color wheel, colors are placed in position on the circle to indicate their degree of warmth or coolness and their relationships to each other. Color placement on the wheel can therefore suggest the degree of borrowing or leaning toward another color – a ‘warm’ red (like cadmium red) is closer to the yellows and also contains more yellow than a ‘cool’ red (permanent alizarin red) which would be closer (on the color wheel) to and contain more blue. You can follow the colors around the color wheel to see how much borrowed color is in each pigment.

COLOR MIXING.

It becomes easier to combine colors when you can visualize your pigments on the color wheel. For this reason, I decided to try the Stephen Quiller watercolor palette, which has wells for pigments arranged in a circle (color wheel) for ease of color mixing. (The Richeson Stephen Quiller watercolor palette is available on jerrysartarama.com for $22.99, as of the time of this writing.)

CHOOSING YOUR COLORS.

In many ways, choosing particular colors for your palette is a matter of personal preference. Yet, there are a few guidelines. Recently, I have been searching for more transparent watercolors to add to my palette. I find that having too many opaque colors in a painting can destroy the GLOW of light that I hope to get down on my paper. However, I wanted to keep a few opaque colors on the palette. Also, I tried to to include some brilliant, staining colors, as well as some fairly transparent earth pigments. Such a variety of colors allows for mixing a wider range of colors. My reevaluation of pigments seems to be an ongoing process, because just when I think I have finalized my color choices, I find another irresistible and useful hue!

MY COLORS…TODAY AT LEAST.

So, what colors do I have on my palette today? These are the 24 colors that I placed around the circle (with some exceptions to the color wheel theory just because I liked the colors): Hansa Yellow Light PY3 (Daniel Smith or DaVinci), Gamboge Hue PY153PY3 (Daler Rowney or DaVinci), Indian Yellow PY153 (Daniel Smith or DaVinci), Raw Sienna PBr7 (Daniel Smith or DaVinci), Light Red PR101 (Holbein), Indian Red PR101 (Holbein or Winsor Newton), Cadmium Red PR108 (DaVinci or Daniel Smith), Pyrrol Red (Daniel Smith) OR Winsor Red (Winsor Newton) [both are pigment PR254], Quinacridone Red PR206 (Daniel Smith), Quinacridone Pink PV42 (Daniel Smith), Quinacridone Violet PV19 (Daniel Smith or M. Graham), Mineral Violet PV15 (Holbein), Mauve PV19PB29 (DaVinci), Payne’s Gray PB15PBk6PV19  (Winsor Newton or Maimeri), Ultramarine Blue PB29 (Daniel Smith or DaVinci), Cobalt Blue PB28 (DaVinci), Phthalo Blue RED SHADE PB15 (Daniel Smith, DaVinci, or M. Graham) OR Winsor Blue RED SHADE PB15 (Winsor Newton), Cerulean Blue PB36 (Holbein or Winsor Newton), Blue Apatite Genuine (Daniel Smith), Phthalo Green BLUE SHADE PG7 (DaVinci or Daniel Smith) or Winsor Green BLUE SHADE (Winsor Newton), Viridian PG18 (DaVinci or Daniel Smith), Sap Green PG7PY42 (DaVinci!!!), Shadow Green PBk31 (Holbein) OR Perylene Green (Winsor Newton), and Rich Green Gold PY129 (Daniel Smith) OR Azo Green (M. Graham). In the 8 corner wells, I added some fun, supplemental colors: Quinacridone Gold PO49 (Daniel Smith), Burnt Sienna PBr7 (Daniel Smith, Holbein, or Maimeri), Quinacridone Burnt Orange PO48 (Daniel Smith), Brown Madder Quinacridone PV19PR101 (DaVinci) OR Red Iron Oxide PR101 (M. Graham), Phthalo Blue GREEN SHADE PB15:3 (Daler Rowney or Daniel Smith), Manganese Blue Hue PB15PW5 (DaVinci or Holbein), Burnt Umber PBr7 (Daniel Smith or Holbein), and Bloodstone Genuine (Daniel Smith).

BASIC COLOR RECOMMENDATIONS.

I don’t recommend that beginning painters have all of the above mentioned colors on their palettes. Having fewer colors will help you begin to learn the characteristics of your colors and how they behave when used alone or when mixed with others. Being able to MIX the exact color you want to use in a painting is INVALUABLE! A basic beginning palette might include: Quinacridone red, Quinacridone Violet, Mauve, Indian Yellow, Hansa Yellow Light, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Phthalo Blue Red Shade, Viridian, Sap Green, Payne’s Gray, Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna. When you become familiar with the basic colors, you can feel free to experiment and slowly add more colors. Enjoy! Color is fun!

I Have an Image I’d Like to Paint. Now Where Do I Start?

As you approach a painting, it is absolutely vital that you think hard about what you’re doing. You can avoid many problems if you PLAN ahead and think through the sequence of painting steps. Before you begin to paint, you must stop and analyze the subject to be painted.  Learn to ask yourself some basic questions.  First, determine what it is you want to show and what you want to say about your subject. Why did you choose to paint this picture? Why were you drawn to this image? Does your image remind you of a favorite place?  Does the picture make you feel calm? Do you feel like laughing when you look at your subject?

Think about your MOOD. How does the scene make you feel? Happy, sad, excited, nostalgic? Respond to your emotions – these feelings are what you will try to get down on paper and share with viewers of your art. People will connect to YOUR art with THEIR emotions! For instance, does your painting depict hay being baled and loaded onto a truck on a sweltering hot, hazy summer day?  Can you just imagine your clothes clinging to you and your skin itching where loose hay sticks to your sweaty skin? You would definitely be looking forward to a tall glass of cold iced tea later while sitting in the shade! The mood and setting of this kind of picture should suggest certain paint color choices and techniques to you. You might use rich, warm summer greens for trees, ochres to show for dried grasses, bright, warm blues in a sky full of billowing cumulus clouds. In the distance, details might be a bit soft, paler, and obscured by the haze and humidity.  Cloud formations and vegetation during sunny high summer have certain characteristics they do not usually show during other seasons or weather conditions.

Come up with a plan of attack. Remember that there is not just one way to paint a scene! What approach are you drawn to? Will you paint background first? Do you want to paint all your underlayers first? Have some idea of what you want to do, but be open to adapting your plans as you proceed. Feel free to rearrange objects to strengthen your composition. You can also change the atmosphere, season, time of day, or direction of the light source in your picture. Decide on a center of interest to anchor your painting; then in view of what you choose as your focus, pick what details you will emphasize and what elements you will remove. It is best to SIMPLIFY your image – learn to really look at your picture and see Shapes, Values, Edges, and Color Changes – instead of “clouds,” “trees,” “roads,”or “faces.”  Then, ELIMINATE some things. Sometimes less is more! Don’t copy every detail you see – filter the details through your own eyes. Wouldn’t a few details be more interesting than having everything in precise imitation of the reality? (If you detail everything, you have NOT created a CENTER OF INTEREST to draw the eye of the viewer.)  Making such choices is one of the important steps in moving from being a painter to being an ARTIST. Your painting should share your impression of and emotions about a scene. You should not be striving for a rote photographic copy that expresses no feeling.

Once you determine the mood of your painting and think about what paint colors and techniques would give your painting the desired feeling, you can progress to make a light pencil sketch of a few IMPORTANT details of the image. Consider whether you intend to save the white of the paper with masking fluid before you begin painting. With masking complete, decide which parts of your painting you will paint first and with what techniques. Every picture is different, so in a way you will need to be a bit of a detective. If you enjoy puzzles, as I do, figuring out how you proceed through a painting can be an enjoyable challenge. The goal is to have a PLAN, with the construction of your painting broken down into small, manageable steps from the start to the finish of the process.

Often I begin a painting by painting the sky. If there is no sky to paint, I tend to start with the background and work gradually toward the foreground, painting light colors prior to darker colors, building up layers to create shape and form. Watercolor is seldom painted as one layer. I like to have light colors surrounded by dark, or vice versa, to create emphasis and impact, and to attract a viewer’s interest.  I also consider adjusting the colors in a painting to suit my own taste or to set the mood that I want to create. Fine details in the foreground or at the center of interest I often paint last.

As you gain experience as a painter, you will find it easier to rearrange objects, adjust colors, or simplify in your art. Try to be BOLD! You are a unique individual unlike anyone else.  Get your OWN feelings down on the paper. Dare to be yourself, and work to master your techniques of painting, and you will develop your own style and be likely to have success as a painter. And remember: the more you paint, the faster you grow!