Comparative Sizes

I’m presently painting a portrait. I don’t have a complete photo because I’m making various parts up from various images. At the moment the hands are too big.

I’ve noticed that for me the farther apart the items are on the painting the harder it is to gauge their size. The best idea I’ve read so far is to use a known distance; in this case it’s going to be the distance between the eyes, and use it to compare other distances on the painting. The initial know distance is completely arbitrary and everything else is compared to it. Sometimes I get it so wrong that I need to start over but more often its close enough.

Getting A Likeness

This is what is on my easel at the moment. I’ve just changed the ear location. I often get quite far into a composition before I notice serious errors and I have three seriously good critiquers that help immensely. With a landscape it doesn’t matter, I usually just incorporate any errors into the composition and it doesn’t make much difference. With a portrait these errors can make or break the likeness.

I continuously compare the image to photos I have, to find inconsistencies. On occasion if I’m having real problems I will print a photo at the appropriate size and mark appropriate points with a pin. Typically these are the left and right points of the eyes and the location of the mouth and nose. It takes very few points to get the layout. This is rare but sometimes the relative points just don’t come together and I’ve never been able to use a Camera Obscura or a Camera Lucida effectively. Artists have used a similar techniques in the past but I do think of this as a bit of a cheat. It’s similar to transferring a design onto wood before carving. I haven’t had to use this method for this portrait. It can help to turn the painting upside-down. My daughter’s advice is to turn the painting in 90 degree increments until the problems start to appear.

I also have a small mirror in my studio that will make some problems stand out. The mirror is at the back of my studio so I just have to step back and look at the painting in the mirror. It’s amazing how often a horrible mistake, that I’ve become immune to and no longer see, will stand out using this trick.

I use every trick that I can because sometimes I need it. I’m quite sure the great masters used them too but I don’t make the mistake of thinking that equates me in any way with the great masters.

What Would The World Look Like Without Painting?

For me a painting stands alone and the room it’s in doesn’t matter. The room has an effect on our perception of the painting and that’s what the frame is for, it separates the painting from the room and can even connect the painting with other art or things in the room. I think the world would exist regardless of whether we had paintings however if the paintings were not art then they might look something like this:

https://www.canvaspaintings.com/c/color/

Not that these paintings are bad; some of them are actively good. At least I like some of them. But they are cheap and likely produced in China through an assembly line. I’m not trying to cast aspersions on China, it’s just where most of these paintings come from at the moment. There have always been forgers and artists who need to eat so this type of work has always been available.

So what is the difference? In some ways there is no difference. With my own paintings I know it takes me an inordinate amount of time to paint them. I agonise over very small details. Ultimately I like very few of them although I work on them until I am reasonably satisfied with how they look. Does this make them different from paintings produced by assembly line? I don’t know! For some people there is no difference but paintings produced by an artist are all different in some way. This may simply be the result of mistakes that were made during painting that have been incorporated into the work or conscious changes made to the composition. For my money I will take the mistakes made by the artist.

Cognitive Bias In Portraits

The painting I’m working on presently is a portrait. People are often surprised when I tell them that the better I know the person the more difficult a portrait is. I think of this as cognitive bias even though it doesn’t match some of the definitions. Heuristics may be closer to the process I’m trying to describe. There are a number of clues in a portrait that make it look like the individual it’s supposed to represent. A good artist may be one who creates the illusion with the fewest number of clues. Regardless some portraits are strikingly good but others not so much. A portrait may seem good to me because it appears to closely match my concept of the individual’s character. To others it may not match their idea of the individual’s character so they would rate the portrait poorly.

My mental concept of the individual contains information that cannot be interpreted with paint. If I don’t know them well then I’m simply painting a likeness, like a photograph. If I know them well I can’t put my idea of their character into the painted image, so it’s difficult. When I realised this I stopped painting portraits. This was a mistake because I never found a way to reconcile the discontinuity. Some artists don’t seem to have a problem with portraits or perhaps they just continued to paint likenesses and modified them in ways that brought them closer to the artist’s idea of their subject’s character. To those of you out there that find it easy to get a likeness, does it help you to know that I am insanely jealous?

I think photographs help a lot. A photograph rarely matches my mental idea of the subject, however some photographs are definitely closer. If I pick the photograph that I like then use it to paint a likeness I’m probably close. Assuming I have a lot of photographs to choose from. Using this technique to paint a commission I would take as many photographs as possible then let whoever was paying choose. Now if my painting resembles the picture everything should be fine. I have a portrait of myself when I was quite young, painted by one of my teachers. I think it’s terrible but my mother liked it. I have a photo of myself playing a video game that I like. Many people think it’s terrible. Cognitive Bias.

Painting and Noise

I was listening to an interesting radio show. The topic was noise in audio signals. It got me thinking about noise in video signals and in photography. In print almost every photo needs to be sharpened a little to make it look right. This is largely a result of print resolution. It’s a fairly complex subject but typical picture resolution for a printed page needs to be about 300 pixels per inch, at least that’s what printers want. A photo’s resolution needs to be about double the line screen of the printed piece. Don’t worry too much about this because as I said its complex. This is interesting because often an image needs to be both sharpened and have noise added to look right on a printed piece. When I’m working on a painting I often find that transitions appear too sharp and the painting has an unrealistic appearance. Sharpening transitions can also add to the reality illusion but it’s a balancing act. I’ve noticed that in many cases I’m compelled to add some noise to make the painting look realistic. This noise might be blurred lines and some small brush strokes of various colours.

Its worthwhile noting that sharpening that we talk about in an application like Photoshop is simply increasing contrast of adjacent areas. OK it’s a little more complex than that. This link gives you a much better explanation:

http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/image-sharpening.htm

This is a technique that artists have used for several centuries. An artist often enhanced the contrast with fine light and dark lines in adjacent areas. Here is another link that documents this technique in paintings.

http://www.photokaboom.com/photography/learn/Photoshop_Elements/sharpening/1_sharpening_introduction.htm#Little

Noise is also fundamental to our view of reality. The reality we see is not perfect, there is a lot of fuzzy aspects to our perception. So to elicit the ‘reality illusion’ as I call it, the image needs to incorporate some of this fuzziness. I usually blur the lines a bit, sometimes they are just blurry to start with and sometimes I need to consciously blur them. I also try not to make colours too pure or smooth particularly when they are side by side with other solid colour blocks.

Blurring the lines is easy I just slightly overpaint them with similar colours. Noise is a little more tedious, I generally add some small areas of similar or reflected colour to areas around the blurred lines. I don’t have any hard and fast rules about this I simply do it until the image starts to look real.

Traditional Techniques

In a recent discussion I was admonished about not using traditional media. I use acrylics because they don’t smell; at least that is the prime reason. The individual in question wasn’t really being critical they just assumed that any real painter would use oils. In Da Vinci’s time oil paint was a new thing, as was painting on canvas. Many painters at that time painted on wood board. Those artists weren’t particularly worried about traditional methods so why should I be.

Acrylic is an interesting medium and the pigments used are beautiful. Actually acrylics can use all of the traditional old pigments as well as the latest ones. The pigments are simply ground up very fine and added to the acrylic base. Oils can use modern pigments too, but usually they don’t, probably because there is a prejudice towards traditional pigments. The advantage of traditional techniques is that they are time tested. It’s difficult to argue with a medium that’s been around for several hundred years. Acrylics have been well tested and testing today is much better than it was but it’s still new.

I like modern pigments. They are often more colourfast than traditional pigments and they are sometimes in a Nano-particle form. Nano scale particles are new and I’m anticipating some interesting new paints;

http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/LEON_a_00114

I see advantages with new products. Substitute ‘new’ with ‘acrylic’ or some other new medium. So long as they are tested and come out better I have no problem with them. Artists have always experimented with new techniques or products and I don’t think we should stop.

 

Signs you sell paintings for a living

Your cat is eating your paint.

All your paint tubes are nearly empty.

One or more of your doors has been used as a painting surface.

There are a dozen paintings of your cat on your walls. It’s getting skinnier.

Your computer is filled with various unrelated photos that you intend to paint.

You can’t remember what’s in your computer trash. Most of them are pictures of unfinished paintings.

Your friends and familly stand rolling their eyes while you take inane pictures that you might like to paint. Actually this happens even if you don’t paint to eat.

Your studio isn’t warm enough to dry the paint.

 

The painting in progress you see here is a portrait of my daughter’s husband. I’ve taken some liberties with accoutrements. I think he will like it; particularly the sword. This is the sword I’ve decided to use. It’s a court sword so there is very little hilt but I’ll put some wear on the grip.

http://www.swordlinks.com/courtswords/plate_XXX.html

It’s been a very long time since I’ve done a portrait. I found that the better I know a person the more difficult the portrait is to paint or draw.

Signs you sell paintings for a living

Your cat is eating your paint.

All your paint tubes are nearly empty.

One or more of your doors has been used as a painting surface.

There are a dozen paintings of your cat on your walls. It’s getting skinnier.

Your computer is filled with various unrelated photos that you intend to paint.

You can’t remember what’s in your computer trash. Most of them are pictures of unfinished paintings.

Your friends and family stand rolling their eyes while you take inane pictures that you might like to paint. Actually this happens even if you don’t paint to eat.

Your studio isn’t warm enough to dry the paint.

 

The painting in progress you see here is a portrait of my daughter’s husband. I’ve taken some liberties with accoutrements. I think he will like it; particularly the sword. This is the sword I’ve decided to use. It’s a court sword so there is very little hilt but I’ll put a little wear on the grip.

http://www.swordlinks.com/courtswords/plate_XXX.html

It’s been a very long time since I’ve done a portrait. I found that the better I knew a person the more difficult the portrait was to paint or draw.

Varnish

I was in Quebec City last week and saw something interesting. I’ve been toying with using varnish for some time now. Although increasing the lifetime of a painting is certainly worthwhile I don’t want to use solvent based varnishes because of the smell. Acrylics are likely long lived just as they are so unless I want to equalise their reflectivity I don’t see the point. An artist in Quebec City is doing something different, he is applying varnish to highlight certain parts of the painting.

As a graphic artist I should have thought of this because printers use it quite a bit. I knew about it and used it a couple of times but it is expensive since you need two additional inks; one matte varnish and one gloss varnish. You need the matte varnish to ensure everything has a matte finish, then the gloss varnish prints on top. The two additional inks means a 6 colour press has to be used instead of a 4 colour press. Costly.

This particular artist used drips of gloss varnish on the background and painted some on areas he wanted to highlight. The effect of the gloss varnish is quite striking, it adds a great deal of life to a painting. I’m definitely going to start using this technique. Unfortunately it won’t photograph but a walk-by video might show it.

Sunset Logs Is Challenging

Trying to get an image of some of my paintings to put in my posts is challenging. Sunset Logs is challenging because the camera is trying to set white balance and so is Photoshop. Many people are unaware that their monitor may be adjusting its brightness depending on the ambient lighting and may also set white balance. The painting contains a lot of dark tones as well as some saturated reds and yellows, all of this comes together to make a fairly dark image. The painting is rather dark but needs to be lighter in the mid to light tones to look right. My camera simply takes the tones and averages them then spreads those tones across the visual spectrum. I suspect that some Websites are doing the same thing again, sometimes throwing a wrench in the process. I think WordPress does this although I’m not at all sure, and if so it is likely only a problem with some images.

Images that I’ve prepared for my blog just don’t look right. They are often too light and different from images that I put on my Website. I can make them a little darker or lighter but I don’t know how the images appear on other monitors. I think I just have to make them as close as I can on my monitor in my studio. This particular painting is more challenging than most. It will likely look different on other monitors but I have very little control over that. I have done extensive modifications to several images of my paintings. I am quite confident that the digital image is very close to the painting in colour and tone. The digital image matches the painting when the image is shown on my monitor, in my studio with its ambient lighting.