As a former (some would argue, recovering) instructional systems designer I recently analyzed my good paintings and my “ugh” paintings. Graphing my trend line (ok, I’m a recovering ISD) I noticed certain things either worked or didn’t in each of my paintings.
The Painting Etude is born
“There is study and there is performance, and we should not confuse the two. Study is done for perceptual development, our performances show us where we are in that development, and we must have both.”
When I read Henry’s comment a light went off somewhere in the recesses of my mind. I needed to quit painting in order to get better. Instead, I needed to PRACTICE. There’s a French word “etude” meaning “practice” – I’m not sure why the cool painting words seem to be of a French origin but hey why fight it?
Taking the cheapest 16″x20″ canvas board I could buy, I divided it into four quadrants. Then working in a backwards “C” I worked my way around the canvas:
1. Upper Left Quad – Big Shapes
Carlson said – you want to simplify the scene into three to seven simple shapes. My good paintings did. But I needed to train my eyes to better see shapes.
Sacrificing a few of my old plein air magazines I got out my sharpie and outlined the shapes I saw in the paintings to help train my eyes. Transferring that idea, I then took my brush and did a simple rough in of the big shapes I saw in front of me.
2. Upper Right Quad – Drawing
Drawing with a brush is different than drawing with a pencil. Drawing with your whole arm while holding the brush at the very end is a psychomotor skill that needs to be practiced. It feels different than with a pencil even though there are transferrable skill elements. I knew I needed to practice with a brush. In the upper right quad, I re-created the big shapes and then drew over them with additional detail. (Notice I’m starting to layer my practice.)
3. Lower Right Quad – Value Study
If you don’t use all of the values available to you, you are missing out on the drama. My good paintings had drama. They sang. They danced. They begged me to join them on a visceral level. But why didn’t I see the value each time? What was I missing? In this quad, I rough in the big shapes, draw the details and then paint either a 3, 4 or 5 value study. (Again, notice my layering technique.)
4. Lower Left Quad – Painting
In quad four I put it all together. I draw the big shapes, draw the details and then paint with color but using the value study as an “underpainting” of sorts. This quad “puts it all together”, it’s game day. By the time I get to this quad I’ll have drawn the big shapes of the scene four times, drawn the “details” three times and painted the values twice. I’ve given myself several chunks of learning to work with.
How did it work or “So what?”
I did one of these etudes a day for 25 days straight. This practice really helped me to see a scene differently. It really helped me with my composition, drawing with a brush, and values. It will be an exercise I will come back to from time to time as I move forward. This is something that can be done in the studio or plein air.
Now it’s your turn!
Onwards and Sideways,