Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Two Ways of Approaching Painting

Fall Arrives at Cathedral Rock, 8x10 oil - SOLD

There are basically two ways of creating a plein air painting.  First is the one that's probably familiar to most people.  That is, one works from big shapes to small shapes.  Usually, the process starts with a block-in and putting color down on every square inch of canvas, and it then ends with adding detail.  In my mind, this method is very well suited to the time challenges of plein air painting.  If you can block in the shadows and lights in about 30 minutes, it doesn't matter so much if the light changes in the next couple of hours.

I have my own twist to this.  In the block-in stage, I don't agonize over precise color mixtures.  Instead, I make my best guess and go with it.  The block-in goes much faster this way.  But in the next stage, I spend considerable time adjusting my "best guess."  I do this by comparing adjacent shapes with respect to value, temperature, hue and intensity.  Have I painted Shape A cool enough with respect to Shape B?  Is it dark enough and dull enough?  Sometimes this refining process may take several passes.  I don't mind if this is all I accomplish in a single painting session, as it most accurately records the sense of light.  I've found with my students that this is a very intuitive and comfortable way to work.

The painting above is one that I did today this way as a demonstration.

The second way of painting is to mix exactly the right color and put it in the right spot from the get-go.  I know several very successful painters who work this way, but I personally find it agonizingly difficult.  It's also a very slow process.  If you are working in fast-changing conditions, it'll be impossible bring a painting to any sort of completion.  On the other hand, if you start with your center of interest and make an effort to get at least that part perfect, you'll have a vignette.  The rest of the painting can be finished - if one can use that term - in a very loose manner.

I liken plein air painting to sculpting a head.  It's a lot easier to start with a big lump of clay and massage it into something that looks like a head than to construct the perfect components of a head - ear, nose, eyes - and to then attach them to a ball.  This is because each part of the head exists only relative to every other part, and they all must look "right" together.   Every color shape in a painting depends on its neighbor to help create its identity.

By the way, we're still offering gift certificates for Paint Sedona workshops, and the studio sale continues.


Mick Carney said...

Wise words and wonderful image.

Corinne Murphy said...

GREAT ADVICE and a wonderful, wonderful painting. I'm printing it out for reference! Thank you so much.

Michael Pieczonka said...

Great advice on plein air painting and I love the image you came out with Michael. I used to go for your second approach listed here, but because I found it near impossible to come home with finished products, have switched to your first approach. I think the first approach is what is needed for real growth as an artist.. I just wish I'd realized sooner! Love this blog, cheers Mike

Scott Ruthven said...

Hi Michael,

I combine both methods. Basically, I pre-mix puddles of the local colors and then the warm and cools I see for each major local. This takes 10 min or less. Then I can quickly block in the major shapes and don't have to worry too much about value and temp being incorrect. After the initial block-in is done, I adjust my initial mixes and go back into the painting to model form, add detail, reflected light, etc...

Thanks for your wonderful blog. I really enjoy reading it.


Artist in Disguise

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, Mick, Corinne, Michael and Scott! Scott, I think a lot of painters do some combined variation, so you're on the right path.