Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A side of poetry, hold the science

paintings by Thomas Wilmer Dewing from artrenewal.org

Well that was fun. I asked for work for a critique and my inbox is filled with them. Thank you all. I will go after a few of them, I hope I get to yours but, there are a lot of them! I wouldn't mind a few more though. I look for those which I can use to identify a particular problem that I think would be useful for teaching. People said funny things, like "skip the anesthesia" I am going to do a couple of short topics tonight . The first is an e-mailed query. Sounds like that might be an Italian name.

Dear Stape

How do you design a painting in a particular key yet still try to hit the true color you are seeing? My latest landscape I felt like it was way too bright, crayony greens and yellows, but I also felt like the colors were accurate. I would have liked to tone down the key a bit so it was more grayer or browner. But that sacrifices accuracy (and I'm not to the point of being able to design yet anyway, I am still too unsure that I will be able to be accurate about anything and count accuracy as a victory.)
Yours always;

Chromaticus Emasculatum


I highlighted the crucial sentence in your heartbreaking missive. The colors before us in nature are often crayonny. Your colors were probably accurate, but that won't necessarily make them beautiful. In fact, that often gives you a painting that is a mosaic of unrelated color. The ability to paint any color accurately is a necessary skill, but it is not the only, and often not the best approach. As you have heard me say about a million times before, You cannot observe design into a painting, the same is true with color. You cannot observe good color into a painting. Good color is poetic and creative, it has to be installed. Color can be heightened, characterized, modified, systematized, formulated, enveloped, cooled, warmed, broken and who knows what else. This is the difference between observed and artistic color. Luckily most of us bring a set of color preferences and individual taste. Fine painters each have their own "style" of color.

Once you have developed the ability to "hit" color accurately you must "design" your color.You may choose your own path on this, there is a lot of personal preference to color choice. But the important thing here is choice. Art is about decision not transcription. Accuracy is for scientists and turret gunners, for artists, beautiful and poetic ( or vulgar, or powerful or whatever) is one of the goals. We twist the knobs and see what we can make out of that which is before our easel. Observed color is often matter of fact. It took me many years and hundreds of matter of fact paintings to figure that out.

You might begin by studying the work of a favorite painter, I would suggest you choose someone dead. Ask yourself, what decisions have they made about color, how do the different colors in the painting relate to one another? There are probably grays in there, what role do they play? Are all of the colors enveloped or multiplied through by a single modifying tone?? What is going on with the color temperature? Are these chromatic or earth colors? Are they heightened or reduced? You get the idea. There is a logic to the colors in a great painter, see if you can figure out what that is.
Perhaps you should try setting your palette with only three colors, or a few unfamiliar colors. That might force you to make some different choices. Perhaps you could choose a favorite painting and impose those colors on a piece of your own.

Nice old Stape

I mentioned the phrase raison d'etre in passing and I thought perhaps I might elaborate a little more on that. The phrase means reason for being. But you can think of it as a treatment. It's how it is a picture of the subject. If it were a seascape you might choose to make it a sunset or backlit, or full of choppy broken color brushwork or enveloped in a soft macular degenerative fog. It is something you do to the subject to make it interesting rather than a straightforward and ordinary presentation. Other examples would be a strong light effect or an overall unifying cast of color. Imagine painting a dog the color of jewels or a landscape the color of seashells. Unless there is an exciting effect taking place in nature, raison d'etre is the tool of choice. It is the cure for boredom in painting. You can make a painting work that wasn't formerly very interesting.

Again, if you are in California, and interested in taking a workshop please e-mail me and let me know. This doesn't commit you to it, but I am getting a list together of possible students, It looks like I have enough to do one, I will contact you all and see where you think it should be held and how long it should be, three days, five days or six to eight weeks.


mariandioguardi.com said...

Hi Stapleton,
A good blog for the artist to refer to was your blog about "smuggling reds" into the painting, especially into the greens. It changed the way I mix colors in the landscape. Thanks.

willek said...

Greata post, Stape. Lots of meat and potatoes here.

billspaintingmn said...

Stape! You are freeing prisoners from their artistic dungeons.
If that sounds corny, oh well, I have been tring to be too accurate in my color analysis.
My most successful pieces are the ones I took artistic license and used a color that represented instead of clarified.
(and it was more funner too!)

Judy P. said...

I wonder if it means I am improving, in that I am beginning to absorb, and hopefully utilize the sound ideas that are always here. That 'smuggling reds' post really helped me too!
Many thanks for answering my e-mail about the Shishkin colors; it was comforting that my color thinking was typical enough. I was afraid most other painters looked, and said 'but of course this color, that color!'. My clothes will probably always clash, but who cares. Also I might be Chromaticus' long-lost sister.

mary teabo said...

Dear Stapleton,

Thank you so much for your post.
You have been my instructor for around six months now and I've learned a lot. I really appreciate that you share your knowledge.


Mary Byrom said...

Stapleton great post. Color is a difficult one as I find people can't see values, the value of a color, identify what color they are looking at or how to mix it . I have students who want to paint from the get go in expressive color and they don't have enough experience under their belt to paint observed natural color. I finally figured out a quick exercise they could do to get them there, ( similar to your suggestion) they thought it was hard! In this group there are students who believe that loose painting is just slapped on in a burst of spontaneous energy mindlessly on the canvas... would you play chess that way ?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I should probably do some sort of a post indexing the various things I have written about. The early posts are very basic and I should get people to read them.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I haven't a clue what you are saying. Perhaps you could post in one of the romance languages?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Hey thanks.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I appreciate your constant encouragement. It is nicer to feel useful.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I believe that Chroimaticus, like Cronus ate his relatives.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You make my day! Thanks

Stapleton Kearns said...

Will you tell me more about the exercise you have developed. Being able to hit the actual color is important and not enough students get taught to do it.