June 29, 2013
PLAYA BONITA 2
I find I’m getting better at painting landscapes these days, and mostly I think that’s due to the fact that I’m getting better at seeing the big shapes. And not only seeing the big shapes, but sticking with them even to the end of the painting, without getting caught up in detail. When you get the big shapes right, you don’t need much detail to put a painting across.
I did a painting from my photos of the Dominican Republic called Playa Bonita (above) where I really pushed myself in terms of looking at the big shapes. I really liked what happened with that painting (More on that in the entry called Art Takes Balls). So I chose another Dominican Republic photograph that was taken the same day, but looking another direction. Like the image I used for the first painting, this one also had some nice shapes, particularly the shadows.
I did my usual tweaking with Photoshop, but this time I did something else digital as well: I did a digital painting of the image, not as a finished artwork, but as a way of exploring the image. I wanted to make sure I was only working with the big shapes, and I thought it would be interesting to try doing it digitally. One of the great advantages of doing it that way is that by using Photoshop’s sampling and fill tools, I can lay out the big shapes and quickly color them using exactly the right hues and values. It’s a quick way to see if what I have in mind will work, without all the time and trouble of mixing up a bunch of paint.
Above is the digital painting I did based on the source photo. I used the Lasso tool which, if you hold down the option key while applying it, allows you to draw straight-sided shapes as simply or with as much complexity as you want. Then I sampled the color I wanted right from the source photo, and used the Fill tool to fill the shape I’d just drawn with that color.
As you can see, reducing the image to its basic shapes in this way gives you a powerfully different way to look at it, and in this case it sets me up perfectly for the approach I want to take with the actual painting.
Here’s a great thing about working with big shapes: painting goes a lot faster. I’m a big fan of paintings that happen quickly. I am not a work-on-it-for-weeks-and-weeks kind of painter. Not at all! If it isn’t happening in the first hour, I usually abandon it and move on to something else. I have nothing against people who like to spend months on a single painting, it’s just not me. Maybe it’s just a short attention span. But I’ve learned I do better work when I don’t torture myself. And I’m a lot happier!
Another thing about working fast is that I have a better chance of keeping the energy level high. And lately I’ve gotten clearer about the fact that I want my paintings to be explosions of energy. Not for me the quiet, considered painting. I want action, vitality, life! I want bold brushstrokes and excitement. It’s what I want in life, and it’s what I want in my paintings.
In this case, there were very few hiccups and the painting came together nicely—and I kept the energy high! I especially like what happened when I laid in those cool bluish shadow shapes at middle right. They turned out to be just the cool contrast all those warms in the foreground needed. That’s the warm vs. cool magic that can happen when it’s done right, and if you’ve been reading this blog you know I’ve gotten a lot better at managing warms and cools in the past year. Here’s the completed painting:
It’s entitled “Playa Bonita 2.”
TIRIRICA BEACH SHACKS
A few days later I decided to try another landscape painting with a similar approach, but a different type of subject matter: buildings.
I chose a photo of some beach shacks I snapped while walking along the road between the guesthouse where Steph and I were staying in Tiririca, and the town of Itacaré (for more on that trip, go to Brazil Trip with an Unexpected Male Nude Photo Shoot.) It looked like it would be a good opportunity to just see the big shapes.
I did my usual Photoshop tweaking to remove detail and enhance color, then I posterized the image to make the values clearer. And again, as I did with Playa Bonita 2, I sat down at the computer with my Wacom tablet and did a digital study to reduce the image to its main shapes.
And again, preparing in this way made a world of difference. I think it’s not only that one gets to know the subject matter better, it also builds confidence. Seeing that the image works well with just the big shapes and no detail at all, I feel a lot more confident when I step up to the easel and start slinging paint around.
The painting went so quickly and so smoothly I only remembered to stop and snap an in-progress photo (above) once, when the painting was almost done. Below is the finished work followed by some details (close-ups) which give you a chance to see the brushwork and appreciate the fact that there really is almost no detail.