Painting and Abstracting (weekly #9)

Progress with my painting: 2 weeks ago I posted a drawing and the study of the painting I’m working on now at my school. Friday I took a picture of it with my cellphone. This picture is unfortunately not true to color, please take that under account when viewing.

This week’s plan: Work on the shirt and vest, finish the hat, the background, and do final touches on the face and neck.
This picture shows the “sinking in” phenomenon very well. It’s a phenomenon where the oil pigments appear lighter than they are and in a different color. The vest, for example, appears black-gray even though it is brown in real life. This is why it is important to cover the painting with a thin layer of oil before working back into it to revive the color and see it correctly. This process also has its own difficulties; for example, if the paint is not thoroughly dry, the oil may lift it up, it may even get smeared into new areas and make the painting “muddy”. It’s therefore very important to be in control of the painting and know exactly what parts are wet and what parts are dry.


One thing I thought of is that the skill of figure drawing involves abstracting things about the figure and then using those abstractions as a guide when drawing or painting. The abstractions can take a literal form, such as: “the eyes are located in the halfway point of the head”, or a more perceptual form, such as remembering the general shape of the eye socket.
I’ve been doing a lot of this process of abstraction, which I exercise at home sometimes by sculpting or sketching from my head. Here is one small plasteline-clay sculpture I did this weekend:

I don’t know why, but I find that the pleasure in working entirely from my head is not surpassed by any other process of making art. I realize that the result is not as good as working from a reference, but I wish I knew what causes this feeling of delight and how I can replicate it when working from a reference.

I think it is really important as an artist to let your emotions run the show. I don’t quite know how to explain what I mean perfectly; I am not talking about any sort of random emotion that comes up during work (that can actually be an obstacle), but rather about the feelings relating to the artist’s subject matter. Some parts of the subject matter are bound to carry more interest than others for the artist. I think it’s OK to be bored with some aspects of the painting and let that affect how you paint. In fact this is what produces a good painting in my opinion because it replicates that feeling the artist had about what he paints in the viewer’s mind. It enhances the parts that are interesting and central about the piece and sends to the background the things that are not. It is, perhaps, the closest a person can get to experiencing something through another person’s mind.

Lastly, I’d like to share a small piece of writing by my teacher, Tenaya Sims, which I found interesting and which relates to “seeing through someone else’s eyes”. This is from the latest Newsletter of Georgetown Atelier (where I study).

The basic idea is if you approach painting your shadows in a thin/transparent manner, while building the textural qualities in the lights,  it will increase the depth and three-dimensionality of your painting. Executing shadows in this way helps keep them more atmospheric and ‘shadowy’, and pushes them back into the depths of the painting.  People naturally focus on one area at a time when looking at anything, and usually look first at the illuminated forms rather than those in shadow. Everything not in our focus is more hazy, or by definition is ‘out of focus’. For this reason it’s more effective to simulate the way people see in our paintings than to render each passage equally in focus. Putting in too much information in the shadows, or painting them too thickly (resulting in the surface of the painting coming forward) can negate the effect of how we naturally see. On the other hand, building up the texture and opacity in the lights, or ‘sculpting the lights with paint’ as I like to say, helps to enhance the focal areas of the painting and brings them both literally and perceptually forward to the viewer.

Simulating the ‘way that we see’ in a painting is much more difficult than it sounds. This is simply because while we’re working on any one particular area, that area is in focus for us, but may not be for the viewer taking in the whole scene of the painting on first glance. It requires us to plan out the ‘global relationships’ of our painting, and remember to stick to that global plan even while working in specific ‘micro’ areas. It requires us to be both the General and Marine, or in other tems, know how our ‘shadowy village’ fits within its country.

This method of simulating the human way of experiencing what we see in a painting is a way to further refine an experience and bring it closer to how we experience it as conceptual beings rather than raw sensations (which is closer to what a camera sees). It’s a little bit like a double filter: seeing something after someone else saw it for you first.


I’ll end the post here.
Have a good week,

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