Friday, August 20, 2010

8 Keys to Creating a Focal Area

It's called by many names — center of interest, focal area, center of focus, focal point to name a few. The words are interchangeable but the idea is vital to composition. An area in the painting that you, the artist, has deemed to be the most important within the painting and that the eye wants to return to again and again. The decision of what you want to be your focal area is as personal as the subject matter. It can be a group of trees, a boat, a barn, or a streetlight. There are no limits to what you decide to make your focal area. So whatever you decide, there are several ways to make sure it remains the center of interest in a painting. Here are 8 ways to create a focal area.

1 • Placement on Canvas — The focal area is placed so the eye is naturally led to it. (You can see the blogpost I did a while back on designing with grids for a further understanding
2 • Highest Contrast — The highest contrast of value in the painting are side by side.
3 • Highest Level of Detail — The place where the most detail in the painting is found.
4 • Most Intense Color — The purest and most intense color is used.

5 • Hardest/Sharpest Edge — The hardest or sharpest edge in the painting.
(This is most commonly used along with a high contrast of value.)
6 • Alien Shape — A shape that is not used anywhere else in the painting.
7 • Alien Color — A color not used anywhere else in the painting.
8 • Building/Face Factor — We are naturally drawn to the face of a person. It’s why we see the man in the moon, when the reality is just craters. Man-made structures can work much the same way. Within the landscape they will immediately draw the eye to it, this is partly due to the alien shape factor.

It is often best to use more than one of these. Too many, though, and you must be careful to not create a bullseye effect, where the eye doesn’t leave the focal area and wander around the rest of the painting. Look at the painting above and see if you can see the keys i used to delineate the center of interest.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Struggles of Painting Outdoors

Painting en plein air has its trials and tribulations. While the perfect 72 degree weather day is great, it is far too rare to consider it the norm. Here's a list of some of the things we all deal with when painting outdoors, and some I've personally had to overcome -- or just go back home and forget it all.

Bugs. Especially at sunset. When you're trying to capture that perfect fading light and have to stop to smack your neck or ankles every 5 seconds. Ugh.

Extreme cold weather. Gums up paint and makes it nearly unworkable. Sometimes I'll try to struggle through it, and sometimes I'll just go back to the warmth of the car and work from there.

Rain. The worst for watercolor, but doesn't work so well with oils, either. And forget about the paper in your sketchpad.

Wind. Once, while painting on a brick road, the wind blew my easel over, shattering the glass palette. To add insult to injury, I had just finished putting out all my paint on it and had stepped back to take a look at the scene when it blew over. Another time in Iowa, a huge gust suddenly came up and took my easel several feet away from me, breaking it beyond repair. No more painting on those days.

Onlookers. Usually I can tolerate them and find them friendly and considerate, but every so often one will come up and want to just chit chat with no regard to my time, as I watch the changing light go by.

Something blocking the way. It's happened to me with cars, but the most frustrating one was when I was painting an en plein air commission of
a boat for a woman's husband. She wanted to take it that day for his birthday. Not a problem. A little hot and not the best time of day (noon, no shadows), but all in all it was going well. Then another boat anchors right in front the one I was painting, blocking the view. With some help from the woman describing what was on her husband's boat I finished it, but it wasn't easy.

I slipped and fell down a hill once. Luckily my easel was fine and I walked back up the hill with a good laugh at myself.

Forgotten materials. Once I forgot my brushes. Another time I forgot white paint. And paper towels, too. I often forget the camera. Once I spilled my mineral spirits by accident and had nothing to cleanse my brushes with. Just try not to get a muddy painting that way.

Forgotten painting. I was packing up after painting one afternoon. Everything was great until I got home where I realized I had put the painting on top of the van when I was loading everything up and left it there when I drove away. I went back to look for it, but it was nowhere to be found. Bummer, as I was really pleased with that piece, too.

I've dropped my paintings by accident. In the grass. On the pavement. Once in a mud puddle.

Standing on cement all day under Michigan Avenue bridge in Chicago. My feet were killing me by the end of the day and the reflection from the Chicago River was blinding my sense of color and value. It was for a workshop I was taking and I learned so much it was worth the pain.

I sketch on the train all the time. When trying to get a line just so, it's almost inevitable that the train will bump right at that moment. Drives me nuts!

When the subject moves. Again, on the train. Someones sleeping and I'm just starting to sketch, then their stop will come and they'll get up and leave.

These are some of the things I've had to deal with. Let me know what you've been through.