Four Value Studies and Notan

This week in the Composition class, we have been working on thumbnail sketches, which employ simplified shapes and values to help us explore design possibilities. Thumbs can and should become the main tool we use to both learn to compose and to explore motifs for paintings.  The class worked on applying certain design principles to the task of creating thumbnail sketches. In the coming week, we will explore using four and two value studies to further sharpen our design skills.

Notan is a Japanese word for light-dark, and consists of a two value arrangement of shapes.  It can be used to define and simplify shape and value patterns. Notan (two values) and  four value designs are not based on how we actually see the world; they are constructs that we can use to see and strengthen value patterns.  Both Notan as well as the four value studies require us to make decisions about whether mid-tones will be grouped with dark or light. This allows for a more flexible approach to thinking about design.

It’s hard to overstate the “aha!” moment that arrives when students first begin to grasp the power of using a limited set of values to compose. Here are a few examples of master works.

Here is George Inness’ Sunset in Georgia, a work which immediately catches your eye with its rich color. But the real strength of this work lies in its value pattern.

Onness Georgia Sunset

Here I have reduced it to four values. You can see how Inness has connected all his darks to create a tunnel design. This did not happen because he saw it that way in Nature , but rather because he designed it that way. Remember, composition is something you impose on Nature.

Inness Georgia Sunset 4 values

Here is a painting by the 19th c. Russian landscape painter Ivan Shishkin.

Shishkin forest dusk

 

In this example I have converted the design to four values. Again, note how the darks are all linked. This is a key factor in creating strong value structures for your paintings. Although there is lots of information in this painting and very close values, with small incremental value shifts, its overall structure and design can be reduced to just a few values.

Shishkin forest dusk 4 values

In this example I have reduced the values to two- Notan. Again the darks are linked. Note that the sky forms a shape as well as the other elements of the scene.

Shishkin forest dusk notan 1

Here is an even more simple Notan.

Shishkin forest dusk notan 2

We can use these same ideas to help refine our own work. The first thumb is about 2 x 3″.

DMP thumb 2

Here I have reduced it to four values and added a lighter value in the distance, Although I liked the right hand side,  the darks on the left were not connected sufficiently.

DMP thumb 2 4 values

Pushing the values to the darker end of the scale.

DMP thumb 2 4 values 2

A Notan to explore how to more effectively link the darks.

DMP thumb 2 notan

 

Working with simplified shapes and reduced values can help to refine out motifs. No amount of color, bravura brushstrokes or detail will rescue a weak design. Working with thumbnail sketches and reduced values teaches us to create a solid structure for our work.

 

P.S. We have a great lineup of online classes coming up including our very popular class on Understanding Values in the Landscape, and a new painting class called The Strong Start. Join us! For those interested in a comprehensive program of training for landscape we are accepting students into the Atelier programs for the January trimester.

 

 

Seago Skies

Edward Seago (1910-1974) was a British landscape painter. He is one of the best known and widely collected British artists of the 20th century. He enjoyed enormous popularity during his lifetime including royal patronage by several members of the Royal Family, including the the Queen Mother, the Duke of Edinborough and Prince Charles.  Seago painted all sorts of subjects, but is perhaps best known for his paintings of boats, skies and the countryside around his home in Norwich. He painted in watercolor and oil.

Edward Seago
Edward Seago

 

Although Seago was given some direction by Sir Alfred Munnings he was essentially a self taught artist. He studied the works of Constable particularly as well as other masters.

Here are some beautiful Seago skies. Notice how Seago carefully orchestrated his skies, playing the lights and darks against each other. Enjoy!

 

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P.S. Our upcoming online class The Painted Sky starts August 7th! Take a look at our previous posts on painting big, atmospheric skies and join us!

Registration is here.

Sir Alfred East- Advice on Painting Skies

Sir Alfred Edward East (1844- 1913), was a British landscape painter whose work was influenced by the French Barbizon painters as well as the rich tradition of British landscape painting in the 19th century transmitted by the twin giants of the genre, Constable and Turner. Sir Alfred had a successful career, exhibiting at the Royal Academy and was given a knighthood by King Edward VII. Today, he is perhaps best remembered for his book The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Colour which was published in 1906.

Sir Alfred East
Sir Alfred East
Sir Alfred East
Sir Alfred East

The book contains much of the conventional wisdom on landscape painting of the time, but is noteworthy in its emphasis on drawing, how to approach Nature, sketching and painting from Nature, and composition. The chapter on painting skies is particularly interesting, offering the beginning landscape painter sage advice delivered in a mixture of pithy directives and more lengthy (occasionally turgid) prose of the late 19th century.  It is well worth reading. Here are a few of the best bits!

Sir Alfred East
Sir Alfred East

In his chapter on skies, East advises that “if you make a practice of painting a sky every morning with the regularity that you take your bath, you will find at the end of six months that you know something of its variations.” He suggests that thirty minutes is a sufficient amount of time, and that it should be done immediately before breakfast so that it doesn’t interfere with your “ordinary work”.

“But of all things avoid a flat sky. There is nothing so miserable in landscape painting as a mere piece of flat blue.”

“Don’t be afraid of rubbing the foliage into the sky, and the the sky into the foliage at you first painting. You will have ample opportunity of getting the character of the edge… at a later stage.”

“it is much easier to paint a sky to suit a landscape than a landscape to suit a sky.”

A Kindle version of the book is available through Amazon.

P.S. Our upcoming online class The Painted Sky starts August 7th! Take a look at our previous posts on painting big, atmospheric skies and join us!

Registration is here.

Why “Paint What You See” Is Not Good Advice

“In every object there is inexhaustible meaning; the eye sees in it what the eye brings means of seeing.”

Goethe

“Paint what you see.”  Has anyone ever told you that? The other day I was reading something online and ran across a discussion where several artists were offering advice to another artist about how to tackle a particular subject. “Paint what you see.” was the recurring theme of the conversation. I have heard that before, of course. You have too, right? Instructors often give this advice to students in workshops and classes. But before you can paint what you see, you have to learn to see.  The vast majority of landscape painting problems are a result of a failure of seeing.

Emil Carlsen
Emil Carlsen

First, we cannot see what we are not prepared to see. We literally don’t know what we don’t know! For example, unless someone has explained the concept of value and its importance, perhaps relating that to how values can be organized by the planes in the landscape, the beginner won’t see that. He or she won’t know what or how to even look for it. Unless someone explains the concept of color temperature, the intermediate painter won’t see it or even know that he or she isn’t seeing it! Once we understand fundamental concepts like value and color temperature, then we see it because we know what to look for and why it is important. We are then prepared to see it, and we do! Learning to draw and paint is first a matter of learning to see.

Emil Carlsen
Emil Carlsen

Second, once we can see, it is no longer our job to simply “report” on what we see, but rather to “translate” what we see into a work of art. Once we have the technical skills and understanding to truthfully represent nature, it is time to create a work of art. Nature rarely arranges herself into a perfect pattern or design. We take the raw material provided by Nature and make a painting of it. The painting becomes its own thing, separate and apart from the Nature which inspired it. It must stand on its own.

P.S. Our upcoming online class The Painted Sky starts August 7th! Take a look at our previous posts on painting big, atmospheric skies and join us!

Registration is here.

Water: Color in Reflections

Painting water is an endlessly challenging subject. In addition to understanding the visual science of how we perceive reflections, as artists we also need to think about how to best depict those perceptions in color!  Here are a few helpful color notes to think about when painting reflections:

~the depth of the water (the deeper it is the darker)

~the amount of light coming from the sky (in sunlight we see more color)
~how clear or muddy the water is (muddier water will reflect more light and we see more “water color”)
~from what position we are viewing it (looking straight down we see more of the water color and looking out at an angle we see more of the reflection).

Let’s imagine standing on the bank of a small pond. As we look down into the water on a fairly perpendicular line, we will see the bottom of the pond (sand or mud). When we look a bit more closely we may also see some reflection of the sky. As we look out at the pond at more of an angle, the view of the bottom disappears and the reflection from the sky or trees becomes predominant. What this means usually is that the color in the near shallow water will be a bit warmer and darker (partaking of the brown bottom) and become lighter (reflecting the sky) as you look out toward the center of the pond.

Now look at the trees reflecting into the pond on the far side. If the day is sunny, you will see more color in both the sky reflection and the trees. On a cloudy day or when the light is low, these colors will be grayer. Generally speaking, in reflections of darker objects, you can see more of the color of the water.

Here is a wonderful example of some of these concepts at work in this painting by contemporary American landscape painter Joseph McGurl.

Joseph McGurl
Joseph McGurl

You can see the concept described above at work in this painting. The near water is yellowish/brownish green- partaking of the brown bottom as well as the water color. Also notice the shadow cast by the fish on the bottom. As you look out into the pond the reflection of the sky is seen-darker in the middle where the zenith of the sky is reflected and lighter toward the far bank where the light from a lower part of the sky is being reflected. A few horizontal light lines (reflecting the sky color) here and there complete the illusion.

Here is another example by Clyde Aspevig, another contemporary American landscape painter. Here parts of the water are moving so the reflections are less apparent, but you can still see their color. In the near pool where the water is more still, the color of the water and the bottom of the river overtakes the reflection from the sky and the transparency of the water allows us to see rocks on the bottom.

Clyde Aspevig
Clyde Aspevig

 P.S. For centuries the depiction of water has challenged artists. Its unique properties- transparent, reflective, moving, still- create wonderful visual opportunities. In our annual Painting Water online class we learn how reflections are created and how to depict them, how the depth of water affects its color and value, how to depict still and moving water, techniques and color palettes for water and using water features in your compositions. This class starts June 12th. Join us!

Introducing Frits Thaulow

At The Landscape Atelier we put a lot of emphasis on art history, both as a teaching tool (always a good idea to study the Masters!) and so that as artists we can more completely understand and appreciate the rich tradition of landscape painting we have inherited. In that spirit,  I think it’s time to introduce you to Frits Thaulow (1847-1906)! Thaulow was a 19 th c. Norwegian landscape painter and has been one of my favorites for many years. Although he traveled widely and was friends with many leading artists of the day, including many of the Impressionists, he was more influenced by the French Naturalist painters like Jules Bastien-Lepage. I particularly enjoy his restrained palette, attention to drawing, and his luscious water. The man could paint water!

Here is our new friend Frits.

Thaulow portrait

 

And here are examples of his work.

You can also see more of his work online here. http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/frits-thaulow

Enjoy!

the-dordogne

alkejegeren

autumn

 

Thaulow 4

 

on-a-french-river

Thaulow 3

Thaulow

 

Thaulow 2

P.S. For centuries the depiction of water has challenged artists. Its unique properties- transparent, reflective, moving, still- create wonderful visual opportunities. In our annual Painting Water online class we learn how reflections are created and how to depict them, how the depth of water affects its color and value, how to depict still and moving water,  techniques and color palettes for water and using water features in your compositions. This class starts June 12th. Join us!

Let’s Talk Edges

Let’s talk edges! Edges don’t neatly fit into the usual categories of painting instruction- drawing, value, composition, color, technique. They are about all those things and much more! As a result, the topic of edges is often given short shrift , or when it is discussed, it isn’t fully integrated into the “big picture”.

First, what’s an edge? Quite simply, an edge is where two shapes meet. This might be two objects in a still life set up, objects in the foreground of a landscape set off against the distance, or a tree top against the sky. All of these present opportunities to paint edges, and the way we paint them will affect a great many things in our picture.

All are all edges alike or equal? No, most definitely not! Think of the range of edges in the same way you would a value scale. Here is an illustration of a range of edges from 1 to 7, hard to lost. A 1 on the scale would be a hard edge, a 2- 3 would be firm , 4-6 would be soft, and 6-7 would be lost. 

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You will often hear that your sharpest edges should be found at the center of interest. Although this is a generally helpful thing to remember, it doesn’t mean you will use a “1”. Just like with value, you use a range of edges. If, like me, you tend to use softer and lost edges, then your “hardest” edge might be a 4 or 5.

So how do edges affect all aspects of the painting process? In drawing, the kind of edge we use will provide variety as well as place emphasis on particular parts of our drawing. It works the same way in painting. Edges can also help you move the eye of the viewer through the painting. So they are a consideration in composing. Hard edges create contrast and that draws attention. Manipulating the value or color along an edge can make one form dissolve into another, create a sharp contrast, or introduce a color gradation or vibration. A crisp strong brushstroke can create an edge all by itself, while a glaze or scumble can obscure one. Edges are the place that all you know about drawing, value, color, composition and technique come together!

Here are some examples. Obviously this isn’t a landscape, but when I saw this painting a few years ago, one of the first things that struck me about it (aside from its size and the dark, brooding face of St. John,) was how masterfully Caravaggio used edges to bring the viewer in and around the painting. Of course, some of the sharpest edges can be found in the shoulder which brings it forward and gives the figure great volume and power and the left edge of the face (drawing). On the other hand, the top of the head becomes lost in the mass of foliage behind, and the shadowed side of the face melts into the neck and shoulder while the firmer edges in the arm and knee create a powerful diagonal leading to the face(composition). Caravaggio orchestrated a masterful repertoire of edges to create this powerful sculptural image.  Look further and see where you can identify firmer, softer and lost edges.

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In this moody Tonalist landscape by American master George Inness (1825-1894) the artist has used mostly soft edges. This adds to the atmospheric quality of the work. But, he uses some slightly firmer edges around the tree trunks to accent those negative shapes  of light sky behind (drawing) and draw the eye through (composition). He has used layers of glaze and scumbles to achieve a luminous glow and to soften most of the edges in the painting (technique).

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 Here is a beautiful Sanford Gifford. Gifford ( 19th century American- Hudson River School/Luminist) is known for his luminous atmospheric works. You can see how he has created lost edges in the clouds and edges of the mountain with a firmer edge along the demarcation of light and shadow defining the shape of Mt Ranier (drawing, value, color). The little boat and figure in the water have much crisper edges and act as a design counterpoint to the mountain top (composition).

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This painting is by Maynard Dixon (20th century American). Dixon’s paintings of the Southwest depict its arid landscape which produces harder edges which clearly define the sculptural shapes of the landscape (drawing). He manages to work within a range of hard to firm edges with a few softer edges reserved for the sky and clouds (value, color).

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P.S. What’s the one thing most beginning and intermediate landscape painters could do to immediately  to improve their work? Improve their drawing skills! Our six week online class Drawing the Landscape is designed to do just that. It starts March 27. Join us! 

Chroma Trumps Value

This month in the Values I class we have concerned ourselves with being able to recognize values in the landscape accurately as well as to understand concepts like Carlson’s Theory of Angles and atmospheric perspective. We often perceive value in Nature inaccurately. For example, warm colors are often judged to be lighter than they actually are. Cool colors, on the other hand, will often be perceived as darker. So, we learn to recognize those tendencies and challenge our visual assumptions.

Another good example of our perception vs. reality occurs with the color attribute of chroma or intensity of a color. One piece of information can help us overcome our preconceived ideas about high chroma colors: generally speaking, the highest level of chroma occurs in the middle value range (as opposed to at the light or dark end of the scale). There are always exceptions to that, with some colors having high chroma in a slightly lighter range and some really dark colors having high chroma (think Prussian Blue). But, if you start out with the idea that if you are seeing high chroma you are probably seeing at least a mid value then you will more times than not be in the right neighborhood value-wise.

Here are some examples of paintings containing high chroma. The greyscale version is presented too, so you can see how chroma trumps value!

A beautiful Isaac Levitan painting with lots of high chroma greens, but all that high chroma color is deceiving. Those foreground greens are at least 5 on the value scale! Bet you thought they were about a 7, right?

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Here is a vibrant Willard Metcalf which demonstrates our point ! All that warm chromatic color reads light, but is actually keyed much darker than you might have imagined. Much of this painting is in the middle key.

Metcalf

Metcalf greyscale

So, when you see or want to paint high chroma- think middle key!

P.S. Our Practical Color Mixing for Landscape Painters online class starts February 27. Learn to unlock the secrets of color mixing by understanding the concepts of hue, value, temperature and chroma. Discover how to create beautiful color harmonies using limited palettes and to edit the local color provided by Nature into a harmonious color scheme. Join us!

Why Draw?

Ivan Shishkin
Ivan Shishkin

Why Draw?

Often  landscape painters don’t think drawing is important. I am always amazed in my workshops and classes at the number of students who do not regularly use a sketchbook or include drawing as part of their art making process.

 

Isaac Levitan
Isaac Levitan

I was fortunate that the first artist I seriously studied with- Ned Jacob- is a fine draughtsman of figures, animals and the landscape. He is passionate about the importance of drawing. One of the most important things he said to me over the many years I studied with him was: Drawing will set you free. He never really explained what that meant, but over time I figured it out. So, now I am telling you: Drawing will set you free.

OK, that may sound like hyperbole, but it’s true. And, it’s true for several different reasons. Here they are.
First, drawing encourages observation- not casual looking, but concentrated, analytical observation. It slows you down. Its economy of means and materials allow for this to occur at almost any time and when time is short and effects fleeting.

When drawing, we are more likely to zero in on the one thing that first caught our notice, and less likely to try to capture everything out there (which often happens when painting).

Drawing, particularly mass drawing, is a bridge to painting- forcing us to focus on shape and value, without having to tackle color.

Deborah Paris Stream Study
Deborah Paris
Stream Study

Drawing, specifically, thumbnail sketches, can be an enormous aid to not only learning to compose but to trying out different compositional solutions before investing lots of time and painting materials in a bad one.

Drawing encourages intimate understanding of the structure of objects in the landscape as well as their surface appearance.  This knowledge will inform your efforts and make your work more authentic.

 

Tree Study Deborah Paris
Tree Study
Deborah Paris

But, perhaps the most important reason is that you cannot ever become a good landscape painter without being able to edit the raw material nature provides. If you are dependent on either what’s in front of you or a photographic reference, your options are always limited.

Deborah Paris
Deborah Paris

Editing means not only leaving things out, but moving them around, redesigning how they are shaped, in what part of the picture plane they are found, moving the viewer’s location, adding elements that support your visual idea but are not actually in the scene before you, and painting from memory and imagination. Drawing can give you the skills to do those things- the freedom to take the raw material nature provides and design works of art.
And, a long the way, you find that drawing itself is a great pleasure.  Drawing sets you free.

 

P.S. Our six week online class Drawing the Landscape is designed to introduce students to methods, materials, concepts (like linear perspective and comparative measurement), and strategies for successfully completing drawings from Nature both for their own sake and as invaluable reference for painting, reducing dependency on photography. There will be some art history thrown in to demonstrate the long and glorious tradition of drawing from Nature and some video demos to supplement the thorough written materials, illustrations and examples. Join us!