Monday, December 6, 2010

Student Work: Black and White Still Life

Here are the first still life paintings from the class:

Gus Hoffman
Oil on Canvas

Mike Olaya
Oil on Canvas

Renee Larson
Oil on Canvas

Great work everyone!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Aaron Coberly Step-by-Step

Here's a nice step-by-step from Aaron Coberly:

You can click on the first image to see it animate through the stages.

Of particular note is the range of frequencies present in the finished painting.  The hands remain very low frequency, while the head and hat get a relatively higher frequency treatment- though it's still not very high.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Business Parable

This parable comes from Merlin Mann's excellent blog 43 Folders:

This parable is directed towards business owners and freelancers (particularly web designers), but it resonates for the artist all the more- artists in particular seem to have trouble when it comes time to start charging for their artwork.  I know it's something that I still struggle with.  This parable speaks to that business side, and to remember that if you make a good product, there are people out there who are willing to pay good money for it- even if it's artwork.

Being a Parable for the Edification of Independents Seeking Independence


THE OSTENSIBLE CUSTOMER enters a deli and saunters up to the counter. The deli is tended by its rakishly handsome owner, THE SANDWICH GUY.

Hi,” says The Sandwich Guy. “What looks good to you today?”

Slow down,” says The Ostensible Customer, as THE LUNCH RUSH starts trickling in. “Lots of delis want my business, so, first I need to really understand what you can do for me.”

Well,” says The Sandwich Guy, “I guess I can try to do what I do for everybody here and make you a customized version of any of the 15 awesome sandwiches you see on my menu. What’re you hungry for?”

Easy, easy, Ricky Roma! Before I make any decisions here I’m going to need to know a lot more about my options. Why are you so obsessed with ‘what I want?’”

Okay, sorry,” says The Sandwich Guy, uneasily eyeing the growing queue of The Lunch Rush now piling up behind The Ostensible Customer. “What else can I do to help here?”

That’s better,” says The Ostensible Customer. “Let’s start by sitting down for a couple hours and going over all the ingredients you have back there.”

The Sandwich Guy laughs congenially and hands The Ostensible Customer a menu. “Friend, I can make you whatever you want, but, if it helps, the 15 sandwiches listed here show all the ingredients–right there between the name and the price…”

Whoa, whoa, whoa! The price?!? Already you’re reaching for my wallet? Jeez, I barely just arrived.”
The Lunch Rush is getting restless and grumbling audibly.

Well. You know. I do sell sandwiches for a living,” says The Sandwich Guy. “Did you have a certain budget in mind for your lunch?”

Oh, God, no. I’m nowhere near that point yet. I still need to learn a lot more about how you work, and so, obviously, I have no idea what I want to pay. Obviously.”

Okay,” says The Sandwich Guy, “but…I can’t do much for you here without knowing either what you want to eat or how much money you want to spend. You get that, right?”

The Ostensible Customer is miffed.

Listen, here. What I ‘get,’ so-called Sandwich Guy, is that you’re not going to rush me into some tricky lifetime sandwich commitment until I understand precisely who I’m working with. And, so far, I do not like what I see. Still. I intend to find out more. So, meet me in Canada tomorrow to talk about this for an hour.”
The Lunch Rush begins waving their wallets as they lob their completed order forms at The Sandwich Guy’s face.

Sorry,” says The Sandwich Guy. “I can’t do that. How about I just make you a Reuben. It’s really good, it’s our most popular sandwich, and it only costs eight bucks.”

WHAT! EIGHT DOLLARS! ‘Dollars’ with a ‘d?’ That’s way too much!”

I thought you didn’t have a budget,” says The Sandwich Guy.

Well, I don’t. And, besides, I don’t really ‘need’ a sandwich at all. Now, kindly fly to Canada.”

That’s not going to happen, sir.”

Also,” says The Ostensible Customer, “if I do decide to get a sandwich from you–and it’s looking increasingly less likely that I will–I’ll absolutely expect your deeply discounted price to reflect the fact that I’m not particularly hungry right now.”

The Lunch Rush begins lighting torches and chanting a guttural chant, not unlike the haunting overtone singing of Tuvan herdsmen.

Look,” sighs The Sandwich Guy, “it sounds like you need a little more time. Here’s a free Coke and a complimentary bowl of pickles. Please have a seat, take all the time you need, then just come on up whenever you’re ready to order, okay?”

READY?!?’ TO…‘ORDER?!?’ Are you out of your mind?”


Presently, The Ostensible Customer turns beet-red.

This is an outrage! I can’t even imagine how you stay in business when you treat your customers like this.”
The Lunch Rush grows silent as The Sandwich Guy slowly leans over the counter and smiles–his nose one slice of corned beef from The Ostensible Customer’s nose.

Sir. First off: you aren’t my customer yet. Right now, you’re just some dude holding a bowl of free pickles.”
Buh?” fumbled The Ostensible Customer.

And, second, the way I ‘stay in business’ is by making great sandwiches and having as few conversations like the one we’re having as possible,” The Sandwich Guy coos.

Because, the truth is, my real customers are actually all those nice people standing behind you. They’re the people who buy my sandwiches with real money over and over again. I really like them, and so I give them almost all of my attention.”

The Sandwich Guy waves at The Lunch Rush. The Lunch Rush waves back. The Ostensible Customer looks stunned.

Sir,” says The Sandwich Guy “enjoy your Coke and your pickles with my compliments. But, please step aside. Because right now, there’s a whole bunch of hungry people trying to buy sandwiches that won’t require me flying to Canada. Next, please!

The Lunch Rush roars approval. The Ostensible Customer is still stunned. Which is unfortunate.
Because, several men from the back of the line spontaneously rush forward to drag The Ostensible Customer, screaming and grasping, onto the busy sidewalk outside, where they proceed to devour his flesh like those street urchins who eat Elizabeth Taylor’s cousin in Suddenly, Last Summer.

Meanwhile, The Sandwich Guy goes back to making sandwiches. And, The Lunch Rush goes back to eating them.


  1. The Sandwich Guy can’t do much for you until you’re hungry enough to really want a sandwich.
  2. Once you’re hungry enough, you still have to pay money for the sandwich. This won’t not come up.
  3. Few people become “a good customer” without understanding both 1 and 2.
  4. Few companies become “a smart business” without understanding 1, 2, and 3.
  5. Basing his business on an understanding of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 doesn’t make The Sandwich Guy a dick; it makes him a smart business.
  6. If you vacation with Elizabeth Taylor? Seriously. Avoid provoking the cannibalistic rent boys.


Me? I just very much hope it takes you far less than 15 years to see and accept these sorts of things. Both as a customer and as a business.

Guys, avoid working for anyone who’s not hungry enough to compensate you for your sandwich. It literally doesn’t pay.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Class Notes - August 18, 2010

A bit backlogged getting these typed up...

  • Oiling Out
    • Why
      • Restores value of darker colors, which often lighten when they dry and turn matte.  Essentially, you need to make the colors wet again.
    • When
      • Whenever the value has shifted enough to throw off your judgment
    • Where
      • Preferably only in the areas you plan on painting in that day's session.  Straight oil with no pigment in it can do strange things to paint applied over it.
    • How
      • Take a small bit of oil on a brush and work it onto the desired areas
      • Try to keep it as thin as possible
      • If possible, wipe as much oil as possible off with a paper towel or rag.  The idea is to have as little oil as possible on the surface to re-establish the colors.
  • Painting into a couch
    • Painting into a couch refers to putting oil or medium onto the canvas to create a different surface in which to work.  It's related to oiling out, but they aren't exactly the same thing.  Oiling out is done to re-establish values, while painting into a couch is done to change the working surface of the canvas so the paint goes on differently.  So, when oiling out, you are also creating a couch to paint into.
  • Choosing/Editing Reflections
    • Sometimes it's necessary to modify a reflection or leave it out altogether in order to enhance the form.
  • The envelope
    • The envelope is an optical drawing technique where the major points on the contour of the subject are connected with straight or nearly-straight lines.  Then, the points are cross-referenced and triangulated until they are more accurate.  Then the drawing can be further divided and refined.
  • Ellipses and Cylinders

Better Sphere Rotation

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

On Gesture...

Say you have Superman punching the lights out of some supervillain. Now, put Mickey Mouse in the same pose, so he's doing the same thing as Superman. You can't just stick his arm out- he needs to be punching the lights out of the supervillain. You can do this, even though Mickey's proportions are very different from Superman's.

That's gesture.

Class Notes - July 28, 2010

  • 2D/Optical Drawing
    • Envelope
      • Practice judging width to height, particularly for objects in perspective
      • How to measure this with a pencil
  • 3D/Constructive Drawing
    • Basic Box Construction
      • Basic 2-point perspective setup
      • Sides that are further away are smaller
    • Ellipses in perspective
  • Light & Shadow
    • Progression of values on form - Modeling Factors
      • Light
      • Halftone
      • Shadow
      • Secondary (Reflected) Light
  • Looking for shadow shapes
    • Get these in first when possible

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Class Notes - July 14, 2010

  • 2 general approaches to drawing:
    • 2D - drawing the shapes that things create.  Comparisons are made in two dimensions: plumb lines, angles, distances in picture plane, shapes (not volumes).  Requires you to be fairly meticulous and precise.
    • 3D - drawing the volumes that things are made up of.  Requires a lot of knowledge of perspective.
  • Best to understand and use both approaches
  • Fixing a drawing
    • There are always at least two solutions to a perceived problem:
      • If a vase, for example, looks too tall, it could either be too tall or too skinny
    • Instead of immediately looking at the area of the problem itself, a good first step is to look for information elsewhere in the picture to determine which solution is best 
      • For example, if we immediately decide our vase is too tall and make it shorter, we might miss the fact that if we view it in comparison to the other objects, we might realize that the height is right, and in fact the vase is too skinny.
  • Negative space
    • Shapes around an object also dictate its shape.
      • In this classic illusion, the white vase is the negative space for the two black faces, and vice versa.
    • From the 2D/optical approach, drawing can be looked at as solving a puzzle of negative shapes and positive shapes

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Article on Color Mixing

This past weekend I stumbled on a good article on color mixing that David Rourke wrote over at his blog:

Class Notes - July 7, 2010

  • Edges
    • First get edge contrast
    • Then get edge quality
  • Frustration
    • When you don't know, there's a tendency to rush
    • Better to see what you're doing wrong than to get it right
      • Requires slowing down
  • Ways to adjust edge quality
    • Brush it in correctly the first time (most difficult)
    • Mix intermediary tone and lay it in with a small brush
    • Lay down a sharp edge with wet paint on both sides of the edge, then soften with a clean, dry brush
      • For very soft edges, zig-zag across edge, then smooth
    • Scrape off with palette knife
    • Scumble over dry paint
  • Don't go too far along an edge without some change in edge quality

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Modeling Factor Animation - Cylinder to Pitcher Base

Here's an example of how the shadow, halftone, and light would change as a cylinder changes into the base of a pitcher:

Friday, June 25, 2010

Class Notes - June 23, 2010

  • Be your own best teacher
    • Engage in ongoing research on yourself, the materials you use, and the world around you.
    • Use other teachers as fodder for own research
    • It's your responsibility to extract as much out of the experience as possible
      • Sometimes that will mean asking a lot of questions
      • Sometimes that will mean shutting up and listening/watching as much as possible
      • If the teacher is terrible, look for other students to learn from
      • Don't sit around like a baby bird and wait to get fed.
  • On the other hand, don't reinvent the wheel
    • Study with the best you can find.  Do research about what that means.
    • I've found the best way to learn is to just accept what the teacher says and do it- even if it conflicts with something another teacher has told you, or that you've found to be true in your own research.
      • Of course there's some threshold to this, but the point is to get as much from the teacher as possible.  Being cocky might deprive you of learning something new, finding out that something you thought was right is actually incorrect or incomplete.
    • However, don't drink the Kool-Aid.
      • It's being passed out in spades in the art world.
      • Be especially aware of disciples of the teacher, who are often the biggest dealers of Kool-Aid.
    • And don't think that classes with anybody will make up for time in front of the easel.
  • Knowledge is cheap- you just need to come across it and then you have it.  There is no replacement for experience.
    •  You can be unaware of a fact or have it wrong for years, and then come across the correct information.  Then you'll just have it (provided that a] you're willing to take the time to understand it properly, and b] you're not too proud to admit you were wrong)
    • However, you can't slack off practicing, say, your brush-handling skills for years, and then suddenly read something that gets you to the level you would be at if you'd been practicing that whole time.
  • Developing sensitivity
    • You can't learn sensitivity from a book.
    • Develop a way to test yourself so you can track your progress.
      • Also, if you tried something new you can see if it helped or hindered you.
    • Practice!  There's just no way around it...
  • Use an old phone book instead of paper towels when possible.
  • If you want certain results, you have to be willing to put in a certain amount of work and care to achieve them.
    • Do you think Van Dyck's palette was a mess, or that he worked haphazardly?
    • Create a situation that gives you the best chance to achieve what you're going for.
  •  Checking against swatches
    • When checking colors against a swatch, put a small bit of paint directly on the swatch, and make sure the paint is smooth and flat.  Highlights and bumps on the paint can distort your perception of what color the paint was.
    • If your swatches are under glass, be aware that glass is usually slightly green and will also shift the value of the swatch.
      • Reflections on the glass will distort  your perception of the values.  Use a black board to eliminate as much reflection as possible.
      • Also be aware of the shadow casting from the paint to the surface below the glass.  This shadow can distort your perception of value.
  • You can't expect perfect objectivity, but you can set up situations where you're more likely to achieve it or encounter it.
    • Give yourself the best chance to be objective.
  • Get your rough draft down before you start editing individual paragraphs and sentences
    • You need to view each individual part relative to the whole
    • When mixing strings, for example, don't start correcting individual mixtures until you've got a mixture for each step in the string.
  • Asking "What did we learn in class today?" at the end of class is helpful for both students and teacher.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Budget Mahl Stick

Here's how to make a cheap hanging mahl stick that has the advantage of holding itself up when you let go.

What you'll need:
  • A wire coat hanger (completely wire- no cardboard)
  • Clippers capable of cutting the coat hanger wire
  • A dowel rod that's 2-4 feet long, and thick enough to not bend when pressure is applied
  • Duct Tape
Here's how to make it:
  1. Cut the twisty part and hook off of a coat hanger.
  2. Form the remaining wire into a narrow "U" shape- so one end is rounded and the other end is the two points where you cut the hook off.  
  3. Tape the points to the end of a dowel rod.  The rounded end should be sticking off the end, along with about 8-10 inches of wire.
  4. Cover up all of the coat hanger with the tape- both the part on the dowel and the part sticking off.
  5. Fold the 8-10 inches of wire over over to make a hook.  Then end result will look like a cane.  
To use it, just hook it over the top of your painting, and it will hang there if you let go.

Photos to come soon...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Class Notes - June 16, 2010

  • Painting while tired
    • Don't crash your painting 
    • Recognize & acknowledge that you're tired.
    • Set small specific goals.  Take your time and do them right.
  • A thought from Gus about painting tired-
    • Come up with a series of questions to ask yourself when you're tired.  If you can't answer them, or answer slowly, think about limiting what you work on.
  • "Holding the local"
    • The modeling factors for each form should be assigned values such that the form as a whole reads as a form with the correct local value.
    • The upshot of this is that the modeling factors take on values relative to the local color of the object.
    • Thus, the shadow area for a lighter object should be lighter than the shadow area for a darker object.
    • In the end, you should end up with a hierarchy of values within each modeling factor across the various forms.
  • Searching for information
    • An easy and very helpful place to start is the lightest and darkest spot in the painting.  Find the darkest spot, and estimate its value.  If it's not dark enough to use a value 0, then make a mental note that whatever value you choose is likely to be the lowest you will use for the painting.  Same for the lightest value- if it's not white (value 10), then a little alarm bell should go off if you ever find yourself reaching for pure white.
    • After establishing the limits of your value range, use this information to make estimates about the values of other spots.
  • Illusion of reflected light on cylinder with black background
    • Shadow area was one flat color, but appeared to have reflected light due to simultaneous contrast.
  • To make corrections on an area that is still wet, use more paint to cover it up.  If there's already a lot of paint on the area you need to correct, scrape it down with your palette knife before correcting.
  • Examine how you hold your brush
    • What grips are conducive to what kind of strokes
    • Don't let your grip dictate what you can & can't do
    • Switch up for different situations
  • Modeling factors as cross-sections
    • In three dimensions it's more obvious that the terminator, for example, goes all the way around the form.
    • On a sphere, half of the sphere is actually in shadow, and half is in light- but we often only see a portion of the light and a portion of the shadow.
    • Think of modeling factors as cross-sections- imagine cutting with a knife.
  • The first time painting is like the first time on a unicycle.  You're just getting used to the physical act.

Yellowing (and Oranging!) in White Paints

Here's an interesting test put together by Jonathan Linton over at his blog Theory and Practice:

While some of the results are fairly disturbing, it's interesting to note that most of the color change occurs in areas where the paint is very thick.

Moral of the story: choose your white carefully, and watch those impastos with plain, white paint!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Class Notes - June 9, 2010

  • Solvents
    • Main use: cleanup
    • Secondary use: thinning paint
    • 3 main types:
      • Turpentine - traditional, but very smelly & toxic.  Frequently causes headaches.
      • Turpenoid - lower odor, still toxic but slower-acting.  Can still cause headache.
      • Odorless Mineral Spirits (OMS)- similar odor level & toxicity to turpenoid.  Reportedly better for use in mediums.
    • No matter which type you use, always have good ventilation.  Long-term exposure is bad.
    • Most schools (including this class) don't allow turpentine, only turpenoid or OMS.
    • It's possible to paint without using solvents at all.  Walnut or linseed oil can be used for cleanup, and to thin paint.
  •  Toxic Paints
    • Lead whites (Cremnitz, Flake, & Silver White), cadmium paints, and cobalts are especially toxic.
    • For some of the newer colors such as Quinacridones and Perylenes there isn't a lot of data about the long-term health hazards.  Err on the side of caution.
    • The most direct route for poisonous pigments is through cuts in the skin.  Be wary of things like hangnails or dry/cracked skin that may not register in your head as a cut.
    • Also be aware of eating and drinking while or after handling paints.  Always wash your hands before eating and drinking.  Be careful with your coffee cups and water bottles.
    • Gloves are generally effective as long as care is taken putting them on and taking them off.
    • Theoretically, unbroken skin is an effective barrier to harmful pigments.  However, there are some studies that suggest that solvents such as OMS, Turpenoid, or turpentine break down the skin's oily barrier and allow the pigments to enter.
    • You have to decide your personal level of safety and comfort.
  • Drawing in layers
    • Start with a light color and do your initial drawing.
    • To make corrections:
      • Wipe out the initial drawing slightly- so the lines are still visible but almost gone.
      • Take a slightly darker color and make corrections
      • Repeat as necessary
  • Reflections
    • If it moves when your eye position moves, it's a reflection.  Don't be deceived.
  • Different "directions" for handling modeling factors
    • Extremes exemplified by JC Leyendecker & Igor Grabar
      • JC Leyendecker - shapes modeling factors are usually very clearly delineated, or clearly delineated to begin with and then made more subtle later
      • Igor Grabar - modeling factors are clearly laid in, but their exact shape is left undecided.  As the painting progresses, the shapes are honed where necessary.
  • Trompe-L'oeil Painting
  • More on modeling factors
    • Determine the shapes that will most clearly indicate the shape of the form to the viewer- whether or not they are actually visible.  Then, amid the chaos of all the various details we do see, pick out the ones that line up with those shapes.
  • The terminator
    • Dividing line between light and shadow.
    • If you haven't clearly indicated at least the terminator, the viewer will be lost.  Find the terminator of every form.
    • Follow the terminator from the top of the form, all the way to the bottom.  Follow it all the way until it ends.  Even better- follow it all the way around the form- even the parts you can't see- so you understand what's happening with it in three dimensions.
    • The shape of the other modeling factors is heavily influenced by the shape of the terminator.
  • "Global" and "local" halftone
    • There might be a form that is tilted in such a way that it never reaches the light modeling factor.  Still, look for a progression of values that indicates that the form is turning- it will still get darker as it approaches the terminator, though it might be subtle.  This is usually better than just leaving it one flat value outside of the shadow, since the form may appear to be more cube-like rather than rounded..  The part where it gets darker could be called its "local halftone".
  • "Holding the Local"
    • The values of the modeling factors should be arranged in such a way that the form appears to have a local color comparable to what it has in life.  In general, this means making each modeling factor lighter for a form with a light local color than the corresponding modeling factors on a form with a darker local.  So, the halftone on a lighter object should be lighter than the halftone on a darker halftone.  The same goes for shadow & light.
    • If the local is not held, the modeling factors will appear to be stripes on the form rather than indicating the shape of the form.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Handprint's Color & Value Wheels

Here are links to the Color & Value wheels over at  They map out the hue, value, and chroma of various pigments in Lab/Lch color:

Color Wheel

Value Wheel
note: These are measurements of watercolor pigments, so the measurements for some colors might be different in oil paint, and some pigments might not be available in oil paints.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Cylinder Construction

Overlap in Line

Class Notes - June 2, 2010

  • Setting up to paint
    • The Easel
      • Should be almost perfectly vertical to avoid distortion.  Tilt it slightly back to prevent your canvas from falling off while adjusting.
      • The canvas should be at your eye level, not above or below.  This is also to prevent distortion.  If you are working on a large canvas, move the part you are working on to your eye level.  A good easel will make this very easy to do.
      • If you are right-handed, it's ideal to have the easel on your right, so you are looking over the left edge to see the subject.  In group settings, it's not always possible to do this.
    • The Table
      • Use an easily movable table to hold extra brushes, medium, tubes of paint, your palette (if you are not using a thumb palette), etc.
      • If possible, set up the table on the side of your dominant hand, or right in front of you (between you and the easel).
      • As an exercise, try placing the table far back from your easel, to force yourself to step back from your painting.
    • The Surrounding Area
      • Make sure the surrounding area is clear to allow yourself to move around without tripping.  If possible, try to leave a path behind you to allow yourself to step back from the easel easily.
  • Using a Mirror
    • Use it, and use it often
    • For some reason, as we work on a piece we lose our ability to view it objectively.  This phenomenon seems to fade only slightly with experience- it's an ongoing problem that will follow us throughout our careers as artists.  What we can do is learn to be consistent & diligent about counteracting this phenomenon.  The mains tools we have for this are stepping back, viewing our piece in a mirror, and taking breaks where we don't look at our piece.  Also, we can make efforts to constantly "read" our own piece as if we were someone else.
  • Dealing With Frustration
    • Frustration is a major challenge to learning- far greater a challenge than talent, coordination, or any of the other usual excuses.  Particularly at the beginning, frustration along with decisions we've made about ourselves are constant hurdles that we have to face.  Learning our own patterns of frustration and becoming aware of what leads up to it can be extremely helpful in both speeding your learning and making it a more enjoyable ride.  Frustration never really goes away, and will be a factor in our art-making so long as we continue it- regardless of the level we reach.  It's nice to think "If only I get here, I won't be so frustrated all the time."  But I guarantee there will always be another level to get to, and you will wonder why you can't seem to make it there when you want to.  Start developing awareness of this frustration (and what leads up to it) now.
  • Making Decisions
    • Really make each decision as if it were gospel, but be prepared to throw it out without hesitation the instant you find out it's wrong.  Have authority in both making decisions and changing your mind.
    • A Major League umpire recently blew a call on the last play of a game that cost a pitcher a perfect game (a perfect game is where the pitcher allows no hits and no walks, and the fielders commit no errors.  There have only been 20 perfect games in the history of Major League Baseball).  There was a somewhat close play at first base with two outs in the last inning- replays showed clearly that the runner was out, but the umpire called him safe.  The umpire said that when the play happened, from his vantage point he really saw the runner as safe, so immediately called him safe.  He admitted after viewing replays that he was incorrect, but that he really saw it that way from his position on the field.  The key here is that in the heat of the game the umpire didn't waffle or hesitate- he called the runner safe instantly, and with authority, because that's what he saw.  However, when he was able to view the play from a different angle, he was able to see that he was wrong and admitted it.  This is how we need to make decisions when painting or drawing- whatever stage we are at in our piece, we need to make a firm decision about whatever we are doing. At a later stage, we might find out we were wrong, which is really just seeing or piece from a different viewpoint (in the 4th dimension, baby).  Fortunately, since we are using oil paint, we can easily cover or correct our mistakes- unlike the umpire who, after a long and successful career as a Major League umpire, will go down in history as the ump who blew the call.
  • Dealing With Reflections and Glossiness
    • Reflection is a problem we run into quickly as painters. If we are painting something with a surface that's almost purely reflective, such as a mirror or polished metal, we can sometimes get away with copying what we see, which will often describe the shape of the form as we do it (particularly on cylinders).  Things get complicated on glossy objects (also called shiny objects), which display both diffuse shading and reflection.  If just copy what we see and are not careful, the reflections might make it difficult for the viewer to understand the shape of the form we are painting.  We have to realize that reflectivity and glossiness are descriptors of surface quality.  They are secondary to the actual shape of the form, which is more important.  In some circumstances we may have to alter or eliminate the reflections we see in order to clearly represent the form.  As an example, let's use a metaphor with cars, which usually have nice, shiny paint:
      • Say you have a 1984 Chevy Camaro (yes, a Camaro).  It's low and sleek and awesome, and has bright, shiny, red paint.  We could look at another Camaro from the same year- but with blue paint- and we'd say "Oh, it's another Camaro".  But if we saw a giant Hummer we'd say "Oh, that's not a Camaro"- even if it has the same shiny red paint.  We could be cheapskates and repaint our car with house paint after our friend keyed his name into the hood.  The paint would become lose its shininess and become matte, but we'd still say it was a Camaro. We could even make a model of our Camaro out of popsicle sticks, and people would say "Hey, cool Camaro model"- even if we didn't paint the popsicle sticks to match the color of the car.
      • Our first job as painters is to make what's on our canvas appear to have the same shape as a Camaro (assuming, of course, we are painting our awesome Camaro).  We can use colors that are pretty close to save time down the road, but even if we mess up the color people will still recognize that we're painting a Camaro.  After it's clear that it's a Camaro we want to worry about making it look shiny/glossy, which means adding reflections.  In the process of adding reflections we might decide to change or eliminate parts of a reflection if we find it compromises the sense of the form.  There may also be places where the reflections will clarify the sense of form, or places where if we slightly modify the reflections it will clarify the form.  Of course, all this doesn't have to be done in such a strict order or as separate steps, but the point is that the shape is most important.
      • Also, never paint a Camaro, unless you are getting a lot of money for it.
    • Tip for recognizing if you're looking glossiness or reflections: If it moves when you move your eye position, it's reflection.  The ability to do this when working from life is very useful.
    • If you're being deliberate and ignoring reflection at first, what should you paint if you're not painting the reflection?  Answer: whatever is "behind" the reflection.  If possible, move to a position where there isn't a reflection, or try to eliminate the reflection by blocking the object(s) being reflected (preferably with something black or very low value), and then paint what you can see in that spot.  If that's not possible, make an intelligent decision about what would be there, given the local color of the object and the lighting conditions.  Again, there is no law that says you can't paint the reflections right from the beginning, but keep in mind all the trouble they can cause.
    • Unless there is enough information in your piece to clearly identify the reflections as reflections, they will often be mistaken by the viewer as indicators of form.  Here are a few ways to clearly indicate reflection:
      • Add enough detail so that it's clear that what you are painting is a reflection.  This usually requires a lot of time.
      • Utilize some quality of paint (thick, thin, translucent, etc) that's used only for reflections.  
      • Reserve some shift in hue, value, or chroma to indicate reflection- for example, shifts in value and chroma might indicate form, but shifts in hue indicate reflection (or any other way that makes sense for a given piece).
      • Set thresholds for one or more of hue, value, and chroma. For example, limit your values on a given form from values 0-8.  Anything above value 8 can read as reflection (this works well for glossy objects with strong highlights).
      • Other methods that I can't think of right now.
      • Which solution to use depends on the challenges inherent in the subject, and personal taste.  For example, if you are painting a subject with lots of local color changes, you might not be able to use hue, value, or chroma to indicate reflection, since they are likely already being used to indicate local color change.  In this case, using a threshold of value might be a better solution, or reserving some quality of paint such as translucency.
  • Finding our own patterns
    • Do we tend to skew our drawings one way or another?  Or do we habitually overstate darks or lights, or understate contrast?  Do we tend to overstate the value of reflected lights? Do we tend to avoid certain areas on our pieces, such as the edges, or where things get complicated?
    • In a similar vein- when do we get angry and it affects our work? Do we tend towards angry frustration or resigned depression?  What leads up to that?  When do we get lazy?  When do we get wishy-washy?  When do we just get plain confused?
    • Don't tell yourself what to do, or worry too much about what you're doing.  Instead, become aware of what you are doing.  Then it will be much clearer what direction to go.
  • Overlap (see post on overlap)
  • Cylinder construction (see post on cylinder construction)
  • Modeling factors on cylinders and spheres (coming soon)
  • Convex vs Concave forms
    • Watch whether a curved form is convex, concave, or neither.  The modeling factors should follow this as well.  
    • On the figure, the form is almost always convex.  In fact, it's close enough to just say always.  If you see something that looks concave on a figure, try to reinterpret it as two or more convex forms overlapping, unless you are intending to stylize the figure.
  • Be lazy- use a lot of brushes.
    • In an ideal world, I'd have a set of six or seven brushes per local color (one brush per modeling factor), and an assistant to hand me the 6-7 brushes for each color when I need them.  Each brush would have a different obvious marking and texture for each modeling factor, so I could distinguish them out easily by sight or by feel.
    • Using a lot of brushes is not always the best way to work- at times it can be very confusing.  For some people it's too distracting.  But there are many advantages when it's feasible, so it's very useful to try.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Class Notes - May 26, 2010

  • The first viewing of a painting after a break is gold.  Not taking advantage of it is like someone handing you a $20 and you flush it down the toilet.  The longer the break, the larger the bill you are flushing away.
  • Difference between "light" and "highlight" modeling factors
    • Light - generally facing the light source, does not move on object's surface.
    • Highlight - functions as a reflection and thus follows "angle of incidence = angle of reflection" from way back in physics class (like a mirror).  Highlights will move around on the form as you move your eye position, whereas the light modeling factor will not.
  • Highlights are an indicator of the glossiness of the object's surface material.  
    • Some facts about highlights:
      • When a highlight is very distinct (glossy surface), the light & halftone modeling factors will be slightly darker & slightly more chromatic- though it's easy to overstate how much the color darkens due to simultaneous contrast.
      • As the highlight gets less distinct (matte surface), the light & halftone modeling factors will get slightly lighter, & the chroma will get slightly lower. The hue in the light area will shift towards the color of the light more than the halftone.  In other words, the halftone remains closer to the local hue of the object.
      • Bonus highlight fact: On metallic objects, the highlight will take on the hue of the object's local color, and will remain much higher chroma than a non-metallic object.  On non-metallic objects, the highlight will be the color of the light mixed with some amount of the local color of the object.  The glossier the object, the less of the local color to add.
    • Some facts about glossy versus matte
      • To make an object look wet, give it a strong highlight, lower the value in the light and halftone, and raise the chroma in the light and halftone.  In other words- make it glossy!
      • Wetting an object (in real life) is a useful trick to temporarily clarify an object's local color.
      • Bonus Glossy/Matte fact:  On a matte surface, the highlight disperses across the surface and lightens its value.  This is why glossy paints can achieve darker darks than matte paints.  It's also why glossy printer paper and glossy varnishes give a wider range of values.
  • Pay attention to your mistakes
    • They're usually physical mistakes, and the physical stuff is what you can't learn from books.
    • Don't beat yourself up- see if something cool happened.  If you're sight-reading on the piano or guitar, if you make a mistake you might discover a nice jazz chord you can use later.
    • Watch for happy accidents, but don't be a lazy bum and leave them in if they look good by themselves but detract from your painting.  However, the physical process by which a mistake happened could be the perfect solution for a problem at another time.
  • "Not to make like a housepainter- to touch, to touch!"
    • Don't start smearing that color all over the canvas until you've touched a small bit on the canvas to see if it's right.
  • Paint Mixing
    • Two paints will mix generally in straight lines through color space.  However, in reality they tend to mix along curved lines in color space.
      • Mixing two paints together will always produce a mixture that is darker than the lighter of the two paints.  How much the value lowers depends on the exact pigments used.  In some cases, the mixture can be darker than both paints.
      • Mixing two paints together will always produce a mixture that is lower in chroma than the more chromatic of the two paints.  How much the chroma lowers depends on the exact pigments used.  
        • The further apart the hue of the two initial paints, the lower the resulting chroma.
    • The perceived color of a paint does not dictate how a paint will mix.  Two paints that have the exact same hue, value, and chroma but are made up of different pigments might mix in different ways with a third color.
      • Thus, it's impossible to say that any abstract color (red, blue, etc) has definite mixing complement when dealing with paint.  It is, however, possible for a physical pigment to have a mixing complement that will mix to a neutral gray.  Interestingly, a pigment can have more than one mixing complement, and these mixing complements may be different colors.
  • The effect of the type of light source on the terminator
    • Sunlight (parallel rays)- terminator edge will be sharp and will "bisect" the object.
    • Spotlight - the terminator edge will be slightly less sharp as compared to sunlight (but still sharp), and will be slightly closer to the light source, depending on how close the object is to the light.
    • Diffuse light (north light, cloudy days)-  The terminator edge will soften, and move away from the light.  The larger the light source (i.e. a window or the sky), the softer the edge of the terminator and the further away from the light.
  • Modeling factors on basic forms
  • Blogs
    • Gurney Journey, Nathan Fowkes, and another guy that Renee mentioned.
    • Blog exhange?
  • The halftone happens later than we generally think.
    • While the exact line between halftone and light is somewhat arbitrary there's a tendency to make the division between halftone and light about halfway "around the form", where the form would be turned about 45 degrees away the light source (this is known as its "inclination to the light"). 
    • In fact, the falloff of light happens much more slowly. Check out this chart from the excellent site  Notice that when the inclination of the surface is 50 degrees to the light, the brightness is still at 82%!
    • There are two caveats here, though.  The first is that brightness is not exactly the same as value in paint, and that this chart assumes a glossy object and ignores the highlight.  The percentages would be different for a matte object.  Nonetheless, the important point is that the value drops in a way that is much different than we think.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Edge Contrast

One of your primary tasks when painting realistically from life is make decisions.  If you're confused about what you see or what you're doing, what goes onto your canvas will likely be confusing to the viewer.  There are all sorts of decisions we need to make in a painting, but there are some easy places to look for information to help you out.

One of those places is along the edges of every form.  This is a great place to judge contrasts in value and color- one side of each edge will be lighter, and one will be darker.  Occasionally they will be the same value, and only very occasionally will both sides of an edge be the same color.  Really paying attention to these relationships around each form and clarifying them in the painting can solidify your forms without a lot of effort. Of particular interest is where the relationship switches- as you trace along the contour of one form, the inside edge might be darker than the outside edge, but then at a certain point (often as the form is leaving shadow) the inside form will be lighter and the outside darker.

For some reason these judgments are very easy to make along contours.  Say we have two swatches of similar, but not the same, color.  If someone held the two swatches up a couple feet apart, it would be difficult to tell the difference between them.  But, if we saw one swatch right next to each other or partially overlapping, the difference would be very easy to see.  This is useful to take advantage of while painting.

Edge contrast is different from- but related to- edge quality.  Edge contrast refers to the difference in color on either side of a contour, and edge quality refers to the softness or hardness of the edge between the two colors.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Local versus Perceived Color

Local Color

Local color refers to the actual, physical color of a surface independent from the effects of light and shadow.  Local color is the answer you give when someone asks you "What color is it?".  For example, if you had to fix a hole in a wall, you spackle up the hole and then paint over the repaired area with paint that matches the local color of the wall. If I asked you what color your shirt is, you would respond with its local color.  This color wouldn't change regardless of the lighting situation- even in the dark you would still say the same color.

Perceived Colors

Though it is almost always extremely helpful to know the local color of an object you are painting, often you will not actually mix the local color and use it in your painting.  This is because the effects of light and shadow create many variations of this local color, which we will call Perceived Colors.  This is what actually reaches your eye in the form of rays of light- not the local color.  However, the human brain seems to be geared towards processing the perceived colors and determining the local color of an object.  If you see a green apple, you understand it as a green apple, not a dark green, medium green, and light green apple.  Most children begin coloring by using the local color to fill the entire area of an object.  It's only later that we become aware of "shading".

Perceived colors includes the shading created by light, along with other effects such as the color of the light, the texture and material of the object, it's position relative to the light, and many more.  Perceived colors can vary greatly with a change in any of these factors.  Note that colored lighting especially can dramatically alter the perceived color.

A computer graphics scene of colored objects.

The local colors of the objects in the box,
ignoring light & shadow

The perceived colors under white light, yellowish light,
bluish light, and very red light (clockwise from top left).

In the examples above, notice that the local colors of the objects rarely, if ever, appear in any of the lit scenes- particularly when the light source is colored.

What Does This Mean For the Painter?

If we want to paint realistically, we need to paint colors that mimic the perceived colors.  If we put them down skillfully, they will cause the viewer to understand the objects in our painting appear to have the same local colors as the objects did in real life.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Beginning Steps for a Study

There are many ways to start out a painting.  The best method depends on the scale of the painting, the desired result, and the preferences of the painter.  For a smaller study, here is one method that I often use:
  1. Thumbnails - Make at least 2 small compositional thumbnails to work out the composition.  Keep the thumbnails small- 2 inches maximum on the long side.  If you have a canvas already make sure the thumbnails are the same proportion as the canvas.  The more accurate you are with this, the easier it will be moving forward.  If you don't have a canvas, then expand, contract, and shift the edges of the thumbnail around until you have a good composition.  Then buy or make a canvas that matches the proportions of your thumbnail.
  2. Initial Drawing - Choose a color of paint to draw with.  Any color can be used, though it will likely show up a bit through the layers of your paint so keep this in mind.  I recommend experimenting with different colors, but if you're not sure what to start with then try blue.  Mix whichever color you choose with white to a point where it is very light, but still visible from a good distance.  Use this color thinned down with turps to draw your thumbnail composition onto your canvas.  It helps to refer back to the thumbnail as you draw.  I tend to look at my thumbnail almost as much as the subject.
  3. Step Back - Step back and view your composition from a distance, and also try viewing your piece in a hand mirror.  Both of these are valuable tools to help you see the whole of your composition with some objectivity.  If space is limited and you can't step back, just use the hand mirror.  It's very good practice to step back as often as possible during the initial drawing, but it is critical to get a good look at your composition before you move on.
  4. Drawing Corrections - Mix your drawing color with white, but to a slightly darker value than in the previous drawing step.  Use this color to make corrections to your drawing.  The color you are working with should be just dark enough be distinct from your initial color, but still fairly light.
  5. Drawing Refinement - repeat steps 3 & 4 as necessary until you are satisfied with your drawing.  If your canvas becomes to saturated with paint to draw well, you can wipe it down with a cloth.  If you have made several edits in one color and it's becoming difficult to see your corrections, try switching to a different color paint.

A Comparison to Writing

When writing an essay, it's rare that someone just starts at the beginning, writes all the way through to the end, and then considers the essay complete.  Instead, one usually begins with a rough draft, and then through a series of edits you bring the rough draft to a completed essay.  While you will still make some effort to write a good first draft, you also understand that it will almost inevitably need editing and don't fret if something isn't quite working out right- you will be able to edit it later.

A similar attitude is useful when painting.  It's good to make a good effort on your initial drawing, but you can leave some pressure off yourself thinking that you have to nail everything right away.  If there's an area that isn't quite working, you just make a note and move on- rather than obsessing over the part you can't get.  You can always come back and get it later- particularly in oil paint which is very flexible.  This also helps prevent you from focusing too much on one area to the detriment of the rest of the piece.  This is kind of like writing with a word allotment and using too many words to make one of your points.

You can take this metaphor one step further and liken the thumbnail to creating an outline for your essay, where you lay out the major points quickly, and plan out the overall structure of the piece.  The thumbnail functions in a similar way- you don't want to get bogged down in all the details.  Just plan out what you fill in later in more detail.

Using a Viewfinder

When you are planning to fit your composition on a pre-purchased canvas, it can be very helpful to use a viewfinder of the same proportions as your canvas to aid you in both the thumbnail and drawing stages.  The simplest viewfinder is just a board with a rectangle cut out of it in the same proportions as your canvas.  A more flexible solution is to use two L-shaped pieces of board clipped together such that they form a rectangle of the right proportion.

[Photo to Come]

Alternatively, you can use a board with a square hole cut in it, and a second piece of board board clipped over the square such that it creates a rectangle of the correct proportion.  I prefer this kind of viewfinder because it easier to ensure right angles at the corners.

[Photo to Come] 

There are also various commercially available viewfinders.

It's worth noting that spending a little bit of extra time making sure your viewfinder is the correct proportion will save you lots of time and headache in your study.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Intro to Modeling

Modeling in painting refers to the process of making things look three-dimensional.  It's a place where intellectual understanding, observational ability, and paint handling skills come together.  As such, a large portion of modeling comes down to careful observation and years of experience handling paint.  The intellectual side is largely about understanding how light interacts with and reflects from surfaces, and how the eye processes those.  However, there are a few generalized concepts that can be helpful.

The Poster

The poster is a simplification of the value structure of your image into flat colors instead of smooth gradations. Each form is built up of myriad gradations, which can be difficult to comprehend. The poster simplifies these gradations made up of hundreds or thousands of steps of value into a much smaller and more manageable number of steps. How many steps is up to the artist, and can be quite flexible depending on subject matter and the technique being used.

The idea is to ignore the gradations at first and instead focus on the patterns that the gradations are making. Is it a smooth transition from light to dark? Does it get gradually darker most of the way and then suddenly shift more quickly at the end? Does it shift from dark to light and back to dark? How do all these shifts correspond to the contour?

Thinking of what the gradations are doing and putting them down in steps allows us to analyze the progression of values without worrying about the technique of making the smooth gradations. There are all sorts of ways to make the gradations later, but it's important to understand what's happening in them first.

 Example of digital Poster Study by Jason Rainville

Modeling Factors

The concept of modeling factors builds on the idea of the poster. Within an individual form, the artist decides on a certain number of steps to use in the poster, and these steps correspond to the progression of values one sees in chiaroscuro. The exact number of steps depends on the artist on the technique being used. For example, in more naturalistic techniques the artist might use 14 or more modeling factors, but in a more impressionist technique five or six modeling factors might be sufficient.

These six modeling factors are quite efficient at representing forms, and are a good base for realistic paintings:
  • Shadow - This is the area that is blocked from the light source by other parts of the same form or other forms.  It includes cast shadows.
  • Light - The area of the form generally facing the light.
  • Halftone - Between the shadow and light. While the light and shadow together establish the overall mass of the object, the halftone is critical for defining the more precise shape of the object.  The dividing line between the halftone and shadow is sometimes difficult to discern.  Casting a shadow across the halftone with a paintbrush or pencil can help distinguish the border- anything that is lighter than the shadow cast by the brush is still in halftone.
  • Highlight - A specular reflection of the light source. This differs from the light in that it usually will not appear where the form is facing the light, but rather in the spot where the light source would reflect if the form were a mirror.
  • Reflected Light - Despite its name this area occurs within the shadow.  The areas in shadow may receive small amounts of light reflected off other surfaces.  In a normal situation with one primary light, the reflected light will almost always be darker than the darkest part of the light on the same material, though it often appears lighter than it is due to simultaneous contrast
  • Depth (or Accent) - These are shadow areas where very little reflected light is reaching.  Depths will more frequently be found in the shadow or cast shadow, but also occur in the light where two forms or subforms overlap each other dramatically.  They're often found where two forms overlap, such as where the feet touch the ground, the neckline and cuffs where clothing is close to the form of the figure, and in crevices like the armpit and the crotch. Depths are quite valuable for showing one form sitting on top of another.

As few as two modeling factors can be used and still be quite effective. For very realistic renderings the artist might choose to divide each of the factors into 2 or more parts.

Note that for certain surface materials and certain situations some of these factors might not appear, or you might choose to leave them out. For example, matte materials may or may not exhibit a highlight. On fuzzy objects such as a tennis ball there will be no highlight. On very shiny or reflective objects some or all of the modeling factors may obscured by reflections. You might choose to leave out a highlight in situations where the technique you are using doesn't allow you to provide enough information to clearly identify the mark as a highlight.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pre-class Assignment

Your pre-class homework is simple (not easy, but simple).  I am really  interested in where you guys want to go with art/painting.  There are a few lucky people I have met that can say "I just wanna paint like Sargent" (or whoever).  If you're like me it's much more complicated than that.

So, your assignment is to answer this for me:

What do you want to paint like?

You can answer in words or pictures or whatever combination you like.