Monday, January 31, 2011

Brushwork and Color

Brushwork is a bit of an enigma to a lot of people, it certainly was, and to a certain extent still is, to me. I think that, for many individuals, brushwork only conjures up specific types of brushwork such as Sargent's but there really is so much variety that it isn't quite so simple and to learn brushwork from a teacher is to really only learn a style of brushwork but not the organic decision-making process we really need. It's primarily that decision making process (not a technique, not formulaic) that defines the application and thus the look of the brushwork. Granted, certain techniques in paint such as wet-on-wet or wet-on-dry, contribute to the final effect but they are part of this decision-making process. So we can make different decisions for the same subject depending on a number of factors. I've heard a lot of teachers/artists, say "it's just shape, value and color" as if to say it's that simple. What they don't emphasize is that based on what shapes, values and colors you see (which can change drastically depending on body shifts, how long you look at something and other factors) and then based on your decisions to emphasize or focus on specific aspects, this then translates to shapes, values and colors on your canvas/surface. There is a tremendous equation and gap between the things you see and then what you paint, REGARDLESS of how realistic or abstract your painting is.

This quick and broad sketch of a skull in my studio was done with pretty large brushes (greater than 1/2 inch) for a relatively small sketch (painted height of skull is no more that 5 inches). This limitation of brush size directly affected the color and values used, on top of the color and value design choices I had already made. Just like a pointilist approach affects the available color choices ( by allowing for purer colors to blend optically), a broader approach creates different limitations/design potential. So, in this case, I had intially chosen to push the yellow color caused partially by the light source and the skull itself but, because I had larger brushes I was restricted from pushing the light effect (of color) any further as this would have conflicted with the bigger brush strokes (i.e. there would have been a discontinuity of color across the skull). When I refer to discontinuity I'm referring to the fact the skull is essentially the same local color throughout. The more you push atmospheric color the more difficult it is to represent the concept of the object having a local color. In many Impressionist paintings like Monet's, since the atmospheric effect of color is the main goal, the local colors are subjugated to serve this concept and the brushwork is chosen to push that atmospheric look. Had I wanted more of that in my sketch I would have had to reduce the brush size or scale up the sketch.

So brushwork is not an entity unto itself, it is connected to many other factors and choices, one major one is color (in color painting, of course). To pursue brushwork without the knowledge of such factors and without a personal decision making process is to become mechanical and technique driven vs. idea driven. You need that process in order to create a look that YOU want and that fits your temperament and the project itself.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Art Philosophy - Inspiration vs. Appreciation

As much as this blog is about color, and such its focus, I really want to keep a broader view and hence this post.
Without ranting and raving too much, I have the feeling that artists of past years philosophized more about art than we do, well, at least in the broader conceptual manner that I'm referring to. Anyway, this idea brings me to a short rant about artwork which inspires you vs art that you appreciate. I'm specifically referring to art (i.e. something someone else created, not nature or experiences). Nowadays it seems that many people drool over the artwork of the big names of past or present artists and aspire to be like them. It's a natural response, but we have to go deeper and discover for ourselves whether their work inspires us or we really appreciate it. The difference is that art you appreciate is because it is technically good, due to composition, color, handling etc.. BUT it doesn't mean it inspires you (unless by inspiration you mean being successful, well-known, and getting that luxury yacht etc..). Here's a perfect example: I like JC Leyendecker's work, I really like it. It's well executed, well designed and pretty darn amazing and I'll look at it maybe make a study of it and try to figure out what he was thinking. BUT as much as I do that, it doesn't inspire me. It doesn't move me the way a Brangwyn painting does. When I look at a Brangwyn painting I actually have a hard time analyzing it 'cause I start getting giddy. So the number of artists that actually inspire me are relatively few compared to the many that I really appreciate and try to learn from.
This then brings us to the conclusion that in order to become YOU the artist, you have to know which art inspires YOU and which you really appreciate or look to for technical expertise etc... Hopefully,when we get this sorted out, we'll know why or when to copy an artist's work, and we'll stop obsessing about painting or drawing our art like someone else (unless we're making a study for technical purposes, for example). And then, we won't all have to believe that Rembrandt, Rockwell, Leyendecker, Gerome etc. should inspire everyone just because they are masters. If they don't happen to inspire us, we needn't feel guilty, we'll just have clearer reasons for looking at or studying their work (technique, composition, handling...) without feeling bad for not making art like them. That's why it's called art appreciation..

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sarah Portait

From Making Sense of Color

Hello everyone,
my name is Tony Hsu. Both Quentin and I have been collaborating in the visual arts so we can try to best understand phenomena such as shapes, values and color--amongst other things. Although this blog emphasizes our experiments in color, it is very difficult to isolate the discussion of color for color's sake since value is such a large factor.

In addition, color can changes hinge on the specific medium chosen, producing different optical effects. I had these sorts of issues with this portrait in pastel pencil. Pigment in solid form, in this case pastel pencils, have a higher saturation cost than in oil paint.

In order to yield more saturation, I had to find a way to avoid blending the pigments and then use scale (the distance in which a viewer was to see the portrait) to create the final color effect. In other words, I had to create a more pointillist application of the portrait. The points then viewed as a whole create another color. You can see this on experiments that Quentin has discussed in previous block exercises that employ small color dots.

However, since I didn't want a typical broken impressionistic appearance I had to balance this color effect with value while maintaining the focus more on the drawing. This entailed some serious decision making and knowledge of chroma-value.

It is important to understand that even if I consciously made the decision to set color below value in terms of importance, I then will have to shift my color choices from a more pure observational mentality to more design-oriented one. I am mentally thinking of altering my gamut (which includes both the color range and the choices of my palette colors). So gamut shifts for the sake of my design choices as well as the physical idiosyncrasies of this pigment medium.

This was the case in the eyes, nose, neck shadow, and background. In the nose it would have been difficult to keep the shadow of the nose from being too cold or too grey had I not altered the value in order to get a color range that would harmonize with the colors surrounding it.

As for the neck area, I was thinking the same thing, but I was also thinking of making the shadow feel more airy. One way to do this is to “warm” up the shadows. I, therefore, had to employ both pigment mixing and pointillism in order to achieve this. This decision was made after I felt that pigment mixing by its own virtue would not yield the result I wanted. Luckily Quentin and I had been collaborating on such optical effects earlier with humble blocks and cylinders that became relevant for this portrait. Also, the background was given a color dot treatment. I added dots of certain red-purples to differentiate the temperature difference from the background and the hair.

I hope this shows a little of how our insights with block, spheres, and cylinder studies are relevant to pictures that one wishes to create. If you have not checked out Quentin’s new work, “Remnants”, take a look and see if you can see the subtle temperature shifts in the darks. They are not all black and they shift from cooler darks to warmer ones.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Happy and Colorful 2011!

We would like to wish everyone a happy 2011. Here's to learning and growing as artists and individuals. And while we're on the subject of learning ...don't forget the new color class starts February 8, 2011 in Van Nuys. See the previous post for the specs or contact us at

All the best in all your endeavors!