7 Step by Step: Even pros can get it wrong…

ImagineFX - - Traditional Artist Workshop -

Cap­ture the idea on pa­per

The be­gin­ning of all art is most likely a sketch. This is one of my sketches on toned pa­per that even­tu­ally be­came an oil paint­ing. My orig­i­nal in­tent was to fin­ish a sketch a day, not think­ing that it would be­come a full paint­ing. This sketch cap­tures my in­tent.

work­ing up the con­cept in gouache

I painted this gouache study while at a con­ven­tion, again not think­ing that it would go be­yond this stage. I ac­tu­ally com­pleted an oil study after this as well. How­ever, in the trans­la­tion from sketch through the gouache study, I feel that I’ve lost some­thing in the fin­ished piece. Read on to find out why…

fall­ing at the fi­nal hur­dle

My POV is too high for the fig­ures un­der the wreck and we can’t re­ally make them out, which robs the viewer of a scale ref­er­ence – thus de­feat­ing the pur­pose of the paint­ing. I wanted to show this be­cause I con­sider the paint­ing to be a fail­ure on some level and to show that even pros can mess it up!

Fore­ground vs back­ground de­tails

The level of de­tail ap­par­ent in the fore­ground tower pro­vides all of the in­for­ma­tion needed to tell us what the de­tails might be on the dis­tant mid-ground tower. There’s no need to paint things in dis­tant ob­jects if you can de­scribe them in close-up el­e­ments. If you need to paint dis­tant de­tails, keep them con­fined to the lit ar­eas of the ob­ject, and sug­gest them loosely and spar­ingly.

Plac­ing de­tails within shad­ows

The amount of de­tail should also be kept to a min­i­mum within shad­ows. In my paint­ing Dust Devil, the de­tails are merely sug­gested in the shad­ows and are pro­gres­sively re­duced by the time I get to the back­ground ve­hi­cle. Even though the dis­tance from fore­ground fig­ure to the back­ground ve­hi­cle isn’t that great, I still want to keep the de­tails to a min­i­mum. This helps keep the fo­cus on my main char­ac­ter.

The value of the hu­man fig­ure

Plac­ing a hu­man fig­ure into a scene is an easy way to help con­vey scale rel­a­tive to other ob­jects in the en­vi­ron­ment, even if those ob­jects are fan­tas­ti­cal in na­ture. In my paint­ing Ren­dezvous, the fig­ure next to the wheels of the fore­ground rover en­ables the viewer to un­der­stand the true scale of the back­ground rover – even though we don’t see the en­tirety of the fore­ground one.

Plac­ing a fig­ure into a scene is an easy way to help con­vey scale

Us­ing tex­tures in the fore­ground and back­ground

Tex­ture can pro­vide an ar­ti­fi­cial sense of de­tail and thus a close­ness that you may not want in dis­tant ob­jects. The sky ap­pears to us to be tex­ture free and smooth com­pared to the rocks at our feet. Here, I’ve kept the back­ground at­mos­phere smooth so as not to draw at­ten­tion to it­self. It can be hard to elim­i­nate this when paint­ing with oils on can­vas, but very easy to con­trol dig­i­tally. As the rock cliffs re­cede into the back­ground, the amount of de­tail and tex­ture is re­duced.

Make edges do the heavy lift­ing

De­creas­ing sharp­ness where it’s not re­quired can help to sep­a­rate fore­ground ob­jects from back­ground ob­jects, par­tic­u­larly where those el­e­ments over­lap. John Singer Sargent was the mas­ter of edges – study his paint­ings!

The right colour pal­ette

With the un­der­stand­ing that colours will de­crease in in­ten­sity the fur­ther away they are, com­mu­ni­cat­ing scale and depth can be helped by lim­it­ing the choice of colours of dis­tant ob­jects to a more neu­tral pal­ette. Re­strict the more in­tense colours for your fo­cal point and al­low the re­ced­ing el­e­ments to pro­gres­sively be­come less in­tense. In my paint­ing, Sky Burial #3, I set out to show­case the bold colours of the fore­ground wreck­age against pre­dom­i­nately muted colours.

A lot of land­scape paint­ing is pri­mar­ily the art of paint­ing with a va­ri­ety of greys that have been shifted to­wards a par­tic­u­lar colour. Think of a grey of the re­quired value mixed with a hint of colour, rather than a raw bright colour dulled down. It’s faster to start with a neu­tral grey and tint it with pig­ment – tra­di­tion­ally at least – than drag a full-blown colour down to what’s needed.

Light­ing de­sign

Good light­ing de­sign isn’t re­stricted to scale, but is needed in all good pic­ture-mak­ing so I’m briefly cov­er­ing the topic here. I start with a light/no light sit­u­a­tion, ren­der­ing ei­ther dig­i­tally or tra­di­tion­ally, and es­tab­lish what will be in light and what will be in shadow. This is done at the low­est res­o­lu­tion level of the pic­ture. So in this sketch there are two val­ues: white for light and a grey (pen­cil or marker) for shadow. The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of that light­ing sce­nario can come later.

Don’t get hung up on the ‘how’ at this point – con­cern your­self only with the de­sign of the re­la­tion­ships be­tween light and shadow. The fo­cal point is not al­ways in light and can very of­ten be in shadow against light.

Keep­ing things sim­ple of­ten re­sults in a strong piece

This tip is pretty self-ex­plana­tory but it’s al­ways good to be re­minded of it. Keep it sim­ple. Sim­ple com­po­si­tion, sim­ple con­cept, sim­ple ex­e­cu­tion, sim­ple tools and ma­te­ri­als and sim­ple pre­sen­ta­tion. Those points com­bined will, more of­ten than not, pro­duce pow­er­ful re­sults. They are also achiev­able, which means you’ll fin­ish the piece and that’s the point. Fin­ish the work, learn from it and move on to the next one.

I start with a light/no light sit­u­a­tion, and es­tab­lish what will be in light and what will be in shadow

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