The few details that show character are important, but the main character is held in the shape.
The best art amazes us because of what the artist left out, not because of what he or she put in. If everything is included, why not photograph the subject instead? Any beautifully rendered detail can be strengthened by this editing process. Even a photo-realist must leave some things out. It is the artist's job to only put in the information that speaks to the relevant issues.
Keep the painting on two or three picture planes.
What to Think About Before You BeginVisualize the finished painting, know the color harmony, how the painting is to vibrate. (Cannot figure everything out, but general feeling, mood.) See the big picture [Embrace the entire subject with your gaze.].
Ask yourself what should be seen first within your painting, and what you want to say about it. This is your first reading. A strong composition usually facilitates three good readings.
What is focal point, where does eye go first. Keep things simple. Make a more intimate painting.
Think about color and design, not story.
Consider background of every object.
What are going to be the lightest/darkest, richest/grayest, warmest/coolest areas of the canvas? These are the questions an artist asks before beginning a painting. Each of these contrasts is relative to what is around it.
RelationshipsRelativity is the hallmark of contrast. A middle value dark can appear light relative to the stronger darks around it; a muted blue can appear intense relative to the grays around it; a cool red can appear warm relative to the blues around it. With this relativity in mind it again becomes obvious that nothing can be viewed in isolation, but rather in constant relationship to its environment.
Further, if you are searching for a correct value, find other values of both lighter and darker degrees. Do this even if it means going beyond the limits of the intended composition. For example, the skin value in halftone is lighter than the skin in shadow, but darker than the highlight on the nose. The same should be done for intensity and temperature.
See colors, not separately, but altogether so you see the relationships.
Relate similar passages to one another.
Copying isn’t painting, it’s coloring. Don’t copy nature, let nature go through you and give its interpretation.
Overstate. Say something loud and clear. Don’t be afraid.
20 Showcasing Color
Sergei Bongart on ColorThink of color first, subject last. Everything begins as an abstraction of color. When dealing with complimentary colors in a composition (warms against cools), a good rule of thumb is to shift both to the same side of the color wheel. This may help harmonize and otherwise sharpen composition. Take, for example, yellow and violet. Move them both to, say, the red side. The yellow then becomes a yellow-orange, while the violet becomes a reddish violet.
There are no local colors, its all reflected color. [Bongart per Berberian]
Understand the basis of composing a picture in color. No color should be viewed in isolation, but rather in constant relation to what is around it. A color is what it appears to be only because of its relationship to the surrounding colors. Nothing exists in isolation. Each previous color choice must be re-evaluated as a new color is placed along side of it. If you change one color, you have in effect changed them all.
When we paint, we really aren't copying the colors of nature, we are painting the color relationships. We don't have the color palette that nature has, so we must give the illusion of truth through the relationships of the colors we choose.
As in chess, try to think several moves ahead, painting the color relationships that are deemed integral to the picture. Always make the next most important move. Don't paint in nose highlights, for instance, before you have established the background colors.
Contrast warm and cool next to each other
It is vital at the start of a painting to cover the white of the canvas with chosen silhouettes of color. Do this as soon as possible. A white canvas masks the truth of the color relationships. Toning the canvas can help eliminate the glare of white, but does nothing to establish the true harmonies between each color.
View a color not by looking into its center, for in this way you can convince yourself it is practically anything in terms of temperature, intensity and value. Rather, view it at its borders, against the surrounding contrasts. Glance visually back and forth between foreground and background colors.
Make color decisions only after considering with you gaze all colors of the same hue.
When a color looks chalky, it is usually not too much white, but too cool.
PlanesDifferent plane, different color. In shadows, planes facing the same direction take on the same color; planes facing different directions take on different colors. Edges of forms in light or shadow may take on some of the color of the immediate background, because of the background light reflecting off the form.
Everything has [at least four] planes: top, two sides, bottom
Mixing PigmentA composition will often harmonize better if you bring some of the foreground colors into the background, and background colors into the foreground. In nature, colors reflect into other colors, although this is not always evident. In mixing compliments to gray, the intensity of it may become dull or dirty. To correct the problem, move the colors slightly to the same side of the color wheel (add a stain that is a common color to both).
Take green and red, for example. Move the green towards yellow and move the red likewise. Mixing the yellowish green with the orangish red will produce a fair gray in either the warm or cool yellow camp. If it is too dirty in practice, add the common Indian Yellow stain and it will become richer. (Obviously, too much will pull it completely out of the gray range and into the yellow.) If you stain your near compliments (grays) to begin with, it will effect a rich state automatically.
When learning color it is wise to mix pigment a little brighter than you think it should be. It is much easier to mix down in intensity than to force it back up.
Avoid using pure white or pure black in a painting. A better way of getting black is by mixing Alizarin Crimson and Thalo Green. This will either give you a rich warm or a rich cool black that has much more depth than a flat black would.
You must learn to mix your own personal colour.
StainsA stain is a color that has the property of transparency as soon as it is thinned to any degree. For instance: Indian Yellow, Transparent Orange, Permanent Rose, Magenta, Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine, and any Thalo color (to name a few). No Cadmium or Cobalt color is a stain. Generally, a stain is a color that has no white or black in it. Most colors gray when white is added to them. Stains, on the other hand, intensify. This is particularly true of the lighter colors (skin tones, for example), where the color will dull as soon as you mix it out of a high intensity. A stain will keep a richness to the grays.
Bright ColorWhen painting with bright colors, keep the values close
Do not over-model bright colored objects
Sergei Bongart Painting ProcessWork around the canvas two or three times or more before moving to any detail. It is entirely possible, and often advisable, to spend 90% of your time merely adjusting the big, simple shapes before ever moving to the rendering. Once this is satisfactory, the chosen style or technique can be completed with confidence, up to and including ultra-tight realism.
Thin shadows, heavy lights.
Rarely painted on a white canvas. Used wash of a local color.
Recommended using an umbrella when painting out doors.
Stage 1 Design - establish abstract shapes and color notesKey considerations: design [shapes, spots, passages], color harmonies, large value relationships
A Cover the canvas vigorously, as quickly as possible.
- draw (intuitively design general shapes and outlines; establish positive and negative areas of abstract design), on a toned canvas, using a “watery” oil paint of the same color as the dominant subject thinned with turp and a small amount of retouch varnish
- Bongart drew by establishing only the juncture of where the negative spaces met
- Apply thin washes of color in the shadows and darkest areas – establish the darkest darks and the lightest lights - start with the darkest area of the most important [interesting] element
- apply washes of color in large flat simple shapes with colors related to objects – no modeling of form, no detail
- to find the right color – compare like to like, reds to reds, greens to greens, warm to warm, dark to dark, light to light – painting all similar colors simultaneously
- Once the arrangement and colors were to his liking, determine dominant color and theme (first decision was about color, then temperature and value)
Do not proceed to Stage 2 until Stage 1 is completed to the best of your ability.
Stage 2 Give form and dimension to flat color shapesStart modeling only after color notes are correctly related in value, temperature and color.
- add small amount of medium and use white (for the first time) wherever warranted
- Stay in middle tone, holding full power accents until the last possible moment [Stage 3]. Thus the lights are painted a little darker and the darks a little lighter than they appear.
- still using large brushes
- paint in the shadow areas, then elsewhere
- model and distinguish planes – painting from large to smaller and smaller planes – no details
- work in both directions from mid-tones on canvas modifying as necessary – warmer/cooler, lighter/darker
- allow colors to drift into each other
- do not over-model – it destroys the impact of color
- soften, lose or find edges
- variety of textural effects
- tweak darkest darks and lightest lights
- calligraphy if needed
- finish with strong accents and heavier impasto for the lighter shades
- highlights – usually last, be selective, do not paint all highlights
- His paintings often appeared vague, unfinished, until the final few strokes were added
- In a three hour painting, 2 ½ hours big shapes, 25 minutes thinking about detail, 5 minutes paint detail
- One advantage of the lay-in by tone and general effect, without worrying about details is that you only need to put in those details which are absolutely essential … if a picture in its first lay-in satisfies in its line, color, and general effect, then you proceed to finish
- work from dark to light using a variety of brushstrokes
- place warm spots near cool, cool near warm
- work in all areas of the painting so that everything is in the same stage of development
- Never over-model
- foreground areas in dark values, middle ground in mid-values and the background in the lightest values
The secret to radiant light is warm and cool colors coming together.
Everything that receives light is a source of light. In this way everything is a light source, to a greater or lesser degree. This is why shadows are not pure black. Even though the light source, by definition, isn't directly affecting the shadows, that light is hitting other objects around the shadow. These objects become weaker, indirect light sources that affect the shadow value. Because they are weaker, the value of the light side will almost always be lighter than the shadows.
Nothing in the light is as dark as the shadow. Nothing in the shadow is as light as the light. In other words, you can have all the detail you want in the lights and all the detail you want in the shadows, but the lights should stay light, the shadows dark. The two should never mix.
Of all the properties of color [light], value is by far the most powerful. Value and design set the painting; all else builds from them.
There is no such thing as white light in nature. Light always has a color (warm or cool). If everything that receives light is a source of light, then everything that receives light is also a source of color. Sunlight is warm-yellow to red. Sky light is cool-green to purple.
The color of the light plus the color of the object equals the color you mix. This is the key formula. For example, if the sunlight is yellow and the object to be painted is a red apple, the perceived color will be somewhere in the red-yellow range. If the light is strong, yellow will dominate; if weak, red will dominate. A powerful enough light source will bleach out the color of the object until all you see is the color of the light. If you want a sense of light in your painting it is often best to let the light color dominate the palette.
The color of the light is most revealing on a white object. Since white has no color it becomes, literally, the color of the light.
A warm light on a warm object will intensify; a cool light on a warm object will mute. All other combinations logically follow.
ShadowsWarm light, cool shadow. Just like the light has a color (as it effects the lit object), shadow has a color also. If the light is warm, the shadow light will be cool. If the light is cool, the shadow is warm. In theory, the shadow is a perfect complement to the light color (yellow light yields purple shadow). However, since any given object exists in an environment with other objects in it, and those objects, as we said, are bouncing light and color into the shadows, the shadow is generally catching several other colors besides the complimentary shadow color. The best we can say, then, is that if the lights tend to be on the warm side, the shadows will tend to be cool (and the other way around).
Generally, there are great shifts of color in the shadows, and subtle temperature shifts in the light. Light areas should consist of slight variations of warm and cool colors.
Keep the shadows together, making sure the reflected light color does not dominate.
Reflected light belongs to the shadows.
In dim light, the light will bleach out and the shadows will appear lighter and more colorful.
HalftonesThe color in the light is almost always different from the color in the shadows.
- Halftones belong to the light
- As planes turn away from the light and towards the shadows they will begin taking on the color of the shadows.
- The darker halftones will begin taking on the color of the background at the edges of the form.
- The halftones will be the best area to see the true local color.
- do not use highlights unless they serve you well
- will not give you much turn of form;
- will tell you what the surface is like (rough or smooth);
- will fall in peaks and valleys;
- will move with you, the viewer;
- will reflect at the same angle as the light that hits the form as it bounces to the viewer's eye;
- will take on the color of the light more fully;
- are found on wet or smooth surfaces, especially;
- will be found on the corner separating two planes in light.
20 Exceptional Compositions
Bongart on DesignAll paintings must be both warm and cool, dark and light and the contrasts must be exaggerated
All paintings must have a dominant color, creating harmony
Shadows are as important as subject and must be included as part of abstract design.
Design your painting in terms of [shape] silhouettes; dark on light, rich on grey, warm on cool, etc. As you design your painting, always keep in mind that the viewer's eye moves from the area of greatest contrast to least contrast.
Find interesting point of view, something fresh and different, moment of surprise.
Silhouettes can be strong or subtle. The design is arrived at through the contrast of various relationships, but the degree of contrast is up to the artist, of course. Here-in lies the infinite possibilities.
For a still life, you need a few large objects to create a mass; then you can have a few small items around. Select a dominant color theme.
Every good painting has main color that goes through it.
A good painting must carry the mood from a distance before you see the details.
Every painting needs active and quiet areas.
When painting a gray day, make it gray. When painting a sunny day use oranges, reds, yellows, greens – make it happy. Every element of a painting must tie together, have unity, express mood.
Behind every painting is a strong abstract design in color spots. Can’t see objects, only color spots.
Pick small spot, make more intimate painting.
Every part of the canvas must be interesting.
More contrast! To create, you must think: cool/warm, related color, reflected color, dark/light, thick/thin, dissimilar spaces, opposite contrasting movements.
FeelingTrust your eyes. Paint by feeling. Paint what instinct tells you.
The less inhibited you are, the better.
Art is more than product of your efforts; it should be about feeling, life, attitude, soul.
Every painting should be based on feeling, without feeling, the work is dead.
When the artist has succeeded with expression, stop. The painting is complete.
BrushworkShould be spontaneous
- Paintings must always have lost and found edges.
- A cast shadow is the sharpest edge (next to the contour), but it will soften and blur as it moves farther from the point of origin.
- The slower a form shadow turns on a form, the softer the edge. In other words, the rounder the form, the softer the edge. The more angular the form, the harder the edge.
- The harder the surface being lit, the harder the edges. Bone will have a harder edge than muscle.
- Edges in the shadows are generally softer than in the light.
- The closer the form is to you, the viewer, the harder the edge. The farther away, the softer, looser, and more blurred.
- The brighter the light source, the harder the edge.
- Edges perpendicular to the light tend to be sharper. Glancing light will leave a soft edge.
- A light object against a dark background (in intense light) will have its edges flare and soften into the darkness, taking on the intense color of the light.
- The human eye naturally focuses on one distinct area at a time, leaving everything else softly out of focus.
- When painting, pick out a few hard edges at points where you want the viewer to concentrate and soften the edges elsewhere.
For the figure, the larger the form the grayer, the smaller the form the redder. Blood is closer to the surface on small forms. The nose is redder than the face, the face redder than the head, the head redder than the torso.
In painting portraits look for general structure, planes of face correctly placed in the right color create a likeness. The likeness grows from a bunch of colors, then show character, after that put in something typical of model.
Look for what is different, exaggerate.
Push negative areas to make face stand out.
Must have aesthetic quality as a painting, not a likeness.
Three main color notes for portrait: background, face, clothing. Establish the lightest, medium and darkest values for each, then consider temperature.
It is impossible to keep a large painting completely wet, features must be painted in one sitting, if not you must scrape (not the entire painting, but parts) and start fresh
When you paint clothes, select the fold that will suggest gesture and overstate it.
Paint all subjects. Paint your first impression, that first glimpse which excites you. Look at the subject and think about it. Does it cheer you, create sadness, give a sense of abandonment, or evoke energy and promise?
Still life is the best exercise for the artist. If you can paint still life, you can paint anything.
The best exercise to train the eye is to exaggerate the color and then work from there always comparing relationships.
Beginners paint objects, experienced painters paint passages
Learn to paint with lots of juicy pigment
Mix black and Thalo Blue for a very light soft gray turpentine wash on canvas.
Bongart used a tone, but the most brilliant colors can be developed on a white canvas, but indoors or on a gray day paint on a gray ground.
For a warm painting use a cool undertone and let the tone show through.