I’ve heard of breaking up a painting into shapes and working in the abstract for as long as possible before working towards an object appearing. I never really was able to put these ideas into practice until recently.
Over the last month I’ve actually started to “key” my paintings with shapes and color. The difference this has made to my approach is nothing short of revolutionary. I am no longer seeing a barn but rather a series of shapes; red rectangles, blue triangles, yellow squares, or maybe even a green triangle.
By way of analogy, it’s like the Seinfeld episode where George did “the opposite” of everything he used to do and it all worked for him. For me, I am no longer trying to paint a barn (or an “object”) but rather in painting the correct shapes in the right color a barn appears.
So what does this look like in practice? Glad you asked.
Here is a hay barn I painted the other week. Do you see a hay barn or do you see a series of shapes?
It’s ok if you don’t see the shapes. It has taken me a while to start breaking objects into shapes. The image below is what I really “saw” when I looked at the barn. I saw the following shapes:
- I wanted a bright painting as it was a sunny day. The very first color I keyed in was the yellow hay bales or the “P” laying on its back. They were in full sun and they were the stars of the show.
- The green triangle facing the sun is lighter/more yellow than the green/and more blue rectangle in shadow.
- Look at the hay bales to the left that are in shadow. They are in relationship to the dark green rectangle above.
- The purple background rectangle keys in the back drop as that is the under color I saw when standing there. One thing you learn quickly is to mix enough paint when you do this. Ha.
- Interestingly, I left the white roof alone because it was in full sun and the raw canvas was the correct color and value
- The ground plane was also in full sun but in this pic I hadn’t yet put in the first color impression
Take a look at this image again. Did you notice I kept each color “note” separate from its adjacent color? I did that on purpose. It is much easier to adjust the color in the “shape” without having to adjust the lines in-between. In the past, that’s where my paintings would get muddy. I’d start blending too soon before getting the color notes right. Each color has to be in context of the color next to it. If you blend the lines too soon (which is really hard not to do) you end up fighting yourself. Admittedly I could have done a better job keeping them separated.
Here’s the final painting. It’s a 10×20″ oil on panel, plein air, alla prima. I only used my knife for this painting. No brushes.
Hope this helps you think about how you want to key your painting the next time you are out in the field. I may post another one of these again – it’s just hard to stop and take pics along the way as you get in the “groove” and before you know it, poof. You’re done.