Monday, January 30, 2012

Receding Space

There are several ways to make space appear to recede in a painting.

1.  Size  --  Larger sizes in front, middle sizes in the mid-ground, and smaller sizes in the far distance.

2.  Color  -- Brighter purer colors in the foreground, more neutral colors in the far ground.  Warm colors up front, color hues in the distance

3.  Textures  -- Textures in the foreground, few or no details in the background areas. 

4.  Edge Quality  -  Hard edges in front, softer edges in the distance.

5.  Perspective -- Lines that recede to the vanishing point.

6.  Values  --  Darker values in the foreground, midtone and lighter values reserved for the far distance.

A lot to think about, to be sure, but better to think about it and get the feeling of three dimentional space.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Stomp 'n' Holler

It doesn't happen as often these past few years, but every once in a while I'll have a Stomp 'n' Holler Day.  The painting not only goes badly, it goes so badly that I lose my temper, holler in frustration and stomp on the nasty thing I've just created.  (This technique is also helpful in chasing curious onlookers away!)

My birthday was Monday, it was a beautiful day, and I had hoped that I would paint a good painting to commemorate my special day.  It was not to be.  The first painting was tight and the color was lacking dominance.  In the afternoon I tried again, but the humidity didn't allow for any drying time and the paint just kept spreading.  Stomp #2!

We all have these days.  The desired result is firmly in our mind, but circumstances or lack of focus or some fool painting muse or other puts the hex on our efforts.  We're convinced we don't know anything about painting and that we'll never be able to paint anything good again.

But after a few days the itch comes back, and out I go again.  Yesterday things went better.  This is the memorial near the library in Apalachicola.  Sometimes simpler really is better!

Thursday, January 19, 2012


I  love trees.  I love  to paint trees.  I once told my English Lit. class  (some of whom feared for my immortal soul!) that if there were no trees in heaven, I wasn't going!   

Many of my  watercolor students, some of whom are very accomplished, approach painting trees as if they were still in kindergarten.  In their prejudiced eyes, all trees are brown.  But when I ask them if they can see red, their eyes suddenly fly open!  If I ask them to see green on the bark, they suddenly notice moss.  If I ask them to see blue, it takes a little longer, but eventually they start coming around.  And even if they can't see those colors, I still ask them to paint them because unrelieved dark brown is so boring. 

Other students insist on trying to get the whole tree in their painting.  If this happens, I  tell them to look straight ahead and tell me if they can see the blackbird on the top branch.  If they move their head to look, then I point out that they are not painting a video! 

In this painting of a live oak in Apalachicola, the tree is not a frame for the main subject; it is the subject.  The figure and the dog against the light of the house act as secondary interest, but the tree is the main entertainment, which I emphasized by its bulk and texture.  I downplayed texture elsewhere in the painting so your eye would travel the surface of the tree and its color.

Study real trees instead of relying on your idea of a tree that you probably formed in elementary school.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Inventive Color

By the sea, by the sea, By the beautiful sea.....

I love to paint the water.  That's why my two homes away from home are Apalachicola, Florida and Boothbay Harbor, Maine.  And if you're near the water, what more natural subject than boats? 

But even a seasoned watercolorist can get a little tired of a favorite subject.  What to do to spice things up a little?

I like to play with color combos.  In this painting of a couple of shrimp boats at Scipio Creek, I began with cadmium yellow and cobalt violet, both in the sky and the water.  The really bold move came when I threw some cad yellow on the stern of the near boat.  Then I repeated it in the area that would become the nets.  Later, when these areas were dry, I added some cerulean blue.  Blue + Yellow = Green (and the nets were really green!).  I continued to add those four colors in ever darker values in the reflections.

I love painting docks, boats, and trees.  Next time.....trees!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Placing the Darks for Emphasis

In this painting of an unloading dock in Eastpoint, Florida,  I began with the light midtones and then began to place dark midtones and dark values around the right edge of the structure.  Working outward from there, I kept lessening the darks to keep the emphasis on the textures of the dock which was my main interest in the scene. 

The overall shape of the dock structure was also a consideration.  I wanted it interlock with the background to form an L shape.  That created a balance problem.  I didn't want all of the weight of the composition to be on the left, so I added the shrimp boat on the right.

So much to think about while designing a composition.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Importance of Obliques

I've always felt that oblique lines give a painting energy.  They can be used as pointers, tension builders,
or as a contrast to the more formal verticals and restful horizontals.

In this painting of a wild undeveloped beach in Eastpoint, Florida,  the line of cypress "knees" echoes the oblique of the old dead tree trunk.  The shadows are also a good way to incorporate obliques. 
And since so many obliques seemed to point to the middle distance of the beach area, it seemed right to include a couple of figures taking a New Year's Day stroll.

As in the previous post, I used a red/green complementary color scheme.

P.S. Many people use the word "diagonal" to describe oblique lines.  An oblique is any slanted line; diagonal lines divide things in half.