218. Detail and Edges, i

Moving on from Phil Metzger’s studies in atmospheric perspective, we now begin considering details and edges, and how they portray depth and dimension in a painting.  Essentially, as with a photograph, areas of interest are generally in focus, and areas of lesser interest are out of focus.  In painting, this becomes detail and edges – how much of each, where to use them, and why.

In Chapter 2 of The Art of Perspective:  The Ultimate Guide for Artists in Every Medium, Metzger points out that in painting, perspective is portrayed (in addition to color) by the amount of detail and sharpness of edges.  Areas which are not of interest, or further away, have less detail.  Edges are softer.  Areas of focus, whether in the foreground or middle ground, will have more detail and sharper edges.  He begins this with a pencil sketch, with areas of light and dark, in between which are medium values.  His drawing is wonderfully detailed and is done with hard, soft, and medium pencils on bristol board.  I have no bristol, and worse, I cannot find my drawing pencils!  Thus, I was stuck with a bit of old drawing paper and a #2 pencil.  Nonetheless, his points were clear.

The depth of field is found in the values, details, and edges.  Varying shades of graphite indicate if something is in front or in back of adjacent branches.  The tree bits in the foreground are more detailed than the ones in the back.  Light and dark work together to create depth, and medium tones help as well.

My drawing is quite lacking in much of what Metzger shows in his book, but the point is made:  edges and detail indicate the point of interest.  Additionally, by doing this study, I am beginning to realize the importance of value studies.  I don’t like swatching for knitting, nor doing toiles for sewing, but in painting, I think the value studies are becoming more important if I want to improve my abilities in watercolor.

Now we move from pencil to paint.  Metzger demonstrates his points about edges and detail with egg tempera and watercolor.  Egg tempera is a natural for great detail, while watercolor is more suggestive.  Even so, there are people who can paint incredibly detailed watercolors that look like photos – I am not one of them!

To emphasize his point about detail and edges, the exercise is to paint a still life apple and pear.  They should be fairly detailed – mine are not especially so, but do show highlight and shadow areas.  Then, this still life is cut out and set against different backgrounds.

I painted 3 backgrounds, which you can see below in the slide show.  Click on each to see what I did.  One of the backgrounds I used twice by flipping it; the red one I only used once, and the one with the stripes I did in two directions and then added texture to the stripes in the form of thin lines and chevrons.

Below is my somewhat detailed study of a pear (with its stem) and an apple (also with its stem) on a lacy cloth laid over a darker surface.

After painting this, I cut out the lower part of the painting.  I cut around the cloth, surface, and fruit – but I chopped off the pear stem in the process!  From there, I affixed the cutout onto the first of the above three backgrounds.

This background is the most subtle of all of them.  There is a sense of depth because the fruit and cloth have detail whereas the table and the background do not.

Using the same background flipped 180 degrees, we now get this painting.

The background of the above is more complex than the other; I feel as if I am seeing the fruit against an open sky.  Consequently, I have a sense of the background more so than I do of the pear and apple.  Good?  Bad?  It would depend on what I (the artist) want to express.

From here, we move into a bright red background.

Certainly here the background overwhelms the fruit.  I think the apple pops rather nicely, but the pear is quite anemic.  The red background is too much if the fruit is the picture’s focal point.

Next, the simpler striped background.

The stripes in the above painting are subtle enough not to destroy the focus of the fruit as subject matter.  Additionally, the eye considers the foreground and background along with the middle ground, but the middle ground is more important than the others.

The same background, flipped over, is a bit more intense as the upper left looms over the fruit.  Still, both are acceptable, but the first one is the better of the two.

Finally, I added thin lines and chevrons to the stripes.

Before you say “nice wallpaper!” let’s consider what occurs here.  The fruit still is of interest, but the complexity of the background makes my eyes jump around – fruit, background, fruit, background.  The foreground just vanishes and I don’t even look at it.

Some Thoughts

This was a totally fun set of exercises, especially the one with changing backgrounds.  The pencil study, though, was an eye opener for me – those pencil value studies really are useful.  Edgar Whitney also emphasized the importance of those value studies . . .

Okay, so here, what I learned was to see a painting a bit like a photograph.  Areas of interest are focused upon with detail and edges.  Areas of lesser interest have less detail and softer or more blurred edges.  I did this with the edges of the cloth upon which the fruit sits – the fruit is the area of interest, so more detail and clearly defined edges.  The cloth and surface upon which the fruit sit is softer and less detailed; the cloth has greater detail than the table, but less than the fruit.

Finally, the amount of detail in the background varies, and it has a direct affect on the fruit.  The more detailed the background, the flatter and less 3-D the painting.  And the less interest the viewer has in those delectable pieces of fruit!

Whew!  It’s gonna take a bit for this to sink in . . .

 

211. Atmospheric Perspective, i

Day 5 into retirement found me with finally enough time to sit down and start my “class” on perspective.  No, not a classroom setting, but rather following the exercises in a book.

The book is The Art of Perspective:  The Ultimate Guide for Artists in Every Medium, by Phil Metzger.  As an individual, I found no web pages authored by him, but I did find numerous books which get good reviews.  I picked this book up because it dealt with not only the traditional perspective found in drawing and architecture, but the perspective produced by color.  As someone working in watercolor – or anyone working in any medium – color and how to use it is so important.

Atomsopheric Perspective has a few rather obvious points.  Metzger says “paint what you see”.  This is sound advice.  The reason it is sound because the natural world is out there.  You actually see atmospheric perspective.  What this means is:

  • colors become more blue the further they are from the viewer.  Mountains are cooler.
  • Bright foliage can create brilliant swaths of color, even at a distance, so this belies the idea of “things become cooler with distance.”  They do have less detail with distance.
  • Things are simpler the further away they are – this makes sense of course!
  • Air pollution of cities makes for browner (perhaps) distances rather than bluer.  What is important here is to note that edges become more soft and colors, while still colorful, begin to fade.  White buildings become greyer unless a brilliant flash of sun is on the building.
  • At times, hills will appear darker than the ones in front or behind them – this could be caused by a cloud passing overhead.
  • Fog softens the landscape or the cityscape.

Exercises

I decided to do a number of paintings.  Actually, I figured I would just do the first exercise, on trees, called “Receding Woods” on pages 18-19.  This is it below.  I followed Metzger’s steps – pale wash, distant trees, mid-ground trees, stream, shadows, details.  This is the result.

I found this to be a frustrating and useful exercise.  I used the palette he suggested:  Alizarin Crimson, Cobalt Blue, Burnt Sienna, Pale Cadmium Yellow.  Drop the colors onto wet paper, and move on.  Next step were the pale trees in the background – light blues and browns.  From there, darker blue trees to suggest shapes.  Mid-ground trees brought in some detail.  Finally, the frozen creek and shadows.  As a wonderful piece of art, I am not impressed with what I did – but I am impressed with the clarity of Metzger’s writing and example.

From this, I decided to go to Pixabay and search for things like fog, barns, marsh, swamp.   The next study is a marshland.  I figured it would be good for water, reflections, and distant mountains.

What I liked especially about the picture was the haze at the base of the mountains and the blurred quality of the green hill.  In the photo, it was less distinct.  From there, I tried to paint the values I saw, so the distant water was a midtone, the middle water dark, and the closest the most pale.  I also made the mountains more blue and violet and tried to use warmer colors the closer to the bottom of the page I got.  It worked to a degree in varied areas, and not in others.  Still, having 3 different values of water was rather interesting.

Her is a study on distance and fog.  The image was mostly green and yellow in cast,  The sun is peeking between the two center trees.  The tree shapes show lighter in the painting, as the do in the photo, but I think I could have done a better job with the sky to emphasize this point.  To show distance, I tried to make the further objects more simple and cooler, while working at a bit of detail and warmer values for those closer to the viewer.  Perspective was indicated by the road narrowing and the curve of the furrowed field.

This picture was a challenge!  Me, paint a bridge??!!

Anyway, a bridge is disappearing into a fog bank; a sail boat sails through the shadow cast by the bridge.  The distant bridge vanishes into a thick, white cloud.  Detail softens and vanishes.  On top of it all, this is a bridge!  (I don’t think I would want to drive across it if it were really were in the condition represented by my painting!)  Once more, cooler colors and less detail the further from the viewer; more detail closer to the viewer.  I liked mixing the blues for the water and found out that a rigger brush and a flat brush were my best friends for the bridge.  I like this painting a lot more now that I finished it – not a work of art, but a good practice study.

This final painting was a serious challenge.  The paper I was using for all of these is student grade, so washes are tricky and often become hard edged or have blooms.  I solved a lot of those problems by scumbling along the edges; this was good for softening, blending, and blurring the edges.  I also used a 1-inch flat brush for the majority of the painting, forming the blurry vegetation, to the barn, to the road.  Only when I added detail did I use a small brush, specifically a rigger.  While I don’t think this painting has great perspective, the goal of atmospheric perspective was met.  I used to the left and right of the barn, as well as with the weed patch on the lower right.

Some Thoughts

As a first exercise for my “class” I really enjoyed myself!  I started painting at 9:30 in the morning and only finished around 5:00 pm – time to make dinner.  I focused on the atmospheric perspective idea and learned a lot simply by doing.  Sure, I know this basic information, but to put it into practice and think about it is a lot different.  Experience in the real world is, in my opinion, one of the best teachers, and such studies are invaluable.