Sunday, December 9, 2012

Painting Apples


Apple is my final addition to a series of works of some favorite fruits and vegetables. They were so much fun to do, and I really love them all! But it’s time to move on...I took pictures of this last painting in progress to show how I think and work.

This is my favorite way to begin, with a neutral undertone scrubbed onto the surface and a simple drawing that divides the space pleasingly and captures the most important characteristics of the shapes. How one begins is very important; interesting composition makes or breaks the interest in a piece! Painting all these little works really helped me learn how to arrange a simple subject in a manner that highlights the character of the subject and flatters it. It’s all in how you allow the shapes to divide up your canvas. 

My brave, first stroke is also featured in this photo. A thousand insecurities rush to the fore when you’re pondering the opening shots. But once you get it down and have something REAL to analyze, those nagging fears go back to where they came from-the unknown. And most of the time, the most frightening part of the painting is over. Most of the time...

Here I am starting to block in some basic tones, and defining the very important edge between the apple and background. The edges that define boundaries of individual parts of the subject are very important to a painting. They give the eye lots of important information that tells us what we’re looking at, and they can be manipulated to create the illusion of depth. If I used a hard edge all around the apple, it would look flat and lifeless. Most edges in a painting need to be somewhat soft to communicate properly, reserving the hardest edges for the center of interest.

I’m still blocking in tones loosely. I often have to discipline myself at this stage of painting to stay loose and broad. The beautiful details in my subject tempt me to focus on them instead of my overall impression which can cost time and can fragment the complete vision of the piece.

I’m defining more important edges and continuing to block in color throughout these two pictures.

Now, I’m defining my range of values from lightest to darkest. I have a tendency to paint my darks too light if I put off blocking them in for too long. So, here I am trying to get the full range in an early stage of the painting.

Now, I’ve added transitional tones between the lights and darks in the right apple. I’m a great lover of simplicity; so, I have to discipline myself to put in enough transitional tones between the main values. If I don’t, the Form of the apple will look flat and unconvincing. 

The Form Principle is made up of six basic parts: highlight, direct light, mid-tone, shadow, reflected light, and cast shadow. The highlight has a somewhat hard edge and is the direct reflection of the light source on the subject. The direct light encompasses all of the values in the light side of the subject as opposed to the shadow side. The mid-tone is a small transitional area between the side in the light and the side in the dark; the most intense colors in the subject are found here because the color is not diluted by either bright light or the absence of it. Most artists make certain to put their brightest colors in this small but very important area of the painting. The shadow is the side of the subject that is not receiving any light. Reflected light is the small amount of light reflected into the shadow side of the subject from the surrounding surfaces. In Apple, you can observe this phenomenon just above the dark shadow under the right apple. The color here is usually influenced by the color of the surface reflecting the light; hence, in Apple, the reflected light area has a yellow brown feel to it. And the cast shadow is the shadow caused by the subject blocking the light falling onto a different surface. The cast shadow is always darkest directly beneath the object casting it and gets lighter and softer in edges the farther it gets away from the object casting it.

How an artist arranges these relative values into an interesting pattern is MOST important to the success of a painting in my opinion. It’s the first thing an observer will notice from a distance; it’s what invites the observer to come closer and be drawn in by beautiful color and edges. If a painting doesn’t stand out from a distance of 10 or 15 feet, it is likely to be passed by. And value pattern is what one notices first from that distance.

Whoop! I got really sucked into the painting, and forgot to take enough photos. Both apples have been blocked in, and I’ve refined the edges between color shapes within both apples. These edges will all be soft to communicate the roundness of the apple. The edges defining the exterior of the apples are harder by comparison.

I’m blocking in more of the surface beneath the left apple, and you can observe here how the bright orange red of the apple is influencing the color of the surface beneath it. 

I’m blocking in more of the surface that is not in shadow, here.

And here, I’ve finished up what is called a vignette. A vignetted painting does not cover the canvas from edge to edge. It’s a fun “arty” approach to finishing a painting. I think it mirrors how the eye naturally sees. The eye naturally zeros in on a focal point, and everything surrounding the focal point is blurry and gets more blurry as it approaches your peripheral vision. 

Vignettes can be challenging to do as there are no hard and fast rules to follow for success; you have to really “feel” your way through them. I like my vignettes to feel as though they are an extension of the subject and to divide up the space interestingly with a variety of edge work. This basic criteria usually works for me, but is not guaranteed. But the more you do them, the more natural they feel. And I’m happy with how this vignette turned out.

In this final picture, I’ve added a stem to the right apple to help communicate that it’s an apple. The actual apple I painted didn’t have one; but without it, a casual observer may have difficulty identifying what they’re looking at. This is something else that an artist has to watch out for and especially me. I get caught up in the beautiful abstract shapes of my subject and forget that it may appear differently to some one who hasn’t seen the original subject. My husband is especially good at watching out for this, and he helped me see how the clarity of the painting would benefit from adding the stem. In retrospect, with some distance between me and the process of this artwork, it was clearly a good idea!

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