Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Painting to your Strengths

"Cloud Study, New Mexico", Oil on Panel, 8x10 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

I made good progress on the "Oreos" painting this morning, but I thought I might post the above cloud study to add some variety to the postings--and to make a point. I have always enjoyed painting clouds for some reason. There are many painters who avoid them--or worse, dread them when they are painting a landscape. There are, of course, many reasons to simplify a sky when doing a landscape. For instance, a complex sky can create a distraction to the viewer if you are trying to create a focal point somewhere else in the painting. However, in most landscape paintings, at least in my experience, there is a happy median--you do not have to automatically simplify the sky in a landscape painting to make a good focal point somewhere else. Many artist do, and it is rarity to find a well painted sky these days. Perhaps, it has become too romantic to paint a sky.

As an artist, you will need to play to your strengths--and correct your weaknesses. It is like golf, if you know you are going to slice the ball every time you hit, it is best to plan for it. In painting, you will soon discover the things you do well, and those you don't. For instance, I noticed a couple of months ago that I was consistently making my shadows much too dark. When I looked back at my paintings over the last few years, I could see this was starting to be a weakness in my work. On the other hand, I saw that not only were my sky and cloud paintings the ones that sold most often, but they were the ones that I felt the most confident taking on--and enjoyed making. As a result, one of the things I have been extra careful about in my most recent series of paintings is to get some space and light into the shadow areas--and avoid the dreaded dark dead spot. At the same time, I have taken a break once in a while to do a number of cloud studies, which I have not only enjoyed, but have even sold several of them!

If you want to look out for your weaknesses--they will usually show up quickly when you start a painting. If you have been working on a painting for an hour or so, they will already be showing up. Perhaps, the darks are too dark--or they are too light. Perhaps (and this used to be a problem for me), there are only two or three tones in your painting--a dark, mid-tone, and a light, i.e., the tonal range is too narrow. You should attempt to become aware of these weaknesses early in a painting, when there is still time to correct them. If you have a strength, such as good color or tonal control--play to these strengths. For instance, if you are good at tones, but having a trouble with color--limit your palette to three colors (say, raw umber, white, and ultramarine) and see what you can do. You can make a fantastic painting with these three colors alone!

So here is the homework for the day. Go back to your last few paintings you did and see if you can identify what you don't like about them--or at least what you think you could do better. If you are having trouble finding something, find a painting that you like and put your paintings next to that one. If you like Monet, for example, put your painting next to your favorite Monet. Then, find one thing that the artist did right, that is not in your painting. Look at the quality of the painting, the color harmony, the relative values. If you are having trouble, one idea you might try is to look at both paintings in black and white--by taking a photo with a digital camera or using an electronic copy. Are the tonal relationships as good in your painting as the one you like? Are the darks too dark in yours? Is there a wide enough range of tones? See if you can find the one thing that, if you changed in your painting, it would improve the painting. Then take the next few days or weeks and work on that issue alone. In my experience, when you take on an issue on in this way and work through it--what was once a weakness can become a strength--that will be engrained in your skill set and thus come natural in your work. On the other hand, if you don't address it, it will likely come back to haunt you forever. Of course, keep in mind that most tendencies never go away entirely--only diminish.

Okay, so there you go. Hope that is useful. Get back to painting.

All the best, sixtyminuteartist.

11 comments:

redredday said...

hi Jerry, thank you for your words of advice! although...i do not quite understand what you mean by combining line and tone through negative space. i take it that you mean to fill the negative space with more line and tone?

and thanks a bunch for pointing the roulette tool to me! will definitely get one. i think it will also go hand in hand with some mezzotint work that i want to continue with.

i am still trying to take in what you write here in this post. i know what you are saying but for some reason having some trouble wrapping it all up to apply to my work. i think it is because i am not too aware of my own strengths and weaknesses, at least not consciously. it didn't occur to me to think of it this way until you mentioned it. will continue trying out some of what you suggested and see where it will take me...thanks again, Jerry!

have a wonderful weekend! :).

p.s. very funny about Uncle Frank and his relishing way about things. glad you got that commission!

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