I played with the Nimisilla painting a lot today. I took a bunch of failed paintings, and quartered them on the back with masking tape. In each quadrant I tried a study of the painting to “solve the problems” as Rick Surowicz puts it. But you can’t solve problems until you identify them.
Here are the big things I learned:
- To create a sense of atmosphere, I need to have a gradual shift in value, chroma, and sharpness. At each level, all three of these should shift congruently. In the foreground, chroma, sharpness, and value should be highest. In the background, chroma, value, and sharpness should be the least. All three need to gradually change through the midground to the background in order to create a sense of depth.
- A beautiful sky is important, but it can easily steal the stage.
- Paint shapes. Reduce everything to a shape, and paint that shape. Don’t paint a tree, paint a ragged egg on a stick.
- Paint everything from the top down. Don’t paint the bottom and hope to keep the edge alive as you move up to the top. Paint the top, then move down.
- Lost and found edges should be intentional. Don’t just drop pigment onto damp paper and hope it makes a tree. Paint a tree shape. If it needs lost edges, soften them intentionally with clean water.
- Paint shapes in the right order. If the dirt is going to be on top of the water, paint the water first. If the trees will be on top of the sky, paint the sky first.
- Take your time. Let each stage dry for real before muddying it.
- Don’t work on a shape unless you planned to when you put the first wash down. If you put the first wash down wanting it to be the final wash for that section, you can’t glaze it without making mud. If you want to glaze, then the first wash must account for the future glazed layer.
- If you put pigment on the paper, and it goes where you didn’t think it would, leave it alone. Let it do what it wants and dance with it. Sometimes I take the lead, sometimes the water does. I can’t force the water to behave, I need to accept it for what it is and play by its rules.
- Simplify washes and shapes. If I’m painting, I should have a shape I’m “filling in.” If that shape is going to be one color, then mix that color on the palette before I start, mix enough of it, and refuse to even look at the wells until it’s painted. If that shape will have more than one color, mix all the colors on the palette, mix enough of them, then paint the shape using those colors. The wells are the grandparents. The palette is the parent. The color on the paper is the lively beautiful child. Don’t try to make the grandparents birth a child.
There are a lot of lessons learned here, I won’t do a full write up on each exercise, instead I’ll point out the problems I tried to solve, how I tried to solve them, and the problems that I identified with each one.
1. I noticed in my “pre test” that there wasn’t enough depth. So creating a sense of depth was the first priority. To do this, I tried to desaturate the distant trees, and contrast them with saturated near trees.
1. Desaturating the distant trees didn’t completely fix it, but it helped. In order to make them better provide a sense of depth, I need to try to soften them.
2. Overworking the sky caused an unsightly blossom that distracts the eye and brings the sky forward. In order to create the depth I’m after, the sky will have to take a back seat.
3 The trees in the foreground are too soft. I need to sharpen those in the foreground and soften those in the distance.
1. The trees in the background are less descriptive, making them recede.
2. The dark algae in the foreground brings the foreground forward.
3. The hard edges on the near tree work well.
1. The clouds in the sky are just a fat mound, and aren’t pleasant.
2. The algae took aver the composition.
3. The yellow highlights on the cloud are in the wrong place. They should reflect something. Yellow highlights on clouds at sunset should be at the bottom, but it would be better for there to be no yellow highlights on the clouds. Red would work better.
1. The distant trees are desaturates, and soft. This makes them recede.
2. The darker canopy on the tree brings it more forward.
3. The very dark algae in the foreground contributes to the sense of depth. That gradual value contrast is important.
1. Hard edges in the sky flatten the whole composition.
2. The distant trees are soft and desaturated. Because the sky has a dark value, they get lost. I need to bring the sky to almost white at the horizon in order for the trees in the distance to be soft, grey, and visible.
3. There is no gradual change in depth. The near trees are dark and crisp edges, the rest of the trees are the same value and roughly the same crispness. I should more gradually soften trees as they recede.
4. The near tree has grey pockets of light but that dark value actually flattens them. In order for those pockets of light to work, they should be brighter.
1. No hard edges in the sky keeps it in the back.
2. The sky being desaturated at the horizon helps the distant trees stand out, but stay back.
3. The pockets of light are bright, this helps.
1. The distant trees are now too distant, they are barely even there. Maybe that’s a good thing? It doesn’t seem to give much depth to the composition, and that’s their purpose, so I don’t think it works.
2. That algae is taking over again. Maybe get rid of it.
1. Soft edges in the sky work.
2. I stopped this one before painting the near trees or the algae, but I like it without the algae.
1. The sky is too dark. It’s impossible to paint the distant trees correctly. This is an irreparable mistake, the painting can’t become what I want because that sky doesn’t give me room for the value structure I want to employ.
2. Somebody peed in the reservoir.
1. The sky is lighter.
2. The pee is cleaned up.
3. The ripples in the water help it read like water.
1. The distant trees are overworked. In order to get what I want, I have to be able to paint them quickly. Here I tried to paint them wet on wet, and they just blended into nothing. I kept revisiting their base and made mud.
1. The sky is light at the horizon.
2. The distant trees aren’t so soft they disappear.
1. The crisp edges on the distant trees and the muddy sky make this a lost cause.
1. Don’t make your painting look like it was dug up out of the bottom of a bucket of coal.
1. The coal is cleaned almost.
2. The trees in the distance are getting better. I need a mixture of soft and crisp edges. All soft and they recede.
3. Strong darks in the foreground contribute to a sense of depth.
1. The lack of crisp edges on the distant trees makes them no longer read as trees, they just become a shapeless mass of grey nothing.
2. The sharp edges of the grass in the foreground is good, but the grass is far too big. It looks like swords.
3. The trees in the mud ground are muddy and ugly.
1. Using simpler washes of color helped get rid of the mud in the trees.
2. The distant trees have interest, but aren’t terribly bossy.
1. I still don’t have lost and found edges on the distant trees, just lost edges. I need both.
2. The horizon line is clearly visible through the mid ground trees. I want to use a simple wash like I did here, but I must be careful not to paint the horizon all the way across if I’m going to do that.
1. The sky is white at the horizon.
1. This one is just a blob of nondescript nothing – and what’s with the yellow stain in the sky?
2. The horizon line so high puts the eye level high up. This is accurate to my memory, because I was standing on the dam, but nothing in this composition supports that narrative. I should pull the horizon down to raise the eye level.
1. There is more distance in this one.
2. The color contrasts are interesting.
3. Lower horizon works.
1. The sky is just one big blossom.
2. Only lost edges on distant trees. Slow down Elek! Paint the sky. Wait. Paint the distant trees grey. Then, use clean water to selectively soften parts of them.
3. The algae is back, and it’s still useless.
1. Huzzah! Lost and found edges!
2. There is a more clear distinction between foreground, midground, and background.
1. Stop pissing in the sky.
2. There is a weird shape at the shore. Instead of an S curve, I have an E curve, and that makes it feel flat.
3. Scraping trunks in the foreground isn’t helping – it just adds another texture and feels incongruous.
1. Lost and found – the distant trees feel distant.
2. There is more depth in fore-mid-back ground.
3. Grass in the foreground works.
1. Dude is huge.
2. Dude’s head is eleven times too big. Paint the body, then the head.
3. It looks like he’s … well not like he’s fishing.
4. Need to soften the shore at the horizon too.
5. I don’t have an S curve, or an E curve at the shore. Now I have a 1 curve… which isn’t a curve. Flatness ensues.
1. Deep dark values with crisp edges in the foreground works.
1. BWA HA HA HA!! This is the first time I’ve ever laughed out loud at my own painting. That guy’s back hurts or something.
2. The sky is lava.
1. I like this sky a lot.
2. The foreground canopy is cool.
1. I like this sky, but for another painting. This is becoming less and less about sunset, and more about atmosphere and that fisherman.
2. I painted the fisherman, then the water, and he bled out.
1. The sky is about right. Enough color to look like sunset, but not enough to get bossy.
2. The fisherman is the right height.
3. The foreground trees work.
4. The distant trees have a good balance of lost and found edges.
5. The glitter on the surface of the water is good.
6. The trees in the midground are good.
1. I still don’t have an S curve at the shore.
2. The black grass in the foreground feels like something from Miami Vice. (Yes, I’m that old.)
1. The sky works again.
2. The right balance of lost and found in the distant trees.
3. The S curve is here.
4. The midground leaveless tree works well.
5. The root at the base of that midground tree was a happy accident.
6. Lightly adding yellow-green to the canopy of the near trees works well. This is better than just silhouetting them.
7. The fisherman is good. Good proportions, good pose.
8. The green grass in the foreground works. Keep it like this, just a hint of green. It’s sunset, so the colors aren’t going to be noon-saturated.
9. The appearance of mist in the midground was a happy accident, this works very well.
10. That tiny hint of red in the sky is just enough. No more is needed to make this sunset.
1. The water needs to be painted before the trees.
2. The near tree is too dark and one-dimensional.