Sunday, November 21, 2010

Zorn sidetrack

Here is a picture of Emma Zorn, wife of tjhe Swedish painter Anders Zorn (1860-1920). Zorn, Sorolla and Sargent are the triumvirate of alla prima figure painters from the late 19th century. They have a lot in common. I want to show a Zorn head and note the similarities in the handling of light and shadow that he shares with John Sargent. Zorn was also an admirer of Velazquez.What I want to point out is the "clean" delineation of the shadows in this portrait of his wife.



Zorn has "mined" the shadow areas in this head. There is a complete demarcation everywhere in this head between the halftones and the shadows. Sargent and Zorn both did this, and it gives a concise look of understood form to their art. I have been pointing this out repeatedly bin Sargent's paintings but here is Zorn doing the same thing.

THIS PRECISE DELINEATION IS THE RESULT OF CLARIFIED OBSERVATION, BASED ON A CONCISE UNDERSTANDING OF THE FORM.

I hope I am not beating you over the head with this too much, but this is REALLY important.Great figure and head painters know exactly where the shadow is, and where the halftones (part of the lights) are. They never mush the two together, even in the subtlest passages the delineation is there. This is installed from an understanding of the form and may or may not be actually visible. But here is a little trick you can use to find this demarcation yourself.

YOU CANNOT CAST A SHADOW INTO A SHADOW!

That means,that if you are confronted with a passage where it is unclear where the halftone ends and the shadow begins, you can hold a pencil or stick of charcoal or a brush between the light source and your subject, be it a head or still life, the shadow of that stick will appear in the halftones and not in the shadows. Try this, it is an amazing phenomenon. The shadows will be unaffected by a shadow thrown across the highlights .

Every time your brush touches that canvas you must know for sure whether what you are painting is in the shadow or in the lights. Every time. There is no other place. If you have a doubt, cast a shadow across the model and see what happens. If I have not explained this clearly, let me know in the comments and I will take another run at it.

20 comments:

Gregory Becker said...

That is an amazing litmus for the fuzzy areas of whether something is shadow or light.
You posted a picture of a building not long ago by Sargent with columns and I noticed how the cast shadow from the building to the left couldn't go past the line of demarcation in the column.
It's good to have a way to find those uncertain areas now. Thanks

Judy Greulich said...

Great post on clearly identifying what is in light vs. shadow by using a shadow-casting tool. Sometimes it just isn't that obvious, when the halftones appear dark.
This simple technique (which I originally learned from Clayton J. Beck III, the wonderful portrait and figure painter from Chicago), is so effective. It definitely revealed a few surprises to me, when I first tried it!

billspaintingmn said...

Sorrry Stape! I just don't get this!
Obveiously you can't cast a shadow into a shadow, or have a two tone
shadow.
I see how shadows work. (I think.)I'm just not sure how to paint them
so they don't look like a cut out that is pasted on. (?)

billspaintingmn said...

And my avitar is a shadow! go figure! (no pun intended)

jake gumbleton said...

You are blowing my tiny mind almost daily at the moment Stape. That cast shadow technique sounds so useful.

George Perdue said...

When I am out painting the landscape I see the far end of cast shadows with darker shadows cast on them. Diffraction, neh?

Jo-Ann Sanborn said...

Getting from "my brain knows this" to having it happen automatically on my canvas is the hard part. A good bop on the head now and then is helpful. Thanks, Stape

Simone said...

Amen, sister! This can't be said often enough.

Lucy said...

Would you mind mapping out the halftones on this painting?
Thank you!

MCG said...

Very useful, thank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Gregory' This is so important. Job 1q is separating the lights from the shadows.
.............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Judy;
While useful in heads and still lifes,m it is difficult to do this in the landscape. I guess the principal is what is important.
...............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

bill;
I hope you figure this out. I am doing my best, but this stuff is hard to put into words.
...............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Jake:
I imagine your mind is spacious.
..............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

George;
All sorts of odd things happen out in the field. The distant shadows are being eaten by the light (diffraction) and then restated by another shadow.
.......Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Jo-Ann;
I am willing to bop!
.....................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Simone:
I have bopped!
............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Lucy; I did a little on that tonight.
.................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

MCG;
You are welcome.
...................Stape

kasman said...

Good post. Her ear looks huge!