Working with narrative /light and shadow

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Thread: Working with narrative /light and shadow

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    Working with narrative /light and shadow

    This is my first post to the Critique Center. It took me a long time to paint anything that I thought was skillful enough to post here.

    The two paintings are acrylic on birch panel and more fine art projects than concept art.However a couple of people have shown an interest in my style of painting
    for book illustrations. I don't feel comfortable enough to show my art to publisher just jet, but I would like to get a critique of my paintings to get an idea on how to improve. I still struggle with proportions, I don't think I am quit there jet. I also struggle painting imaginative light and shadows. I did not have any real life models, I did some sketches mostly based on imagination and a few stock photos I bought.

    Name:  gossip-finished-700.jpg
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    Title Gossip

    Name:  jalousie700.jpg
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    Title Jalousie

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    I think you are already really, really good. I like the composition in your paintings.
    If you want to study some lightning and coloring I can recommend this book I bought recently:
    http://www.amazon.de/gp/product/0740...?ie=UTF8&psc=1

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    Tanks sadowl
    The book you linked to, is also my favorite on the subject.
    There are so much to learn from Mr.Gurney

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    Your color choice is excellent, but your values could use some work. Try to separate your elements with different value ranges...that should also help with creating expressive and dynamic light.

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    Yes, values and value composition could use a lot of work. You can't even start speaking about light and shadow here, because there are no values to indicate any.

    Practice some monochrome still life drawings with clear light source, to get some idea about how light behaves. Painting in five shades of gray also helps to force you to think in terms of values.

    The brushwork in these is really, really sloppy. You are making a complete mess of it, I am afraid.

    There also is very little structure. These two samples are full of tree trunks at weird angles, misplaced noses, impossible perspective, and so on. Spend more time planning the spatial structure of the scene before you paint.

    Book recommendations: "Figure Drawing for All It's Worth" by Loomis, "Perspective Made Easy" by Norling, "Framed Ink" by Mateu-Mestre, "Color and Light" by Gurney, "Brushwork Essentials" by Weber.

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    Thanks Aether
    "Try to separate your elements with different value ranges" Good plan !

    arenhaus: I am trying to learn and to get better. What do you mean by tree trunks at weird angles? Should tree trunks be painted in a specific angle. I don't get it?

    "The brushwork in these is really, really sloppy." Ok not sure how to fix that?
    " impossible perspective" In what way, please tell me how the perspective is wrong?

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    I think arenhaus is right on the mark! Really nice work, but think about your values before you even start. It is also often good to take a painting and desaturate it, so you only see values - if the values don't work (looks flat, hard to read what's going on), then work on your contrast until it does. I know this is tricky because you use acrylics, but maybe bring these images in a painting software (such as Photoshop) and try to play around with the contrast/values, just as a learning process.
    About perspective, I think the comments you received sort of address it. Think about your horizon line, and where it stands. I think this is where the problem lies in your second painting - your characters in the background look like they are standing on a hill, but the road behind sorts of breaks that idea.
    Keep up the great work

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    Ikermel: This was very helpful! When I uploaded my two painting it was because this is the best I can do at this given moment, and I still want to improve!
    If I knew where I had gone wrong in the first place, I would have solved the problems before I uploaded them!

    Painting in acrylic can't be compared with digital painting, but as I said in my first post, I am still learning how to deal with values.
    I find it much more easy to do values if I paint digital, or do artworks in graphite. However I like to paint in acrylic.

    "maybe bring these images in a painting software (such as Photoshop) and try to play around"
    This is an good and constructive idea!

    "Think about your horizon line, and where it stands. I think this is where the problem lies in your second painting - your characters in the background"
    Thanks for pointing out where I went wrong, I see what you mean! This was also very constructive!

    Thanks Ikermel!

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    Quote Originally Posted by ranunkel View Post
    Thanks Aether
    arenhaus: I am trying to learn and to get better. What do you mean by tree trunks at weird angles? Should tree trunks be painted in a specific angle. I don't get it?
    No, they shouldn't, but they should fit in the perspective and lighting scheme. It would also be good to look at actual trees and see how they grow.

    "The brushwork in these is really, really sloppy." Ok not sure how to fix that?
    Read the book list I gave you, please. You'll see one of the books on it is called "Brushwork Essentials".

    You are, basically, scratching around randomly with a brush. You need to plan the brush strokes and how they build the form.

    In fact, everything in these samples could be improved with less pfutzing and more planning. Do thumbnails, plan the composition, figure out the perspective, find where the light falls from, guide the viewer's eye with light and dark, etc. etc. etc. Less rushing in, more thinking.

    " impossible perspective" In what way, please tell me how the perspective is wrong?
    Where do I start. For one, sets of parallel lines should converge at the same point on the horizon...

    Seriously, PLAN the perspective, don't eyeball it.

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    Thanks Arenhaus! I will get the book Brushwork Essentials!
    I got two books on perspective: Perspective Drawing Handbook and Vanishing Points.
    I did a lot of exercises, but I still find perspective drawing difficult. I will also look for the book "Perspective Made Easy"
    Thanks for taking time to review my work it is very much appreciated!

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    *HEADS UP, REALLY LONG POST*

    I think what some other commentors are trying to get at is that your pieces lack unity. You might have some decent perspective for each player in your scene, but when viewed as a whole you lose some believability.

    For example, regarding your second painting, notice the bottle and chalice/bowl of green bubbling liquid in the bottom right corner. Here we have two containers of fluid which are viewed from above. They are approximately the same distance from the viewer as one another, and are both clearly circular in shape. Because the primary difference between the two is their height, the one that is closer to the horizon line should appear flatter while the one that is further away from the horizon line should appear rounder. However, in this case, you've got the opposite. The chalice, which is closer to the horizon line, appears rounder than the surface of the liquid in the bottle, which appears flat while being further away from the horizon line.

    Now a chalice and a bottle alone might be a forgivable offense, but this same type of issue applies to nearly every different object in the scene. The table, which is painted to appear to be arranged flush with the right-hand wall is vanishing to a completely different point than the wall. The path leading to this house seems to dip lower and lower, as if positioned on a slope. Every player is arranged in a different field of perspective from one another, so the scene lacks perspective strength.

    Your lighting could use some help as well. I can see that is what you are currently studying, so no need to feel discouraged, but let's refer to your second painting again. Let's address the big issues here: your paintings appear very, very flat. This is helped along by a lack of unity in lighting. You need some contrasting values that help guide the viewers eye to the important players in the scene. I'm going to assume that the important players are the girl looking out the window and the two lovers outside. Right now, every part of the scene is on a level playing field in terms of value with the exception of the lovers. But they don't fit in our scene, and our eye is much happier looking at the trinkets in the house than at our important players.

    Let's address the current use of value, and then we'll look at some ways to improve. First, let's take a look at the lovers, rendered here in black. Your audience knows a few things: the light source in this scene is strong. It would have to be, because it's currently lighting much of the inside of the house quite nicely. Meanwhile, however, the lovers are in complete silhouette and casting long shadows. They are rendered as if the scene were at sunset/sunrise, with the sun almost directly behind them. But the viewer doesn't think its sunset, because the sky is bluish grey. Not to mention, the tree and long grasses just to the right of the lovers are rendered as a nice comfortable green. If the sun is low enough and intense enough to render the lovers in silhouette, the tree and tall grasses should most certainly be treated the same way. Therefore, you must either tweak the lighting outside so that they sky appears in the correct colors for a sunset/sunrise, OR you must render the lovers in color to match the bright environment.

    Another issue is the cast shadows in your piece. Look at the shadows cast by the apples and the chalice and bottle, etc. First of all, the light is apparently coming in strong from the window, but when the shadow of the chalice meets the edge of the table, it cuts off and the back of the table is rendered in a bright, warm color. This is a disparity that makes no sense. If the light source is the window, the part of the table cloth that's closest to the viewer should be rendered almost as dark as the shadow of that chalice. Second: the shadows cast by objects in your scene are completely black. This is only possible if there is just one single light source. But you don't have that, we can tell, because the back of the fairy looking out the window is well lit. There's not a bit of black on her, which means there's a fairly strong white light source behind her. Maybe it's reflected light from the tablecloth and other parts of the room, but if there's a strong enough reflected light behind her to make her appear well lit from the back, there's a strong enough light to brighten those shadows. Try for some much milder shadows, like some unsaturated light blues instead of blacks on the white table cloth. Either that, or you need to commit to dark shadows. That means darkening the back of the fairy, darkening the room that's not directly exposed to light from the window, etc. Moving on to the third problem: where you have cast shadows are not consistent. Your chalice and apples are casting dark shadows across the table cloth. The light source is obviously coming in through the window. Why is the fairy not casting a shadow on the table? She's like a foot away from it. Look at the shadows cast in the upper right by the trinkets dangling from the ceiling. Those shadows are falling on the wall in the complete opposite direction of the light source. If they're going to be exposed to direct light enough to cast shadows, those shadows are going to be on the wall to the right near the very edge, or off the canvas completely. You need to pick one light source, decide what direction its coming from, and commit to that. Right now, your piece has light coming from too many different directions following too many different rules. Until you can commit to one light source, your composition will fall completely flat and no one will believe it. In this case, you have a number of ways to try and solve that problem. Depending on how you do it, you might discover that it makes for a very ugly composition when lit correctly. You know what? It might be. After all, if you commit to dark shadows, that's going to leave a lot of near-black in your foreground which accounts for over half the total composition. Is that okay with you? Can you make it work? If it turns out to be a weak composition, are you prepared to throw the whole thing out and try plotting it all out again?

    The last thing I'll touch on is the setting of your scene itself. I don't mind all those trinkets being where they are, it's a fairy house, you can put whatever you want wherever you want as long as they obey perspective and unified lighting. But one thing I and other viewers will notice almost right away is that those lovers are no more than 15 feet away from that house. If they so much as glance toward the house, they're going to see this fairy girl in plain sight staring them down. Are they okay with that? The mood of this piece indicates some level of secrecy and betrayal, so them deciding to make out right in front of this girl's window is rude/bold/stupid. Or maybe this girl has a secret love for that guy that the lovers don't know about, in which case, why is she standing there staring at them? Is she meant to seem as creepy as she's behaving? It doesn't make a lot of sense, so you need to first decide what the consequences of the placement of the lovers and of the fairy watching them are. Do you need to rework where she's watching from? Should she be hiding out of sight just past the window? Sitting on the floor looking away as if having just finished seeing them? Or maybe the lovers need to be positioned much further away if she's going to remain right in front of the window. But that might lose readability as to what's going on.

    A lot of these compositional questions should have been worked out long in advance. Where is the light coming from? How much of my scene will be foreground, how much mid-ground, and how much background? Where does it make sense and look good for my characters to stand and act out their roles? This could be accomplished by drawing lots of thumbnail sketches, picking the strong ones, trying some value studies on each one to see how it will look, and then commit to the very strongest of the bunch.

    You've got technique to work on too, like your brushwork as others have mentioned and maybe some minor nature and anatomical studies, but your progress will move leaps and bounds forward if you can plan better compositions.

    Good luck!

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    theSkaBoss: Oh you took a great deal of time helping me out here! I really really appreciate this!

    Because the primary difference between the two is their height, the one that is closer to the horizon line should appear flatter while the one that is further away from the horizon line should appear rounder.
    You are totally right about this I don't know why I am not able to see it for myself. I did do a grid for the sketch, but I didn't follow my grid and lines, I need to be more careful about such things!

    Meanwhile, however, the lovers are in complete silhouette and casting long shadows. They are rendered as if the scene were at sunset/sunrise, with the sun almost directly behind them.
    You are absolutely right about values, the way you put it makes it very obvious for me! This is a great learning process, because now I can start to think in another way when I paint, I will try to plan my paintings in more steps and details!

    You know what? It might be. After all, if you commit to dark shadows, that's going to leave a lot of near-black in your foreground which accounts for over half the total composition. Is that okay with you? Can you make it work? If it turns out to be a weak composition, are you prepared to throw the whole thing out and try plotting it all out again?
    I had so many problems figuring out how to do the cast shadows. After reading your walk through of the shadows and light in this painting I think I will try to play with it digital.

    However I also think I need to do the following:

    • Start by getting a better understanding of perspective drawing.
    • Perhaps take an online class. There are no art schools where I live teaching perspective drawing.
    • Work on my brush work perhaps do som smaller paintings just to learn.
    • Work with more thumbnails,
    • Perhaps make some detailed decisions on what time of the day I want to show in my painting.

      When I have work through all of this I will try to do the same painting from scratch, just see how much i am able to improve it!


    Last edited by ranunkel; September 8th, 2013 at 03:11 PM.
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    I guess the light setting should have been more like this http://www.render.ru/gallery/show_image.php?work_id=47799&num=1

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    Hey Ranunkel,
    Well most of what I would have critiqued has already been covered, but I will tell you this: don't buy stock if you can avoid it because all you need is a friend, a camera, and a good source of light. It's amazing what a good friend can do for modeling! Keep it up though, your sense for composition and narrative is quite good.

    "It is ten per cent how you draw, and ninety per cent what you draw. "
    -Andrew Loomis


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    Quote Originally Posted by ranunkel View Post
    You are totally right about this I don't know why I am not able to see it for myself. I did do a grid for the sketch, but I didn't follow my grid and lines, I need to be more careful about such things!
    You know, you're certainly not alone in this. I think it's safe to say even the best of the best of pros sometimes have a hard time seeing their own mistakes! It's all wrapped up in how our brains work with our eyes. After looking at the same image for a long time, your brain will start to ignore details and substitute its own information (for example, your brain might be registering correct perspective even if it's not there) because your eyes can only focus on a tiny amount of information at once, and your brain doesn't need to be reminded of the same information all the time. This is a neat trick the brain can do, saving you tons of time and strain by simply guessing at information that you're not focused on. The problem for the artist, then, is that we can't get by with "approximately accurate" information, we need to make our work as true to life as possible!

    Different artists will combat this in different ways, ranging from looking at their piece in a mirror (your brain won't recognize the flipped image, and all the details will seem like new!) to coming back to a piece after a few days without looking at it once. For traditional work, a mirror is a great way to approach this. Now, of course, this will not tell you exactly what you need to work on, but it will reveal problem areas your brain stopped acknowledging! In other words, a piece that seems fine might suddenly seem off. It's up to you to figure out what is "off" about it.

    That's all I'll say on the matter, though! I think you're on the right track, it's just going to take lots of practice to make perspective and lighting second nature. So keep it up, and never forget to keep studying. There's tons of reference material to be found on the internet, or even right in your home, to serve as subjects of study, and the only way you can get better is to just buckle down and have faith in practicing, even if that means coming back to the basics every once in a while! After all, I don't know a single professional who's above painting a bowl of fruit from time to time.

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