Saturday, November 17, 2012

Limit your choices and take a methodical approach

Now I really begin to use this blog the way I intended - to post reminders of important things I've been learning so later I can recall them at a glance.

Limited palette

Often students are overwhelmed by too many possibilities - too many colors on the palette, too many possible ways to approach painting etc. It really helps to reduce the choices. For one thing a limited palette forces you to get used to the selected colors and how they interact with each other. After using it for a while you become pretty proficient with it - whereas if you're using a wide range of colors you're constantly bewildered and never learn what particular ones do when mixed with other particular ones. The limitations become an asset. 

Limited values

The same is true for values. It was on the Fritz Frazetta blog that I first heard many artists limit themselves to 5 (or even 4) values. It was a shocker at first - but it does make sense. Start with your lightest and darkest values plus a middle one, then insert another level of values in between each to end up with 5. Or else just use 4 rather than 3 to begin with and leave it at that. Doc Dave pointed out that Frazetta doesn't usually blend his colors or values much if at all - in fact his edges are pretty harsh most of the time - no subtle gradations. It runs pretty counter to the way I learned to draw in my 80's drawings - where I used a pencil and found countless ways to blend using fingers and an eraser to create every possible gradation imaginable. The result is something that looks slick and airbrushy. 

However it's clear that Frank starts (often anyway) with a washed-out underpainting, and achieves his values by means of washes. In fact it looks like his wahses run through a pretty smooth tonal gradation in places - so he didn't adhere strictly to any particular number of values. I would guess he was particular about choosing a darkest value and used his paint straight or with very little turps in it for those, then began to add turps and push things around in whatever ways seemed appropriate to achieve his lighter values. He definitely didn't do what I've been seeing a lot of painters do on YouTube - lay out his values right on his palette and underpaint with uniform thickness all over. That would result in a more mechanical look which was anathema to him (and to me).

But I understand the value of working with a distinctly limited number of values - so I'll definitely do sketches with very minimal blending - forcing myself to find the exact right placement for those form-turnings. 

Pay attention to the edges of forms! 

In the Robert Beverly Hale series I learned that there are certain definite edges to the forms of the body where it turns fairly sharply, though it's a rounded edge like a bar of soap. Knowing where these edges really are helps immensely. Fritz knows where they are and he always exploits this. If you look at his paintings, often an entire arm or leg is just one value and even one color, maybe with a very slight edging of another color/value just to give it a slight sense of turning (this is very similar to Egon Schiele's way of only using color right along his edges).

When you pay attention to these edges you can block in a form with proper values where they belong and end up with something strong and clear. If you instead just go around blending values to the Nth degree you end up with a form that seems to fluctuate and seems unsure of it's solidity. So it's clear that limited value plus rendering form as flat planes with rounded edges can really help to clearly delineate form.

Separation of drawing, modeling and coloring

All these techniques help to separate the drawing modeling and coloring stages of painting in order to keep things methodical. Work up an idea in a sketch or series of sketches, then do color treatment sketches until you have a clear idea of how to approach the painting. Transfer the drawing to your canvas, scrub in an underpainting with 4 or 5 clear values and make sure that looks correct, then begin to bring in color while still paying attention to value. Use desaturated colors like earth tones for the painting until near the end, and then decide which color will have some real punch to it. This is decided in the color treatment stage and carried out in the final painting. 

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