Daniel Smith, Seattle WA

Just back from a workshop and demo gig at the headquarters of this great company!
DS make high quality pigments and were the first to develop Quinacridones, now copied by just about every pigment manufacturer out there. They were also the first to come up with the dot card idea. It was only a small step to develop dot cards for individual artists as we see them today. Dot cards are being copied now as well.
I am happy to say I was the first artist who had his own dot card back in 2011. Since every artists palette changes over time, I have a brand new card now with about five or six new colors.

I make the card available to workshop participants only as it doesn’t make much logistic sense to send it out. I don’t want to charge for it and I don’t want to incur shipping charges either. If you’re curious about DS colors in general, they sell a dot card with a good color selection for five bucks here: http://www.danielsmith.com/Item–i-001-900-501-LIST

I am very grateful to be a featured DS artist and my heartfelt thanks goes to Katherine and John, as well as Joe, Thom and everyone else at the store who took care of me last weekend!

References/ subject matter

Sometimes students show me their photographs and ask which one would be best for a painting. I am always surprised when I look at them. Often it’s a picture that’s completely useless as painting material. Beautiful sunsets with people silhouetted on the beach or the picture of about a hundred boats sitting in a harbor in bright sunlight with no background.

I think the choice of subject can predetermine the outcome of a painting. Bad choices yield bad paintings, good choices and chances are your painting will be better. How do you pick subject matter? Arguably one of the hardest things, especially when painting outside. Even if you found your painting subject, you still have to find a spot with good or at least decent views. The world is full of information, too much information!! Sometimes, I walk around and can’t find anything that works.. it happens. Time of day is certainly an important factor. There’s a
reason artists talk about the ‘Golden hour’ and how it’s everyone’s favorite time to paint.

I always consider foreground middle ground and background. I look for patterns, how the light plays against the darks and vise versa. If there are buildings with bright roofs, I place myself in ways that the darker background is behind them. If the roofs are dark and silhouetted, I’ll have the lighter sky behind etc etc.
Patterns are spotted first, they make the painting. Light and patterns go hand in hand. Where there’s light there must be darks next to it. Where there’s darks, there must be light also. One can’t be without the other!

Drawing skillz

A good way to approach a drawing is to first draw in as true proportions as possible, then make a second drawing from the first. This time just drawing the essence of the first, omitting stuff. Simplifying is easier that way, since we no longer look at the original reference but already a ‘version’ of it.
If using a photograph, you can do the same thing. Your individuality will go into the drawing and later the painting, which is what you want. You can always check your changes with the original for accuracy or perspective, but you are essentially making a free interpretation of the picture rather than slavishly copying everything you see in the photograph.
I find that while it also works when painting outside, it is less practical because of the time factor. Light is changing rapidly and it’s difficult enough to do one drawing. It takes many hours of plein air painting to sort of develop the ‘instinct’ of what needs to go in and what can or must be left out! Put in the time!
A drawing or painting is often more interesting when parts of it are left unfinished. The detail and finish in the other areas will have a bigger impact and stand out more.

Ultimately, my goal in painting is beauty as oppose to verification of truth. Generally, people don’t put paintings up that are ugly. I know there is art for all kinds of reason and that’s just fine, but for my art, beauty is pretty important!

When is a painting finished.. and other musings

As I come to the end of a painting, this question always rears it’s ugly head: what else does it need?
The one after that I hate even more: couldn’t I have done a better job with this or that section? Is it a good painting? how good? My philosophy here is that I did the best I could do with what I have and who I am right now. I move on to another painting. This becomes very apparent to me when I look at work I did a few years back. It was the best I could do at the time. End of story.
You cannot ‘make’ a masterpiece. One day it may happen or it may never happen. It is a waste of time to think ‘this is it, this time I’ll do it’.
Doesn’t work.

Lack of decision and endless fiddling with the current painting is a harmful thing. You have to learn from the mistakes you can spot at the end and make amends, but the energy must go into a fresh effort! Learn to use your time wisely.

A word about talent: to any artist who has slaved over years to acquire his skills in painting, it is the most irritating thing to hear that your ability is just a ‘gift’. Talent is the first step, you have to have it. Absolutely. But nobody who paints amazing paintings has done so from day one. They put thousands of hours into it. There is no formula in art that will not break down as soon as the effort behind it ceases.
A good analogy is athletics: do you know how many hours pro figure skaters or tennis players practice every day? No need to answer that. Talent may help get you to the elite, I don’t dispute that. Even if I practiced tennis 8 hours a day from now on, I would never play like Roger Federer. I know that, I just don’t have enough talent.
But to say as artists we just have ‘this gift’ is ignoring how much work we’ve put into it.

Of course nowadays there are many who put more effort into their social media page instead of their art, but that’s another blog post. Or not.

What makes a painting beautiful, Part IV

You ever look at a dark tree against a light sky? The sky wraps itself around the tree, or the tree reaches into the sky mass. Both is happening, naturally. As logic dictates there is no visible connection between the branches and the sky, right? Well, not exactly.

There is a modification of the light going on near the dark and vise versa. Very gently, but it is there. It is the phenomena of diffraction:

As dark masses approach a light mass they grow slightly lighter. As a light mass approaches a dark mass it grows slightly darker, next to the dark mass. The edge can still be hard, as a branch in a sky would be, but the sky goes a bit darker around them. At the same time, the branch gets a bit lighter in value before it meets the sky.

This is how Sargent did it:

The second thing is the color. There is almost an exchange of color happening as well. The hill color behind the barn can be in the barn also. Same goes for the hill: put some color of the barn into the hill and it will look more harmonious.
The most obvious way to see this is to look at a telegraph pole against a sunset. It’s pretty crazy that the pole would take on the red or yellow of the sun on the bottom and the blue of the sky on the top. Isn’t it just a brown pole? The effect of halation!

Nobody says you have to paint like that all the time. But remember the old adage: you have to know ‘the rules’ before you can brake them.

Eventually, I will write a book with all these weird painting tips. It is nice to help fellow artists improve their painting skills, but first and foremost I will have to work on my own progress in this strange art world. The teaching is but a small part of it and it must not take over. It is not my calling to be a watercolor instructor. My calling is to be an artist. Thanks for reading my blog.

What makes a painting beautiful, Part III

There’s more to it than putting pigment on paper. One of the things I have learned is that, not only do we paint best what we know best, but also, we paint best what we truly love! Somehow that love goes into the painting and other people pick up on it.
Every scene ‘feels’ different. Early morning, midday, twilight…winter, summer, spring and fall. It is important to convey the feeling of the subject, I think.
If I hear that one of my paintings made somebody feel as though they were there, I know I have succeeded!

Light and color have a lot to do with it. They set the mood in a painting. It is one thing to copy nature but quite another to express her in a painting! We must never loose the big message to all the little unimportant detail. For instance, we need to consider the sweeping energy that a tree has, not so much how many leaves there are.

When working from a photograph, I think it’s important to do a drawing of the scene first. By interpreting the scene in your own way, you’ll paint a better picture than you would by slavishly copying everything on the photograph!

 

 

What makes a painting beautiful? Part II

Composition! It’s everything…almost.

Every good composition strives to hold the eyes of the viewer within the painting. It is called the eye path or leading line. It is achieved by line work and arrangements of shapes and patterns.
If you study the horse scene, you notice that the eyes go straight away to the horse on the right. It helps to have the grass point to it. (not too obvious; in a subtle way)
Right after that you start noticing the pair of horses on the left, because the right horse is looking right at them! The very left horse and the one on the right have eye contact. From the pair on the left you’ll notice the railing taking us back into the picture where the barns sit. The telegraph pole connects to the sky. Also, the tree line of the dark background tree and the lower end of the blueish hillside trees make a line that points straight to the right horse.
That’s the eye path I developed for this picture.
It is debatable whether it works the way I intended. It always is, but that’s ok. I arranged my shapes (horses, barn, pole, trees) in ways to support what I was after.

Now, what about subject matter and focal point? Aren’t those two sides competing, vying for attention? Maybe, but I think it still works. The eye contact of the horses does it for me. There is a connection, it gives it meaning and animates the scene. The look like they’re moving…they look alive.

Things to avoid: Important shapes too close to the edge of the painting. Big blocky patterns in the foreground that prevent the eyes from traveling into the picture.
All very traditional, but that’s what this is: traditional painting