Thursday, October 16, 2008

Purple Rain, Pink Umbrella

Mark's photo for my next paintingI mentioned earlier that I was starting a new painting - one that would push my painting style, which tends to be super-detailed and realistic. It's not that it's bad, it's just that I really wanted to see what it was like not to obsess over every little detail. My friend Mark's photo sparked my imagination, and seemed like just the thing for my next project.

So here's the progress I've made so far. I thought this would be slow-going, but so far it's shaping up pretty quickly. The question will be how many layers I put over it once the base colors are down.

I had absolutely no idea how I was going to lay this out or approach it, I just knew that I really wanted to paint it! My teacher originally was really hesitant, but saw my enthusiasm and told me to "go for it". He's been great at helping me to wrap my brain around what I really want to bring out in the photo. The first step is laying down the base color, which is just a wash on the whole canvas with paint watered down with paint thinner - no oil in this step so that it stays thin and dries quickly. A friend in class loaned me this gorgeous paint color (Rose Dore) which is actually very transparent, so using it as a wash was perfect. The pink is bright enough to bring more life and vibrancy to my colors, while not fighting against any colors I choose to put on top of it. The pink umbrella inspired it!

Then came the challenge of drawing out the general placemarkers on the canvas. I started with the general rectangles of the changes in color, and then got way too specific with the shapes of the people. My teacher told me to look at the rhythm in the photo, then the shapes of not just the people, but the spaces in between - those are just as important, if not more so, than the actual people. My second attempt was better, but still not great. His suggestion was to turn the photo and canvas upside down so that I wasn't distracted by the specifics and just felt the rhythm of the piece. I took a picture of this stage with my camera phone, which I now cannot get off the phone - sorry! But the later stages I did take pictures of, and they're much more interesting!

The next class session, my teacher walked up to talk to me right at the beginning of class. He must have sensed my huge desire to start painting, and yet my utter confusion as to where to begin. He told me about art classes where they would sit the students down in front of a projection screen and have them draw what they saw, using charcoals and focusing on value changes. They would start out with the slide very unfocused, so that all they could make out were the blotches of color values. Once they had that down, they'd focus the slide a little more, and the students would add more detail, going like this until they had the slide focused, and a drawing with lots of layers, resulting in great volume and not a ton of hard lines. That's the idea he wanted me to keep in mind on this project. Put in the basic colors first, then focus on making the people more people-like later in the process. And, to emphasize the point even further, he turned my canvas on its side, turned the photo, and let me loose.

The general lines I had drawn were great for keeping my place, as just looking at colors and shapes on a 24x30" canvas can get confusing if you're not sure where you are. But the photo is actually very well laid out, despite the initial perception you might have of chaos. It's organized chaos! The other difference in approaching this painting is that usually you would focus on one section so that you can blend and layer with the wet paint. This time around, he told me to choose a color and put it down wherever I saw it, not concentrating in sections, but instead on pulling out the colors. The whole point is to layer the entire painting, so it didn't make sense to work in just one area. His other advice? Turn on my iPod and listen to something "fast and furious"! But of course I didn't have my iPod with me, and have been happy enough painting without the music (plus less chance of people sneaking up on me, or of spontaneously breaking out into song or dance in the middle of the studio!).

I found myself searching for colors in the photo, and emphasizing the hues, so that the painting had more life and vibrancy. Often the problem with painting from a photo is that the photo, while it may be gorgeous as a photo, if translated directly to canvas and paint, ends up looking flat and boring. It's up to the artist to either work from life, using the photo as reference, or to create their own version of the photo, emphasizing certain values, hues, and tones so that the painting has more life and depth.

This painting is so fun to work on. I don't stress out over placing each stroke like I normally do when trying to be so precise and exact. It's fun to work with the rhythm and place the general colors. If I don't like it, I'll go over it with something different. The whole point is that this is the base anyway, and to add layers over it - if needed. Just today my teacher said there wasn't a whole lot to say, except keep going! Work on covering the canvas and then we can talk from there - if it's needed. Who knows, the painting might be done! I know the middle is going to be the toughest part, just working out all the colors in there, and then later going in to pull out the people-shapes and such. But for now, it's fun. And I get to mix a ton of colors and focus on lights and darks and painting on my sideways canvas. Occasionally throughout the session I'll turn it so I can see how it's working out, but it's still very abstract, so I just like to see if it's pleasing me or not! And so far, I'm really enjoying how it's turning out. It's interesting how many students in my class have commented on how they're excited to see it shaping up as well!

Mark, I can only hope you're happy with it when all is said and done, because it was your lovely photo that inspired this all. But, in the end, I am really doing this for myself, so [raspberry] to you if you don't like it! I'll keep posting my progress. As always, I love to hear comments!


laidlaw said...

The painting is mine! It will hang over my desk in my office damn it!!

vivzan said...

So much thought and technique goes into painting, much more than I realized. Not that I thought that there wasn't any technique, but I never heard it so broken down before and there's so much that goes into your brushstroke. To borrow an analogy from your world: it's like when you see all the cells involved in animation that you realize how much work goes into a scene that's only seconds long.

It's interesting that your instructor is turning the photo around and that you're able to work that way. It's fascinating

It certainly is turning out to be very interesting and I can't wait to see the final result.

Just realized that I'll be able to see your drawings and paintings in person real soon! yay!


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