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Sunday, February 21, 2016

How NOT to Paint and Draw (pt. 2)

Michelangelo's "horns" on Moses.
Yesterday I went on at some length about the personal bad habits involving how not to paint and draw. Today I want to delve into some of the bad painting habits. Though probably not so overriding as the personal bad habits, are nonetheless the difference between creating "good" art and perfectly "horrible" works of art. Some are little mistakes which might easily be overlooked if and when they occur in-dividually. The problem is, that's seldom the case. One error in judgment very often leads to a second, then a third, sometimes to a lengthy string of errors which can quickly move a work of art from mediocre or disappointing to the godawful category. Where possible, I'll try to show paintings and drawings which demonstrate such catastrophic denouements. You'll probably see some such errors you've made in the past. Michelangelo made a doozie, carving horns on the head of his Moses (left). He'd mistranslated "rays of light" to mean horns. I know I've made at various times, virtually ALL of the mistakes below. So, having done so, I'm something of an expert on this subject.
Bad Painting Habits--
1. Poor composition: Compositional errors tend to fall into three categories: cheesy/cutesy, boring, and unbalanced.
Even on Valentine's Day, this is a bit much.
Cheesy/Cutesy--surprisingly, there are still students who attempt to create artworks containing hearts; glitter; prancing horses; leaping dolphins or bunches of roses. Usually such work comes from girls. I suppose, for the "tween" demographic, this sort of thing is to be expected, a sort of feminine rite of passage to be outgrown and cast aside by the age of 13.5. Unfortunately that doesn't always happen. It's more than just overly pretty, cliché and/or unimaginative subjects. That tends to fall under the heading of content. And, while the two often run side by side, compositions are more fundamental than content. The Internet is overflowing with adult, so-called, artists who seem irretrievably snagged on this compositional error. Decorating texts is one of many examples (though probably the most common). Just because medieval monks did it a thousand years ago doesn't mean it's okay today.
Bored Doodle--no center of interest, composition too complex for the content.
Boring--Even those who select appropriate common subject-matter such as portraits, are obliged as creative artists to make an effort to compose them in some innovative manner. Even highly experienced art students sometimes submit projects that make instructors want to yawn. By and large, amateurish painting techniques trump boring compositions every time. And just as bad, perhaps in some ways worse is the attempt to employ overly complex compositional arrangements far beyond those demanded by the artist's content itself or any instinctive ability to use them--something like trying to play poker with a deck of "Old Maid" cards.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Granddad's Place, 1970, Jim Lane
Unbalance--the mass of the house does not equal
that of the trees and outbuilding.
Unbalanced--Every image, page and preparatory component of an Art endeavor should be arranged in a well-balanced, aesthetically pleasing way. My painting (above) of Granddad's Place is unbalanced in that the mass of the house on the right is less than that of the outbuilding and tree on the left. A small tree on the right was added later to improve the balance. Compositional balance can be a tremendous challenge for some, while seemingly intuitive to others. Nonetheless certain principles apply. For artists who dote on rules (and there are dozens of them), this is where they can excel.
2. Drawing from second-hand sources: Painting from photos taken by others is one of the riskiest strategies a professional artist can use. When noted, it sets off alarm bells for the examiner, indicating a lack of personal connection to a topic, a lack of originality, plagiarism, and a superficial depth as to the work in general. I was always relatively lenient in allowing this sort of thing with high school students, especially those with-out the means of procuring their own personal source materials. But drawing images from magazines, books and the internet suggests the negative attribute of an artist who cannot get off his or her backside long enough to find source material of their own to draw. Of course there are certain art projects in which drawing from second-hand resources is acceptable, or even demanded. However, this is an area which artists should approached with caution and careful consideration of the negative baggage it carries.
Negative space is not normally
so obvious.

3. Ignoring negative spaces: It is easy to get caught up in drawing content, such as the fingers and palm or back of a hand, while losing the essence of what you want the hand to be doing when the negative spaces are not accurately seen and drawn. At first the "negative space" example (right) appears to be a logo for a conservative political action committee (NGTV PAC). A second look reveals the label.

Too much concentration on the foreground, none as to background.
4. Concentrating on one area of the canvas while neglecting the rest (above-top): the whole of the canvas is important. I can't tell you how many times I've encountered still-lifes in which the artist has done a magnificent job in painting the intricate details of his or her subject then simply "fudged" the background and/or the foreground. One of the simplest rules I've always preached, even to elementary students, is to think in depth--foreground, middle-ground, and background (as seen in the second image, above-bottom). Otherwise, it's like trying to decorate a cake without first making, baking, and icing it.
Flesh tones are some of the easiest to "muddy-up"
by mixing the paint on the canvas as seen here.
5. Mixing paint on the canvas: That's what the palette is for. If you risk the palette looking better than the painting, then so be it. Frame the damned palette. Seriously, mixing paint on the canvas risk "mud." Mud is the inevitable result of red, yellow, and blue, usually with a bit of white (or worse) black. There's nothing wrong with any of those colors indiv-idually, or even mixed togeth-er, provided they're not en-gaged in a brutal battle for visual dominance. Allow one to be stronger, another weak-er than the rest. And if you're prone to earth tones, be especially vigilant in this re-gard. Use an intermediate color area to separate them from your more brilliant colors. The key is to plan and experiment on the palette (or some neutral, disposable surface) NOT on your canvas, especially when using oils. That is to say, acrylics, with their rapid drying time, tend to layer (which is often good, or at least seldom bad). Oils and watercolors tend to blend. There is, of course nothing wrong with blending so long as it is minimal and doesn't deteriorate into mixing.
Not only does the painting progress faster with a larger brush, but the entire work takes on a much more painterly quality
6. Using too small a brush: Unless you're dabbling in the ancient art of egg tempera, start with the largest brush you can reasonably handle, then stick with it for as long as possible until it begins to work to the detriment of the finished painting. Then, and only then, moved down a size or two, rinse, and repeat. For most work (unless painting miniatures) only one or (at most) two downsizings is optimal. More than that means you need to "brush-up" on your brush handling techniques.
Too much color. Color TV, in the early
years, was guilty of this.
7. Too many colors: Art instructors at the college level used to encourage students to paint with a minimalized palette of cadmium red, cadmium yellow (light), cobalt blue and white. That's extreme. As a practical matter, I keep handy burnt umber, burnt sienna, raw sienna, and yellow ochre plus Payne's gray (a weak, cold black). For intense primaries, I have alizarin crimson and pthalocyanine blue. I keep a tube of cerulean blue handy as well, as I'm not fond of the artificial richness of cobalt. Of course, the key element here is not what's in the paint box, or even on the palette, but the pigments that make their way to the canvas. The KISS principle applies (Keep It Simple, Stupid).
Notice the monotonous, overreliance on the fan brush in painting the palm foliage. The colors have also turned muddy either do to poor color choices, or their having been mixed on the canvas.
8. Poor brushwork: Don't scumble, scrub, or use monotonous, repetitive brushstrokes. If painting landscapes, learn to use the fan brush judiciously, twisting, turning, heavily laden, practically dry, even as a blender, but not as a printing device. The same applies to most other brushes, but is most often seen in the inept handling of the fan brush. Scumbling is a painting technique for adding a layer of broken, speckled, scratchy color over another color (usually dried color). Bits of the lower layer(s) of color show through the scumbling. The result is said to give a sense of depth and color variation to an area. Perhaps, but it also makes the work look cheap, stingy, fearful, tentative, and amateurish. Scrubbing needs no definition, either in adding or removing wet paint.
What color is snow? If you're painting in with pure, white pigments, you're using too much white. Compare the white border (above) to the colors used by the artist in rendering the snow.
9. Using too much white, and/or too little paint: White artists' pigments come in large tubes. That does NOT mean they should form the base for mixing all other colors. That inevitable results in a plethora of pastels, which results in weak, boring colors, which results in weak, boring paintings. Especially beware of various greens and white--use yellows to lighten them as much as possible. That's good advice in lightening earth tones, as well. Don't allow white to be a color crutch. As for too little paint, accept the fact that only about fifty percent of the paint you squeeze out, ends up on the painting. By the same token, never, ever, whatsoever apply paint to a canvas simply to avoid wasting it. It's better to waste some paint than to end up wasting a painting. Think about it; you wouldn't spend two hours in the shower, scrubbing your skin raw, simply to avoid wasting soap.
"Oops...hmm...we'll make it a bird. Yeah, we'll make it a bird.
Uhhh...THERE, its a bird now."
10. Fixing every "mistake": Some very good paintings are full of "happy" accidents that the artist refused to ‘fix’. Don't think too much. Painting is usually a feeling thing as much or more than an, intellectual endeavor. If you make a seeming error, first try to make the most of it, incorporating it into the general nature of the work. The well-known TV painter, Bob Ross (above), was famous for turning little blobs of paint accidentally dropped on his landscapes into "birds." Especially when painting in the more "unforgiving" mediums of oils or watercolor, "fixing" even a tiny mistake ineptly runs the risk of ruining the entire work.
Leonardo--the jack of all trades, master of most. Yet, he made mistakes...some HUGE.
Those are the "biggies." There are dozens more, mostly less common and less serious bad habits involving painting. Listing more then ten bad habits, either personal or painting, would probably cause even Leonard da Vinci (who had plenty of both) to consider another vocation. Actually, he did. Besides being a painter, Leonardo was also an engineer, inventor, anatomical illustrator, cryptologist, and sculptor.



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