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Friday, April 21, 2017

Checking my drawings

Even the most traditional painter can check his drawings against the photo evidence. It’s a great use for Adobe Photoshop.

Mary Day (unfinished) by Carol L. Douglas
 As I mentioned in an earlier post, tracing from a projection is no guarantee you’ll get the drawing right. It was cold and wet yesterday. Instead of going to the North End Shipyard to finish my painting of the Mary Day, I stayed in my studio and fixed the bowsprit on my painting of the American Eagle.

That got me wondering whether I could check the accuracy of my field drawing. After all, the tools are crude: a pencil or brush, used as both ruler and protractor. The circumstances in which we draw are often difficult, too. The studio has the great advantage of being physically comfortable.

Mary Day in drydock.
I decided to compare my half-finished painting of the Mary Day to a reference photo I took of it. Since I have Adobe Photoshop, I used its ‘poster edges’ filter on the reference photo. I then superimposed it on my painting. (If you don’t have Photoshop, you can superimpose photos using the freeware GIMP.)

Clearly, I’ve taken significant license in raising the angle of the bow in my painting.  Within the structure of the hull itself, the volume relationships are pretty accurate. Of course, that’s easy enough to check on site, by comparing the shapes of all the interstices within the cradle.

Superimposing the photo over my painting shows how far off the masts and booms are.
Where I went off the beam was in the rake of the masts. The forward one is too vertical for the angle of the hull. Furthermore, multiple masts should tend to 'toe in' at the top, which mine definitely don't do. This problem was then compounded in the booms. Since I set them relative to the horizon line, they ended up too high. That won't do, and fixing them is now a high priority.

I’m also making a note to myself to make sure I do my measurements from the boat, not the background.

Little Giant (North End Ship Yard), 16X12, oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas
Note the pickup truck pulled in alongside the cradle. It was only there for a few minutes, but that’s a subject for a painting of its own. Pickup trucks go with boats like cheese goes with apple pie, and they’re often pretty close to actually being in the water.

I seldom take photos of things I’ve painted. This isn’t a conscious choice; I’m just finished and I move on. But I did find a picture of the Little Giant crane I painted last month. In this case, I’d made a decision to angle the bed of the truck slightly to avoid a strong diagonal pointing toward the corner of my canvas. I’d also raised the hook. But the photo tells me that the space relationships between the crane and the masts of the Heritage are very different in my painting and in the photo.

Superimposing the photo over my painting shows that I exaggerated the distance between the crane and the Heritage.
The camera distorts reality as assuredly as does the human eye, so in no case would I assume that one or the other is objectively more accurate. But, lightly applied, comparing one’s paintings to photographs is a useful exercise.

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