Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Breaking Down the Problem

"Sunny Day at Liberty Point" 9x12, oil

When you say to yourself, "I just can't make that rock look like a rock," you must stop to analyze your frustration. Often, I find a big, amorphous problem can be broken down into some combination of three smaller and well-delimited problems. Either you're:

- Not skilled enough in your chosen medium;
- Not understanding some painting principle; or
- Not observing the subject well enough.

For example, maybe it's your first time with pastel, and you just can't get the pastel to layer the way you want it to. Or maybe you don't know how to treat the rock as a large, simple shape with smaller, simple shapes inside it. Perhaps you just aren't seeing how much darker the shadowed side is in comparison to the lit side.

Breaking down the problem this way can help a lot. It'll help you recognize your weak spots so you can work on them. If you're new to pastel, you can learn that it's easier to layer soft pastel over hard. If you're new to painting, you can learn to break up the scene into simple shapes. If you're new to plein air, you can learn to judge shape relationships more accurately.

There's nothing more frustrating than not knowing where to start. Breaking down the frustration into its component parts will help.

By the way, I put together a short promo video for my PaintSedona ( workshops. You can see it below. If you can't see the image, go to


Celeste Bergin said...

a very helpful post! You are generous with your knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Foremost problem is Drawing. If you don't draw, paint materials will always confound you.

Draw first, often and always- if you want to understand shape, form and values.

Poppy Balser said...

Michael, Good post. I have not heard it put that way but now I hear it I have a new tool in my mental painting toolbox.

Hope your Two Countries event went well. Wish I could have been in your side of the Bay to take part in it.