Breaking the rules!

We’ve all learned painting rules during our Academic training or in workshops when we started out.
I always remember Kevin McPherson’s famous line: ‘Black in sunlight is lighter than white in shadows’. The other famous one which I can’t remember right now who said it: ‘the darkest light in the light has to be lighter than the lightest dark in the shadow. Keep the light and dark tonal ranges separate to show realistic form.’

How come there are so many paintings out there where those rules are seemingly disregarded?

That’s what Andrew Wyeth called ‘going beyond the facts’. Looking at the images below it’s easy to see that the value range in these pictures must’ve been at least partly invented. The tall foreground grass is too dark even though it’s obviously in the sun and the back hill is way dark for a more dramatic effect.




It’s even more obvious in the second image: why are the blanket and the flower patch on the lower right so dark even though they are obviously in the sunlight?

The best answer is simply that art should be about expression and that fact is often completely forgotten or missed by many painters. I think it has to do with the fact that the general public judges art by how realistic it is painted. You often hear the phrase: oh wow, that looks just like a photograph. Like that’s the best thing ever! To some that is more of an insult than a compliment (harshly spoken of course) because what is the ARTISTIC point of copying something verbatim, even if you achieve photo realism? What message is the painting carrying? Where’s your personality in it?

Having said that, most artists start out that way. We are obsessed with copying it the way it is and that’s ok. It is a process and we develop and grow as artists. Further along in our art endeavor we might ask ourselves ‘what am I trying to say’, ‘why do I paint this scene’ and ‘what would my message be’?

I continue to go through phases like that. Sometimes a painting I paint looks overly realistic to me and then I don’t really like it. Sometimes it has a painterly quality or feel to it and still looks real (but only if you step back) and I like that best!

Check out this image I found of Wyeth painting on top of his jeep. Super cool! I love how the watercolors drip down the hood and of course the puppy patiently waiting in the car! My dog would try to climb onto my lap making painting impossible!


8 thoughts on “Breaking the rules!

  1. Pam Barker

    Great article, Frank. The subject of light in shadows especially, a whole study could be done on that. It’s interesting to see how Andrew Wyeth handled the shadows in those two pieces.
    “Art is supposed to be about expression,” is something we all need to remind ourselves of…my mantra for the year! I like what JZ says too, “insinuate, don’t duplicate.”
    I too find the general public really doesn’t appreciate a painterly approach, most are in awe of super realism. Maybe it takes a fellow artist to truly appreciate an impressionist style?
    I love that photo of Andrew painting on the hood of his car! I might have to try that sometime.

    1. frankeber Post author

      Glad you liked it, Pam. I could go on and on about this but in the end it’s like music. You can’t argue about it. I find it sad that even someone like Andrew Wyeth is largely unknown to the general public and he achieved so much…but then, he wasn’t an oil painter! Who the hell likes watercolors??

  2. Pam Barker

    What a cool painting ‘Controlled chaos’ is!! Nice shadows in this one. Is that at SLO? Hope your arrival home was easier than your departure was.

  3. Philip A Kinsey

    Good post Frank! You have touched a lot of points. As always enjoy following your painting. I am also a painter. Painters looking at painting. Wyeth is one of my favs also. Painterly painting only kind that matters to me. Slick realism is a tech feat and yup the lay person is gaga about it. The painting concept that comes to mind regarding this is “closure”. How long the painting remains fresh and open to interpretation by the viewer. Realism is all there at first and impressive yet for me doesn’t stand up to further viewing. All it says is this is what this looks like done. Impressionism on the other hand I can live with and return to to see more! The public and art oh boy. I think part of watercolors problem is that as an artist said, “more insipid bad art has been committed in watercolor than any other medium.” No such thing as bad art there is just art!? Because of its promotion as hobby pass time whatever. I ramble sorry so many topics here. Keep the faith and keep painting! Try to explain the difference between fine art painting and illustration to someone and they kind of go blank. It takes knowledge to paint well and it takes knowledge to view and appreciate fine art DUH! Regards Phil

    1. frankeber Post author

      Thanks, Phil. Great comment. I like the quote a lot: more insipid bad art has been committed in watercolor than in any other medium. That pretty much nails it for me. Wish I know who said this, would love to quote but I have to be careful with what I say. As a national workshop teacher especially. You ever heard of Edward Reep? He said: nowhere in the world of art education has technique been so foolishly substituted for true meaning, self expression, and knowledge as in the field of watercolor.
      I think both quotes are true while, to be fair, there are probably just as many bad oil painters out there nowadays! Especially since plein air painting seems to be so ‘en vogue’ now..thanks for the visit!

      1. Philip A Kinsey

        Ha Ha Frank I told you about Ed Reep in a previous reply! Anyway he tells it straight. I was thinking too that this was a quote of Reep or maybe Ruskin or Henri. Agree on the abundance of bad oil painters too. No matter what I paint any more it seems like I’m after some truth visual, emotional. Wyeth said the reason he painted was love. He saw no other reason to. GREAT!

      2. frankeber Post author

        That was you! Sorry, didn’t remember that! Thanks for that tip, I really respect what Reep has to say in his book. Wyeth had it right, that is the best reason! Too many people get caught in the social media crap and it becomes like a rat race of ‘likes’ and ‘followers’. That’s not why I paint.
        Anyway, great to get your input, always appreciated. Thanks for taking the time!!

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