A Beginner to Painting (help!)
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    A Beginner to Painting (help!)

    I'm currently in my third year of college, and I'm just now really learning how to paint. I never got the chance to take painting in high school, and my previous school (SCAD) did not offer painting in the foundations program. I'm currently going to a state school at home now, but because of a disability I miss class very often, so I don't get as much help or critique I need to learn what to do and what not to do.

    It only just now hit me that I should come here to ask for help, so for the next month I'll be posting my progress on my projects for some critique and suggestions. (Note: All painting are acrylics only).

    So first up is a painting of a photo of a still life. I would have preferred an actual still life, but oh well. I borrowed some deer skulls from my dad, but he was worried about me breaking them, so I couldn't move them to a location with better lighting. Basically, my teacher wants us to start with an grisalle under-painting, and then paint over with a monochromatic color palette. No black is allowed to be used in the painting.

    Here's a color version of the photo:



    And here's the B&W version (my teacher asked the class to work from a B&W image):


    I want to note that the wooden mounts are not in my painting. I couldn't detach the skulls from them.

    This is a drawing I did beforehand to get the forms down so I could transfer it to my canvas later. I know it's not completely accurate and has several flaws, but a lot of information gets washed out in photos, and my teacher felt I had figured out enough information to move on and transfer my drawing to canvas.



    So far, this is what I have going on:



    Hopefully ya'll can tell what's going on. If the photo isn't clear enough, please let me know, I'll gladly re-take it. As you can see, I cheated a little - I did use black for the background. I accidentally left my tube of Payne's gray at school, but my teacher was ok with bending the rules because she liked how it looked. I don't know what color I will use yet.

    Other than that, I don't know where to go next. I will eventually fix some of the background where the chalk from my transfer paper wouldn't come off.

    Any takers out there willing to help?

    Last edited by Ralere; November 7th, 2011 at 12:16 AM.
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    My first suggestion would be to let us know what you want to end up with.

    Is this supposed to be a precise replica of the top photo's lighting conditions/colours? Did you want to add atmosphere to it? A sense of mystery? Foreboding? A gentle skull-filled afternoon picnic?

    What is the background going to be? It can't just be a flat grey surface or your viewers will have little motivation to look at the picture for more than a few seconds.

    The forms cut the image into interesting bits of negative space. Watch out for the bottom and top left of the image though -- you'll need at least broken colour if not outright background elements there to give those areas interest.

    So much depends on your goals, though, it's hard to give any more suggestions.

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    Thanks for the reply, Grondhammer! I apologize for not including more information.

    I believe it is meant to be a precise replica, though I've been thinking of exaggerating the contrast a bit since the lighting in the photo is rather flat. Basically what I mean is making lights lighter and darks darker.

    I can't add any elements that aren't there for the background, but I did want to add an atmosphere of sort by making the background smokey looking (does that make sense?). I'm not sure how to do that though. I've though of taking a chunk of a sea sponge and dabbing shades of gray (or a different color, as long is it keeps with the monochromatic palette) and blending those dabs together, but it hasn't worked out for me so far (I did this before I re-painted the flat background).

    My teacher has been lenient when I bend the rules though, as long as I bend them right, so I wouldn't mind adding elements. If it's just not working out, maybe I'll add something like fabric or plants.

    Thank you for your time and suggestions You asked very good questions about things I should be thinking about! Thanks!

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    ...I've been thinking of exaggerating the contrast a bit since the lighting in the photo is rather flat
    Once you've decided on the "goal" question, one of the first things to do is to establish your value range -- the boundaries of light and dark that you'll use -- and decide whether it will be high-key (lots of light tones with a little dark) or low key (lots of dark tones with a little light). In either case, I'd definitely push the values further than the photo.

    ...I've though of taking a chunk of a sea sponge and dabbing shades of gray (or a different color, as long is it keeps with the monochromatic palette)...
    Are you limited by the assignment to monochrome or near-monochrome? If I were doing this myself, I'd probably add all sorts of (subtle) cool-hue variations in and around the grey in the background and scumble them together as they're drying. If you want it to look like smoke, vary your lights and darks a bit (not a huge amount) while blending. Might be best to work out an interesting pattern of light/dark in a sketch first.

    By the way, if scumbling is a new term it'd be worth looking up just for this assignment - a useful technique for smoke and breaking up abstract backgrounds.

    Thank you for your time and suggestions You asked very good questions about things I should be thinking about! Thanks!
    I'm glad! Best of luck to you!

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    You might also be interested on reading this thread, or even putting your painting there: http://conceptart.org/forums/showthread.php?t=227467

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    Yes, this painting is restricted to monochrome. Thanks for the tips, I'll definitely look scumbling up! I'll post another update later tonight

    Last edited by Ralere; November 7th, 2011 at 12:35 AM.
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    I realize I was approaching my deer painting all wrong. I really didn't understand grisalle when my teacher explained it, but I think I get it now. I don't have an update for that painting, so here is another one of my projects.

    This one had to have a similar composition as a piece from a local museum, so I picked a sculpture with an extremely simple composition so I could pretty much paint whatever subject I desired. The sculpture is a giant circle made up of kitchen utensils painted silver by Subodh Gupta, so I'm painting a circle with squiggles. I'm not really sure why I drew these intestine-like shapes when sketching concepts, but I really liked how it looked, especially compared to my other sketches that looked more flat.

    The other criteria is that the painting has to be an analogous color palette, and my teacher has told me that she wants the shapes inside the circle to be rendered more so that it will not appear so graphic. I'm waiting to finish the inside of the circle before I clean up the marks in the background, and I'm planning on re-painting the shapes that have become too pink.

    Please let me know any tips or suggestions you have for me, and I also REALLY want to know if anyone has some suggestions for my lighting? I had been trying to use a front light, but I worry it will look boring, and I just feel like none of my lighting looks cohesive at all, its pretty much all a huge mess.

    Also, please let me know if this photo isn't clear enough. I guess my next question should be, how do I take better photographs of my artwork?



    Last edited by Ralere; November 13th, 2011 at 04:59 PM.
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    I'm not entirely clear on the assignment, but what might look interesting is to paint it as if it's a ball, or kind of like a spherical brain under a lamp. It will be more interesting than having it look like all the squiggles are lit from the front. Does this make sense?

    Also, make sure to include temperature change. The colors closer to the light will be warmer, and the colors farther from the light will be cooler. So a red squiggle under the light will be almost orangish, and the same squiggle in shadow will go more towards purple. It will still read as red in both light and shadow, but it will add a depth to your painting.

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    That color palette doesn't seem so analogous to me.

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    Hi Rachel,
    Since you asked me so nicely to have a look I've come over to have a look...

    From what I can see of the your marvellous drawing of those skulls you have a strong intuitive grasp of what I call 'shape linkages to form graphic sentences' - and this extends right across to the shapes between the antlers; full of potency, as are the shapes chatting together within the skulls.

    So.
    I figure your difficulty is to do with this business of translating what you are doing into paint. I say this because the first thing to have disappeared in your painting is this quality of shapes knitting together right across the rectangle to speak as an ensemble that you have successfully achieved in your drawing.
    Now.
    Shapes (the 'words' of painting) do not necessarily have to be distinct, i.e. hard little islands. They can be implied, lost and found, smeared at one end or blurred. But they are still a shape.
    So when we 'write' with shapes to form 'plastic sentences' we hook them together with graphic 'verbs' - the smears, blurs, lost and founds of 'drawing' and 'painting'.

    When you put a line around something you are describing a shape - a blob of white paper.
    When you put a blob of paint down you are also describing a shape - just a little more directly and one that has tonal and chromatic value.

    What people call 'rendering' is a confusing way of describing something and leads to all sorts of problems with understanding what you are in fact doing when you paint.
    'Rendering' is a misused term that describes the business of putting shapes down with a brush but teasing the boundary of the shape with modifications - the blurs and smears of the lost and found process of the verb acting on the shape, the 'shape word' if you will.

    So painting is the writing with shape, linking shape together with the 'verbs' of their painterly modification - the lost and founds of smears, blurs, texturing modifications at their edges/boundaries.
    A 'graphic' painting (one where the shapes are all distinct) is only a painting that has minimal use of the modifications of the boundary of its shapes.
    A 'painterly' painting (one that looks 'realistic' or 'rendered') is only a painting that has extensive modifications of the boundary of its shapes.

    But the shapes are there doing their linking and meaningful interaction just the same.

    That's a lot to take in Rachel, I know. But if you can spend some time thinking about it and nail down some precise questions I'll be only too happy to answer them.

    From Gegarin's point of view
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    Quote Originally Posted by MisterBoo View Post
    I'm not entirely clear on the assignment, but what might look interesting is to paint it as if it's a ball, or kind of like a spherical brain under a lamp. It will be more interesting than having it look like all the squiggles are lit from the front. Does this make sense?

    Also, make sure to include temperature change. The colors closer to the light will be warmer, and the colors farther from the light will be cooler. So a red squiggle under the light will be almost orangish, and the same squiggle in shadow will go more towards purple. It will still read as red in both light and shadow, but it will add a depth to your painting.
    Oh wow, that is a fantastic idea! That would probably look much better in terms of how my teacher wants the painting to be rendered. Also, thank you for the tip about color temperature!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pezzle View Post
    That color palette doesn't seem so analogous to me.
    Do you have any suggestions for how I could fix that? My inspiration for the color pallete came from this photo by William Horton:



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    Now I remember why I drew the squiggles. I was inspired by:

    Paul Dardé's Eternal Pain



    And this artist: http://verticalart.tumblr.com/ (is it ok to link? I don't know her name D: )

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    Chris - I know understand why I didn't understand all you had to say in the other thread, because it wasn't my painting, I did not experience it. It's like you and the OP were talking about a book she had written, and I had no idea what ya'll were saying because I had not read that book (does that make sense?).

    I figure your difficulty is to do with this business of translating what you are doing into paint. I say this because the first thing to have disappeared in your painting is this quality of shapes knitting together right across the rectangle to speak as an ensemble that you have successfully achieved in your drawing.
    You are completely on target with that. Painting feels like trying to re-write a sentence (my drawing) with different words, except I have to make sure the words are chosen carefully so the meaning doesn't get diminished. Or it's like trying to translate the same sentence in a different language, and that language doesn't have words for some of the things you want to say.

    A 'painterly' painting (one that looks 'realistic' or 'rendered') is only a painting that has extensive modifications of the boundary of its shapes.
    Ah yes, that is a much better way of explaining what my teacher wants! She wants my works to be painterly.

    So my next question is, how to I make my shapes appear painterly?

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    Also, another question: how to I translate my original "sentence" to the painting, without losing the important information I worked out in the drawing?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ralere View Post
    So my next question is, how to I make my shapes appear painterly?
    You must still think shape. Never forget shape. Ever!
    All you have to do is play lost and found with the boundery of the shapes.
    Here's an extreme(ish) example of what I mean by Alex Kanevsky:

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    See how you always have a sense of a shape but it is sometimes suggested, lost at one end as it lock onto another shape, blurs a bit here and there, gets ragged on a corner or two...
    But the SENSE of a shape is always there.
    And that's how you should always think of it.

    From Gegarin's point of view
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ralere View Post
    Also, another question: how to I translate my original "sentence" to the painting, without losing the important information I worked out in the drawing?
    Say you have something happen to you on the way home and you tell the story to a friend. You then tell the same story to another friend, the next day you tell your mother, then the man in the shop... Each time you tell it you use slightly different words, slightly different emphasis, sometimes add a bit of humour, sometimes a bit more straight forward. But it's always the same story, right?

    Well, the same goes for painting from a drawing. The drawing is the the first time you told the story - in this case the story of the three skulls laying together. You assembled your drawn shapes in such a way that it told of them.
    Now you pick up a paint brush and are about to tell your story again.
    It's the MEANING of these shapes interlocking rather than the shapes themselves that is important. Just as it is the story that is important and not the words themselves. How the words come together is the thing that produces meaning.

    So it's the spirit of the way the shapes interlock that is important. So when you wield a brush and splodge shapes down it's what they do together that communicate the meaning of your drawing's shapes, not the listless 'colouring in' of the shapes. You have to 'reinvent' them so that they 'work together' as paint strokes in the same way that the drawin shapes 'work together'.
    It's is how they 'work together' that is important, not so much the shapes themselves.

    Think of what happenes if you try and repeat your story word for word. It feels flat, dead and lacks life... right? People's eyes wander and they are bored. You are bored!
    But focus on the meaning of what you are saying and you will find words just right for the spirit of the occasion and your story, though repeated will live and come alive again.

    From Gegarin's point of view
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Bennett View Post
    So it's the spirit of the way the shapes interlock that is important. So when you wield a brush and splodge shapes down it's what they do together that communicate the meaning of your drawing's shapes, not the listless 'colouring in' of the shapes. You have to 'reinvent' them so that they 'work together' as paint strokes in the same way that the drawin shapes 'work together'.
    It's is how they 'work together' that is important, not so much the shapes themselves.
    Ok, I think I get what you're saying Chris (please correct me if I totally missed the point!). Basically, transferring my drawing with chalk paper wasn't a very effective process and I'm lost because I'm treating my painting like a coloring book, rather than a painting. My drawing and my painting are the same story, but they are being told differently. With my drawing, I'm expressing my words with lines to form shapes, but in the painting I am using strokes to create shapes. Instead of attempting to color in my lines, I should re-form my shapes on the painting.

    It's kind of like driving different cars - either way, you're driving, but sometimes there are different methods, like driving stick. It's a different way to drive, but it's still driving.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Bennett View Post
    You must still think shape. Never forget shape. Ever!
    All you have to do is play lost and found with the boundery of the shapes.
    ...
    See how you always have a sense of a shape but it is sometimes suggested, lost at one end as it lock onto another shape, blurs a bit here and there, gets ragged on a corner or two...
    But the SENSE of a shape is always there.
    And that's how you should always think of it.
    I'm sorry Chris, but I must ask you to expand a bit more, if you don't mind (and if you have time). I still feel confused about rendering and suggesting painterly shape.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Grondhammar View Post
    If I were doing this myself, I'd probably add all sorts of (subtle) cool-hue variations in and around the grey in the background and scumble them together as they're drying. If you want it to look like smoke, vary your lights and darks a bit (not a huge amount) while blending. Might be best to work out an interesting pattern of light/dark in a sketch first.

    By the way, if scumbling is a new term it'd be worth looking up just for this assignment - a useful technique for smoke and breaking up abstract backgrounds.
    So I read up about scumbling and looked up some examples, and I practiced it in class today. I think I'm getting it down (or at least, I hope I am!) Can anyone tell me if I'm getting it down properly? I got so immersed in class today that I forgot to ask my teacher before she left.



    Also, I wanted to know - does anyone know any good resources explaining the relationship between smoke and light? I really liked using this technique, so I will definitely use it in the background of my painting, but it doesn't seem like it's something I should be randomly applying on the background. How does the direction of light affect the appearance of smoke? Would shadows from my deer heads appear on the smoke? How will my subject affect the appearance of the smokey background?

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    So today's goal was to work on the background. I would have liked to have finished scumbling the background, but I wasn't feeling well today, so I only worked for a few hours (with lots of breaks in between). I'm still thinking about what Chris said, and I think it's best to re-form my deer shapes by treating them as painted shapes, rather than "coloring in" lines of shapes. I also found a lot of great information through some threads posted by Seedling, Elwell, and Chris. There are so many talented and knowledgeable people here, it's amazing!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ralere View Post
    I'm sorry Chris, but I must ask you to expand a bit more, if you don't mind (and if you have time). I still feel confused about rendering and suggesting painterly shape.
    A 'painterly' shape is not really to do with whether it is 'drawn' or not. In so much that you paint you also draw. Remember 'drawing' is just a word for making shapes and is not distinct from 'painting'.

    So.
    What do I mean by 'paintely'?
    A painterly shape is on where the boundaries of that shape are either partially or even totally implied.
    In the Kanevsky I posted they are generally undergoing a game of 'lost and found' - you complete the shape in your mind in the places it is 'lost'.
    A shape that is 'totally implied' is the sort of shape you would find building a passage across the flesh of a painting by Ingres.


    Liking the way your skull picture is coming on - paying as much attention to the shape between the antlers as the antlers themselves is making for a much more potent image!

    From Gegarin's point of view
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    Oh ok! I totally get it now! I've definitely been using the wrong word then, my teacher wants my painting to be as realistic to the photo as I can possibly paint it at my level (so she's not expecting hyper-realism or anything ridiculously insane like that). I was having some issues with blending, but reading all the tutorials here has made a lot of simple techniques (like scumbling) finally make sense and click in my head.

    Thanks Chris - I really feel that adding effects to the negative space has breathed a little more life into my painting. It's made it so much more energetic to work with. Thanks again for your time and help!

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    You're welcome, it's a pleasure.

    From Gegarin's point of view
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    I'm pretty much done with the background. Does it look ok, or is it overworked? Unfortunately, I was indisposed by my aforementioned medical condition for three working days, so tomorrow will be my last day to get all I can done with this painting. I'm still having issues with blending. I also haven't decided my final color to use over the grisalle. Tomorrow's plan is to get as much done with the skulls and antlers as possible. I'm painting in the bottom areas of the antlers (the parts attached to the skulls) where the velvet of the antlers jut out (for when the deer shed them), but I'm not going to paint the entire texture. I tried, and it was just too hard for me to try now. Maybe I'll practice on my own time later on, but for now it's too much detail to worry about. I looked at some fine art paintings of deer, and it seems most painters do the same and just paint the antlers as smooth surfaces.

    Does anyone have any suggestions in blending the paints to render shadows and highlights? Or any other kind of critique?

    Last edited by Ralere; November 13th, 2011 at 02:55 PM.
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