Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Decisions Decisions

Since people have commented on how much they enjoyed seeing the original photo as compared to the final painting and hearing the thinking process … here is another. This 12x11 studio painting, “The Breakfast Goers” was created from a poor image taken on my cell phone camera (left). While eating an early breakfast on a painting trip, I noticed the intriguing light quality, backlit figures and my thinking that I could do something with it. It would be a bit different than my usual landscape, but that was also the appeal.

I usually start composing a painting with the question “what to keep in” and “what to change” instead of “what will I delete.” After the keepers are chosen, the rest is omitted. Kind of like picking fruit at the store, you choose a select few and move on instead of sorting though the entire bin, setting the bad ones aside and seeing what your left with. My thought process went like this: Keep the figures, a few items on the table to tell the story and dramatically simplify the background so it highlights the figures. Next, I analyzed the people to see what made sense. When I’m working with figures, what they are doing has to feel right as a painting, and not just a depiction “as-is” in the photograph. So, with the man on the left, I positioned his arm on the table, instead of leaving it mid-air and made sure the bill of his hat and glassed contrasted in the light coming through the window. Next to him, the person is turned and facial features are unseen, so I painted it as if they were looking forward. The distant center figure is being lost in the wood around the window, so I moved that person forward slightly. And, lastly the man’s arm on the right seemed odd. Having him hold a mug of coffee felt more believable.

With the background, the figures on the left are sitting with their backs to a mirrored wall, this would be difficult to portray, especially with the poor information in the photo. So, I painted the windows in a simple flat wall mass. I also made the wall cooler in color so it sat well in the distance. I only kept the items on the table that would re­ad well or broke up other shapes, but enhanced the coffee carafe because that was important to the story. I kept the table color warm to keep it in the foreground and created my own light reflections based on the where the windows were positioned. I cropped the bottom of the painting so you only saw a slight edge of the dish, keeping the utensil to point into the painting. If I used the whole bowl and made the painting taller, my focal point figures would be pushed up too high in the scene. I utilized the foreground coffee mug for its size, perspective and the way it broke up the dark area under the table (great tips from Gregg Kreutz’s book). It also leads your eye upward, and I added a hint of a handle to make it clearly a mug.

I rather liked the fact that none of figures were interacting. It gave it that Hopper-esque feeling of loneliness that seemed to compliment well with my minimalist colors. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Depth and Atmosphere

Above was my award-winning painting from the San Clemente show two months ago. This 11x14 plein air scene, “Crystal Rocks,” was painted down at Crystal Cove beach in Laguna in the late afternoon. I love the great atmosphere that can pick up at this time of day. And if you hit a low tide too, the rocks can give you wonderful compositional choices.

The challenge for me is trying to capture the shear depth of the beach and bluffs. I love the golden haze, but it’s usually not that hazy in actuality. Value stepping and edge work becomes critical here. Making sure I get the right amount of hard to soft balances and utilizing a full value scale can make or break the illusion of distance. I started with a pencil map of where I wanted my rocks placed. In reality, they were pretty much as shown, but actual size, shape, distances between and whether they overlap were all adjusted slightly. I did this to eliminate repetitive shapes but also to create visual contrasts. For instance, the closest large rock on the left was enlarged so I could create the top white highlight and have it contrast with the dark rock behind it. Also, the second rock was raised a bit so the small wave behind it was visually “broken” and I could further contrast the whitewash with the right side of the rock. This gave me some nice focal points, plus created a sweeping arc that leads your eye up to the main splash on the rocks behind.

In the painting process, once I established my values in the foreground rocks, I made sure to make the mid-ground rocks lighter, and the far bluff even lighter than that. These conditions existed, but I pushed the values to create greater depth in the painting. Ditto for the sand and water. With the far bluff, I began on the right side, established a value I felt appropriate, and then gradually lightened it as I proceeded to the left and most distant part of the scene. The structures were painted as shadow and highlighted sides to suggest buildings but not drawing your eye there directly. I added the slightly darker cloud shapes in the upper left to force your eye back in the painting and lastly a handful of figures to complete the story.

Even in plein air, I find you need to adjust everything a bit to make a painting sing. Enjoy!