Thursday, September 17, 2015

When Color isn't the Problem...Fixing a Bad Painting


'Bumblebees Invited'           11x14             pastel                  ©Karen Margulis
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I should know better. After all I am immersed in the study of color as I prepare for a workshop. The topic is color!  I am planning to cover the challenges and problems we have when working with color and pastels. One of the points I will cover is the idea that color isn't the answer to every problem.

Sometimes a painting isn't working and color is not the problem!

Take today's painting of coneflowers. It was a demo for yesterday's pastel class. I was demonstrating a watercolor underpainting. The underpainting was successful. And the demo moved along well but after I had gotten my points across I was not quite happy with the painting. Something was wrong.

My first thought was COLOR. The colors of the flowers were wrong maybe? So I changed and added more purples. No that was not it. Maybe it was the colors of the grasses. So I changed and added more greens to the grasses. No the painting still felt wrong. Then it hit me.....it wasn't a color problem at all. It was a COMPOSITION problem!  The top two flowers were exactly the same size and height. It threw everything off.


flowers are the same size and height....boring. I brushed out the flower on the right


Often this is the case. The color is not the problem. There may be a problem with the underlying design/composition. Or there may be a problem with the value structure....especially spotty values. We turn to color to 'fix' the problem and we end up overworking the painting and creating a dull lifeless painting by filling the tooth of the paper and over blending.

So I took my own advice and made a change to the design. I brushed out one of the flowers and repositioned it a bit higher and made it larger. I added a taller flower on the left and a couple of bumblebees for interest and movement.

brushing out the offending flower


The slight change to the design was what was really needed. Not a change in color or value. The problem could have been avoided with a better plan. In this case I did do a thumbnail but my brain took over and decided to rearrange the flowers! I'm glad I remembered to check the composition before I did anything more drastic to the colors!

***Newsflash**** We have a couple of last minute cancellations for our plein air workshop in Blue Ridge Georgia this October 2-4. I will be team teaching with Marsha Hamby Savage and it will be a great workshop. Let me know if you are interested!

3 comments:

BJR said...

I LOVE your flowers!! And the little b-z-z-z-'s! What a beautiful sight to find at the end of the day!!

Susan said...

Great to read this. Working in watercolors I struggle with changes, but love learning what I can from other artists. Lovely pastel.

robertsloan2art said...

Oh that happens sometimes! The plan may be good but in painting some perverse mental twist starts organizing everything like groceries on a shelf, sizes things mechanically. Dancing lines straighten, irregular shapes turn geometric, and compositions fall flat. This is a great example of a composition fix and something that no amount of skill ever completely drives out.

I think that is probably just another human instinct of orderliness that conflicts with artistic sensibility?