A Set of Three Lighteners

In working on my most recent figurative painting, I had some difficulty achieving the variety of color temperature that I was after. Many days in the last couple of months had been dark and dreary. As it is, my studio has small north light windows which focus the light quite well but also cut out some light. So on these dark rainy days the light was quite dim and therefore limited the range of the color temperature as well as the values. In most cases, I use one dominant lightener that describes the color of the light source. Most of the year, I use a violet/red plus white. This color comes close in value to white but contains within it the dominant color of the light source.

In the case of my painting, “Vertigo”, I found that I needed a variety of lighteners. The background surrounding the figure is primarily a violet/red moving toward a neutralized blue achieved by combining viridian and blue/violet. This neutralized blue anchored the darks and added variety of temperature in the background allowing the eye to move in and around the figure. But the difficulty with a strong background is that it effects the color of the flesh in ways that one might not expect. At first, I presumed it would make the flesh appear more yellow/green being the compliment of the violet/red. But I found that the flesh tended toward the violet/red as well. The violet/.red dominating the background and the figure. This was too much and the figure was overly violet/red. So my initial idea had to be revised compared to the facts that lied before me. One must adapt one’s idea or conceptions to the reality of the situation. But one must not be dominated by the situation because if one is, then every time one is with the model, one is apt to change the painting on each occasion as the situation will in fact vary over time. So one must reinvent one’s idea and do what is necessary to achieve the factual truth as well.

I found that by adding two more lighteners, I achieved the temperature variety I was looking for. The lighteners were: Violet/red + white (manganase violet red, which was already a part of the palette); Blue + white ( the neutralized blue that was already a part of the palette); Green (viridian) + white ( this was also already a part of the palette as such and was also contained in the neutralized blue and the OY bi color).

So in the process of working on the painting, I found that if the flesh was getting too warm, too orange, I would add the blue lightener- slightly neutralizing the orange and holding it down. This became the base on which I added the green lightener as highlight on top. This green activated the flesh and created a vibrating quality that I hadn’t achieved up until that point. But I needed the cool blue on which to play off of. The green over the neutralized orange added that yellow green effect that I was looking for but could not get by just adding YG ( that appeared too warm just laid- in). I still kept some of the violet/red lightener for added changes in the half tones but the lights, I entirely re-worked in the new scheme.

The chord palette is as follows:

Red          OYbi          G          B hue          BV          VR


VR+ white; G + white; B hue + white

I would recommend an experiment with various lighteners when one is finding it difficult to achieve the variety in the flesh tones one is looking for. It is good to think outside the box we sometimes lock ourselves in.

Drapery and its Effect on a Composition

From the Renaissance to the 19th century, drapery played an active role in painting and sculpture. In the Romantic age, drapery went beyond a decorative role and became an element in itself, carrying the force of wind as well as heightening the action of the human character in the world. Drapery added force to a composition through color and movement indicating in a clear way the emotional tenor of a piece. Many 19th century etudes, quick paint studies indicating in a brief way how the image would appear from a distance, clearly use drapery to carry the moral element of a piece. Today drapery has taken a secondary role again. In most cases simply being the clothing that one is wearing, the status it occupied prior to the Renaissance, or a minor element in a still life.

My own work reflects more closely the Romantic attitude toward drapery. Drapery has so much expressive potential for a composition. In my own work, I allow the drapery, in many ways, to act as an independent character in the composition. It takes on dramatic forms to express action and color, but also to be a force to be reckoned with. In some cases it provides the counterpoint of the larger movement – pulling away or against the figure. It can also act as an element that allows the figure to rise upward out of its ordinary dimension calling for a an implied vertical ascent. It can also heighten the internal movement of the figure, implying its next action and increasing the emotional effect of that action. In a sense, it can give the viewer a feeling for what will happen in the next scene as in a play.

Besides movement, the color of a drapery can act as a key or chord as in music, giving one unconsciously, an immediate feeling for a piece. Just as in music, one only need hear the first part of a piece to gather its tenor and emotional bent, so with color, specifically drapery, to give an immediate sense of where the piece is going. I like to think of my work as related to music and dance. I began my artistic pursuits as a theatrical lighting and scene designer and loved especially to work with dancers- to produce an entire effect with a minimal amount of outside elements. I found this method particularly beautiful. I have retained in my work this sense of minimalism combined with the fullness of the emotional element in the compositions. Color gives that sense of lushness and drapery carries this fully adding significantly to the movement of a piece.

Action, color, movement and expressing what can only be implied are just some of the ways drapery can activate one’s compositions. I will be teaching a workshop at the Woodstock School of Art on the weekend of May 7 and 8. And I will cover how to render different types of drapery as well as to compose drapery on the live model. I will discuss building a figure that will act as an armature on which to design the drape. We will look for lines in the drape that reflect the movement and rhythms of the figure. We will observe repeating patterns, points of gravity and characteristic differences in various drapes. We will then model the drape, elaborating as we progress but also simplifying in order to maintain the over- all effect we are after. On day 1, I will discuss the general characteristics of various types of drapery as well as the characteristics of various folds and their origins. There will be a demonstration covering the basic construction of the figure and designing the drape. Then the class will be able to draw from various set-ups provided. Day 2, we will work from the live model in two sessions. Session1, we will construct an armature that implies the action and the rhythm and the proper proportion of the figure. Session 2, we will work with the drape and the life model, being ever attentive to the over-all design and elaborating upon that design through the modeling of the drape. Since there is much to cover, this class will strictly be a drawing class. Last year, the workshop was very successful and I have great hopes for this up-coming session.

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