Cap­ture light and depth

Peter Chan shares his plein air tips.

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Contents -

Pre­vi­ously, I went through the im­por­tant as­pects of work­ing the paint­ing as a whole, con­stantly com­par­ing value, colour and shapes with nearby el­e­ments. The process en­sures that you don’t get bogged down in a spe­cific area, but it can take more of your time and muddy your brush or paints if you’re not care­ful, es­pe­cially when paint­ing out­doors and time isn’t on your side.

This time I’ll go through an­other ap­proach to plein air paint­ing: the backto-front method. The idea is to break down your scene from the light­est colour val­ues in the fur­thest back­ground, and grad­u­ally ap­ply darker paint to the fore­ground el­e­ments. This process ap­plies to larger ob­jects as well as small de­tails.

There are two key things to keep in mind. First, put down quick and de­ci­sive marks and don’t fid­dle too much with them, es­pe­cially with the lighter back­grounds. Sec­ond, el­e­ments in the dis­tance are nearer in value and are less de­tailed, and grad­u­ally gain value con­trast and more de­tails the closer they are to the viewer. If you fol­low these guides, you’ll achieve a greater sense of light and depth quickly. This ap­proach works well with early morn­ing and later af­ter­noon scene as well as on over­cast days.

For this ar­ti­cle, I parked on a street and spent about an hour paint­ing a early morn­ing city scene on my daily com­mute.

Peter is from Tai­wan but lives in Los An­ge­les where he works at Sony Pic­tures An­i­ma­tion. He’s worked pre­vi­ously at Pan­demic Stu­dios and DreamWorks An­i­ma­tion and you can see more of his work on his blog at www.pix­elp.tum­blr.com.

I mix more per­ma­nent white and gray no.1 into the paint.

1 Don’t over­work the back­ground

First sketch out or men­tally break down the scene into the back­ground, mid­dle ground and fore­ground. Here I lay in very sim­ple shapes and colours that sug­gest the sky and dis­tant city line. It’s very easy to get car­ried away with the de­tails here, but it’s all about cap­tur­ing the sim­ple im­pres­sion and not copy­ing ex­actly what you see. I also mix more white and light grey in this area, so that it’ll sit back nicely when I add in the fore­ground darks later. Make a note of your paint mix­ture so you can go back to ar­eas and keep the colours and val­ues sim­i­lar. I ap­ply less white to fore­ground el­e­ments.

2 Re­mem­ber­ing your paint mix­ture

I con­tinue to paint my midground el­e­ments of the trees and street shadow, all the way to the fore­ground tree on the left, with more darks as it tran­si­tions for­ward. Ev­ery­thing is kept sim­ple and ab­stract, en­abling me to fo­cus on cre­at­ing a feel­ing of depth. I keep men­tal notes of the paint mix­ture I use for each area, so that when I re­visit those area, the value will be sim­i­lar.

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