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.