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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An Easy Way to Simplify a Painting

'A Bit of Sunshine'       8x10     pastel     ©Karen Margulis SOLD

I am all about finding quick and easy ways to improve my paintings. I haven't tried this technique in a long time but I remembered how much it helped me simplify busy subjects.  I wanted to share it with some students so I gave it a practice run.  Today's painting is the resulting demo.

The problem many have with painting from photos is that we are tempted to put in every detail we see. It is all there....every petal, every leaf, every blade of grass.  It is sometimes hard to filter out all of the visual clutter. But unless we are striving for a photorealistic painting, we want to be able to simplify and leave something to the viewer's imagination.  The solution is easy.....work from a blurry photo!

My underpainting based on the blurred reference photo
Assuming you are working from your own photos and that you print them yourself, this method will work for you.

  • What I like to do is choose my reference photo and open in my photo program.  I am using iphoto on my mac but in the past I used Picasa and Photoshop.
  •  Most photo programs will have some way of blurring a photo. Some refer to it as soft focus or posterize or blur edges. Some programs let you choose the level of fuzziness. I like to have it blurry enough so that I am able to see the big simple shapes in the photo. I don't want to see the little details.
  • I print out a blurred version and the original version of the photo.  I use the blurry version for my initial block in and the first layers. (see photo above)
  • After the initial block in I will blend in this first layer so that it is vague and fuzzy.
  • Now I take out the original photo so I can see the detail. I decide where I want the most detail, contrast and sharp edges and gradually build up the painting with this in mind.
If you want to simplify a busy composition then you want to be sure to start with the big, simple shapes and build up to the details. Working from a fuzzy photo gives you a head start in the simplification process!

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

I recieved simlar advice about a year or so into painting and it was perhaps one of the most important lessons ever learned.

When focus on the shapes and values of your piece before the detais, the beauty of the piece is held together and you don't end up with an overworked piece of art where some sections look great and others not so much. I find it tends to ensure that the entire piece will work together.

Really great advice Karen. It's cool to see how you started and then the finished piece, gorgeous!!