Posts Tagged ‘colored pencil’

There’s this photograph of Wellington and Israel at Massarandupi√≥ Beach in Bahia that I love. It really captures one of the many great moments that day. The composition, the lighting, the feeling of the image….I think they’re all wonderful, and I thought it would make a terrific painting. But for a long time I was afraid to tackle it. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to capture the light and the feeling of the image. But finally I decided, okay, maybe I’m ready now. I’ll give it a shot!

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This is the photo I started with.


I started by tweaking the image in Photoshop. There are two major differences I make in the image this way. One, I intensify (via saturation and light/dark) the colors, which makes the image more vibrant. In this way I have a guide for mixing colors. It’s possible to mix vibrant colors even though you’re working from a less-than-vibrant photographic image, but it’s a lot more difficult. I like to let the computer do this for me. And in the final analysis, I don’t have to follow the color guide in the photo exactly…it’s just a guide. The second thing I do when tweaking the image is blur it. But I don’t use the Blur function in Photoshop, I use something called Median (Filters -> Noise -> Median). This removes the detail in a more elegant way than just blurring the image. And that’s what I want—to remove the detail. This forces me to look at the major shapes and areas of color and light and dark when working on the painting. I could do that by just squinting at the source image while working, but it’s nice not to have to do that. And of course I keep the undoctored image around in case I want to add in some detail (but not until much later!). Oh, yeah—I often use Posterize on the image after Median. This lessens the number of colors used so it’s easier to see color areas.

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This is the photograph after some tweaking in Photoshop.


My next step was to do a color study. This is a small, rough version of the final painting in which I can work out problems of color, tonal balance (balance of lights and darks), composition and whatever else I might not expect but which will probably crop up in the color study. The color study went pretty well but I found I had difficulties with the tone of the hill behind the figures. I kept getting it too light or too dark. Also it was a tricky mix of greens and purples. I kept remixing the colors until I got it more or less correct. When I had everything looking pretty balanced, I decided I was ready to tackle the big picture.

The acrylic sketch I did as preparation for the painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

The acrylic sketch I did as preparation for the painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

The biggest challenge in doing a big finished work, as opposed to a rough sketch, is psychological/emotional. It’s hard not to take the larger work more seriously and care more that it works out. Caring too much about the success of a painting is practically a guarantee of its failure. The difficulty is finding a balance between working toward a vision of the finished work, but not gripping that vision too tightly, so you can stay loose and allow the energy to flow. With this painting I was on both sides of that line, but walked it most of the time. Which worked out pretty well. I needed all the preparatory work I’d done because this painting was a challenge in many ways—but all the work paid off and I managed to keep it loose and fairly spontaneous and still capture the feeling and the light of the original scene. I’m pretty happy with this one. I’m calling it Bahian Beach Boys.

The final painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

The final painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

Sam and Kawai wrestling, and the sketch ("Temporary Victory") that came from it

Sam and Kawai wrestling, and the sketch ("Temporary Victory") that came from it

For Valentine’s Day this year I decided to do a whole new series of rough sketches of couples. One reason for that is that I have so many great shots of Kawai and Sam that I haven’t drawn yet. Another reason is, I knew it would be a challenge. Drawing couples is more than twice as hard as drawing a single figure…

…because of the relationships. Drawing is all about relationships, you know. I’m talking about how different parts of the image fit together. Everything depends on the relative position of the line you’re drawing. When you’re drawing a single figure, you get used to knowing where the hands are going to fall relative to the arm and the rest of the body, for instance. You get used to drawing a body in many different positions. All you have to concern yourself with is one body and you know about where everything is going to end up.

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Here's a sketch where it's vital to get relative positions of hands, arms, legs, etc. absolutely accurate.

But when you have two figures, things suddenly get a lot more complicated. First of all, you have twice as many figures to concern yourself with. That’s not so bad, because you still know basically where each figure’s hands, feet, head, etc. are going to go. But wait a minute! Where are Sam’s hands relative to Kawai? Is Kawai’s shoulder higher up than Sam’s shoulder? Is Sam’s left foot really that far away from Kawai’s right foot? If you’re not careful, you can begin a nice drawing of two boys standing and holding hands, and then halfway through realize that those hands can’t reach each other! Soon after I began working on this couples series, something interesting started to happen. Let me see if I can explain this. It has to do with the difference between how I hold a pencil and how I hold a brush. When I draw, I usually grasp the pencil fairly low, close to its point, and rest the heel of my hand on the paper for support (this is how most of us use a pen or pencil for writing). This gives one a great deal of control over one’s line. When I paint, I tend to hold the brush farther up, and with a grip more like I would use if I picked up a stick and wanted to whack something with it. You have less control over your line this way, but if you want big, loose movements, this is a much better technique.

Here's a good example of the rawer, more 'honest' line I'm talking about. Probably a subtle difference to anybody but me--but it's there.

Here's a good example of the rawer, more 'honest' line I'm talking about. Probably a subtle difference to anybody but me--but it's there.

The interesting thing that started to happen is this: I found myself holding the pencil as if it were a brush, and drawing almost as if I were painting. I was no longer resting the heel of my hand on the paper, which meant I had less control. But I had more freedom. This was scary and exhilarating. I don’t know why it occurred to me to do this; it happened spontaneously. But with staying loose and being more free one of the major themes of my life, and with my always aiming at loosening up more and more, it’s not too surprising when this kind of thing happens. But it was still exciting! And the quality of my line changed. It became more raw, less controlled and less calculated. For some reason I found this new, rougher line more beautiful. Perhaps because it was less controlled, it seemed to me more honest.

I call this 'Rock Lobsters.'

I call this 'Rock Lobsters.'

This was a breakthrough drawing for me. The more I experimented with this new approach, the more fun I started having. I got bolder (always a good thing!). I decided to see what would happen if I also used this approach with colored pencils. The sketch you see here is the first one where I really let go with this approach. You can see the overall look is quite different. Up close the lines look crazy and out of control; but when you pull back, you can see everything works together to create an image. And because of the agitated, energetic quality of the line, it has more energy and life than a very careful, controlled series of lines would have. I like a controlled line sometimes–it can be very beautiful–but for me, now, at this point in my life, if I can be a channel for beauty that is less controlled and more influenced by ‘chance,’ that makes me feel more alive, and much happier.

Another example of the new spontaneity I'm able to get sometimes with my sketches.

Another example of the new spontaneity I'm able to get sometimes with my sketches.

For the remainder of the time I spent working on the couples series (I completed 34 sketches in a period of a couple of weeks!), I used the technique I’ve described, approaching drawing more as if it were painting. If you look at the series as a whole (S1090115 through S1090227), you can see I went back and forth between the more controlled and the more spontaneous approaches, but overall I stayed much looser, and I’m very happy with the results. From the response once the Valentine’s Day Showing went online, it seems you guys are, too!