Sunday, December 29, 2013

Artist Tip #23 - Using Symbols to Simplify Shapes - Part 2

In our previous artist tip, we introduced the idea of simplification through using symbols.  We shall continue this discussion by introducing additional symbols that represent items often making an appearance in our paintings.  It remains each artist's task to identify the objects that he/she paints frequently, and to develop symbols to represent these objects in the way he/she prefers.

In landscapes, one often must represent a deciduous forest, as in Lake Lucerne Sailing:

Here the deciduous tree mass is represented by a single mass of color, with some variation in hue and value.  The edges are rough-brushed to represent the rough edges of trees, and a few trunks and branches are suggested.  The gives a much simpler and more appealing representation than actually trying to paint each tree in the mass.

The painting Porta Nigra shows symbols for both figures and wet ground:

It's important to develop an aptitude for painting figures in the landscape.  Without figures, many landscapes look vacant, as though a bomb has dropped.  Figures in the landscape must be in the same style as the rest of the painting.  For example, if the painting is done loosely, the figures must also be painted loosely to look as if they "belong".  Wet ground is indicated by reflections.  Reflections always come directly toward the bottom of the painting.  To avoid the wet ground looking like a lake, it's important to indicate a few surface marks.  In this painting, the cracks in the concrete serve this purpose.

Often in landscape paintings, the background consists of distant buildings or cities.  An example of this can be seen in Evening on the Bosphorus:

In this case, a middle-eastern city is indicated simply with a mass of color, with slightly varying hue and value for interest.  The shape at the top of the silhouette, with towers, minarets, and domes, is all that is needed to suggest the city.  Drawing and painting the many actual buildings would lead to an overly busy, and likely overworked, background.

As a final example of symbols, let's look at several different skies.  In Twilight Sail, a sunset is simply but effectively indicated with yellow, pink, and purple hues:

In A Splendid Day, soft clouds give a hazy but sunny feeling to the painting:

The addition of a few rough edges to the sky in Standing Room Only changes the feeling to one of a disturbed sky, with perhaps some unsettled weather on the way:

There are many symbols that are of use to the painter who wants to paint quickly, and give the impression of looseness.  Each artist needs to determine which symbols he/she needs to develop, and practice them until their use is second nature.  Symbols provide one method to move from simply "reporting" what is in front of us to interpreting and suggesting our subject in our painting in a more creative way.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Marina San Giorgio Maggiore - Original Watercolor Painting

Across the Venice lagoon from St. Mark's Basilica lies a small island, San Giorgio Maggiore. It is home to a marina filled with sailboats, and its skyline is dominated by the domes and campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore church.

If you'd like to purchase this 11" x 15" original watercolor painting for $200 including shipping within the United States, you can do it securely on my website (click on the image). There are additional paintings for sale there, and my smaller paintings are available on my other website  Add a unique original painting to your collection!

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mousehole Harbor - Original Watercolor Painting

Mousehole (pronounced “mowzel”) is a picturesque seaside town in Cornwall, UK, with a beach and harbor ringed by stone jettys.

If you'd like to purchase this 11" x 15" original watercolor painting for $200 including shipping within the United States, you can do it securely on my website (click on the image). There are additional paintings for sale there, and my smaller paintings are available on my other website  Add a unique original painting to your collection!

To join my fine art e-newsletter mailing list click Here.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Artist Tip #22 - Using Symbols to Simplify Shapes - Part 1

Simplify, simplify!  Representational artists hear these words over and over again from teachers and art textbooks.  If we don’t simplify the scene before us, we are likely to create a tight-looking, overly-busy painting.  It may be accurate, but it isn’t inviting and entertaining - it has no mystery; everything is clearly defined, making it difficult for our viewers to interact with the painting.  But exactly how to simplify the scene before us is not always obvious.  If we study the paintings of an accomplished artist who is thought to be “loose”, we see most of the represented objects greatly simplified.  We also notice that there is a consistency among the artist’s paintings - the simplified figures, trees, skies, sea, etc. look somewhat similar from painting to painting.  What is happening is that the artist is using symbols that he/she has developed to represent many of the objects before him/her in a simple (and loose-looking) way.  Symbol development is an important part of any artists’ pursuit of simplification.

The simplest symbol of an object is its shape.  If we are presented with only the shape of a human figure, with no internal detail at all, we immediately identify it as a figure.  This is true of most objects - a flower, a tree, a rock, a fence.  The easiest-to-recognize symbols are usually front or side views; a silhouette in 3/4 view has to be done more accurately to be easily recognizable.  If we are representing an object far away, and particularly one that is backlit, the shape is all that is needed.  For a closer object, we can embellish the shape a bit with some edge and internal details, but need to avoid overdoing it lest our painting becomes too busy and tight-looking.

In Summer on the Farm, we see gravel road
...represented simply as a shape diminishing with distance, a light value, some shadows to define its surface, a few scrapes and lines to suggest ruts, some spatter, and some weeds growing in the ruts.  Once you have mastered this symbol, suggesting a simple gravel road in your paintings becomes routine.  And look at the foreground deciduous tree symbols in this painting… rough brush marks to suggest bark, light on one side where the sun hits, a mass of color for foliage, with some rough edges. suggested leaves and a few stray branches, and a dark shadow underneath the crown.  If these trees were further away, we’d paint very little of the detail (rough bark, suggested leaves) and just stick with their silhouette.

Now take a look at the evergreen forest in Sound of Silence...

The entire forest is a single symbol.. a green mass, with yellow and orange highlights and some value variation, some rough edges, and evergreen tree shapes sticking up above the major mass.  It’s darker at the bottom to anchor it to the ground.  There are a few trunks and branches suggested by scraping some paint away, and a few hanging branches are indicated at the edge of the shape.  Don’t forget that a good shape has incidents at the edges - see Artist Tip #21 to refresh your memory of this.  For the forest on the right, smaller and further away, we use the same symbol but greatly simplified, just a mass of color with a few tree shapes sticking up.  If, instead of developing this symbol, we tried to paint exactly what we see, we would have a very tight-looking and less interesting painting, with lots of individual trees and branches.  The overall shape is the thing!

Now consider the water and reflections in Off Port Clyde...

The calm water is indicated by just a few soft horizontal lines, and gradual darkening as it comes toward the viewer.  The slightly random hard-edged reflection also suggests that the water is calm.  Note that in this painting, the water, sky, and distant land are all symbols, while the boat itself, the subject of the painting, is rendered in detail.

Early Snowfall also shows calm water.  You can see the horizontal lines, but here a wet-into-wet soft reflection is used.  Both hard- and soft-edge reflections are legitimate symbols of reflections of objects in calm water.

In Beyond the Surf, we see surf and rough water....

There are no reflections.  The rough water is indicated by some thin, rough white horizontal areas representing far-away waves and surf.  The pounding surf by the shore is simply a random white shape, with a rough and soft top edge, and some shading down low to represent the shadow in actual surf.  Once you master symbols like this, you can quickly indicate a rough sea, regardless of the actual weather outside.

In our next Artist Tip, we’ll take a look at a few more symbols for you to consider, to ensure that this idea is firmly established in your approach to your paintings.  If you want your representational painting to look “loose” and not photographic, it’s important to develop symbols for the major ingredients of your typical subjects so you can easily simplify the scene before you, interpreting and enhancing it rather than just “reporting” it.