The first challenge of seeing what is before us may seem trivial, in that we can all look and see. Right?? Well partially true in my experience. It is my experience that to a surprising extent my mind interprets what my eyes record, and registers what I should be seeing, as opposed to the details of the scene before us. For example, the sky is blue, the grass is green, and the tree is green with a brown trunk. The trick is to learn to get our preconceived notions out of the way and just observe what the eyes record.
The second challenge of becoming familiar with the visual cues of how light color and form interact in the physical world helps us recognize the nuances in the scene we are trying to represent. This will, for example, enable us to get beyond our preconceived notions and recognize the actual variations in the sky and the symphony of greens, yellows, browns and blues that exist in the grassy lawn before us!
The third challenge is to learn the physical techniques of mixing and applying paint to realize on the painted surface the nuances of what we are seeing before us. With experience and training we learn more and more ways of handling the paint, mixing colors, glazing, etc.
These three challenges are not independent of each other. Learning the visual cues is key to seeing the nuances that we then need to realize through the painting process. When we keep these cues in mind, they cause us to notice the interesting details that actually exist in the scene we want to paint.
In the future I will create a Blog post just discussing the visual cues. For now, I have listed below a number of key visual cues that helped me improve two of my older paintings.
- All light sources have a color which interacts with the objects that it illuminates.
- Surfaces are not uniform in color.
- Reflections have a lower chroma.
- Aerial perspective: distant items have lower chroma.
- Color temperature changes follow the color wheel.
The first cue to consider is that with aerial perspective the distant surfaces have a lower chroma or intensity. In the initial version both the right hand land mass and the distant horizon are too intense and bright compare to the foreground. In the final version, the land mass gradually becomes less intense in chroma as you go off toward the horizon. Similarly the intensity of the cloud mass at the distant horizon has been reduced in intensity.
The next cue I want to consider is that reflections have a lower chroma or intensity as compared to the source. Notice in the initial version, particularly at the distant horizon in the center, the reflection on the water is about as intense as the the distant clouds. In the final version the intensity of the reflection has been reduced below that of the source clouds, causing the water to lie peacefully in the foreground.
And finally, I want to consider I want to consider the combined implications of the first two cues, namely that all light sources have a color which interacts with the object or surfaces that it illuminates and that surfaces are not uniform in color. These cues, along with the last listed above, that color temperature changes follow the color wheel, lead to a number of changes.
First the sky. In the initial version. the blue of the sky is too uniform. In the final version, a gradient of color was added from a lighter blue green on the left side where the sun is setting to darker violet blue on the the right hand side. This reflects the fact that the left hand sky is closer to the sun and therefore warmer, and the right hand sky is further from the sun and therefore cooler,
It may be difficult to see in the photo, but these new colors were not added in a uniform manner, but in a mottled effect. This gives the feeling of passing through various depths of air modified with various moisture content.
Once these blues of the sky were modified, additional corresponding intensity blues were added to the reflections in the water. I will come back to this point after discussing the modifications to the land mass.
Notice the right hand land mass in the initial version is a nearly uniform questionable color! Remember the visual cue that light has color and this color impacts the color of the objects and surfaces that it illuminates.
In this case we are considering the surface of the right hand land mass illuminated by the sky. Notice that our sky light has many different colors, depending which part of the sky it comes from; a light yellow orange from the light coming from the left hand side from the clouds illuminated by the setting sun, a light green blue from the brighter pats of the sky to the left, a violet blue from there the darker sky to the right, a blue gray from the high clouds, to name a few.
Each of these colors comes from a different part of the sky. They all fall on our sandy land mass. The sand has little color of its own and get its tone primarily from the light that shines on it.
When we look at the sandy beach we are to a great extent seen the color of the light reflected from the sand. Now a sandy beach is not a uniform flat surface. I has many little hills and valleys from foot steps and the effects of debris and wind and water movement. Each of these little hills and valleys will be facing a different part of the sky, hence taking on a different color!
For this reason, when i modified the beach in the final version, it is painted with small blocks of color, each block related to a different part of the sky. All colors are distributed across the whole land mass. However, the sloping beach in the foreground facing the warm clouds illuminated by the setting sun has more warm yellow orange colored blocks. Whereas the distant part of the beach approaching the horizon has a predominance of violet blocks corresponding to the violet blue sky on the right hand side of the motif.
Returning the the reflections in the water, i added more different low intensity blues to correspond to the different parts of the sky.
This illustrates to me the usefulness of having these cues in mid as we approach a painting.
Notice that in the initial version the sky is too uniform of a cool blue. In the final version a mottled progression has been introduced from a lighter warm green blue toward a darker more violet blue.
A warmer tone has been introduced into the clouds, to reflect the warm summer afternoon.
All of these colors were then introduced in the form of different shaped color blocks in the water and on the beach.