Thomas Schaller demonstrates how to move beyond what the eye actually sees to present a unique vision.
It’s my belief that an artist’s job is to interpret what he or she sees, not just to imitate it. Also, an artist should try to express what is felt about the subject, not just what is seen. There are different forms of reality. The observed reality of the subject is one form, but there is also the reality of the painting that results from this observation. This reality is more crucial because it’s where the artist’s voice is heard.
So many times I’ll see a student complete a beautiful passage, only to find that it has been scrubbed away minutes later. “What happened?” I’ll ask. Usually students will tell me the painting looked OK, but it didn’t look exactly like the subject. “But it looked like your painting, and that’s what matters,” I’ll reply. Once the world of your painting begins to evolve, that is the only reality you need. For as long as it takes to complete the painting, the artist needs to live only in that world.
If changes to what we see need to be made to make a better painting, by all means, we’re free to make them. While we may begin with a plan for our final work, letting that plan evolve or change completely is critical. Many times, it’s the “mistakes”—the things that we don’t plan—that can be the very making of our work. Remember to enjoy the process—relax, just breathe, and let it happen.
SURFACE: Fabriano Artistico
extra white 140-lb. coldpressed
watercolor paper, 22×15
PAINT: Sennelier Artists’ watercolors
· Raphael Softaqua (synthetic squirrel-like) Nos. 2, 4 and 8 petit-gris
· Raphael Kaerell (synthetic) No.
10 round and No. 12 flat
· Raphael Precision (synthetic sable-like) No. 10 flat
· ¾-inch synthetic flat
· Nos. 4, 8 and 10 synthetic
While in the Tuscan city of Lucca, Italy, I snapped this photo of the Cathedral of San Martino. The wall in the foreground, dating from medieval times, is impressive, but I was more interested in the cathedral tower. This photo was merely the springboard for my artistic vision.
I did a quick compositional sketch to help me figure out where I wanted to place major objects and values in my painting for maximum effect. Although the character of my drawing is very different from my reference photo, it retains a connection to my original inspiration. This sketch served as a guide, but I felt free to change course as I painted.
I like to draw an indication of the general shapes of my subject on my painting surface—without getting too detailed. When a drawing is done right, it will join beautifully with the subsequent watercolor washes, showing the initial idea of the artist come to life.
The sky I painted doesn’t look anything like the sky in the reference photo. In my interpretation, bright light comes in from left to right, hitting the tower on the left. I flipped the values of the sky from what appears in the photo because I wanted the center of focus to be toward the bottom of the tower. The value contrast between the darker blue portion of sky and the sunlit tower draws the eye to that area.
I also flipped the values of the tower, making it darker on top, which draws the eye to the center of the painting. In addition to value contrast, I like contrasts of detail and specificity. The tower will be the tightest, most finished-looking part of the painting. Even the other parts of the cathedral have been painted a bit more loosely.
I painted the trees on the right impressionistically. Note that these trees don’t reach as high as those in the photo. To add dimension, I varied the values. The lighter foliage on the top appears farther back. One of the easiest, most successful tricks in painting is to set up three distinct values—light, dark and mid-tone. As if by magic, they imply depth.
I didn’t want the foreground to attract too much attention or be too specific, so I laid it in with a big, wet, juicy brush. At this point, the tree trunks were a bit more specific than I liked, but I would deal with them later.
To avoid the bookend-ish look of the trees in the photo, I differentiated the shape, tonality, color and specificity of the two areas of foliage. Dark values make the tree on the left seem closer, and its thin branches connect the left side to the right. I added a few dark marks to the tower to indicate ledges and window insets. Spritzes of water softened the edges of the tree trunks and blurred the foreground washes, adding mystery.
Thomas Schaller Live Demo!
This Facebook Live demo was a great time for us all. Thanks to Tom for his generous sharing and lovely work!
Enjoy a watercolor demonstration with Thomas Schaller as he discusses his painting process in detail and generously shows how he makes the artistic magic happen one painterly stroke at a time!
About Thomas Schaller
THOMAS W SCHALLER, AWS, NWS, is an award-winning artist, architect, author and instructor. In 2010 he left his career as an internationally renowned architectural artist and concept designer to turn his attention to creating and teaching fine art in watercolor. His work has been featured in prestigious exhibitions in more than 20 countries. Schaller has authored three best-selling books on painting; the latest is Thomas W Schaller: Architect of Light (North Light Books, 2018).