Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"Why is my painting so childish?!"

One of the things beginning painters often complain about on my teaching website is
"Why does my art look so childish".

Let's think about this idea for a moment.

When we feel our paintings look childish, it is because we are painting from our mind, using the memories stored in our minds of how things look.

As a child you are seeing things for the first time and recording impressions of a whole world full of images in your mind. Your mind is struggling to take in this vast amount of information, store it away and understand it. So it creates symbols as a way to make sense of it all. There is so much to see we have to distill it, take away the variations, simplify. These simplified mind images are symbols of what we see. Templates. That way we can compare the world to our mental images to quickly understand what we are looking at.

Another thing that happens when we are young is that we are encouraged to draw, color, cut paper, paint, mold with clay. We use these images that we have stored so far, and we get something like this:

And then we stop making art. Many of us at least, and so our stored images of what things look like remain. As we develop, our minds are able to see more detail and variety, and process it and store it. We learn skills and information to make a living, run a household, raise our kids, do all the things it takes to survive in the world. Detailed, complex ideas and skills.

Then you decide to pick up a paintbrush. The last time you tried to process the world through your mind and into your fingers for art was when you were a child! Or maybe you tried a couple of times as an adult, but got "childish" results so you gave up, deciding you just must not have the "talent" for art.

I see many people do this, and some even accept that this must be the extent of their "talent". They continue to use the same mental images, and continue to be frustrated with their art. You notice I always put the word "talent" in quotation marks. This word has been used to discourage and intimidate so many people from enjoying, and developing their art. There is no such limiting thing that you either have or don't. Making art comes from your heart, from your desire to express your own view of the world. That doesn't mean you don't have to develop the skills required, develop your craft, because you do. It takes work, dedication and perseverance. But everyone can do it!

So how can I do that? Where do I start?

The first and most important thing you need to start doing today, this minute, is to really look at what you are seeing. Bypass those symbolic images in your mind and just see with your Artist's Eye. It's a whole new way of looking at the world.

And then Paint what you SEE, not what you THINK!

Your mind will fight you. I see painters look at an image, and then paint something completely different in color and shape. They look at an image and see a tree, their mind takes over and searches the database for the image that goes with "tree". And then they paint from their mind, disregarding what they are looking at. The photo may show that the tree trunk is black and grey and green. but they pick up the brown paint.

I also often see beginners wanting to paint from their imagination. Can you see now how that isn't a good idea? I'm not saying there is no place for it in art, because there is! What I'm saying is that as a beginner, your first task is to understand what things really look like. Once you have developed those skills, then you can move on and create whatever your heart desires!

There may be purple in the shadows of trees, green in the sky, yellow and pink and blue in a white flower. Grass at sunset can look orange. We have to unlearn what things are supposed to look like and begin to see what they really look like. And that just isn't about color. Shape as well. Flowers are supposed to have a center and petals evenly spaced around. If you really look, you will see they almost never look like that in a landscape. They are at different angles, have curves and bends. It's all about training your eye to see as an artist. And you can do this every minute of every day! You don't even need to get out your paints to practice your art!

Pick up your camera, go out into the world and take pictures of everything that catches your eye. Go home and study your photos. Really look at the colors, the shapes. Take your paints outside and do the same.  How do I paint a shadow? What color is it? It depends on the time of day, the amount of sun, the surrounding colors, the shape of the element casting the shadow and the shape of the surface it falls on.

I can't tell you how to paint a shadow, or a tree, or a bird, or water. I can only encourage you to open your artist's eyes, and then point out where you have strayed back into symbolism. Take it all in, don't assume anything, and then put down the shape, the color that you see. And when you get discouraged, because you will, I do, Just Keep Painting! And then paint some more. And some more. And one day soon you will have quieted your mind, your Artist's Eye will be controlling your brush and you will lay down some crazy color and shape and step back and say Wow! That looks so real! But it's just shapes of color, without any resemblance to your old "childish" symbol.

Having this skill, gives you the freedom to create your art however you like. You don't have to shy away from subjects that are "too hard". You can be just as abstract or detailed as you like. That's when your expression can really soar. But first, develop your craft. And know that it is absolutely achievable. You can do it, and you will do it, if you keep painting. And keep seeing!

So start now, look around you. Turn off your mind and just take it all in. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Dogwood Days

Well, it seems it's been a while!
I've been busy with my teaching website...
If you haven't seen it, here's a link to Painting With Karen Ilari

So, here's what is on my easel today...

It's a work in progress of this beautiful Dogwood tree in my neighbor's yard. Here's the photo - isnt' it a beauty?! I think I'm going to plant one in my yard too..

There is something about the color and form of this tree that I find really beautiful. That's often why I choose a scene. I don't really think it out, or worry about how the heck I'm going to do this! I just get an image stuck in my head that I can't shake.

So I'm starting this a bit late, I've been through the drawing and block in stages, working on refining detail. Deciding what to keep and what to change.

I thought about changing the color of the house behind the tree as it is bright and getting a lot of attention. At this point I've decided to just reduce the contrast between the windows and the walls. Remember - high contrast draws the eye first.

So here is where I am now. This is 16" x 20" acrylic on stretched canvas...

Laying in some shadow colors in the foliage....
back later with my progress :)  Feel free to point anything out that is going astray :)

So how do I approach a scene like this?

Starting a session I just scan for something that catches my attention. I work generally from background to foreground. Makes sense, right? You need to paint in what is behind before you can put things in front.

One of the benefits of working with acrylics, the layers dry right away and you can just keep working.

I also start with an area that is small and easy. Today I started with the plants under the windows. Not necessarily looking for more detail. More for a more effective impression of flowers. This often means painting over fussier brushstrokes with looser ones. Adding more of the colors and values I see to give it depth and a sense that there is a lot of detail there without really painting individual flowers. I find if you can get the value range right, and get the colors in there it reads well.

If I'm not getting it and the area isn't improving I just move on. I can always come back later, and often when I add other, more important elements, the need to "fix" an area just goes away. How do I know? It just doesn't catch my eye and bug me anymore! How's that for scientific? :)

Moving from there and working on the fence, shadowed plants behind the tree, the bird bath and the tree. I really focus on value first, then accurate color. Then just dance back and forth with the brushstrokes until I don't hate it :)

Don't forget the mirror! If you can't stand back very far from your painting, a mirror set up behind you is an extremely helpful tool!

Random thoughts as I paint
  • Lay down your branches with bold solid strokes of dark. I use a liner brush for the small ones. Then come back with lighter colors, richer colors, with a small bristle brush to create texture. Work within those bold strokes. Two modes. Strong bold, then come back and look for color and detail.
  • For random, natural looking branches. Hold your brush far back and loosely. Change direction, spin, twirl, stop, start. Music helps.
  • Unmixed color on the brush is so cool! Dark, medium, light. different colors. run your brush through the unmixed pile. Instant random, natural looking detail :)
  • Lay down the color, adjust edges if needed, and leave it. Don't brush over the same area. Like you are petting a cat :) Come back and try again when its dry if you don't like it!
  • Take breaks. Walk around, stretch. Lighten up. Loosen up. Dance. 
Okay, today's progress. :) Quite a bit more to go, but I'm having a lot of fun...

I find I really enjoy these more detailed paintings if I just take my time and enjoy the process. It gives me lots of time to get to know the painting. It's kind of like reading a good book, I get lost in another world. So peaceful.
Well, tomorrow it's the day job, but I will be back in a couple of days. Hope you are enjoying the process!

Well, it was supposed to rain today but it's beautiful outside! Worked on the flower beds in the painting this morning, now I'm out to work on my flower beds in the yard :)

So, a bit more progress today....
I've been working on the tree. Adding detail to the trunk, branches and blossoms...
First I worked on the trunk and branches, adding lights and darks. Being mindful of where the light it striking. The whole right side of the tree is more in shadow, darker and cooler because the sun is coming from the left.

For the next step, I felt like the large masses of color needed to be broken up a bit so I went in with a small brush and made little dots of sky color all throughout. Knowing most of this will be covered up, but I wanted more little sparkles of sky.

Next I began adding layers and layers of color for the blossoms. Again, overall cooler on the right, warmer on the left. Looking for the patterns the blossoms make in my reference photo and focusing on creating the unique form and rhythm of this dogwood tree.

I find this part of a painting very satisfying and healing. I just get lost in the shapes and color. Getting to know and understand this tree. Once I have painted a scene like this I almost feel like I've made a new friend! There is such amazing beauty in what is right there in front of us. The things we pass each day without a second glance. And yet we roam far and wide looking for beauty. Always thinking it is somewhere else :)

To make these strokes I'm using a small filbert brush, holding it far back on the handle to keep my hand loose so that the strokes dance. I turn and twist the brush. Laying down a crisp edge and then pulling up for a softer edge.

Here's a tiny video to show you what I mean. It is also kind of an awkward one because I am holding the camera in my left hand and painting with my right. Ha! Not recommended :)

One thing to keep in mind. Even though it just seems like a pink tree, dark, medium and light. You need to alter your color as you change values. In other words, don't just add white to go lighter. Also add some yellow or red or some combination of those. White will cool a color. As you go to the shadow colors they will be cooler - add some blue, some cooler red.

And don't forget to step back or glance in a mirror set up behind you. As much as you are making small brushstrokes, you are also trying to create larger shapes and color shifts...

Well, here is where I am at this point. Not much more to do, just some foreground. shadowed flowers...

So here is where I stand this morning...

I've been looking it at if for a while now. The cooling off period. I put it on the mantle downstairs and just glance at it, look from a distance. Turn the light on and off. Just looking for what grabs my attention.

Some things that I want to address:
  • The value and color of the house. Especially from across the room, the house is the first thing that draws my eye. I like the line of the eave that points to the tree. And I like the hint of bungalow style which adds to the charm. But it's taking the limelight (so to speak ;) from the tree which is the focal point. I'll address this with some glazes and see how it goes
  • The bush to the left which is all twiggy and not yet blossomed out. It looks awkward to me. Too many twigs off equal size starting and stopping at the same place.
  • The line of the grass under the tree is really sharp edged. Easy fix.
  • I want to find an area of the tree to further refine. Create more pattern, movement, rhythm. I'm not sure what. The left side is looking flat. The right side has some nice dimension.
Okay, back later with my "fixes". Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't :)

Here are the results...

"Dogwood Days" 16x20 acrylic on canvas
by Karen Ilari

Okay, does anyone else see my so glaring mistake that I completely ignored?! Haha, so silly :)
That back eave that is supposed to be in shadow, but instead is the brightest thing in the painting. OMG :)

Lets try this again

Thanks for joining me!
This painting is available in My Etsy Shop