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Old 07-31-2010, 12:37 PM
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Deborah Secor Deborah Secor is offline
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how LOW can you go? a small challenge

I'd like to challenge anyone here who is interested to join me in something I've been thinking about lately: How FEW strokes can I use to make a small painting that effectively expresses enough about a place or thing?

I just read an article about the watercolorist Jerry Stitt where he said that painting is like golf, the one with the fewest strokes wins! Good analogy.

I would think in pastel this would be an even more useful way to think than in watercolor, since our medium allows us to layer with transparent colors or create a thick impasto stroke, or use that 'dry-brush' stroke that's characteristic of pastels. It seems to me that some of the great pastelists use an economy of strokes, having learned how to make a few strokes most effective. Bill Cone comes to mind. His beautiful, spare strokes convey just enough, not overloading you with detail. And Tony Allain is another one. I know there are others, too!

Anyway, my challenge to you all is to paint a small piece and use the fewest number of strokes you can. Twenty or fewer strokes is my goal.

Anyone want to play?

(BTW, I see that attachments are showing, but not inserted images.)
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Old 07-31-2010, 01:27 PM
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Re: how LOW can you go? a small challenge

That is such a wonderful idea Deborah!! I'll try.

(I can't see my own avatar, but can see yours. Some paintings are showing up, but others aren't )
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Old 07-31-2010, 01:33 PM
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Re: how LOW can you go? a small challenge

Deborah,
This is an interesting challenge, what size are you thinking? This concept would seem to be very good for charcoal, certainly pastel will work well along the same thought. How to simplify?? Ok, I'll try --

Nancy
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Old 07-31-2010, 02:00 PM
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Re: how LOW can you go? a small challenge

Great, Nancy! I think you could do this in any size that pleases you. I haven't gotten into it yet but I'm thinking of smaller pieces myself, perhaps square ones. Maybe 6x6" or... I don't know!

I'm doing some notan/thumbnails to get me started. I think it will help me think of the shapes so I can plan a bit more.

I thought of a couple other painters that distill things well. Casey Klahn and Loriann Signori.
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Old 07-31-2010, 02:44 PM
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Re: how LOW can you go? a small challenge

That's scary, Deborah, really scary. I love my little strokes, my nearly-pointillist textures in foliage and things. I could do this but it'll come out completely different from what I like doing in pastels.

It might be good though. I'm in. I'll give it a go.

It did something great for me in watercolor - I tried something like this after reading a sumi-e book and did a number of the exercises, amazed at how much could be conveyed in only a few strokes. When I went back to doing more detailed work without trying for minimal strokes, it made my paintings bolder and more vigorous.

I like my fur and foliage textures, probably won't ever give those up. But this is going to be interesting in itself. How can I resist an invitation to work small anyway?

Question about the rules of the challenge - is it all right to work it out beforehand with preliminary sketches, notans, charcoal value sketch and so on? Or do I have to do this cold just looking at my subject and reference?
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Old 07-31-2010, 03:52 PM
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Re: how LOW can you go? a small challenge

Good, Robert. Let's just make up the rules as we go! I'm doing some notan sketches and thumbnails (about the same thing, actually) so yes, let's work out what shapes to use so we can see where the underlying strokes will be most useful. In notan you find black, white and gray, or some arrangement using three or four values, which I think might help me decide what's first, second and third. Then I need to think about where the smaller strokes will be necessary and most informative.

I also figure if I use a big zig-zag shape, or a huge swoop that curls and curves back and forth, that's ONE stroke! So I'm going to try to think through what's needed and in what order, large to small.

I'm wondering if one back-and-forth stroke that creates the furry back of a cat wouldn't be considered a single stroke, or if you could scribble, repeating and repeating a series of small circles, and call that one stroke. Texture is part of the explanation of a place--like an up-and-down ziggy stroke to make grass.

If you play around with single strokes and come up with some suggestions or ideas, show us. I'd love to see what comes of it.

Paula--where did your post come from?? Oops, I didn't see it before! Glad you want to play with us...!! I see your name, Nan's name, and Robert's and my avatars. Very spooky place right now!

I'm going to go do some strokes and see what comes of playing around.
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Old 07-31-2010, 04:18 PM
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Re: how LOW can you go? a small challenge

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Each one is one stroke.

I can see how these would be good for a line of trees, or for the complex area of leaves or just to cover a larger area like the sky. In the odd little squiggle at the bottom right I thought of a mountain and then how I could bring that color down into a foreground area using just one stroke, assuming I would then break it up with some others along the way. You could conceivably paint half the piece in one well conceived and executed stroke, if it was a small painting, I think.

I may try shooting a series of shots to see how that works....
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Old 07-31-2010, 07:49 PM
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Re: how LOW can you go? a small challenge

Oh my goodness I have a hard enough time with all the strokes and corrections I do now!!! However, I suppose if I kept it as small as you say and did those thumbnails that Jackie gives her stern teacher voice about I might be able to do it. I may watch and learn from you guys first. Jen
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Old 07-31-2010, 08:41 PM
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Re: how LOW can you go? a small challenge

This is such a cool idea. I've been playing with it and have done 3 of the same composition. Now I have more ideas with your samples. Back to get dusty!
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Old 07-31-2010, 08:45 PM
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Thumbs up Re: how LOW can you go? a small challenge

Deborah, fun challenge!

In terms of subject matter -- keep it to landscapes or are other subjects permitted? Also, are there any suggested photo references?

I'm thinking that a low-stroke approach might better unify my painting. I noticed my amateur work often lacks unity between various elements, such as the sky and ground, or between some nice trees and their surroundings.

Using LOW just might help me paint "togetherness".

I'll give it a try. Still using a 30-color Blick set; so maybe this exercise will be easier for me than for those using hundreds of "upscale" pastels.
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Old 07-31-2010, 09:05 PM
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Re: how LOW can you go? a small challenge

Thanks, Deborah! I like your stroke examples - I was thinking along some of those lines too, like continuous line drawing when there's complex shapes. Your scribble for foliage does look really good. It'd be slightly different from doing all separate short strokes but this is its own challenge.

It also gives me an idea for a gradated sky, if I do that big blocking in stroke twice - once all the way down with the darker blue, then go heavy with the lighter blue on it but keep going lighter and lighter on the way up. Been looking at a photo and did a pen drawing of it in color to figure out what has to go in.
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Old 07-31-2010, 09:50 PM
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Re: how LOW can you go? a small challenge

Okay, I'm here to say officially that this challenge is one that I've often tried with acrylics - not easy mind you! But it's such a good practice to do. So, I gave it a whirl tonight on a little 4 x 6" piece of blue paper using a reference photo of a farm I took this spring. I zoomed in on it to make simple geometric shapes and it still took me about 80 strokes! YIKES I'm anxious to see those who're able to do so in 20-30.

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Old 07-31-2010, 10:22 PM
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Re: how LOW can you go? a small challenge

Celeste, glad you gave it a go...!

Here's mine, 6x6" on white Pastelmat. I did three little notan sketches to figure out the shapes and values first. I grubbied up that glaring white to start with, did a very quick sketch in charcoal and rubbed it into the paper, as you can see, and then I just went for it:

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Well, it may not be the best painting I ever did, but... it's only about 20 strokes! This is going to take some practice. Maybe smaller.
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Old 07-31-2010, 11:54 PM
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Re: how LOW can you go? a small challenge

Here are mine. I did 5 and they're posted in the order I did them. They're all 6x6 on Cranson. I didn't do much planning on the first few but found that it was better if I planned my palette and basic strokes so I could get more accomplished with them. All are 20 strokes or less.

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Old 08-01-2010, 03:59 AM
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Re: how LOW can you go? a small challenge

Celeste, that was great even if it took 80 strokes.

Deborah, that's a brilliant example. Thank you for showing the layers. That's helping me a lot with the one I'm planning. It's beautiful. I love that last orange stroke, that searing bit of light on the trees is so cool.

Deb, your series is great. I like the way you did five different little ones all on pretty much the same landscape, that's another great exercise.

Awesome. I have an idea for what i'm going to do but want to start out fresh when I get up - also decide on color of surface.
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