(Acrylic Painters: Everything I say here applies to every medium, when we get back to class we will go over how to accomplish this demo in acrylics but try to figure it out on your own. Hint: you will use white instead of water.)
Now as I said in class, as I walk around I see many problem areas students have and I want to address as many of them as I can, this week it is how you create distance in your painting.
It doesn't matter if you are doing a vast landscape or an intimate still life, unless you are painting abstracts you need to know how to bring dimension into your painting. We do this with value (how light or dark a color is), hue (the actual color) and hard and soft edges. I will go into perspective later but that is also in play.
You will often hear me say that if you really want to improve your painting, you need to become more observant. Your brains can play tricks on you because of the left/right division of labor. If you just glance at something without really looking at it, say if you see a tree, your left brain will assign green and brown to it and move on, it is the same with everything else. If you paint the way your left brain sees, your paintings become very flat and uninteresting because everything similar is the same color. You know something is wrong (right side) but you aren't taking the time to analyze why it is wrong (left side again). You become frustrated.
If you are working from a photograph, as most of you do, really look at the photo before you ever set brush to paper. Compare the colors in the foreground to a similar object in the background. Punch a hole in a piece of white paper and moving back and forth place the hole over the two objects. What do you see? The object in the foreground should be more intense in color and brighter and the object in the background should be lighter and greyer, less intense in color. Also look at the detail between the two. The one closer to the viewer should have all kinds of detail while the one in the back is more symbolic, meaning it lacks most detail. This is the same in real life as well. Look down a street and compare the trees near you to the trees way down at the corner, what do you see? Really see? Just because your left brain tells you that they are the same – and they would be if they were side by side – in reality they are very different.
How do we get that on our paper? You may have to fight with what you would normally think until you have finally convinced yourself that this is true, using a landscape as our first example we will start our first wetting the paper and letting it dry just a bit so that the shine has just vanished from the surface, then with a mix of blue (any blue will do) and a touch or purple (be careful purple is very over powering) and lots of water to dilute the color until it is very pale, use the biggest brush you have and create a layer of mountain shapes.
If the paint spreads too quickly, you paper may be too wet, let it dry some more and try again. You want the edge that would be next to the sky to be very soft but still look like mountains. Rinse your brush and with just a bit of water, fade the bottom of the mountains down a bit. This is a graded wash and will look like mist or dust that happens at the bottoms of mountains and hills. Let this dry to just a bit dryer than before. Each layer you put down must be dryer than the layer that preceded it before you create the next layer.
While you are waiting for your paper to dry, mix the same colors together but this time make them more intense by not adding so much water. For this exercise you just want the value to only be a shade or two darker, so don't make it too dark too quick or you will have no place to go with it.
When your paper feels dry enough, create another layer of mountains the same way you did the first. The top edge should still be soft but with luck not as soft as the first layer (this is tricky and takes practice, don't worry if you don't get it the first time, I'm still struggling with the technique and I've been trying to years!).
Make as may layers as you want using the same method: Each time get a bit darker – you can add some sienna to the mix as well – and let you paper dry a little more each time.
Some one asked: What if I don't like blues and purples? While value is the key here and yes, you can do something similar using warm colors, keep in mind that to create distance especially in a landscape the things that are way in the distance usually take on a blue/grey or purple/grey hue. Remember the line …"Purple mountain's majesty", this is because as we look at distant objects the atmosphere absorbs the various colors of the light spectrum until only the blue and purples are left. In our second example, I first painted a sky instead of wetting my paper with water, and like in the above example, I painted a couple of layers of distant mountains with blues, but as I came into the foreground, I added more sienna to warm it up and in the last layer added orange and red to the sienna to warm up my foreground. See how much depth is created when you remember that cool colors recede and warm colors come forward.
Using this same principle I created studies of closer things: Rocks and flowers. Remember that things must be greyer in the background and to create grey you add a form of it's compliment. For example: Blue add orange and visa versa (sienna is a form of orange), green add red or orange or purple(they have red in them) , purple add yellow or orange. Just a touch of a compliment, especially if you are adding a darker color to a lighter color like purple to yellow because the stronger color can overwhelm the weaker one. What you have done is combine all 3 primary colors and have "muddied" a color.
The rocks became more intense in color as they came into the foreground with harder edges. In the flower study I did in the afternoon, the background flowers are just patches of color. As I came forward, the patches took on a more defined shape and became more intense in color until in the foreground I painted actual flowers with detail.
This isn't hard to do but you do need to convince yourself that it works. Doing little studies like this helps you learn and make mistakes that you don't want to make on your "masterpieces". It's like practicing scales on a musical instrument, not real exciting but very important.
Next week: Brush strokes!