Wednesday, September 19, 2018

100 Starts - Kevin Macpherson prompt

The down side to being a book lover is that I tend read them one after another without pause. With novels this is no big deal. But with art instruction books it's not very effective to blow past them like that. Especially when there's so much valuable content and fantastic advice in them.

When I read Fill Your Oil Paintings with Light & Color by Kevin Macpherson I knew following his prompt to paint 100 starts would be a good idea. The basic premise is that you give yourself 30 minutes to get the simple shapes of your subject blocked in with correct color notes (and as he describes it, if the color is right the value will be right as well). And after 100 of these studies, you'll be better and faster at doing them.

My goal is to complete one study a day for 100 days to see what I learn — and also to experience sticking with one teacher's technique for a decent length of time. It's super hard for me to focus on one approach because I love trying them all, but I really think I'll see benefits from sinking into one approach and getting familiar enough with it to see if it works for me. And if at the end of the 100 studies something isn't fitting I can always adjust.

His exercise was also appealing to me because it incorporates the use of notan and in-shadow/not-in-shadow principles that I learned from Dianne Mize. It feels like a different, simpler way to start compared with the 4 major plane value divisions I tried out with my recent focused practice on values, which were less intuitive for me to decipher.

I began the 100 starts challenge on Monday, September 10, 2018.

100 Starts - Kevin Macpherson prompt - Days 1-10
My first ten days of this "100 Starts" exercise, painted from life in acrylics.

Number 1 notes

  • Set up a still life with cool bulb shining on colored wood blocks. 
  • Sketched a notan thumbnail, then drew the still life on my painting surface (gessoed poster board) with small filbert and acrylic paint. 
  • Using a color isolator and acrylic paints in ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow light, and titanium white, put down color shapes one at a time:
    1. Lightest light
    2. Darkest dark
    3. Easy color
    4. Colors in the shadow family
    5. Colors in the light family
A couple of the colors should have been a little darker or lighter and the brushwork needs improvement, but overall I am completely wowed by this exercise. When I look at the painted study I really believe the light. Plus, it's fun to be working in color after six weeks of black, white, and grey studies!

I had to keep an eye on the clock because I started at a leisurely pace and realized I'd never finish the study if I didn't speed things up and make quicker decisions. Putting the paint down on my panel went quickly, but the color reading and mixing was more time consuming.

Number 2 notes

Same process as Number 1 with different blocks. By using the color isolator I read the brown block as leaning toward purple, which surprised me. My cast shadows seem too light, which may be a factor of the direct light and a light cloth surface. The shadow family is technically all darker than the light family but it's not very clear what's going on with it from a viewer's perspective. I'll try switching to a darker ground and see how that affects the color notes. Yesterday's cool-colored blocks in the cool light is much different in my eyes than today's warm-colored blocks in the same light. Wasn't expecting that!

Number 3 notes

I switched the cloth background to a mid grey and changed the lighting angle from side (rim) to 3/4 (form). Two color areas gave me trouble today: one was the shadow side of a light yellow block that I made too light for being in the shadow family. The reflected light from the white sphere next to it threw me off. And the other was a green color that was in the light family but it's too dark. I'm not sure yet about how to resolve that situation…

I need to watch my still life composition more carefully. With this study, a strangely-shaped shadow cast onto the vertical backdrop makes for a very confusing and unappealing composition.

Number 4 notes

The bright red block in today's still life gave me huge color matching troubles. I resorted to bringing out my cadmium red light for the brightest side. I like the strong contrast between the shadow and light families on this one.

Number 5 notes

I set today's still life up to mimic a very rough landscape scene. I love the beige sandy foreground contrasted with the cool grey background. I'm noticing that my light family tends to get a little dark, making it hard to clearly distinguish between the light and shadow. However, the shadow side and cast shadow of a dominant black block in front are particularly pleasing to me. Looking for the colors that exist in shadows is fascinating!

Number 6 notes

Today I concentrated on making the light family lighter and more easily distinguishable from the dark family than I have been. I had trouble matching some of the most intense hues with this one — the bright royal blue of the cylinder and the brightest side of the orange triangle. I need to figure out whether it's jut not possible with the pigments I'm using or if I just haven't mixed properly. I'm really happy with the light yellow block, although the cast shadow got a bit too red.

There's something incredibly satisfying about mixing these colors and applying them as simple color shapes. I don't think I'd pause to look at someone else's versions of the exercise, and they're not very compelling as compositions or anything, but the experience of making them is rewarding. The fact that I created them myself makes them much more interesting to me. And since they're meant to be studies and nothing final, it's truly about the experience and not about the outcome which I appreciate.

Number 7 notes

I've been adjusting my still life setup — the surface it's on and lighting — over the last several days. I'm finding I prefer to have my easel set up over near a window with the still life in a corner beyond it. I also remembered that when I originally painted the blocks I used some colors that just won't be possible to mix with my current limited palette selection, so I can stop attempting to match the intensity and just aim for hue and value. Which is fine because my desire is to paint the natural world, which tends toward greys and not so many high-chroma colors.

Today's blocks were cooler in color with a cool bulb directed at them, and I enjoyed painting the warmer shadow family colors.

Seven days in a row feels like an accomplishment! At some point I'll change up the subject, but for now will continue with the blocks. Most important to me is that I continue painting from life.

Number 8 notes

Today's blocks were neutrals and earth tones. I think I did well with the color shapes and indicating what's in the shadow family, but the dark browns in the light family should probably be lighter. Tomorrow I really need to push the lights to see what that feels like. I may be struggling with the fact that I "know" the dark brown background paper and block are dark, instead of really seeing them for the color they are as light.

Number 9 notes

Well, I forgot to push the colors in the light and shadow families like I had intended — clearly I need to put a note on my easel as a reminder! Despite that, I still think there are some good color notes and for the most part the relationships hold together well. I used a small flat brush (synthetic bristle) today for more control over the small shapes. I liked having more control but not how thin and splotchy the paint is applied. I also introduced a new object: a candle in a white and lavender ceramic jar. I love the shadow and light pattern on it.

I'm having trouble staying within the 30-minute time goal. Today's, and a few others, took me 40 minutes. I just can't bring myself to leave one unfinished so I need to work on not over analyzing the color mixing and go back to a larger brush.

Number 10 notes

I remembered to push the lights and shadows today and some areas it resulted in the desired effect but on the white mug I introduced to the still life the contrast is much too extreme. The shadows on it aren't the right color notes given the lighting. It was a good thing to try though. I got this one done in just over 30 minutes, which is an improvement from yesterday.

Ultimately the big thing I'm trying to get right is to make the colors in the light family all lighter than the colors in the shadow family. I need some system in place for checking that — maybe something as simple as a white strip of paper that's divided into light side and shadow side where I can test swatch everything before I paint it in.

Another new thing I tried today was setting my palette between where I stand and my easel, instead of off to the side on my tabouret. My default posture is often poor and intensely hunched over whatever I'm concentrating on, and turning to the right to mix colors was giving my horrible upper back and neck pain. Mixing straight down in front of me was much better and hopefully if I continue that way the pain will disappear.