Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Paper Pods?

I've mentioned Anne to you before (I've been mentoring her for over a year).  We meet once a week if we have no conflicts.  Although we usually paint with watercolors, this past week she brought back an acrylic she had started many months ago.  She had gotten as far as the background and then got painter's block when it came to tackling the foreground.  She finally decided it was time to face the music.  And the paint brush!

The first thing we did was re-examine what she'd already painted to date (and we reminded ourselves of what her initial goal was:  to keep an impressionistic, almost abstract quality to the painting), and then we talked about strategy to go to the next step.  

Anne's sister took this picture while visiting Edge Water Farms (which specializes in perennials)
near Morse Mountain in Maine two years ago.
She was eager to start painting the poppy pods, but I reminded her that she would need more "information"placed behind the pods before putting on what I consider the final touches (the pods).  Remember, you paint from background to middle ground and lastly to the foreground.  If you skip the middle ground, it never feels right.

To help us "see" better, we turned her painting (and her reference photo) upside down so that she could get a fresh look at her abstract massed shapes.  That helped her see areas that still needed work.  When that was done, she again wanted to start on the pods (!) and I encouraged (allowed?!) her to paint some of the ones furthest in the background...I mainly wanted her to test her colors against her background to be sure those distant pods stayed "distant".  Painting those helped her to understand that she had to paint them much darker than she thought so that they don't "jump into the foreground".  

Then, when she thought she was now finally, truly ready to go in with her whiter pods, I reminded her of something else we had discussed early on:  decide on your focal area and make sure the surrounding colors will support your focus (e.g. if her main pods are to be some shade of white, she needs darker colors around them to make them pop).  

In her reference photo, the pods are scattered literally everywhere and not necessarily in a pattern that makes for the strongest composition. (Note: One side benefit of having her paint some of the distant pods was that I observed she was painting them too small...not in proportion to her larger canvas.)  So...

Playing with the pattern of "paper pods" to lead your viewer's eye into the picture.  She added many more pods after this great start.  We concentrated on overlapping some shapes and receding them in size as the picture plane itself receded.
I had her measure several of the pods to get a better idea of their size relative to the overall picture (I'll tackle this aspect of proportionate sizing in a future post...it's such a critical step to go through).  She was amazed at how much bigger the pods needed to be than what she had thought at first.  Then I had her cut out paper circles that were representative of the right sizes and shapes, and she taped them to her canvas with blue tape on the back.  She was then free to move the pods around into a pattern that pleased her.  This gave her the added benefit of seeing what her background looked like against her focal area (bottom left).  She could pull the circles off, adjust her background and be more prepared to move to the next step of painting the pods.  

Anne's next challenge will be to insert the pods into the scene without making them feel pasted on (like her paper pods!).  Stay tuned for the next step(s).  Anne, thanks for letting me share our story!