Saturday, June 23, 2012

Some notes of caution on overstating variations within the shadow

Above is a shot of some gates in a South Carolina cemetery. I want to use them to illustrate something about values. Look at the second shot below, see where the little arrows go?

The arrows point to areas of mortar that are lighter than the brickwork and surrounding older mortar.The tyros mistake would be to group those values with the lights, That is, to paint them the same value as the illuminated foliage beyond. But doing that will destroy the solidity of the form in the piers (as I suppose such structures are called)
I had this question arrive in my inbox;

"What about those shadows on very light objects which are approx the same tone as the half tones do they come under light or shade as they seem to light to be put in shadow the same with dark objects the light side seems to dark to go in lights  I am talking about an overall scene not one single object on its own".

I wish I was standing next to you and could see exactly the values to which you are referring. I hear this from students sometimes who just cant get the idea that the lights are lighter than the darks. I have to show them on a case by case basis from nature before them. I see few students who can successfully sort there lights from their darks.

In the landscape, or painting in the studio, there are two different ways a thing can look. The first way is in comparison to what is right next to it. That is sometimes called "looking in to your shadows" or a piecemeal approach. 

The second way is in relationship to the whole scene. That is called the "big look" of nature. The  "the big look" is infinitely preferable. It gives big masses and solidity of form. In this view the artist perceives all of the scene before him in relationship to everything else. One big picture. A painting that has the "big look of nature" is sometimes called "broad".

Looking into the masses and shadows portrays each object as it looks when examined with out comparison to the larger scene. That leads to distortions of value and a piecemeal approach .This often gives a disjointed quality to a painting,and can give the look of multiple pictures separately observed on your canvas. That will destroy the unity of effect in your painting.


The same subtleties occur in the lights as well. There are variations within the halftones that must be compared to the whole scene and not just to the halftone nearby. That leads to an overstatement of the halftones, a condition called overmodeling which gives a dirty appearance. It is why those awful art school figures drawn on newsprint look like they have black wetsuits on instead of skin.

Several artists  pointed out to me that there are situations in nature where  a light object has darks that are lighter than the lights on a darkly colored object in the same scene. That happens, but it is still important to know where your shadows are at all times. Below is an example of one of those situations
Fredrick Waugh
 In seascape painting, the foam is often brighter in it's shadow side than the rocks are in the light. But the principles of light and shadow hold within the foam itself, that is, all of the light side of the foam is brighter than any of it's shadow side.


Craig Daniels said...

I think your past experience with cast drawing is coming out :) I never really fully understood this until I did a few plaster cast studies.
Putting it into practice with paint is still proving dificult though.

Robert J. Simone said...

This post brings to mind the principle of "Notan" which Aurthor Dow made popular with his book on Composition. There is also a good illustration in "Gruppe on Painting" that demonstrates how much information can be conveyed by a simple massing of shadow shapes, without detail. It is hard for students to wrap their minds around the concept. It's a new way of seeing things that takes practice. Less experienced eyes are attracted to detail.

jimserrettstudio said...

You are on a roll this month.
Great article after great article.
With out a doubt this is the best art blog online.
Thanks for sharing your wealth of information.

SWOPS said...

I second Jim Serrett's sentiments...Only thing I would like to see (perhaps in the not too distant future?)is a bunch of practical exercises, so us neophytes can embed all this 'stuff'....Jim

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are exercises I have developed. I know how to do them with a class, I don't know I could do it online.

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Sesco said...

I try to address as much of this as I can in the underpainting, keeping aware of the values I have already established in this phase as I begin to apply color; and also with the 'negative' feature in my photo editing software while viewing a ref photo, which, I assume, allows another part of my brain to witness the value gradations in opposite contrast. En plein air I would be at the mercy of my natural talent limitations. I hope I haven't missed the entire point of your post.