Friday, August 06, 2010

Creating distance in a painting

My general method of working on a painting tends to be a progression from the ‘distance’ towards the foreground. Rather like a stage with a backdrop and scenery in “layers” coming towards the audience.

So I start, in this case, with the sky and use three subtly different tones of blue. Working wet into wet I put a warm dark tone (French Ultramarine and a touch of Alizarin Crimson into the Titanium White) to the top coming down to the cooler mid-tone (Cobalt Blue and Titanium White) with a very pale greyish-blue tone (French Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson and Cerulean Blue into the White) at the horizon; blending the colours with a soft filbert brush so that there is no ‘noticeable’ banding. The effect is quite subtle and although it will not be immediately obvious to the eye, it will help create a sense of distance to the horizon. I finish off the sky using a ¾” soft Mop Brush with the lightest of touches – barely touching the paint – but just enough to “feather” out any visible brush strokes. By softening my brushstroke lines I create a smoother feel to the paint and in this case makes the sky appear seamless and distant.

I paint in the hill whilst the sky is still wet enabling me to get a soft join of sky and land, as a strong hard edge of the hill against the sky will bring it ‘forward’. I want the hill to also look distant, so I need the colours to be muted and the detail to have a soft focus look. I use a base of Titanium White and add Burnt Sienna, French Ultramarine and Alizarin Crimson to get a brownish mauve for the right hand-side ground colours and shadows and add Gamboge, Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna to white to get creamy colour mixes for the more sunlit left-hand side. When I mixed my sky colours I made sure I had more than I needed for the sky, as I want to use them in my hill colours too. This helps “tie” the two together to create unison in colour tone and aids the hill colouration to look distant. Using a Size 4 Round watercolour brush I roughly block in the lights and darks of the hillside. Then I go over again paying more attention to building up the textures within the colours, sunlit and shadow areas before I add the vegetation.

For the trees and bushes I use mainly cool bluish greens made from Ultramarine, Cerulean Blue, Cadmium Yellow Hue and Yellow Ochre with a few warmer greens here and there made with the same blues but more of the Yellow Ochre and a touch of Burnt Sienna. For the vegetation highlights I used the pale creamy ground colour and a pale peachy colour made from Titanium White, Alizarin Crimson and Yellow Ochre. Again I use the sky mixes in with my colours to get the unity in the tone of the painting.

Tip - As I paint around the elephant forms I take care not to have any thickness of paint or ridges. If left, when dry and the ellies colours are added, this will distract from the feel of the elephants being in front of the landscape.

the thin strip of water at the base of the hill I use the sky colour but add more French Ultramarine to darken it a little more. At the far water’s edge I blend in a thin line of brownish blue with the greens of the reeds to indicate shadows and a touch of white blended in towards the front (bottom) edge of the water to indicate the light sky reflected. Coming forward of the water I start with the greens of the vegetation and reeds making them slightly darker than on the farther edge… again all to add a sense of depth.

As I move forward from there towards the line of the elephants’ feet I use white, Gamboge and Alizarin Crimson to make the greens paler and warmer, so the vegetation appear drier. I am not putting in any detail but using the brush strokes and colour to indicate form and texture. Once past the lush vegetation at the water’s edge I use more peachy/pink, mauve and cream/beige colours in with much paler greens to add warmth and help create a look of parched, dry grasses and land.

I add the shadows cast on the ground by the animals using a purple-brown colour and adding greyish green and pale blue to indicate lights and darks within. Although the shadows are thin lines adding a few fluctuations in tone and colour breaks up their starkness. I work downwards on the canvas (coming forward in the scene) in stages; sky, hill, vegetation, water, vegetation, soil and grasses until I reach the elephant’s feet.

After each stage I use the Mop Brush as before with just the lightest of feathering sweeps over the wet paint. This keeps detail to a minimum, gives a soft focus effect and smooths out any ‘light-catching’ ridges and bumps in the paint that might draw the eye and distract from the sense of distance I want to achieve.

Now onto the elephants themselves and where the real fun starts. By this time several days of work have gone by and the background is mostly dry so good strong edges to the animals can be created. The creams and peachy/pink colours I used for the dried grasses and ground colours I now use as the highlights for the animals. Elephants often are similar colours to their environment as they use the soil to mud-bathe and dust themselves with.

The soil in this part of Amboseli is very light in colour, so the tops of the ellies reflect this. The lower parts of their bodies (and the whole of the youngster) are darker, indicating that they have been in the marsh and the lighter soil has been washed off. The tide line is about mid way up the adults’ sides, so the lower parts of the elephants are darker greys. The colour mixes I used for this are a dark and a lighter purple mixed from French Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, Burnt Sienna and Alizarin Crimson mixed with some of the sky blue and a little Titanium White. A darker purple brown is used for the shadows. And a mid and a light tone warm grey and a bluish purple-pink (a pale warm grey with cobalt Blue and Alizarin Crimson added) is used for the main body. The shadows for the animals are much richer in colour and warmer in tone than those in the vegetation behind them; this brings the animals forward in the scene and distances them from the hill and land behind.

The first animal I paint is the one furthest away and has the most light on it, so it will set the tone for the rest. I carefully block in, starting with the darkest shadows of the underside of the body and head and tops of the legs. The mid tone grey covered the rest of the legs and body. Using the darkest purple brown I mix it into the wet mid tone grey on the lower half of the body and the pinkish blue on the upper part of the body leaving the top of the back, shoulders and head for the pale cream and pinkish landscape colours. I blend the colours into each other moulding the body using the brushstrokes to go in the direction of the wrinkles and ‘round’ the animal’s form.

Again the detailing on the anim
al isn’t great it’s mostly implied. Being aware of the direction of brushstrokes when creating the wrinkles and moulding the body is key to the effect. Using a brush loaded with a darker or lighter tone than is on the canvas and drawing it through the wet paint creates lines, which easily imply wrinkles. Adding a few high and low lights emphasises the effect.

I add in a few touches of a mid green that was used in the landscape on the bottom part of the body and upper legs… not too much, just a hint. On the legs, particularly nearer the feet, I add a pale mauve into the dark shadows to imply reflected light from the ground. On the
parts of the legs catching the light I add a little of the pinkish mix and a touch of pale blue on the feet to make the bottom of the legs look dustier than the tops. Once finished, I use the Mop Brush again to soften the colour blends, but then go back over to add one, or two, more defined lines. Once the paint is dry, I use a dry brush stroke to gently go over a few areas of the body and legs with a few of the colours previously used to add a bit of rough texture to the skin.

I painted the elephants one at a time in the same way, working from the furthest to the nearest one, but making the tones slightly darker on the nearest animals, again to bring them forward and create a bit of space between them and the animals behind. For the foreground I again kept the detail loose as I want the focus to be on the elephants and any sharp detail in front would draw attention away from them. The colours are the same as I have used throughout for the grasses and ground but I added a little more burnt Sienna and Alizarin Crimson to the mixes to strengthen the tones and therefore bring them forward in the painting. I also used a Size 0 Rigger brush to flick in some longer grasses. The bleached branches and twigs have the purples and pink tones from the elephants and cream tones from the ground.

Once I had finished painting the foreground I took a long hard look at the painting as a whole and decided to take out several of the dead branches as it looked too cluttered and also added some dust kicked up by the elephants. The dust was added once the painting was dry and using dry brush strokes I scrubbed an uneven thin application of the pale mauve and pink mixes around the feet and then used the Mop Brush to soften and lift out any areas of too much paint.

And that, as they say, is that. Painting done and I was pleased with how it came out. I really enjoyed doing this one. Of course there are always bits you feel you could have done better/differently but then us artists are rarely completely satisfied with our work and are usually our own worst critics.

1 comment:

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