Here is a quick recap of what The Spotlight is all about!
The Spotlight is an activity thread for pastel artists of all experience levels working from photos chosen by a monthly host. Most months, the host will choose photos from only one subject, putting that subject into “the spotlight,” so to speak! For example, one month the subject will be painting water, another month will spotlight flowers, etc.
Some months, rather than spotlight a subject, the focus will be on a challenge of some sort. In those cases, we might have a wider variety of photo references, but “the spotlight” will be on the challenge itself.
Since this is a group activity, we can pool our knowledge and resources, and grow as artists in a fun, “no-pressure” atmosphere.
And, remember, no critiques unless specifically asked for.
The intent is to have fun, try new things, experiment, and perhaps most of all, to see what our friends and colleagues are painting from the same reference material!
Please note: The photos this month were taken by me or are from the Reference Image Library. You have permission to use the photos as reference to create your artwork and to sell them and/or exhibit them. The actual photos still retain the copyright of the photographer. So you cannot copy the photo to your blog, for example, without the permission of the photographer, or digitally alter or reproduce the photo for any purpose other than for your personal use, with the exception of crops, digital alterations and posts of these photos within "The Spotlight" thread.
This month’s Spotlight is on…Shape!
Last month our Spotlight focused on line – using outlines and lines in general to define forms and create accents in our paintings. Here’s a link:
This month we will look at a different approach – and put the Spotlight on Shape!
Claude Monet said,”paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives you your own naïve impression of the scene before you.”
Many other artists over the years have given similar advice. When painting portraits for example, you aren’t really painting eyes, noses and mouths; you are painting shapes of shadow and light that will help define eyes, noses and mouths.
The reason for this type of advice is simple – our brains often get in the way of what we are actually seeing. We have mental stereotyped images stored away: grass is green, the sky is blue, a table looks like this, a person looks like this, etc. One way to best overcome our mental stereotypes is to concentrate on the shapes that you see!
Of course, there is no reason a painting can’t utilize both line and shape – and probably to a certain degree – very many paintings do! But in recent times, there definitely seems to be more emphasis on shape. In my opinion, for those folks who are looking to be more “painterly,” shape is the key!
How one starts a painting is really a matter of personal preference. You can begin with a fairly detailed outline drawing; more of a sketch; just a few lines indicating some landmarks; or with no lines at all. If you are concentrating on shape however, regardless of how you begin, it is often best to reach a stage where you block-in the largest shapes or silhouettes. Then the painting progresses to the next smaller shapes, then the next smaller until your details are made up of the very smallest shapes. Here’s an example from an earlier Spotlight on blocking-in:
Of course, it doesn’t have to done exactly like this. Your stage 2 could be someone else's step 1, for example, but you can see that it goes from bigger shapes to smaller. This particular painting was started with the block-in, but as mentioned, you can start with an outline drawing and still block-in. When doing so, it is best (in my opinion) to use the drawing as a guide only and not try and preserve any of the line. The goal is to create shapes that will probably obliterate most or all of your outline drawing. For folks who are used to starting with and trying to maintain their outline drawing throughout the painting, this is a big hurdle to overcome! But it will be worth it – especially if you are a person who aims for a more painterly style!
Here is a link to an older Wetcanvas thread from a few years ago done by Charlotte Herczfeld (aka Charlie). Notice how she progresses from the largest shapes to progressively smaller shapes (the steps are in reverse order in the post):
Here’s an example of two different ways to start a portrait. Using line, the initial drawing can locate all the features (eyes, nose, mouth, etc.) but gives no indication of volume or form. When beginning with shape it is quite the opposite, the initial block-in shows volume and form due to the modelling of light and shadow, but the features aren’t there yet! With a line beginning, we have started with the details and need to progress to the larger areas of light and shadow. Beginning with shape, we start with the large areas and will work towards the details.
You might be wondering, well, what are the differences in the two methods. Why start with shape – isn’t it harder that way?
In my opinion, starting with shape gives you the following advantages:
When you start with line and detail, there is a tendency to try and preserve those lines and details. Yet it is difficult to lay in larger areas of shadow and light – or the larger masses of color/value - without covering or obliterating the lines. This often leads to halos (space around the lines) or areas that aren’t fully developed because the artist does not want to repeatedly redraw the lines and details.
Areas in light and shadow (as the eyes and eye sockets often are) are established right from the start. This makes it easier to keep the values consistent as the painting progresses. For example, many times the whites of the eyes are painted too light (even white) in a portrait. Placing the eye in the already darker shadow shape usually keeps that from happening because we know (and have already established) that everything in the shadow will be a darker value! In landscapes, rather than large areas of light and shadow, we might have larger masses of a certain value. Then as the painting progresses and the smaller shapes and details are painted, it will be easier to keep the values consistent since the details will fall within the larger blocked-in areas.
It can be argued that the overall shape or the silhouette is the most important shape when painting almost any object. Getting that shape correct often minimizes the need for interior detail. I think we all have experienced paintings where we get too fussy and too detailed. If we get the large shapes correct, we often can minimize detail in our paintings. (Yes, that’s a good thing!)
People often describe using shape to construct a painting as piecing together a puzzle. Here’s a link to a wonderful cat portrait by Melissa Schilling that is an excellent of example of using shapes. You can imagine these shapes as being puzzle pieces that are beautifully put together:
By avoiding outlines, we also make it easier create soft or lost edges in our paintings. Placing shapes of similar value next to one another can give us those soft or lost edges that can make a big difference in making paintings painterly! Hard edges can still be created with shapes of contrasting value placed next to one another. You don’t need line to separate objects and create hard edges! (But, yes, it can be more difficult and may need more planning to create adjacent shapes of the value that you want and need.)
Here is a detail of a portrait done by John Singer Sargent. While I don’t know for sure how it was done, I can almost imagine Sargent blocking-in the entire shape of the head with one middle value color. Then he added some fairly simplified shapes for shadows and highlights. I’ve outlined those shapes on the right. I also placed a couple arrows in areas where there are soft and lost edges. Notice all the edges of the head are created by placing one shape of color/value against the shape and color of the background. No outlines here!
OK, it’s time to explore using shapes to create our paintings!
Photo by Yod Barros
Photos by me:
Of course, you may want to use the references from last month to better compare the two approaches (line vs. shape)! Feel free to do so! The link to last month is right at the beginning of this post.
And as always, feel free to crop and modify these references in any way you please! And have fun exploring Shape!