Connect and merge your shapes


Wet day, Seattle 14x20


 Our eyes can trick us! When we look at a scenery or a finished painting. Our first glance is the overall shape of the scenery. However, when we look at our reference and start painting, our eyes start to focus on individual things. Our eyes have very narrow focus. When we look at something with just a tiny bit of depth, everything else around it quickly fade and blur out. Because of this, many students paint a scenery or portrait with many separate elements. They also tend to put too much emphasis and details in places that are not as important. 

 Always ask your self these questions:

  1. Is this element part of something bigger?
    What are you looking at right now? Is it a window that's part of a building? Is it a tree that's part of a forest? If you are painting a portrait, are you looking at the person's eye that's part of a face? 
  2. Does it need to pop out from the painting?
    What you are looking at and painting right now, does it need to be an emphasis? Is it really that important for people to see? Or is it merely a background or something that can be faded?
  3. What's next to it?
    Is the element that you are looking at a standalone thing in an empty space? Or is it part of a group of things? Is it one out ten cards on the street? Is it a person next to a group of people?

After you answer your self those questions. You will get a lot more clarity on the things you look at and the role they should be playing in your painting. You should then start making decisions while you paint:

  1. Do you even need to paint that?
     This question sounds funny, but this can be a tough decision to make. Often there are things you simply don't need to paint! I paint one out of hundred windows on a tall skyscraper. I can suggest there are some windows. However, when it is a background element, there's no need to paint much detail. Instead, focus on the interesting shapes and silhouettes.
  2. Can you connect and merge the element into a bigger shape?
     Are the things you are looking at part of the same depth and atmosphere? If so, try to connect them together. If you look at the above painting, you can see I connect quite a few areas. The bodies of the figures on the right are connected with the building. What separates them are the head and the light on the shoulder. I did that on purpose because I want the figures to belong to the environment on the right. The same thing as the car in the background, you can see that I simply lose the bottom into the reflection.
  3. If it doesn't need to stand out, can you make it part of a bigger shape and structure?
     If you look at the cropped portrait painting I have here. You can see her eyebrows are connected with the shadow of the nose bridge and down to her cheek. The eyebrows are a bit darker, but you can see it merge with the overall value. They feel like they are part of the face instead of cut and pasted on. This is one of the huge issues I've seen in many student's portrait paintings, all the facial features look like they are not part of the face.

 It's amazing how something looks simple has so much thought behind it, isn't it? This is why planning ahead is so important!  It comes with practice and experience, so don't pressure yourself to achieve it in every painting (I fail to do so myself from time to time as well). Just make conscious decisions to connect and merge the shape together whenever possible. Very soon you will have a painting with good fluidity and atmosphere! 

Don't loose sight of your priority.

 I am constantly living in between prolific artists and people who are busy with their lives in general. As an artist, I follow other artists on social media (Facebook, Instagram). And it is not unusual that I see some artists sharing new beautiful works every day. While I am happy to see new artwork from them every day, the little voice inside of me almost always ask me "look at them, they paint way more than you do, what are you doing?" However, I know for a fact that some of them are able to do so because they have more time then I do. Many of them are single, they don't have 3 kids, and they don't have other works. I on the other hand do. 

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Delicate brushwork

 Brushwork is a very personal part of the artist. In some way, it defines artist's work and style. To paraphrase what Mr. Zbukvic said in one of his lessons. "If there's anything that sets one artist apart from another, it's the calligraphy. It cannot be taught, and shouldn't be taught." And I agree completely. An artist's brushwork is an extension of his intuition, his/her natural response to the form and shape with his/her hand. However, I think this is still worth talking about because one of the biggest things my students struggling with is brushwork. These are some of the most common issues I discovered. I want to share them with you and also talk about how to remedy these issues:

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Avoid "shiny object syndrome"

 Every day when you open your Instagram or Facebook, chances are you see a lot of artwork. This is very normal especially if you are an artist. When I swipe through my Instagram feed, I am inspired by the sheer amount of outstanding works! To be honest, this can get a little bit disheartening at times. I see artists with beautiful works and away more follower than I do. On top of that, there are multiple artists whom I admire paint in different style, subject, and medium. Because of this, I was tempted to switch things up and follow what they're doing. Maybe it's a paint more realistically, start painting more animals, try a technique that another artist uses, or ditch watercolor altogether and try charcoal. I know I'm not alone on this. I see many people do the same thing. This is a very common artist's "shiny object syndrome."

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