Saturday, February 16, 2019

Lost edges study in melding dark values

lost edge study in melding dark values landscape Feb-15-2019
Brushwork mayhem!
After doing studies focused on light values and then middle values, the next topic is dark values. For my subject I chose a photo I took of a river edge surrounded by red rocks and green shrubs at Zion National Park. Zion is incredibly inspiring and it was during that trip that I thought I might actually enjoy plein air painting.

Photo from our trip to Zion National Park

As Dianne says in her lessons, studies are freedom to explore, to make discoveries — not about making finished paintings. I like to keep that in mind when studies aren't going the way I'd like, as was the case with this one! Some things I explored and discovered:

  • Roughing in a notan without establishing key relationship points causes me a lot of frustration. I spend a fair amount of time fighting against poorly-located elements and get distracted from the real point: lost edges in the dark values. A notan thumbnail would probably be a good exercise before starting on the panel.
  • In creating the darkest dark accents at the end, I went overboard and created visual disruption in the lower right. 
  • The brushes I chose didn't give me the nuances of softened edges between different hues in the dark value areas. Or I just don't know how to use them in that way yet. (Time for one of my favorite things: brush shopping!)
  • In the light areas and shallow shadow areas, I explored the feeling of placing strong brush marks rather than blending them away. I like that affect, but there's a lack of unity with other areas. I also made strokes that follow the shape of the rocks, which I really like.
  • I pushed the intensity a fair amount which contributes to a hectic-feeling study. I have such a hard time reading color and value on my neutral grey palette. I love the theory of a neutral grey palette, but in practice I struggle with it. For my next study I want to use a white paper palette and see if it feels better. 
  • I stayed with a relatively large brush the whole time and discovered that experience feels quite different from switching to a small brush for finer details toward the end.
While this study veered somewhat from my original goal of exploring lost edges in dark values, it actually reminds me of the spirit of plein air pochade sketches I like so much.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Lost edge study in fusing middle values #2

lost edge study in fusing middle values squirrel Feb-13-2019
Exploring areas of same value/different hue

For the second study in fusing middle values I wanted to use the same color palette, but switch from a cool background to a warm one. In her video lesson, Dianne uses a grey squirrel for the demo and it was so cute that I wanted to try it myself. That light, fluffy tummy makes me smile :)

lost edge study in fusing middle values squirrel Feb-13-2019 color next to grey
The lost edges are around the outer edge of the head, one foot, and a bit at the top of the tail.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Lost edge study in fusing middle values

lost edge study in fusing middle values bird Feb-13-2019
Lost edges in the middle values

Now that I'm seeing this study, which is an exploration of lost edges in middle values, I feel like my studies with light values (apples and pears) could use another look. For this little bird, I used my value finder tool to double check that the negative shape is indeed a middle value. The idea being that I can use the middle values of the bird's contour to lose edges with the background. I wish I'd done that check with the previous two studies! I really like how they look, but I'd also like to get more of the experience with actually merging the light values.

In any case, the concept of losing edges is making sense to me, which is the important thing. The primary thing we were studying with this lesson was to find areas where two different hues of the same value meet, and soften the edges together rather than keep them distinctly separate.

Since it can be hard for me to distinguish values when color is present, I converted the study to greyscale to check. It was so fun to see those edges disappear! My goal was to paint the bird primarily in warm neutrals and the background primarily in cool, so that when the colors meet you can see the form of the bird even when the edges aren't clear.

lost edge study in fusing middle values bird Feb-13-2019 color next to grey
The greyscale version shows how the edges between subject and background disappear where the values are the same

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Lost edge study in merging light values #2

lost edge study in merging light values pears Feb-8-2019
I enjoyed painting the subtleties in these pears

I wanted to keep going with the color palette from the previous lost edge study this photo of a couple of pears intrigued me. I liked the contrast of the cut pear next to the whole one and it felt satisfying to paint those subtle details like the darkened seed area in the middle and the very slight green halo around the edge just inside the skin.

My 100 Starts project was all about getting larger, simple areas of flat color in quickly, so it's been a treat to slow down and brush in the details with these studies. The pace is so different and I'm relishing the way the way different brushes move the paint around on the panel.

I've heard the instructor say a few times that she doesn't want to lose the gesture of the subject throughout the painting process. I like that reminder to focus more on the overall feeling of the image than being concerned with imitating the subject literally.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Lost edge study in merging light values

lost edge study in merging light values Feb-8-2019

I'm glad to be done with fence posts for the time being! I had so much fun following this lesson on lost edges. This series explores different ways to approach the lost edge, and the first one is by merging light values. For the most part I attempted to copy the choices Dianne makes in the video lesson, but the colors in mine are more intense.

I learned that since we're merging light shapes, the value of the background (negative space) really has an impact on the value overall — the darker the negative shapes, the darker the light family became, and therefore the darker the shadow family got.

On this one I used synthetic flat brushes to get a smoother blending effect, as well as some medium to help the oil paint flow better. I love this limited color palette made up of transparent earth red, viridian, and cad yellow light.

The subtleties and liveliness of varied edges is really speaking to me — I'm excited for the next study.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Study in guiding the eye #4

guiding the eye with value study of beach fence Feb-7-2019
Focus on the foreground

This study was interesting to work on because I moved the area of highest contrast from the distant ground to the foreground. In the reference photo, the post in the back was the strongest point of contrast, but I wanted to put the focus on the fenceposts and shadows in the lower right. My interest in fence posts is waning, and I liked the dappled light and shadow area in the lower section.

One of my favorite things about this series of lessons has been increasing my understanding about the power we have to control the eye as artists. I'm excited to continue developing this skill of deciding where I want the eye to travel in a piece, and controlling value contrast as compositional tool.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Study in guiding the eye #3

guiding the eye with value study of beach fence Feb-6-2019
An experiment in looser brushwork

For my third in this series of studies on guiding the eye with value, I wanted to try a couple of different things. One was to use more painterly brush strokes and do less blending so they stay visible. I also tried applying aerial perspective by using lighter, cooler colors in the distance and more intensity and contrast in the foreground.

The result is that the eye stays quite focused on the center post area, where there's not much of interest to look at. I'd say it was a good thing to try, but not a successful treatment for guiding the eye around the painting with value contrast.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Study in guiding the eye #2

focusing with value study of beach fence Feb-6-2019 after edits
Study in guiding the eye based on an "S" composition 

Continuing with my studies in guiding the eye, this one is from a different reference image than the last one. I chose this image because I wanted to explore using the "S" letterform as a basis for the composition.

navigating with value study of beach fence Feb-5-2019 block-in
Initial block-in

I thought I was finished at this point, but something wasn't sitting well with me. I took the image into Photoshop and tested out a few edits, which helped my eye flow around the painting better. Instead of the light area in the upper left, I continued the grasses off the corner, and I lightened the three posts on the left edges of the fence to reduce the contrast and unlock the eye from stopping there or fighting with the highest area of contrast on the right.

focusing with value study of beach fence Feb-6-2019
Before making edits

focusing with value study of beach fence Feb-6-2019 after edits greyscale
Greyscale check

For the next study I'd like to try bringing the overall values up higher, get more paint on my brush, and blend less.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Study in guiding the eye

focusing with value study of beach fence Feb-5-2019
My study in moving the eye around a painting with value contrast

I'm taking a break from the 30-day creative practice workshop to help me focus on my primary painting goals. Well, it's more of a pivot than a total break. I realized how important composition was to me, and a better way to improve my composition skills would be a more methodical and focused practice study of it. I'm glad I started the 30-day workshop though because it helped me understand all of this.

One thing I'm doing on this topic is reading Composition by Arthur Dow. Which, incidentally, has put me on a mini-mission to do some sumi painting practice. Brushes and ink are on en route!

I'm also continuing with lessons from Dianne Mize, whose whole teaching philosophy is rooted in composing. For this set of lessons, she demonstrates how to first use value contrast to navigate the eye in a block-in, then follows up with finishing the study by refining the areas of value contrast to help focus the eye where you want.

Using one of the photos she provides for study, I blocked in my basic colors. Instead of looking at what's in shadow and what's not in shadow for my starting point, I took the photo reference and blurred it in Photoshop. It's a suggestion Dianne made in her lesson and I hadn't tried that before. It's not something I'd like to lean on a lot in the future, but I have to admit it really helped me get going quickly on this exercise and prevented me from over-analyzing what I was looking at.

navigating with value study of beach fence Feb-4-2019 block-in
Initial block in to establish overall value structure

At this point I took a break to get a little perspective. Plus it was dinner time. The next day, I made note of a few things I wanted to improve, such as adjusting the value contrast with the fence posts along the bottom of the painting. My goal was to have the dark fence post in the upper third be the highest contrast (where the eye goes first) then have the eye move down along the left side to the bottom area, then up to the distant background, and back around to the dark fence post.

focusing with value study of beach fence Feb-5-2019 greyscale
I like to check my work in greyscale, to see how I did with the values. My eye moves around and has lots of things to hold its interest, so I'm happy with this.


This was a fantastic lesson and I want to do some more of these studies to better absorb the principles. I also loved the limited palette that makes color harmony easy.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Art journal play: Brushstrokes

art journal entry - brushstrokes - Feb-3-2019
Art journal prompt: Brushstrokes

The Day 13 creative prompt was Brushstrokes. This is actually the second one I did for this theme. For the first one I used watercolor in a mixed media sketchbook, and I'm too spoiled by nice watercolor paper to like how that one turned out. But the concept was good — I had in mind the image of some fall leaves against a dark tree trunk — so I did another version with acrylic. I also switched from a small flat brush to a relatively stiff, medium sized filbert.

The asymmetry of the strokes contributes to a real sense of movement on the page that I like. I focused the most intense colors, most detail, and highest contrast around the focal point. And I enjoyed letting the brush shape form the texture and character of it instead of filling in shapes with paint.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Art journal play: Black and White Sketching

art journal entry - black and white sketch - Feb-2-2019
Art journal prompt: Black and White Sketching

The Day 12 creative prompt was Black and White Sketching. I worked in my grey toned sketchbook with a variety of black, graphite, water soluble, and white tools.

I was looking through the book Composition: Understanding Line, Notan and Color by Arthur Wesley Dow earlier in the day and wanted to base this sketch on one of the composition examples in it. It's essentially structured like a "C", which is a design that shows up in landscape painting references as well (along with other letters like J, T, O, X, U. L, and S).

I don't love this one, but not because of the prompt. I threw the whole kitchen sink in and that's not working well for me. And I realized by using this grey paper, I needed to push the value contrast more, and ended up working over and over some areas until they became mush. I do like that I pushed myself to keep going though instead of stopping at the point where there was virtually no contrast happening!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Art journal play: Dark

art journal entry - dark - Feb-1-2019
Art journal prompt: Dark

The Day 11 creative prompt was Dark. I started with raw umber acrylic mixed with a touch of gesso for tooth. And my inspiration was to incorporate the Golden acrylic color Titan Violet Pale (I mixed my own closest approximation). I have no idea what drew me to this color — but when I saw it, it was so intriguing.

I wanted to try abstracting a photo reference as a jumping off point, and I liked how it gave me some direction. Some of the shapes ended up looking too much like objects so I rotated the page 180° which helped. I really like the value and temperature contrasts, and I'll be curious to see if I find more ways to use this unusual pale neutral. It actually reminds me a little of the evening sky color story I did the other day, so incorporating it into something based on a landscape would be cool.

I also really like the subtle color shifts I explored in this one. Blending areas of high contrast with areas that contain more nuanced elements is a juxtaposition that I find engaging. I'm working on developing how that all fits into composition.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Art journal play: Color Story

art journal entry - color story 1 - Jan-31-2019
Art journal prompt: Color Story (inspired by the evening sky I saw when walking the dogs)

The Day 10 creative prompt was Color Story and I love this one! I've always enjoyed creating and collecting color palettes, squirreling them away for future projects. So with this prompt it was like getting a big permission slip to go ahead and spend as many hours as I want playing with color combinations.

I warmed up by swatching little color stories based on a few pieces of abstract art I like, then moved on to landscape photos for inspiration. Working in my small sketchbook, these color stories are told like tiny abstract landscapes:

art journal entry - color story 2 - Jan-31-2019
Inspired by a coastal photo

art journal entry - color story 3 - Jan-31-2019
Inspired by an autumn landscape photo

Things really started to click for me though when I took the dogs out for their evening walk. The sky was interesting because the clouds were the same value as the sky, but warmer in temperature. I liked that subtle contrast, and the deep browns and oranges of the winter trees in the neighborhood. And this prompt dovetails nicely into a color study project I've been wanting to do based on looking outside and painting color notes of what I see in nature instead of relying on photographs. Doing these small color stories is the perfect way to record those.

For this exercise I found acrylics (the top photo) to be the best fit because it gave me the most control over the colors. Can't wait to do more of these!

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Art journal play: Resist

art journal entry - resist - Jan-30-2019
Art journal prompt: Resist

The Day 9 creative prompt was Resist. Using oil pastels I put in some areas of color loosely inspired by a stand of trees. Then I added watercolor, some more oil pastels, and finally a wash of Copic Opaque White. The white and deep greens helped add some contrast. I like to aim for 3 values, with a lot of one value, some of another, and a little of the third.

Checking the balance of values: I like that one value (light) is dominant, with a smaller amount of middle value, and a little bit of dark.

I'm not sure how much I'll use the resist technique again, but overall this one was a positive experience. I liked starting with an inspiration image in mind and using the analogous color scheme. And I'm really enjoying the oil pastels. My mom had given me a vintage set she picked up at an estate sale, and I was hesitant to use them because they were in such perfect, untouched condition. I'm happy to be using them for this creative practice course though! There are a couple of colors that I reach for often and maybe when they're gone I'll purchase some individual ones in my favorite colors.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Art journal play: Alternative Mark Making

art journal entry - Alternative Mark Making - Jan-29-2019
Art journal prompt: Alternative Mark Making

The Day 8 creative prompt was Alternative Mark Making. I mixed up a complementary color palette of red-orange and blue-green, and a few neutrals and worked larger on an 11x14 sheet of bristol coated with acrylic gesso. It was fun to make the marks with non-brush tools like credit cards, sharpened chopstick, popsicle stick, crumpled paper, and a mascara wand. One of my favorite tools was a little rolled up piece of canvas which made the round stamp shapes.

I also really liked little surprises where the warm and cool colors played against each other. So for me, this exploration hurts my eyes too much (I crave order!) but I appreciate investigating what those little moments are that work:




Today I read this quote in The Painterly Approach: An Artist's Guide To Seeing, Painting And Expressing by Bob Rohm:

"For me, the painterly approach is more about the relationships of color, value, composition, texture and mood than it is about the subject being painted. It’s a process by which we interpret and express an idea or feeling rather than render a particular subject."

It made me think that if I begin my art journaling time with an idea or feeling in addition to the prompts provided, it would help provide a direction without being limiting.

Study in composing values #4

As my final study in the lesson I've been following on composing values, I wanted to choose a reference photo in the same vein (yellow-orange flower) but different style of composition. In the photo I selected, I really liked the background. But in my painted study, I felt like it was too busy and used it as an opportunity to see what it's like to paint over an area with a whole new color.

composing values study of sunflower Jan-31-2019
Final study with simplified background

I was surprised by how simple it was to change the background! Although it helped that I was changing it to a cool dark grey…replacing it with a more intense color would have likely been rough. I'm not totally sold on the simplified version, but I think it at least separates the flower and leaves from the background area. The thing I don't like about it is that it feels like dead space back there. It may have helped to put in some temperature changes, leaving it basically the same value.

It feels very counter-intuitive because I tend to prefer simple over busy, but my definite favorite from this set of four studies was the one with the cluster of packed-in sunflowers. Sometimes having my expectations upended is a very delightful thing.

composing values study of sunflower Jan-31-2019
Before simplifying the background

composing values study of sunflower Jan-30-2019 block-in
Initial block-in
composing values study of sunflower Jan-31-2019 greyscale side by side
Value check: the biggest difference I see is in the background, where I averaged it into a single value

This lesson has been awesome for walking me through the process of doing a painting from start to finish. I get such a kick out of seeing it go from the initial block-in (when I just have to trust the process and believe it will get better) to the completed study. It's a great next step after my 100 Starts project because it builds upon the same approach of defining the shadow family and the light family.

The biggest thing I could work on with this process is to stop overthinking and overworking these studies. I'd get a lot more experience in by doing more of them, more quickly. I'd also probably enjoy the experience more by lightening up about it and not trying to be so exact!