Sunday, July 22, 2007

Painting Lesson--Yellow Cup (part 1)

Okay, let's get painting. If you haven't been painting regularly or are just starting--it is best not to jump into a complicated painting. You may end up getting frustrated and discouraged.

One of the first things that caught my eye for a possible painting when we arrived in Santa Fe was these little cups my kids like to use for drinks. They are brightly colored and brought back memories from past visits. Also, they demonstrate one of the aspects of painting that is hard to master--the difference between tone and color. So let's get started.

While my wife was off doing something the first morning, I grabbed a couple of these cups and put them up on a shelf near the door of our condo--and took some photos. I chose this shelf for the photo for a simple reason that it did not need much modification. It had good light, so I did not need to set up a light, and it had a large contrast between the background and the foreground. I didn't know what size of panels I would be using yet, since we hadn't been to the art store, so I took a wide shot--so I could crop it later. After a few shots, it was the yellow cup that seemed the most interesting to me.



Later that day we went to the art store and I ended up buying a couple of 6 inch by 6 inch panels, which I primed with a brush and some acrylic gesso. Acrylic gesso is readily available and dries quickly--so you can paint pretty quickly. Oil-based gessos take at least 24 hours to day, so you need to plan ahead.
To make my photo consistent with my panel, I cropped the photo down to roughly a square and then increased the contrast and color saturation to make it a bit more interesting. I did all of this in less than five minutes using the Microsoft photo editor on my laptop. Even to most basic photo editor can make these changes easily.

Now, here's a question. What tone (how dark) is the yellow cup relative to the foreground and background. I think most people can see the cup is darker than the background--which is white--but it is surprising that it is actually much darker than most people think--and closer to the foreground color than the background. To prove this, I simply turn the photo into a black and white photo using "desaturate" on my photo editor.



Now, we have a relatively straightforward painting, with three major tones-the foreground, the cup, and the background. In fact, they key to this painting will be to get the tones correct--the colors are secondary. To demonstrate this, I am going to start this painting with a limited palette--which means I am going to paint it with only a few colors. I am going to start by only painting the tones--and not the colors, which I will add later. I have found this approach a good way to make a painting where the tones dominate and the colors are relatively straightforward. An example of a painting done this way was posted the other day on my first posting. This painting of a sprouting onion was done in two stages, first purely as a monochromatic painting (in a red mid-tone)--with the colors applied on top later. This lets the warm mid-tones peak through the overpainting and brings a certain harmony to the whole painting. Most importantly for our purposes here, it will help us keep the tones right--which will be essential to the yellow cup painting. It is going to be all too easy to want to bump up the tone on the yellow cup which will ruin the painting. In fact, this is one of the most common faults I see in new painters--they want to add white where there are colors that seem bright or have a glow to them, when the acutal tone is much darker.

I will start my demonstration of the painting of the yellow cup in my next posting. Sixtyminuteartist.

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