Ok, I’m interested in painting the Dairy Farm that I found yesterday. The problem is, I hate the paintings I did yesterday, and the photo I took for future reference is pretty awful – because the fence cuts right through the subject.
I try to take photos quickly when I start because I want to capture the light as it was when I started so I can revisit it when I get home, but I don’t want what the camera sees to impact my perception of the space.
If I sit down and look at a thing, and then I take a photo of that thing, I wonder why the photo looks nothing like the thing I see. I’ll explain, skip ahead of this doesn’t interest you – it’s just my thinking through this, I didn’t do any research into it.
Why Does my Camera See Meh?
When I look at a thing, I choose what to focus on. My field of view can take in a large panorama poorly, or I can zoom in on something in particular. I do this naturally, easily, without thinking. We all do. It’s part of what we have evolved to be good at – we can look at the world and understand things about it just by looking. But this comes at the cost of being able to see everything in front of us. We are crazy good at determining how far away something is, or if it’s behind or in front of another thing. But, we suck at looking at the entire view in front of us. When we look, we have a narrow field of view that focuses on something in particular. Objects around that are out of focus, but visible. Objects around those things, in our peripheral vision, are not much better than shades and highlights. If we focus closely enough, we can lose all cognizance of the things around us. Think about it right now – you are looking at a screen to read this. Focus on this word for ten seconds or so…
Now, go back and focus on that word, but try to be mindful of the things in your field of view that you didn’t notice the first time you focused on that word.
The first time you looked at the word, it probably took up your entire field of view. The second time, you might have realized how small it really is, and just how many objects your brain ignored when you focused on the word.
When I paint outdoors, I do this – and I don’t realize it. I look at a beautiful barn, and decide to paint it. In my painting the barn takes up the whole paper. Then, I take a photo, and it turns out the barn is just a tiny dot in the entire field of view of the camera.
So, the photo usually doesn’t focus as closely on the objects I’m focusing on. But the camera also sees the object differently.
I see through two eyes. Most of the people reading this do as well. My brain takes both images and stitches them together into a single experience, but it does NOT turn them into a single image. We can get confused into thinking that our brain has generated a single image, but if you touch your index fingers together, and put them A few inches from your eyes, then focus on something beyond your fingers – it will look like you are holding a hot dog. If you focus on the hot dog, it’ll disappear. Look at the background, and the hot dog will come back.
This isn’t because our brain made a single image from what both eyes see, and invented the hotdog, it’s because our brain sees BOTH images, and it maintains information from BOTH images, but it provides a single experience.
A camera is one eye. So, it is basically like looking at the world through one eye. This is fine, but it means that the sense of depth that I perceive when I’m looking at a scene wont be captured by the camera, because the camera sees differently.
This is why I paint in Plein Air, and try to ignore what the camera sees. I want to paint my perception of a scene, not the camera’s.
Plein Air Farm
Ok, so here’s what the camera saw:
And here’s what I saw:
Notice, I completely ignored an entire building. And, I saw two buildings that were actually out of the field of view of the camera. (That house and dark structure above the cattle pen on the left. I also invented some cows standing in the grass. I knew that my sketch differed from the real world in some ways. I knew that I was making up the cows in the grass. I knew I was ignoring that big building on the right. But I didn’t realize that the house on the left was outside the camera’s field of view – because in order to look at it, I had to turn my head, which changed the angles of perspective, and shifted the house into view. So, I was surprised when I realized that the camera didn’t capture that house there.
So, I painted the scene. Terribly. Four times. Each of these was on the first day. So, I’m going to number them 1.1-1.4. The studies I did on day 2 will be 2.1 etc…
Here are the studies from the Plein Air Painting session:
I already wrote about these a bit, but I wanted to repost them because even though they are horrible – painting them did one thing. It solidified my memory of the place. I can remember the sweat on my arm. The grasshoppers. The flies biting at my ankles. I remember the specks of dust and the heat – the intense heat – the humidity, how the air felt close and damp. I remember the structures, where one started and the other stopped. I remember the metal canisters on the farm. The truck that came in. The gravel driveway – I remember it all. And there’s no way I would remember those details if I hadn’t sat there and painted it.
The photo I took is horrible. I can’t make a nice composition from that. But, I remember the feeling of that farm – and I can try to paint that. Because I know the scene as intimately as I do now, I can change my field of view, and invent a new perspective that might be a better composition. So, tonight – that’s what I did. I imagined myself closer to the silos. I would be lower, the silos would be higher above me. The cattle pen would have an exaggerated perspective. The structures would recede and become the background. Etc. I wanted to put myself on the farm. Be in that soggy heat. I want to represent the humidity and the mess of equipment and the grandeur of the structures. The only way for me to do that now is to imagine myself in the scene. I’ll rely on my memory of the farm from looking at it so much, and invent a new view…
Here’s my first attempt to paint that invented point of view:
This doesn’t have any completion to it – I’m just trying to block out the major shapes and values. I learned that the dark sky corner is superfluous. The trees behind the structures do contribute a bit, but they should be mostly lost edges.
The clouds shouldn’t be there. A deep blue sky fading to haze would better represent the heat.
The buildings should be simplified into a single shape.
The farm needs some hints at objects in the background to make it feel more like a working farm.
The figure helps.
The cows need ears – that’s what makes them look like cows.
The cattle shed needs support columns in order to make it believable.
A quick dab of white on those metal canisters in the distance helps make them read well.
Here I learned that the haze needs to be there between the horizon and the structures in order to give it the experience that I had with a humid muggy heat.
I shouldn’t paint dark colors on the objects in the fairground.
I then committed to making a decent study.
First, I painted a sky wash to blank paper, and a ground wash to blank paper – both meeting at the horizon. I then dabbled some light green for the distant trees.
Then, I painted the buildings with a large brushes, trying to paint them as one big shape. Once they dried a bit, I painted some ragged texture using the same color that was used to make the shapes. Then, I added some warmth for the spot where the hay would be.
Finally I finished with some cows in thick pigment, and some white gouache. Then a few slashes with slightly darker pigment to redefine the lighting posts.
Full disclosure: I’ve been falling asleep as I wrote up the last several paragraphs… some of it is probably nonsense.
I’m going to try this farm again tomorrow.
Today is the third day working on this dairy farm. I like the last sketch, but I feel like too much of it is made of happy accidents, so I decided to practice a few more times at 1/16th sheet size.
I tried to exaggerate the humidity with a warm foggy mist – I think that really does communicate the heat from that day. But, the metal canister is raised up too high – it should be on the same level as the cattle shed, I should only see the top half of it rising out of the mist.
The figure should be slightly larger and nearer (maybe).
When I go to paint this at a larger size, I should know what details I’ll add that I am omitting at this smaller size, if any.
I should paint some grass in the foreground.
For the second sketch on day 3, I decided to document the process, both to force me to slow down, and to see what things look like before I overwork them.
I started with a quick sketch. The elements that I liked most, I darkened. For example, the cattle heads that worked well. I did this so I wouldn’t lose them as I painted.
Then I added preliminary washes. Indie blue F3b at the top, then C3w water to the bottom of the page. At the bottom, I added some yellow ochre to my Indie Blue, and a touch of Quin Gold I painted that in one stroke on the right, and another stroke of yellow ochre in the bottom left. Then, the wash was a bit dry, so I added some Yellow Ochre + Indie Blue to the shimmering wash at a T3S to give the impression of distant trees. Then I hit it all with a hair dryer.
I added moonglow and UM Blue to the Indie Blue and Yellow ochre mix to get a cool neutral. I then mixed more in the other half of my palette to make a warm neutral.
I then painted clean water from the bottom a bit above the horizon, and used the cool neutral to paint the two buildings in the center. The warm neutral was used to paint the buildings on the outside. All was done at once so they blended together.
I then watered down the cool neutral and painted some of the distant bits and bobs.
Then, I added more moonglow to darken the value of that neutral, and used that to paint the cattle pen, and add some darker details in a few places.
Finally, I added some more moonglow at R2b and some Chinese white straight from the tube to add a few highlights. And some more of the warm neutral to the distant trees.
I think this worked out ok. I think it will be better on a larger sheet. First, I’m going to try it two more times at this size. Then, I’ll bump it up to a quarter sheet… if I like it enough, maybe I’ll go full sheet.
I think the composition is getting some focus. I decided to put the enormous cow from 3.2 out to pasture, and instead there’s now a man carrying a bucket… or a severed head – hard to tell. I added a truck as well which half works. The light poles are too much, I’ll need to reduce them. I want to show the cluttered busy mess that I see on a working farm, without distracting from the focal point. It’s a very hard balance to strike.
I tried a few new things here. I tried to saturate the sky – it destroys the value structure. I think the sky will be mostly white in the next attempt.
I also increased the size of the cows and the hay – this I like. Though the value structure above the cows can be reduced.
Being careful to sketch cows as individual animals instead of just squiggling in some black as whites really helped a lot. So did adding shadow to the whites of the cows that are behind others.
The farmer apparently suffered a nuclear blast-and he’s made of charcoal. Maybe I should lighten him up on the next one.
I also like the shadows here. When it was all done I used Moonglow to swipe some quick shadows in. I’ll do this again.
I don’t like the values. It all went south when the sky was painted because I started dark, and had little room to move.
I also unleashed a mob of pterodactyls. I should leave them out of the next one.