I have a brush that I like.

I like it so much that I have two of them. They are very small brushes. I was painting a shadow line and became annoyed that my favourite brush couldn’t paint the line as fine as I wanted; so I stopped, made tea, and took a moment. When I stepped back into the studio what I was painting jumped out at me. The line that I was so frustrated with was perfect.

Does this happen to anyone else? I think it happens because my perception of the line changes due to colours and how close I might be to the painting. My perception of the painting also changes depending on how long I’ve been looking at it and how much I’ve been concentrating on it.

I will always remember one of my teachers telling me to step back and look at what I just painted. At the time I thought she was a little crazy because I found it so annoying. I stepped back and looked then made some changes. I got used to doing this and still do the same thing but it’s only recently that I’ve come to really understand what she was talking about. My daughter tells me to turn the painting upside down (I often rotate it in 90 degree increments). This works as well or better than stepping back. I have a small mirror on the back wall of my studio and when I step back I look at the painting in the mirror. Through all of these machinations I eventually see the thing that the painting needs.

I think this works by breaking the connection to a 3D construct we create about the world around us. The resulting disconnect makes us rebuild the 3D mental construct from scratch and doing so brings our attention to any flaws that may be present. There are always flaws with what I’m doing.

Getting back to the brush, it’s curious to me that one brush seems so perfect and another, that I believe is just as good, doesn’t do the job. I don’t have a good answer for this and the only way I’ve found to get around it is to try every brush I can get my hands on and buy the one that feels best. I rub the brush on my finger to get a sense of how it will feel to paint with it.

Final Picture

Getting a fairly accurate picture for the Web can be difficult. This portrait is particularly troublesome. Notice first the pin cushion distortion making Phil’s head look too big and his hands too small. This is the most correctible problem. When I do a final image for the Web I take at least 4 pictures at a higher telephoto setting and join them together in Photoshop then match the size with the painting dimensions. With a 35 mm camera (I know those no longer exist; at least it’s difficult to buy new ones) an 80 mm lens is approximately distortion free. It isn’t really “distortion free”; it just matches approximately what our eyes see and our brain interprets.

The colour isn’t right either; it’s much too yellow. I don’t know if this is just the light or a camera setting. The light I’m using is a full spectrum fluorescent and that could easily have a significant yellow cast. The painting looks darker than the camera image and that could be the camera (cameras automatically set luminosity based on specific locations of an image or an average) I’ve darkened this image a good deal and retained the full tonal range and the result matches my monitor with the painting. MY MONITOR! But it might not match with anyone else’s monitor.

Most paintings don’t require accurate colour and tonal matching. However if you are doing something on commission it might. When we look at an image we interpret the colours and tonal range and compare it with what we think it should be. It might look very different under different lighting conditions. I have no control of the different conditions under which someone might view my painting. At best if I were actually doing something on commission, I could make it look right in my studio and make sure the client picks it up from there.