Thursday, August 24, 2017

Painting Large Loose Florals

Painting Large and Loose

There are a couple of ways to approach a large image like this one. For that matter - any image!

You can draw out a detailed drawing and then fill it in. Or you can just start laying down large shapes, and then refine the image by breaking those larger shapes into smaller ones.

I went with the second approach on this one.

Acrylics are really well suited to painting this way. You can go back in with as many layers as you like. Trying different colors, shapes. Without ending up with mud, since the layers don't mix. I love that! It's an adventure in discovery :)

This is the finished painting. Acrylic on canvas. 18" x 24"

The Winding Road 

Here's the photo I took in my garden to start with. 

I love the color and shapes, but knew I wanted to work on the composition

It's important to realize that even though you are planning on trying to paint loosely, you still need to plan your composition, your color harmony, your story.

first, I decided to go with a portrait oriented canvas, to emphasize the vertical nature of the flowers.

So I took the image into Photo Shop and made some adjustments.

I lightened, blurred the background stalks. I also washed over them with a bluish tone. This was to give more of a sense of depth to the image.

 Next I moved the right hand stalk down to give more variety of height and to fill in the lower area.

Then I moved the petals in the upper left down to the bottom, and moved the nearest green tipped stalk over to the right more. It had a directional shape to it and was pointing us out toward the edge of the image instead of in toward the middle.

Then I just did some copying of various areas to fill in that bottom area with random petals.

If you are interested, I made a short You Tube video on how to make these kind of adjustments in Photoshop. You can find it here

Time to Paint! 

I started by toning my canvas with some of the colors I thought I would use. Doesn't this remind you of a Big Stick popsicle?!

This gives me a chance to experiment with my colors and start to understand which mixes were going to work for me.

I know I want to keep this loose and remember that my story in this painting is the color. 

Colors I'm using: Titanium white, Hansa yellow medium, Quinacridone gold, Napthol red light, Quinacridone Magenta, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Hookers Green     

 Next, I started defining the overall shapes by painting a blue grey background color around the shapes. This is called "negative painting". Instead of painting the flowers, or the positive image, I painted the background in around them.

This is really fun to experiment with. The outcome tends to be more loose, with less of a controlled look. You should try it!

Then I came in with some darker colors for the shadow shapes. Further refining the forms.

Lots of squinting here. Avoiding detail. Using a flat firm brush about 1 inch wide. Just look for those big shapes and boldly place them with simple strokes. Keep moving around the canvas to build up all the areas at once. Don't fuss, overpaint, or fiddle. It's not easy! I have to remind myself many, many times! No detail!!

 Adjusting the Background

At this point I decide to darken the background and push it to a more greenish blue color.

My thought was that it would help the lighter colors pop more against the darker background. And the Complimentary blues and greens would also give more of a pop to the reds and oranges.

 Finding the Forms

My focal area is going to be the blossoms in the lower left third of the painting.

So that is the area that I want to have the most detail and contrast.

At this point I had spent quite a bit more time breaking up those larger shapes into smaller more accurate shapes and colors. 

Still working with my 1 inch brush.

Going back and forth between light and dark values to try to define the roundness of the forms.

I'm using my reference photo, but also a real flower that I have in a little bottle, lit with a spotlight. Notice how loose I'm keeping the background blossoms and the blossoms at the bottom and sides. Just big strokes of color in blossom like shapes.

At this point I let the painting sit for a couple of days. I wasn't happy with the background. And I didn't like the color and forms in the green buds. Hmmm. I like to keep a painting like this where I can see it many times a day. In different lights, in different moods. I just keep glancing at it hoping it will tell me what it needs. What? Don't your paintings talk to you?! ;)

  Light Bulb!

Ahhh, that was it. The background was all wrong!

I was trying to create this soft, richly colored world. Harmony was what I needed, not contrast! Having the blossoms pop off the page was not as important as creating this color mood. Sort of an enfolding atmosphere.

So back in with some Ultramarine blue and white, neutralized a bit with the same peachy tones I was using in the flower.

I also lightened, cooled and softened those background stalks a bit more.

Then I spent more time with lighter versions of the pinks and oranges in the foreground flowers. Experimenting with forms, color, shapes. Remembering to keep the most definition in my focal area - softening out to the edges.

At this point I have switched to Golden "Open" Acrylics. These take longer to dry than the regular heavy body acrylics I started with. You can't do much layering with these though, which is why I only use them toward the end of the process. what they do is let me do a little more blending of the colors. I know I don't want to be too "blendy though, I want to keep the brushstrokes showing for a more loose look.

I'm spending a lot of time thinking about the way the light - coming from above - will hit the various angles of the petals.

  Final Touches

I wasn't happy with all the buds and shapes on the stalk on the right. It wasn't looking so much like snapdragons. More like a gladiola or something :(

So I added some larger half open blossoms. with just 2 or three brushstrokes. Shadow color, mid tone, highlight. I worked on de-emphasizing the top of that stalk as well. Lighter colors, softer blending.

I also brightened up the yellows (Hansa yellow medium, with a touch of quinacridone gold in the shadows, and white in the highlights.

Added some darker darks and lighter lights. Reshaped some areas that were bugging me.

At this point I just step back and squint my eyes. Or glance at it quickly. If something grabs my attention, just seems wrong, I adjust it.

I've spent enough time with the color mixes, and the forms, at this point that I can paint more intuitively. For me it takes this process of spending time, trying things, getting to know my subject. I will often go through a stage where I start to get detailed and fiddly and blendy, and then I go back to bigger, bolder strokes. I often sit at my easel in the early stages of a painting, but in this final stage I will stand so I have more fluid range of motion and can step back more easily. Plus, it's easier to dance to the music :)

That's it! Hope you enjoyed this little journey with me :)

The painting is available in my Etsy shop:

Have you tried painting like this? Using a bigger brush, no drawing, developing the image from the large shapes to the small ones? I think it's more fun! Do you?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Photographing Paintings

Here is my unscientific, nontechnical way to take photos of your acrylic paintings! Feel free to comment with the more technical ways :)
I've read about those technical ways, and I somehow still can't figure it all out! So over the years I've done lots of trial and error, and this is what I come up with... It's not perfect, but works well enough for my needs...
I use a fairly good camera, but not really pricey. Its a Canon PowerShot SX20. I liked it because it has a lot of zoom on it. You can do all the manual adjustments, but I don't know how and just use the auto setting.
So here is what I do:
  • Photograph before you put on any final glossy finish. Glare is a big problem to overcome with acrylics. Even outside in open shade I get glare
  • No flash (just more glare, washed out color)
  • Use a tripod and the delayed setting on the camera. I use 10 second delay. Don't move a muscle until it goes off. This is important because I shoot in the lowest light I can to avoid glare, so you can't have any wiggle at all.
  • I set my painting on my easel - raise it up above the lip of the easel with  a piece of wood under the canvas. Set against an interior wall as straight up as I can without it falling over. Choose a wall that gets no direct light at all.
  • I just use my overhead daylight fluorescent lighting that is in my studio.
  • Place your tripod far enough away that you can zoom in just a bit - otherwise the edges of the canvas will look rounded. The whole setup is usually pretty low to the ground - this seems to help with light coming in from any windows.
  • Adjust the angle of the camera to get the sides as straight, and bottom and top of the canvas as horizontal as you can.
  • Put a piece of white paper behind the painting - but still in the frame so the camera can see it. This helps the camera with the color A LOT but it also helps later when you are adjusting in photoshop. You can use it to correct the "color cast"
  • Experiment with your camera settings, but I find the "landscape" setting gives me the best results.
  • Use your 10 second delay and shoot!
I know this is a total workaround. But I am the workaround queen. :)
The adjusting I need to do in Photoshop elements is usually just to:
  • increase the contrast
  • correct the color cast - using the white paper as the spot to click on. Some area of the white will usually bring the colors close to the original
That's usually all I have to do to be pretty close!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Block In - The Foundation

 Creating a Solid Foundation

 The more I paint, the more I have come to value the Block In stage of my paintings. In fact I've come to refer to it as the Foundation. I think that more accurately describes how important it is to your painting!

Here are the stages of a painting:
  1. Composition
  2. Drawing
  3. Block In - Foundation
  4. Development
  5. Finishing

When I began painting I didn't do a Block In at all. I would have a vague idea of composition in my mind, sketch in my image on the canvas, and then proceed to fill each space with finished color and detail.

What often happened is I ended up with something that didn't achieve the realism I was going for, and I didn't know why!

Then I began to learn about VALUES. How values are really the key to realism, light, depth and form. And how difficult it is to train your eye to see them! We tend to see color and shapes and detail instead. Focusing on the detail, without keeping the whole picture in mind. 

I learned that many artists add a step after the sketching stage - the BLOCK IN. In this stage they would cover the canvas with the large, simple shapes of the painting. So I decided to give that a try.

In the Block In you are looking to establish:

  • The placement of the large basic shapes
  • Correct Values of those shapes
  • General color harmony
  • No Detail at all
  • The general mood
This is so much harder to do than it sounds! I used to rush through this stage, impatient to get on to what seemed like the real fun, seeing the finished painting emerge.

I wouldn't take the time to really be satisfied with the values and colors and shapes in this stage.

Huge Mistake!

There I was, eating my spinach, doing my Block In, and still I was not happy with the painting!

Why? Because I was just covering the canvas without taking the time to be sure my foundation was good. And in the next layers I would just paint over it, ignoring the work I'd done!

Now I spend more time with my Block In than any other stage of my painting!

And probably half of that time is spent just looking and contemplating!

A good painting is an expression of your reaction and experience with the image, not just a perfect rendering of your reference.  And that takes time to develop!

During this stage I might change my direction completely. This is the point when the CREATIVITY really flows. I may start out with something very close to the reference, but as I interact with it, with the shapes and colors, it will start to change and develop. I'll begin to really understand the image and why I am painting it. What my story is.

Things I think about in this stage

  • First I go for accuracy, trying to get as close as possible to the values and shapes in the reference.
  • Then, I stop and consider, and react to what is before me.
  • At this point I spend more time looking at the painting than the reference. I squint my eyes, step back, look in my mirror, and contemplate my reaction to what is there. Do I like it? No? Then I change it!
  • It's easy to make as many changes as you need at this stage, don't hesitate to try something!
  • Stop yourself from doing any kind of detail! Just big shapes
  • Use a fairly large brush - depending on the canvas size. 
  • Can I see the depth?
  • Do the colors sing together?
  • Can I see the light?
  • Is my focal point clear? Does it draw me in?
  • Are my supporting elements just that? Are they competing for attention?
  • Have I created a mood?
Once the image is developed this way, the finishing is easy! All you have to do is just break up those big shapes with smaller ones, staying withing the color and value harmony you have established! A few bold brushstrokes and there you are!

So, take some time to create a solid Foundation for your painting, you'll be happy you did!

P.S. This painting, "Winter Morning" is the subject of one of my Online Classes. More info here. 

Have you tried a Block In - Foundation Stage? How does it work for you?