The Big Picture

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Winter Morning

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The initial shape drawing.

[Anne here] While Richard is enjoying a short holiday from the blog, I thought I’d
treat you to an excerpt from his latest column, “Seeing the Big Picture,” appearing in the latest issue of The Pastel Journal: When starting a painting, it’s best to begin with a few simple elements before proceeding to the more detailed components. Detail is something to which we’re all attracted. We focus on the writing on a page, the fabric patterns on a dress and the sunlit leaves of a tree. As interesting and attractive as these may be, however, they’re not good places from which to begin a painting. Robert Henri, in his 1923 book, The Art Spirit, admonishes painters for this, encouraging them instead to learn to see below the superficial to the strength of what lies beneath. It’s the positioning of the skeletal system and muscles that creates the flow of a garment, and the underlying nature of the tree and earth that creates the character of the landscape.

I joke with my students that we spend too much of our painting efforts trying to cram the cake under the icing—a messy undertaking indeed. Instead, by simplifying a scene to a few large shapes and by associating a general value and color sense at the painting’s onset, we can more easily see “the big picture.” We bake our cake, so to speak. Then the icing can be added to individual taste.

You’ll find the complete article in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of The Pastel Journal on sale now.

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