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August 16 2012
Last Saturday in Parksville, I held my first ever art-related seminar/workshop/lecture - whatever you want to call it. Island Exposures gallery owner Craig Carmichael had asked me if I could put something together in the way of a class that could be useful to local artists, and I decided to do a presentation on "The Art of Seeing". I addressed some of the most common issues that seem to give the majority of artists problems when they are trying to paint in a representational/realism manner, and most of those problems are simply caused by allowing the mind to overrule the eye. It boils down to recognizing that when your brain is telling you what you are seeing, it is often not the same as what your eye is really seeing. You frequently have to tell your brain to go take a hike!

For example, one of the most common faults is failing to make darks dark enough, and lights light enough relative to each other. This is called the value range. If you are looking at a white object that has a strong light source from one side, the other side is generally deeply shaded. However, it is surprisingly difficult to convince an artist to paint the shaded side dark enough because their brain keeps reminding them that side is white as well and it strongly resists allowing the artist to paint the shaded side as dark as it actually appears. Thinking about it interferes with the image being received by the eye. I demonstrated ways to overcome this and get it right. The easiest trick is to squint when looking at the subject. That cuts out a lot of extraneous information and allows you to see the basic relationships of light and dark areas. More sophisticated is to use a Gray Scale which is basically a card that is marked along both edges with about 10 blocks of various shades of gray, ranging from black all the way to white. You simply hold the card up and compare the darkness of the area to the various blocks until you find a match, and then paint to match that same level of darkness. Unless you are a very experienced and skilled painter, I can guarantee that you will always mix too light a shade for your darks, and too dark a shade for your lights, on the first try. I do every time. Unfortunately, far too many painters settle for what they think is the right value instead of pushing it to the correct level, making for a lot of flat, dull paintings.

Perspective is another difficult challenge for many. Looking at a simple rectangular building, for example, such that some of the side wall is visible on one side, it is almost impossible for most people to accept the sharpness of the angles which the top and bottom edges of the side wall form with the vertical line of the building corner. Their brain knows that both lines are actually parallel to the ground (assuming flat ground) so it is just too difficult to draw those lines as steep as they actually appear to the eye. Also, if the artist knows the side wall is the same width as the front wall, his brain will not accept that the entire side wall can be shown as barely a sliver wide in the drawing, depending on the angle it is being viewed from. I've deliberately positioned people so they can't actually see any of the side wall, and yet they still draw it in, because their brain tells them it is there. But if you can't trust your eye, the angles of the side wall edges can easily be measured by holding up a clear plastic protractor, then transferring those angles to the canvas or paper. Everything can be measured relative to anything else in the scene simply by holding a paintbrush at arm's length and measuring along the brush handle. Or use a clear plastic ruler. If the front wall of the building spans 4 inches on the ruler, and what you see of the side wall spans only one inch, then regardless of the size you draw the front wall on your canvas, the side wall should be one quarter of that. This has nothing to do with drawing talent, just simple mathematics. If you can train yourself to draw what you actually see instead of what your brain tells you you are seeing, then you don't need to understand anything about the mechanics of linear perspective drawing. It works out automatically.

I also covered light sources and the shadows they create, reflected light (including the secret to painting chrome), and also how to create depth through atmospheric perspective using colour temperature, value variation, and hard and soft edges to give a painting depth.

We actually covered a lot of ground in two hours and while I had reservations about taking this on, I have to say I really enjoyed doing it. It will be very interesting to see if any of this inspires any improvement in the paintings of the attendees. It will be even more interesting to see if there is a groundswell of interest in a repeat performance. I was encouraged by the fact that nobody demanded their money back when I finished.

PAINTING UPDATE: I've now finished two of my paintings for the Arabella Canadian Landscape Painting competition, but am still reluctant to post them here for fear of disqualifying myself from the competition. However, I'm getting quite concerned that the competition may be cancelled and all this secrecy is for naught. Only about 40 legitimate entrants have signed up so far and by my estimate they need at least 300 to make this work. Accordingly, to get some benefit from these paintings I have entered them both in an international competition that will be over well before paintings are due for the Arabella competition.
Posted by Peter Kiidumae at 08:12 3 Comments