Thursday, August 2, 2012

Creating a Quality Focal Area

The Given Place

All composition is based around placement and delineation of the center of focus, or focal area. The decision of what you want to be your focal area is as personal as the subject matter. Whatever you decide, there are several ways to make sure it remains the focal area.

Here are 9 ways to create a focal area. It is probably best to use more than one of these. Too many though and you may create a bullseye effect, where the eye doesn’t leave the focal area and wander around the rest of the painting.
  • Placement in the Picture Plane. Where the focal area is placed can help to naturally lead the eye to it. The grids discussed earlier are beneficial in understanding where to place the focal area.
  • Highest Contrast of Values. Placing the highest contrast of values next to each other in a painting. This does not have do be the lightest light and the darkest dark in the painting (though often is), just the highest contrast between values.
  • Most Intense Color. Where the purest and most intense color is used.
  • Hardest/Sharpest Edge. Where the hardest, or sharpest edge in the painting are placed. (This commonly is used along with high contrast.)
  • Highest Level of Detail. The place where the most detail in the painting is found.
  • Alien Color. The eye is naturally drawn to things that are not like other things. So a color not used anywhere else in the painting will automatically differentiate an area and draw the eye to it.
  • Alien Shape. Using the same idea as Alien Color, it's a shape that is not used anywhere else in the painting. (i.e. a geometric shaped barn in the middle of a grouping of organically shaped trees.)
  • Face Factor/Building Factor. Our mind create faces in objects that aren't human (i.e. the man in the moon, or Nixon on a potato chip.) A face will immediately draw the eye to it, whether it is human or animal. Single man made structures, like barns, signs and such will do the same thing.
  • Texture. The place where the thickest amount of paint is used (impasto)
While some of these have a stronger visual pull than others, the key to making all of these work is making sure that areas of interest in other parts of the painting are subordinate to the center of focus. When looking at paintings, try to figure out which elements the artist has used to create a center of focus.

Below are some paintings by past and present masters. Also, the last few are mine, and I'll let you judge whether or not I'm succeeding in creating a gquality focal area. See if you can find out which of the 9 ways are being utilized (texture will be more difficult because you can't really see it in a photo of the work).

Lupine by Dan Gerhartz

Romeo and Juliet by Frederick Leighton
Seascape by Frederick Judd Waugh

by Edgar Payne

Inner Light
Farm on 450E

Last Vestige

Friday, July 27, 2012

Color Variation

On the Way Home (detail)
Color Variation is the use of a variety of color within a specific value range. This adds interest and realism to a piece. A key to color variation is not to overdo it, for you must maintain the local color of the object, and it's easy to shift that too much to another color.

In the detail above, of my painting On The Way Home, you can see all the subtle changes of color within the barn roof on the right, and the road coming in from the bottom.

Here are a couple more examples of my work for you to see how I use color variation. 

Near the Edge (full painting)
Overcast & Singing (full painting)
Overcast & Singing (detail)
Zhaoming Wu is incredible at pushing the limits of color variation within his pieces. Check out his color variations in this piece titled Pale Light, especially in the shadows:

Pale Light by Zhaoming Wu

Sometimes you can make it more extreme, and other times, you can make it pretty subtle. (I usually prefer the subtlety.) And remember, you can shift color variations subtly by simply changing the color temperature of your local color at first, and then you can add similar colors you have used elsewhere in the painting to push them even further.

Friday, July 20, 2012

On The Way Home

Since I usually do medium key paintings or low key paintings (night scenes) I wanted to push myself and do a higher key painting. The foreground is a series of washes (something else I don't normally do), with only a few places of some opaque painting. My intent was to paint over it completely with opaque paint, but I really liked the way it looked as is, so I kept it.

It's a 12 x 16 painting of a Door County farm that I passed on my way home from the 2011 Door County Plein Air Festival. (Though this one was not done en plein air.) I'll be taking it up to Cottage Row Gallery tomorrow along with a handful of other new pieces.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Art Camaraderie

A group of fellow artists and friends got together last night to hang out at a local Restaurant/Sports Bar. I got to catch up with friends who I haven't seen in years, some not since art school days, some new acquaintances who I just met last night. What a great time we had just talking art and shooting the bull.

It reminded me how important having an art camaraderie is to our well being as artists, not as a business endeavor, but simply to feed the artist soul. We weren't all fine artists focused on one medium or practice. We were illustrators, comic book artists, sculptors and modellers, teachers and painters. I learned a ton last night just by chit chatting and had a lot of laughs. And most importantly, it reminded me that while art is often difficult and keeps you busy until late in the night (or early, early morning), the rewards aren't always monetary, but can be personal. While we may not share the same political views, like the same things, or live a similar lifestyle, it's this connection with others — through something we all share and are passionate about — that makes it all worthwhile.

PS. Wish I had a photo of it all.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Fresh Start

I realize I haven't been keeping up with this blog the way I would like to do. In fact, I was shocked when I took a look and realized how long it had truly been. A lot has happened, and I will try to keep you up-to-date as best I can.

So, to start things off again, here is a recent 16 x 20 piece of a misty morning field. This was done in the spring, before the drought and had just rained the night before. Something we have seen very little of in recent weeks (months?). It's nice looking at this now and remembering the feel of the thick air — humid yet cool — and how you couldn't see too far into the distance clearly. I hadn't named this piece until just now. I believe I'll title it "A Fresh Start".