Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Colouring (or coloring) - in......is that what you do?

Do you find that the "drawing" stage of a painting means that you feel you must paint, carefully, the shapes you have drawn?   You feel satisfied with the drawing;  you are careful with tones, and colours........yet somehow the painting looks stiff and rigid when you have finished.

This may be because you are "colouring-in".  It is not surprising.........if you have been careful about your drawing, you don't really want to spoil it.....so the lines of the drawing become the guide for the subsequent applications of colour.

Why, then, would this lead to an unsatisfactory result for some of us ?    I say "some of us" because those who like to paint photographically might be delighted with a perfect, photographic result - and there is nothing actually wrong with painting in that way - I am simply addressing those who do NOT like the end result of their efforts!.

Colouring-in can lead to  similarly-painted edges everywhere.  The lines of the drawing become OUTLINES.  Outlines are fine if we are drawing cartoons...........but that is not the way we see the world.

When we look at our subject -be it landscape, still life, figure - we do not see any "outlines". I am aware I may have said this before, but it is worth repeating, I believe.    A figure has no outline around it.  An apple doesn't have an outline.  Sure, both figure and apple have a point at which the form "turns a corner" and is invisible to our eye...but sometimes, at that precise point, the so-called "edge" may be almost indiscernible....or sharp as a knife.  It depends on what is next to the shape at that point, and what is happening with the light.   

Let's look for a moment at this painting, Book Fair Group:  I apologise for the brilliance of the blue - lousy photo - but nevertheless it is helpful in the context of this article.

Look at the figures.  Notice how the light offers us one side of their bodies, nicely "outlined".  But the outlines "melt" where the figure turns away from the light.  The tall guy's front almost melts into the striped sweater of the figure next to him;  her head and face melt into the figure next to her.  The chap on the far right is only really visible at all because of the light hitting one side of his figure - otherwise, he is just suggested.  .His right side "melts" into the background beyond.

Given that I was working with an opaque medium, pastels, I  used a range of blues, greys and other dark colours for the figures AS A WHOLE LARGE SHAPE, not worrying about "going over the lines", and then I went back into that mass of dark tones, to pick out some of the medium tones, and then the lighter tones until finally painting the lightest, sharpest marks.  There was no need to "colour-in" each one separately....and had I done so, I might have lost some of the visual "flow".
For this garden "still life", I HAD to draw carefully - without a good drawing, those chairs might have been a disaster........but then, chair legs and shadows were painted together, so that the shapes were not too separate. the colours used were repeated in the foliage to the right.   The chair in the background also half-disappears;  the dark tone of the foliage behind it was painted right across the drawing of the chair (leaving it faintly visible in parts, but only just), and then the slightly lighter tones used for the backrest were put in.
When I was a student, my tutor warned me against always painting within the lines. Always allow yourself to paint OVER the lines or edges, if those lines or edges are not sharp and visible clearly in real life, he said, (as did other tutors after him).   Where a shape melts into another shape, allow the colour to bleed from one into the other. 
 PAINT FROM THE GENERAL, TO THE SPECIFIC, he said.  What that means is squinting like crazy, to discern the general pattern of light and dark shapes in a scene.  Get those down first.   Then, and not before, work towards the details.  In this way, you will avoid that whole business of your image looking too stiff and coloured-in.
Here I am working from the general to the specific:(admittedly, not much drawing involved, but hopefully, you get the point!)


This was not quite the finished piece;  I altered some of the larger sky holes, but as you can see, I did not begin at the top and work my way down the painting, finishing off each section piecemeal.  I know some people like to work this way, but I just couldn't imagine myself ever doing that.  For all the reasons given above!


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