Monday, 6 August 2012
HELP! I WANT TO LOOSEN UP!
Although many artists aspire to paint photographically, there are vast numbers of artists who would like to paint in a loose, painterly way, achieving a finished piece which looks spontaneous, fresh, and semi-suggested, the lovely loose mark-making as important as the subject.
A looser, more painterly effect is something I strive for, and seldom achieve. I did manage it, to my own satisfaction, with the image of the girl on the beach, above.
Below is an image painted by the late Debra Manifold, who sadly died before she able to fulfil her marvellous potential. We completely understand the image, despite the fact that so much of it is suggested:
BUT To achieve this kind of looseness does not happen just because you decide to paint with softened edges, fuzzy strokes, or lack of detail.
So HOW can I achieve a looser style then, do I hear you ask?
Well, the answer is perhaps not going to be one that you will like, particularly if you are fairly new to painting.
In order to achieve a painterly, loose, spontaneous look to your work, you need to fully understand the nuts and bolts of creating a painting.
You need to be confident and knowledgeable about TONE, about COLOUR and about COMPOSITION. Your DRAWING skills need to be good, if you intend to include figurative imagery. Even the abstract artist, who works purely with colours and shapes which owe nothing to the figurative, needs to have good basic knowledge of tone, colour and design under his or her belt.
And when I say "knowledgeable" this means a lot more than just understanding what the words mean! You may think you know about tone, because you understand that a light tone is different to a dark one......this is not enough. Can you properly convert a colour into its correct tone? So many think they do...but they get it wrong time and again. The world of colour is one you must understand fully - you need to know the colour wheel and quite a lot about colour interaction. You may feel that you do not need to read up about composition - it should come instinctively. But if your painting lacks a good, strong underlying composition, with the main elements of the design carefully considered, no amount of lovely loose brushwork or strokes will save the day. I promise you....you need to study all of these areas as separate subjects, there is so much to learn, but all of it should be fascinating to you, so it is no hardship to learn.
You also need to be brave and BOLD. I have come across many a retired architect, who knows how to draw extremely well. After many years of painstaking, accurate drawing, they retire and decide to try to be painters. And their work remains slow and careful. They dot every i and cross every t. Detail is their god. Their works are stiff and clean and very precise. But there is no boldness, no excitement, nothing unexpected or surprising.
So - a few ideas for you - if you feel you actually do understand many of the important basics by now and want to have a bash at working in a looser fashion.
ALWAYS DO A VALUE STUDY/THUMBNAIL before you start on any painting. Concentrate on composing the big shapes within the rectangle, using dark, medium and light tones. This will give you a flying start. It will feed you with confidence. Here is one of mine...I used the Tombow range of felt pens, in three shades of grey, they have brush tips, they are lovely to use, and in a few seconds, you can achieve a really good sense of the image to be.
WORK STANDING UP whenever you can do so. ( If you cannot, then at least stand up regularly and walk AWAY from your picture to see it from a distance.) If you work standing up, you have more energy, somehow, your whole body seems to be involved, you can use your hand working right from your shoulder, rather than from your wrist. When sitting down, leaning over your picture, there is a tendency to tighten up and focus on small areas rather than view the image as a whole.
SORT OUT YOUR PALETTE IN ADVANCE. If you work with pastels, sort out the ones you plan to use, take them out of your main set and put them into a small plastic tray. If you work with paints, prepare puddles or piles of paint in advance. You can still add or adjust...but being prepared and ready to pick up a colour without hesitation, is a huge help.
USE BIG BRUSHES, AND LARGE STROKES. Working with tiny brushes, and baby strokes, will completely inhibit your ability to work in a loose and lively fashion. Choose brushes bigger than you would ever normally use; make strokes larger, certainly in the early stages of a painting, bigger than you might usually do. Work bigger than is your normal practice - on a forum I visit regularly, someone said "please look at this small painting I have done. I am trying to loosen up". It was not loose at all. It was quite the opposite in fact. It is really hard to loosen up when working small.
WORK FAST. This requires some practice. Here is an idea for you:
Instead of working on an important, finished painting, a commission, or one you are absolutely determined to frame, GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION to spend some time working on some images which you actually will allow yourself to throw away (or put in a drawer). Give yourself a TIME LIMIT and paint like the wind. It is extraordinary what happens when you work against the clock - adrenalin kicks in and you become a totally different painter. Even find yourself a timer, or stopwatch ...and give yourself no more than about 7 minutes to paint a scene. This needs to be after having done your initial thumbnail sketch, incidentally - this is important. Do your sketch, sort out your palette, then set the stopwatch and GO FOR IT!!! Big bold strokes, no fiddly detail, be bold, you will soon see what I mean! It really feels quite different and exciting. Force yourself to stop when the bell rings. Then walk away from that picture, come back to it later and see what you achieved. Do quite a few. You may be surprised to find that actually, the pictures have more merit than you would have believed possible, and they will have more looseness and freshness than you ever imagined you could achieve. You will have no time to worry about details, you will learn to get the essence of the picture down swiftly........and it might even teach you to stop before you fiddle the picture to death!