There was a crazy split in art history between the modernist perspective of being true to the surface of the canvas vs. the classical window looking at out the world. Paradoxically, both are true but they missed what connects them: light and color vibrations dance on our cornea’s surface.
The recent color charts below are a range of colors of different tones and hues. The project was to bring each color up to the surface, they feel about 1/8″ above the surface as if they are painted ceramic chips. I successfully tweaked them until the paint raised the vibration of the color. Then I began editing small 9×12″ paintings from a trip on Route 66. In each I brought the color vibrations up to the surface yet maintained the “window on to the world”. Notice the rocking horse’s cast green-yellow shadow, and how it rises to the surface yet still resonates as a shadow.
Armed with this new insight I have been applying it to my current life size humanist work, a nude at home in my studio sanctuary. Integrating this new process will be my evolutionary project for the coming years.
Colored and dark papers can save you precious time and give you amazing effects. When I paint/draw/teach plein air I try to nail the impression in under an hour, it is a race against the planet moving. As the sun slowly moves across the landscape you will see new cast shadows, new lights, after 3 hours they all cancel each other out leaving you with muck. So in keeping the time short using the dark paper can be a huge advantage.
The idea is the paper is your dark areas, sketch in the composition and leave the darkest part alone. From there you focus on bringing out the light, driving towards the light, with the last touches happening in the last few minutes before your hour is up! This approach works wonderfully and it feels magical while doing it.
One of the reasons why leaving the paper alone as darks works is because shadows are the absence of light. The darks don’t need details or labor, leaving them alone creates a atmosphere of mystery that is a perfect foil for all the lights you will be drawing. Save time, effort, and create magic by leaving lots of paper alone. Enjoy!
Below are my pastel landscapes all in under an hour. Take note of the dark areas are just paper.
One of the most important lessons I teach in my workshops is to find the shadows first. It is almost a guarantee that if you find interesting shadows then the rest of your drawing or painting will work!
The hard part is that looking for shadows (cast, core shadows of the thing, and areas of dark) is counter intuitive, most people look for the color and a beautiful thing. Trust me, without the shadows it is a lot of work with little to show for it. In my pastels below you will probably notice the light and color, but what set up each one were the blocks of shadows.
The process starts with a dark paper, compose with any dark medium color playing special attention to main shadow areas. In cases with shadows of a yellow or white building, I lighten the shadow, but only one or two tones up from the paper. The rest is a lot of fun, leaving the shadow areas alone, then focus on the light and color areas, adding light by subtle gradations until I finish with the brightest light.
The day before yesterday we were scheduled for an electricity outage 9am-4pm. I got up early to cut out a wood palette fit to measure my French easel, grabbed Frida, and went for a drive on the justly named Palms to Pines Hwy. The cows reminded me of how rural the area is. About 30 minutes later I was in the 100 degree desert, making a loop I found a spot between Salton Sea and Borrego Springs to paint. High noon and not a shadow to be had. My students will tell you I veto painting things with no shadows, broke my rules, and decided to paint with the focus on the soft dusty arid colors. I painted for about 40 minutes, really it was too hot, Frida couldn’t wait to get back in the car. The rest of the drive ascending from valley to valley was gorgeous and I was grateful to arrive home to the mile high coolness of Idyllwild.
I took an extra week in France after my pastel workshop to draw for myself. I spent a day on the grounds of Van Gogh’s Asylum in St Remy. Then I was profoundly happy to be there and just drew without thinking; just experiencing. But today, I looked over these and added a little light. And I uploaded them to the studio collection of pastels on my archive.