Thursday, August 29, 2013

Doctor Photoshop - Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Big Brush

Ok, a text post for a change!  I've been doing a lot of "plate extensions" lately, which I believe is great practice, and amazing for helping you learn how to create and match the textures and styles you see in other work.


There's always a however.

There is a danger.  The tendency, at least for me, is to jump into laying out the "fiddly bits" - splashes of colour and texture that dot rocks, bricks, know, the stuff you WANT to paint.  The danger is, when you do plate extensions, you can pretty much do this - but when you go back to doing your own paintings, it will hurt you.  A good painting is BASED on large shapes.  Beyond being about anything, a painting at its heart is a collection of lights and darks organized in a pleasing manner.  When you start putting moss on rocks before you have established firmly the rock and its relationship to the sun, you are begging for trouble.

There are a couple of things you can do to combat this.  First of course, is stay zoomed out to the point you can't see the texture.  That helps, but honestly, our eyes are damned good at finding texture, and tend to care less about the big shapes.  I think we're wired to find mushrooms and poisonous spiders - in other words, our eyes and brain are constantly trying to zoom into those big shapes.  Is that rock halfway in shade?  Who cares?  Is that a rattlesnake sunning itself on the top?  Yeah, that I care about!

This brings us to the best technique - The "fat finger approach".  When you are doing a painting, find a brush size that seems as big as you could possibly use effectively...and then make it half again bigger!  Set those big shapes down when you can't work small.  Yes, you'll go "over the lines" sometimes, but you can always cut back away from the outside of the shape, which will probably make your edges more interesting anyway!

Many of us are good at doing this initially in the "blocking in" phase, but then forget when we start focusing on the details.  DON'T!  When you "zoom in" to your painting, just think of it as a completely new painting that only covers part of the larger composition.  The true secret is that every phase is the "blocking in" one.

I haven't done a lot of it yet, but I'm guessing painting on a tablet like an iPad would be great practice for this, because you literally have a "fat finger" to lay down value and colour with.

Yesterday, I destroyed a painting by jumping into laying down streaks of cool moss and tiny rocks.  I felt SO GOOD about the image, and then I zoomed back out.  It made no damn sense.  My friend Chris Oatley talks about this in his blogpost about "The Hudson River Painters Vs. The Texture Monster" here.  I love me some texture brushes and photos, but you have to get the big shapes to read first.  If it looks good zoomed out, you can make the zoomed in look great just by spending more time....but the reverse is FAR from true!

I hope this has been at least a little helpful, I felt like laying down into words my personal experience this week.  If you enjoyed it, let me know, I will write more :)  In the meantime, you can follow my work either here on this blog, on my website: or my Facebook page:

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