Getting Deep

Capturing a Scene: A Winter’s Nap (pastel, 12×17) by Holly Glasscock

I’m compelled to paint animate objects so I can interpret their expressions and moods,” says pastelist Holly Glasscock. “Living in the country as I do, animals are a big part of my life.” After seeing some fox roam around her South Carolina home, Glasscock decided to paint them. So she researched the animal and created A Winter’s Nap (above; pastel, 12×17).

Areas to Work On
Using soft pastels and pastel pencil on sanded pastel paper, Glasscock has created a nice flow for her viewers’ eyes around the piece. No matter where we look—the angle of the fallen tree, the curve of the fox’s body and the tree in the background—we’re naturally drawn back to the face on the fox.

However, Glasscock has also rendered the rocks and the fallen tree with the same amount of detail as the fox. As a result, she’s created a flatness that reminds me of a theater stage set. Though skillfully executed, the fox appears to be a cutout that’s unable to move. She could improve the depth of her scene by overlapping her shapes, blurring a few edges, varying values and being more consistent with her shadows. And by paying closer attention to a few details, I feel Glasscock can more realistically portray her subject.

Art Principles At Work
Overlapping shapes. One of the quickest ways to create depth in a painting is to overlap shapes. Doing so immediately enhances the feeling and appearance of depth. In A Winter’s Nap, I’d recommend that Glasscock either enlarge the two rocks or move them back in the picture to overlap the fox’s tail as I’ve done in my reworking of the painting. This would allow the rocks to appear more in the foreground plane. Giving them carefully rendered lost edges will suggest mass by allowing the viewer to sense that there’s space between the rocks and the fox’s tail. Overlapping the rocks adds to the illusion that the fox is lying on the ground behind them. Making this change will help the sprigs of dead grass breaking through the snow to show up better against the tail, and the fox will thus appear to lie more solidly on the ground.

Losing edges. Crisp, distinct edges define form. Since the form that’s most important in A Winter’s Nap is the fox, then it follows that the edges of the other shapes in this painting should be soft, or blurred. Along with giving the focal point its prominence, blurring edges of receding objects adds to the illusion of depth. For example, the evergreen trees in the background have the appropriate soft edges to push them into the distance. But the large felled tree in the middle ground has a few too-hard edges that make it compete for attention with the fox. Even though the tree may be close behind the fox, Glasscock could make it less prominent by softening some of its edges. As well, the color of the tree itself could be cooled and its overall value lightened.

Placing shadows consistently. Just like other objects in a painting, shadows can have hard and soft edges, depending on their placement, thereby giving a greater feeling of depth. I’m puzzled about the one heavy shadow beneath the fox’s back end, since there are no shadows where the neck and shoulder join, for instance, and none on the left side of the head. Remembering that consistency is an important aspect of any representational work, Glasscock needs to either take away the shadow completely, depicting an overcast day, or add shadows around the painting, such as under the fallen tree trunk, below the rocks or on the left side of the fox’s head.

Adding Depth: “To make the fox dominate the picture and increase the depth of this scene, I overlapped the rock and the fox’s tail by correcting the direction of the tail’s hair growth and slightly increasing the rock’s height,” says Glasscock. “I also grayed the fallen trunk and blurred its bottom edge. To bring out the fox a little more, I used pastel pencils and gouache to indicate the texture of fur and brighten his coat. And finally, I repainted the eyes of the fox so it would appear to be truly napping.”

Varying values. An appropriate use of value can also contribute to the illusion of depth in a painting. Generally, the farther away an object is, the lighter in value it is. Glasscock has too many true darks in A Winter’s Nap: the foreground rocks, the shadow at the fox’s back end, the horizontal shadow under the fox, the fallen tree, the evergreen tree in the background, and the small mass between the neck and tail are almost uniform in value. By graying down the fallen tree and all the trees in the background, Glasscock could push the middle ground and background a little farther back.

Just as she should be selective with her darks, Glasscock should be careful of too much white because it can be overpowering. Most of the snowy area could be a pale gray with carefully chosen white highlights. These whites could include snow on the top of the fox’s tail, the back, the nose and parts of the head.

Paying attention to detail. The fox really looks like a fox, but it needs a few modifications to make it look more realistic. First and foremost, by doing a bit more research, Glasscock would discover that fox tail fur doesn’t grow long like that of a horse’s. Rather, the tail has shorter hairs as I’ve indicated in my painting. The fur could also use a bit more texture. I recommend that Glasscock use her softest pastels to indicate the fur, and thus better bring out its texture. Last, I closed the fox’s eyes to better suit the title of the painting, A Winter’s Nap.

Lessons Learned
One of the goals in representational painting is to create a convincing illusion of depth. This means more than simply having a foreground, middle ground and background. To achieve depth, it’s important to overlap shapes, use hard and soft edges appropriately, be consistent with shadows and vary values.

As it is now, Glasscock’s depiction of this fox will appeal to a good number of viewers. However, with a few modifications, and constant drawing and painting, she can better create a full, three-dimensional scene for her favorite subjects.

About the Artist
“I know that I’m going to learn something with each piece I paint,” says South Carolina artist Holly Glasscock. “I’ve always believed that as long as you’re learning, growing and trying new things that you’ll live a fulfilled life.”

Bill Tilton is a longtime contributing editor to The Artist’s Magazine.


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