Sunday, December 1, 2013

Leaving Gertrude Home

I want to continue with my thoughts from my last post.  “My thoughts”, because as I tell my students, I can only teach you what I believe and if my thoughts and techniques are not working for you, you need a different teacher.  No hard feelings.  We all see things differently and I can only teach what I believe.

The last post was about Gertrude.  The untrained student believes their painting should look exactly like the setup.  These paintings often look stiff and can actually feel uncomfortable to look at.  You know something is wrong – but what is it?

A good painting has the qualities of rich color, simplicity, strong values and mystery.  The richness of color and color harmony can be achieved by working with a limited palette.  Simplicity is another important quality.  Too many objects with too much detail diminish the strength of the focal point.  Mystery is found in strong tonal contrasts and in the play of lost and found edges and unexplained passages.  Looking at a fully detailed, hard-edged painting can be as exciting as reading a technical manual.  The answers are all there.  You have told the whole story, leaving no room for the viewer to enter his feelings into the painting. 

When I set up a still life, I begin at the focal point - the object or area that is the star of the show.  I then add objects that compliment but not detract from the star.  I can diminish the strength of these supporting players by losing their edges into shadows and by subduing their tonal contrast and color intensity, saving the strongest values and color for my star.  Anything that detracts from the focal point becomes a Gertrude.  I modify the colors and shapes to fit my concept.  To put emotion into your painting, you must have a feeling for your setup.  In class, we often have multiple setups.  It is very hard to paint something that doesn't appeal to you. 

There is a difference between being a painter and being an artist.  A painter paints the subject.  An artist paints his response to the subject.  An artist knows there is more to painting than merely replicating an object.  It is learning how concept, composition, shape, value, color, edges and the technical skills of paint application and brushstrokes all work together in harmony.  As you study you will begin to see the world through the eyes of an artist.  You will lose your preconceived notions of what things look like.  Try it – really look at the objects around you, notice the subtle color shifts in light and shadow and how edges appear and disappear.  It is a long and fascinating journey.  Enjoy yourself – and leave poor Gertrude home.

Thanks for visiting,

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