Sunday, August 31, 2014
Inescapable Necessity of Interpretation
When painting, the artist must consider what their limitations are, what constraints given the objective they want to pull off successfully given the time they have (sunlight...weather, etc). The aim...is to pull off a painting that works, and as I like to say, "paintings work for reasons paintings work"...so given we have just four values assigned this time...darkest dark, mid value, light value plus white...the question then becomes "what can I make work here given my limitations?"
Nature exists before you either to be slavishly copied...or masterfully manipulated and creatively interpreted. Nature is a model...like someone sitting in a chair or you to paint. In the beginning...cause and effect, we like to see our time invested pay off...and imitating what we see becomes for us a proof. Putting our creative spin on what we see tends to come with time and confidence, but it is an aim. Nevertheless...when you have but four values, like it or not...we have no other choice but to interpret.
The problem is...when artists put out all sorts of colors and values, they've given themselves much room to interpret and try and get it right, but there exists painting outdoors the element of a short window of opportunity. It is fleeting. Just putting the paint on the palette and organizing the working space will see changes in the light and subject, and thus your emotive response to it as an artist. Some artists will never get beyond painting outdoors with the aim to do "sketches"....that perhaps they can take inside with reference photos and make a nicer longer timed effort. Some will learn to manage their time, their palette, take charge and produce what they feel comfortable to call, "finished paintings." Neither of these aims is better than the other, just being out there before nature is beneficial and wonderful.
What I have found over the years...is that artists must face themselves, that something drives them, and often change or challenges incur some risk. Artists must actually give themselves some permission to do something out of their routine in effort to see what will come.
When I take, say the distance that I am seeing behind my main subject or focal point, and choose to lighten the value perhaps even more so than I see it because it will give more prominent voice to my subject in front of it...that is an artistic choice of interpretation cognizant that "paintings work for reasons paintings work"....
That decision to interpret necessarily becomes clearer the more constrained our options are before us. If I have but four values to work with...and our eyes are capable of seeing nearly 400 values...some serious interpretation and decision making will be forthcoming.
Now...as to "paintings working for reasons paintings work"...I refer then to the teaching and understanding of many past masters, one John F. Carlson and his book on Landscape Painting put out in 1929, written in assistance by his wife. His observations were that the air contains water molecules, and has a particular density. Some regions of the world have more density of water in the air...some less, and distances are clearer or less distinguishable. In that observation, if we take a dark value of what is in front of us...and put some greater distance walking away from it, the farther away we go...the less dark that value appears. Walking back to it...the darkness would return. As we put distance between us and that value...we increase the volume of water density molecules in the atmosphere. The light from the sky above is captured within those molecules and a hazing effect takes place. This is a bit like trying to look thru a smudged dirty glass. The what of what can be seen has been kept from us in whole.
Thus masses that are far away...appear lighter than what is in front of us. Now...some say rules are meant to be broken, and I say yes...but it is important to know what the rule is and why it should be broken. Then...feel freely to do so. While we might see a darker mass in the distance, aware of our limitations before us and that the aim is to give greater visual voice to our nearer focal points...we have some decision making and interpretation to do. We will break the rule of what we are ACTUALLY seeing based on our limitations of what can reasonably be done.
In this example I made for online students at ANU (Artist Network University) ... I show a tree forward in the picture plane, finding less competition from the distance and thus standing out strong without issue. The first week's assignment limits the students to four values, similar to what you see in this image- ...and to add, a serious restriction of optional choices to work with.
Where everything is shouting, nothing gets heard...so by quieting the distant visual voices (in values, edges and color) from that of what is forward (in values, edges and color)...the tree "gets heard"....
Now...our second week in the course introduces "half-tones" which are transitions of values within EACH main dominant value. Those half-tones assist the eyes in sliding or moving from one dominant value to the next. In truth...since our eyes see nearly 400 values...there could be other "half-tones"....but even so, Edgar Payne teaches us that with pigment we are lucky to even suggest 40 possible values. With time of a shorter window before us. A reduced palette size by virtue of our paint box. Interpretation painting from life is necessary. You will find...that two half-tones in each of the three dominant values (white has no halftones) will more than enough provide pigment to create a full and rich painting.