Monday, July 25, 2011

My Pretty Pal’s Painting (and a little blurb on composition, focal points, and proportion)



A few weeks before we moved, one of my best friends named Emily came over for painting time, tea, and long talks.  (Tea and talking have been a favorite activity of ours for 23 years, hence the picture to the right). My favorite kind of afternoon. This was especially wonderful for me since :

  1. I missed Emily like crazy
  2. I love doing crafty things with her
  3. Being with Emily is like detoxifying your stressed out mind.

In the middle of packing, decision making and general craziness, it was great to just be able to chill. We broke out the ol box O paints and got busy…well…Emily did anyways. I was just there for moral support.

But before I say anything about painting, here is a visual collection of how cool Emily is:


WHEW, where you ready for all that?? So the Painting:

She had a plan. In fact, she’d had a plan for a while and wanted to commence and conquer. It had been on her mind to paint a certain picture of hers’ from her trip to Africa. It looked like this:

And how did I happen to have her picture? Well the truth is, I stole it from her brand new blog that you can find HERE.

Amazingly, this picture was taken from a bus window. I get the vibe that it’s wickedly beautiful there, don’t you? But aside from the attractive scenery, Emily wanted to paint this because of the memories it brings back. I believe I’d call that lesson one in subject matter if you are learning how to paint:

Paint what's close to your heart.


Emily is really good at art and crafts (not to mention cooking, gardening, teaching, acting and pretty much everything if you didn’t gather that from the pictures above). She had just asked for a few guidelines to work by, something to help her get going. So we took her picture and talked about a few main points.

The first was composition.  Emily used thumbnails to sketch out a variety of different options before she put anything down on canvas. She made critical choices about her photo so that her final painting would be planed and bended to her goal. With any landscape there should be a strong focal point (meaning whatever your eye is drawn to first), so she looked at her photo and found it.

To narrow down the most visually interesting spot, lets look at her photo again: Do you see how the horizon line, and the line in the field visually lead your eyes towards the clump of tree’s ? That’s because there is a strong linear emphasis towards that area. They aren’t actual lines, they’re just suggestion of line, but they are what our eye’s read. The mind naturally follows lines actually, just as we know how to follow words on the page of a book.  visual lines

You also want to analyze a painting in terms of tone. Lets look at the picture in black and white.


Looking at it in black and white makes it easier to block out shades of dark and light. I outlined major objects of the photo in red …think of these as separate areas. Then try to analyze what each section’s major tone is. If you create a scale, you can assign them their appropriate number; white being the lowest tone (0) and the blacks are the highest (9). In this photo, the darker tones  are what we look at first.


Based on our analysis of the focal point and the tone’s of the photo, we could start to ask some questions while working with the thumbnails.

Is the large clump of tree’s in the bottom left corner distracting? Does it help balance out the photo since most of the visual weight is on the right hand of the photo? Should we change some of the tones of the photo? Should we crop the photo differently?

After she drew out her thumbnails, she made some decisions to change little details for a more dynamic finished product. She shifted the focal point over to the right a little so it would fall on the rule of thirds. She also used the bush in the bottom left corner  to add more balance.

Next we talked about Proportion and Transfer.

Since we were working from a picture, we used a grid system. She divided her picture and her canvas into halves. Then she used little marks to mark the halves of those halves. Using a cont crayon with light strokes, she sketched in the large masses of trees, grass and clouds. By breaking the photo up into smaller parts, she could reference the canvas like a map. For example she noted that the horizon line was below her halfway mark and the lowest dip in the horizon line was halfway up the halfway mark.


Then she blocked out the major sections of color. This was the base coat, so she didn’t fill in a whole lot of details or worry about what could be seen through the paint.


Then she started filling in some of the details in her second coat.


and then she took it home and finished it. Smile


She did a lovely job, don’t you think?!


Look at how messy she got in the process:


Okay, so I’m just kidding. She did that back in college.

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