Thursday, July 7, 2011

Myth Busting One Art Rule at a Time

Yesterday while painting rocks I had an ah ha moment....
"The Certainty of Youth and the Complexity of Wisdom" detail
(diptych in progress)

As I share my knowledge of painting with my students I also delight in debunking ART RULES as they understand them.

The ah ha moment today came when I realized WHY this is crucial to growth as an artist, particularly to a realist artist...drum roll please...

If you have a preconceived idea of what something SHOULD be you can't get to the thing as it REALLY is.

While all the technical stuff I share is important what I really want my students to do is observe nature, really observe nature.

The conversation usually starts when I say something like "Look how warm the shadows are here" then one of my very accomplished students says something like "But I thought shadows are cool and highlights are warm" then I say "That's what I used to think too." And then we are off!

I've come to think of these statements as Art Rules that Hinder. While painting in the solitude of my studio I find myself problem solving ways to help students rethink these rules, ways to shake them up just a bit.

So for my lovely students (you know who you are), I'll be debunking the rules one by one and having fun rocking your world!

Myth Busting Art Rules that Hinder

1. "Shadows are cool and highlights are warm"

Wrong, it's all relative. 

If you are trying to fit what you are observing into a painting formula you cannot see the magical natural phenomenon that is right in front of you.

Example: The hot southwest sun shining on a mesa is warm and the shadows cast by the mesa are cool, but a cool north light will make the highlights seem cool, in comparison to the shadows which will seem warm. 

Think of your paintings as movies, you be the director and set up any number of color temperature scenarios and variations.

Here is the illustration I use in class. This is a small still life I set up in a box, it's a wooden finial I painted flat white and mounted to a canvas board. The light is the same, all that changes is a piece of colored paper on the right hand side reflecting into the shadows.
With  black paper to the right of the box the shadow is dense and fairly neutral.
There is a red-orange piece of paper to the right of the box, notice all the gorgeous hot colors bouncing around. The highlight in comparison to the shadow is cool even though the light source hasn't changed.
Same light, but now with a cool blue paper reflecting into the shadows, the highlight is positively warm. 

Simply shine a light on a white object, put a piece of red paper on the opposite side of the object and really observe the light and shadow. In relationship to the red bouncing around in the shadows the highlights will seem warm. Yes this is reflected light, but it's also the color temperature in the shadow. My point is that it is all relative to the situation you set up or observe in nature.

If anyone knows any Art Rules that Hinder just send them to me. This is going to be fun!


  1. Terry - this is exactly what I needed! Thank you so much for this lesson and I will be back for more! - Susan

  2. Thank you Susan, It's fun thinking and writing about these things!



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