Sunday, September 27, 2020

Looking at Artists: Use of Color

 Scrolling through my Instagram feed today, I came across a post by Teresa Oaxaca.  It's a series of 3 detail shots of a face in one of her new paintings.  Here's the image that I keyed in on:

I have been focusing a lot of my attention on mixing and using rich but subdued colors.  Teresa's not that way at all: she uses rich, saturated colors.  For 99% of artists who try that approach, it results in gaudy messes.  Not for Teresa.  Her colors are vibrant and lively, everywhere.

And it's that "everywhere" that drew my attention.  Let's zoom in even more:


Do the blues jump out at you?  They should.  Look along the line between the lighted and the shadowed areas.  This area is called the intermediate zone, transition zone, and a variety of other names.  It's often darker than the shadowed area, which gets reflected light, and it's usually a bit cooler in color temperature.  Here, Teresa doesn't really make it darker.  And she doesn't just make it cooler, either.  She changes the color to a very definite blue.  Look at the lines along the cheek, just above and below the eyebrow, and along the underside of the nose: blue lines!  Now when I've done those areas, I mix some blue into the color, but it's really just been a muted cool dark, and my attention has been more on the warmer reflected light in the shadow zone.  Now I'm going to try some very definite blues for the transition zones.

And the eyes!  Look at that intense dark blue.  It's just as dark as the rest of the eye (which is disturbingly red over to the shadowed side), but the blue just reaches out and smacks you.  That's confidence in your colors.

There are subtle color shifts all over.  The skin color bounces back and forth between a cool red (alizarin with white?) and muted yellow (Indian yellow?).  They're laid next to each other, rather than mixed together, so your eye puts them together to say "flesh color".  

Great stuff.  More things for me to experiment with in the studio!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Studio Experimenting

For the past week or so, I've been experimenting with a different approach and painting technique in the studio.  One of the artists that has caught my eye is Jeremy Lipking.  His paintings have a very quiet feeling to them.  Mine generally do, too, so I wanted to see what I could learn of his approach that might  come over to mine.  

I chose two of Lipking's paintings as inspiration: Canoe and Sagebrush.  

There were lots of things that played into the feeling in both paintings:

- A solitary figure.  Most of his figures are looking away.  This anonymizes them to an extent and the viewers can imagine themselves in the painting's environment. 

- Lots of flat areas of color: the lake in Canoe and the sky in Sagebrush, for example.

- Very sharp edges - the canoe especially, but the blanket and ridgetop in Sagebrush are sharper than they look.

- Use of value contrasts to focus attention.  The figure in the canoe is almost not noticed at first, but the dark canoe against the brilliant light, especially with the sharp edges (even in the reflections) demands your attention.  In Sagebrush, the high value contrast between the light sky and dark head draws your eye immediately.  

- Use of light and dark shapes as compositional elements.  In Canoe, there are essentially two shapes: light and dark, in a horizontal arrangement.  Sagebrush has a wider range of values, but it's basically a T-shape composition, with the blanket against the darker sage, the brilliant red mountain in the distance, and then the light sky with dark head.

- And they're really finely detailed.  These are almost photographically accurate paintings, and when you enlarge the images, you see very fine detail in face, hair, even the texture of the blanket and sage.  

This exercise was "in the spirit of Lipking", not a copy, so I used a photo of one of my favorite models.  It was taken in the studio, but I wanted to put her outside, using a T-shaped composition.  And I borrowed heavily from the Canoe's setting.  Here's how it looked after day 1:

 It's okay, kinda meh.  Alright, a lot meh.  I went back the next day and reworked it:

So what did I do?  I turned her head.  It made it feel a bit more relaxed and it made her a bit more anonymous.  I darkened the hills and reflections significantly, which better matches what really happens around sunset.  I put a lot more yellow into the sky and water to both lighten them up and warm the painting.  I changed the foreground to bring more sky color to the bottom of the painting and to make it feel more real.  I darkened her shadow and worked on the reflections from the robe.  And I reworked the robe for more detail, a warmer color, and slightly darker value to make it stand out against the light from the water.

I learned a lot about Lipking's technique, even though mine comes nowhere close to his.  The sky and water, for example, are built out of lots of small strokes of blue and yellow laid down next to and also dragged over each other.  When two paint colors are thoroughly mixed together, they give one flat color.  When colors are adjacent to each other, your eye does the mixing, but the result is richer.  Kinda like chords in music as compared to single notes.  

Most importantly, though, I learned that I really don't want to put paint on canvas the way he he does.  I like a looser approach, where the individual strokes are obvious from well back.  I get more energy that way.  But the compositional items, like values and colors?  Yeah.  I can use those.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Life and the Studio

 There's so much happening, so fast, these days.  I've felt so overwhelmed with things to comment about that I haven't commented at all.  Which is probably a good thing.  Frankly, though I'm getting more and more worried about the future of our county.

A few years ago, a friend asked if I was an optimist or a pessimist.  I said that I'm a short-term optimist and a long-term pessimist.  In the short term, humanity has a remarkable ability to muddle through.  Crises come and go, things look dire, and then we move on.  But in the long term, the outlook is really grim.  We're using resources many times faster than the earth can replenish them.  Climate change is raising sea levels, reducing wildlife, reducing crop-production land, and changing weather patterns.  At a time when we need united national and international efforts, we're more polarized and divided than I can remember in my lifetime.  And all the trends are in the wrong directions.  

Until recently, I thought that the tipping point would come a few decades down the road.  Now I think we might actually be in it.  Climate change is burning down the West Coast and hitting the Gulf and East Coast with more storms than ever, one after another.  It's warming the Arctic, which is thawing the permafrost, which is releasing more methane than ever, which is significantly worse as a greenhouse gas.  The world's population is still expanding.  The World Wildlife Federation this week announced that 68% of the world's wildlife has disappeared since 1970.  And if you wear a mask in this country, you're a damned Democrat, and if you don't, you're a damned Republican.  And Trump is destroying what little unity is left.

No good news there.  And I don't know what I can do about any of it except take care of myself and Janis.

So, yeah, writing about my activities in the studio seems so out of it.  But it's my refuge of sanity.  Even when I was creating my last two paintings, Say Their Names and Portland 2020, which are both political pieces, they were still cathartic.  Now, though, I'm working on two new ones that have no politics in them at all.  Time to clear my brain.  Yes, I'll post them here when I can.  No, you can't see them now.

So stay safe, try to keep calm, and take care of yourself.