Process: Painting is fun and easy!


I have been accused of being focused on process in life. Many artists will say there are no tricks or shortcuts to painting, but I find that there are some methods. There are also some time honored traditions and terrible advice.

My appreciation for Bob Ross has only grown over the years, like that of Mr. Rogers and Jim Henson (Muppets), but I am not a big fan of his painting style. I may have mentioned that I used to dismiss mediocre art; however, my views have changed. I’m not calling Bob Ross’ art mediocre. It’s like a genre... Rossism. Those friendly little trees and their buddies are imagined.

There is another artist whose painting, Sleep by Vincent Desiderio who has 100 made up human figures in it. He says learn anatomy and figure, so you can make it up and you won’t need a model. So there is nothing wrong with making up mountains, ponds and streams, but thanks to the impressionists, we have this huge plein air painting outside thing going on today. I should add that after 100 years of modern art (everything is now modern art, historically), realism is making a comeback, now that all the traditional methods have been forgotten. There are some like Virgil Elliot writing books and keeping the knowledge going.

Okay, so process... drawing is the foundation of painting. You can draw with paint, and many do, I do occasionally, plein air. As an aside, the Pleain Air Easton (PAE) competition is going on as I write this. But I’m talking about classical training.

1. Drawing: Charcoal and paper. You learn things like... line. Line is very important. Books have probably been written on it... certainly chapters have. Lost lines, hidden lines, projected lines, gesture lines. Heaps! Cross hatching would be the second part, then mass drawing. The objective, render three dimensional space in two dimensions. Sight line seeing and observation. Learning to measure proportions by eye, angles, triangulation, perspective and foreshortening. Learning how to observe and see, and developing some form of muscle memory for drawing as you observe, as well as observing what we learn in anatomy, planes of light. Light and shadow... After charcoal, classically, conte crayon and chalk is introduced, on toned paper

Guana Beach 18x24 arylic on canvas (c. 1995)

... cross hatching, the 5 basic values, highlight, mid tone, reflected light, turning or core shadow, and cast shadow. Turning the form, mass drawing, volume. Learning the brain faking marks to trick the eye and brain into seeing an object as occupying space... so sketchbook, learn to draw, but you don’t need to be Rembrandt, just learn to draw the basic shapes, ball, box, cylinder, and ellipses. Learn some drawing conventions, and everything can be reduced to the basic shapes. Then color is introduced to totally confuse the process. Slowly, like 3 colors... white, black, and one color. Tonality comes to mind.

2. Light and shadow cannot be overemphasized. It’s a part of ‘Value’ and as such is one of the most important parts of the process. Direction of light, temperature, contrast. Color is not as important as value, but direction of light is. It can be made up... but all the trees and buildings need to be lit similarly in order for our brain to seamlessly interpret it, realistically. It’s where fog paintings come in... there are rules, and then there are broken rules. Lol! Order of value is a stepping stone. For example, no light is darker than the lightest dark, and no dark is lighter than the darkest light. Value is measured on a scale of 1-10 (thank you Munsell) and a color can have several characteristics, hue, chroma or intensity, and value (some would add temperature). Light and dark can be thought of as toning a color... tint up with white, tone down the chroma and shade a color darker. Mixing a pure color with another color is referred to as graying it, as it dulls the color, although it could make it more intense, depending, and colors are relative to each other and affected by each other... compliments and color theory. Temperature is relative but there are warm colors and cool colors. I might add that... warm light, cool shadow, and cool light, warm shadow. Warm light and shadow is called chalky, and cool light and shadow is called muddy. Contrast is important. And the spectrum of pigment is less than the light in reality, so things have to squeezed into a narrow bandwidth called compression.

3. At some point composition is introduced, design, artist’s license to move a tree, remove it completely, or simplify an object into a few abstract shapes. I’m sure there are books just on composition but basically, it’s how we divide the rectangle up into light and dark shapes. There are types of composition, classical, romantic, the bridge, the radial, etc... Fibonacci and the golden ration... focal point, contrast, repetition, pattern. I hesitate to say composition is one of the big three. My girlfriend recently noted that art was much more complicated than she realized. I love introducing people to painting and art.

See, three easy steps and it’s fun! It’s really just the beginning, though, and can take years to master. Some say that line, value and composition are the most important things. Others, color, composition and direction of light. In that I would say color includes value relationships, and intensity (contrasts, too).

Pablo Picasso - Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun.

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