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Monday, March 9, 2020

Monday Morning Art School: why this subject?

Create clear priorities and a compelling reason for people to engage with your painting.
Lobster fleet at Rockport Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas
With modern cameras, you can snap a view and think through why you liked it later, cropping and manipulating the photo to enhance the subject. When drawing, you have to set pencil to paper somewhere. Pause at that point, because it’s usually what interests you most about the subject or idea. Why have you chosen it? What first attracted your eye? It’s bound to be one of the following:
  • The subject matter;
  • Patterns of lights and darks;
  • Abstract shape(s);
  • Atmosphere, tonal values or lighting effects;
  • Beautiful line;
  • Color;
  • Symbolism.
Bracken Fern, by Carol L. Douglas.
By purposefully noting what you notice, you create clear priorities for your painting. This makes you less likely to include every detail. Not slavishly recording everything is one secret to becoming looser as a painter.

This is where a habit of sketching comes in. Imagine you’ve just stumbled down to Camden Harbor for the first time. It’s beautiful—and overwhelming. There are swank yachts and luxury cruisers cheek-by-jowl with old wooden schooners and family sailboats. How do you sort this into a pattern?

Tricky Mary in a Pea-Soup Fog, by Carol L. Douglas
You could take your camera and shoot a thousand images, intending to assemble them into a painting in the studio. That’s not likely to produce a great painting. Instead, sit down at a bench and sketch what interests you—not one drawing, but a series of quickies. Usually, you have more time than you realize, and it behooves you to do this in gentle stages. Getting the subject and composition right is the most important part of painting.

After you’ve had time to think with your fingers, you can return to the subject that most interested you, and reduce and reframe the subject into its basic elements.

What you’re looking for is a compelling reason for someone to want to engage with your painting. That is as varied as there are people, but certain things ought to be present:
  • Energy;
  • A pleasing pattern of light and dark;
  • A strong focal point, supported by line and contrast.
If they’re not, then go back to the drawing board before you touch paint to canvas. A weak composition is one thing that you can’t fix along the way.

Sea Fog, by Carol L. Douglas is available through Folly Cove Fine Art, Rockport, MA.
Sometimes, things happen in nature that are too quick to allow for this careful set-up. I occasionally chase them, and doing so has about a 50-50 chance of succeeding. Atmospheric effects are the easiest, because they cover the canvas. People are the most difficult.

When I’m smart, I do the chasing with pencil and paper and transfer my drawing to canvas. A few weeks ago I was down in the North End Shipyard with Ed Buonvecchio. The crew of the Stephen Taber took a break in the spring sunshine, seated on the spruce planks that line the shipyard. Beautiful and poetic, they’d have made my painting. But instead of drawing them, I went right to paint. The result was terrible. At my age, I should have known better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi !
Thank you so much for the great post. I loved reading through the comments here and I hope that you are still answering them as I have come a bit late.
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