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Monday, January 25, 2016

How to Find Simple Shapes in a Painting


'Cliff Edge'       5x7       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $75
Big. Simple. Shapes. I repeat these three words when I start any new painting. It is so easy to get caught up in the details. Especially with some of my favorite subjects. Flowers-filled meadows are full of 'stuff'.  It is challenging to simplify and suggest but it all begins with big simple shapes.

Block in a painting with just a few big shapes for a stronger painting. 

Squinting is a very good way to simplify a scene whether you are painting on location or from a photo. Squinting removes a lot of the detail and color allowing you to see the masses of light and dark.  Another good way to see big shapes is to use a scrap piece of glassine or tracing paper.



Glassine is just right for obscuring details. It isn't clear yet it isn't quite opaque either. Place a piece of glassine over your reference photo and it is like looking at the photo with really dirty glasses. Like squinting it allows you to only see the big shapes of light and dark.

For today's painting my concept was the contrast and drama of the setting sun illuminating the flowers at the edge of the cliff leaving much of the hillside in shadow. I used a piece of glassine to create a black and white notan thumbnail.  The glassine was helpful in allowing me to decide what needed to be left in the shadows and what areas should be light.

So don't throw out those scraps of glassine paper. Save them for help with shape finding!  Glassine paper is useful to cover finished pastel paintings. I keep a roll handy and cut pieces as I need them.


My daily 30in30 oil painting '  field study'      5x7    oil

4 comments:

Jon L. said...

Dear Karen,

I love your posts--thank you so much!

What I would appreciate even more if you would more frequently indicate what colors you are using--especially with your oils.

I bought the color wheel that you recommended, but have difficulty applying it--and some confusion trying to figure out what color combinations you have used in some of your paintings.

Thanks, Alicia

P.S. How about a workshop in the northeast?

robertsloan2art said...

Great idea! I use glassine and tracing paper all the time, it's handy stuff. Very easy to spot those big shapes through it. Of course with my poor eyesight it's almost as good to just set aside my magnifying glasses. If I can't read easily then I won't see all the little clutter details, it blurs to simple shapes.

The advantage of those simple shapes is that they're easy to edit. You can move that tree way over once you see it as a mass of dark area, play with the shape, then in painting decide your new shape is two trees. The more experience I have, the easier it is to use a reference photo just as an idea or starting point rather than following it carefully.

It also helps to do a lot of studies of specific landscape elements like trees, clouds, rocks, water. Then if you have a scene that would be greatly improved by a puddle or another tree, you've got the practice to just drop in what you want whether it's in the photo or not. It works so well.

Karen said...

Thank you Robert! As always I appreciate so much the info you add to my posts! Great!!! :)

Karen said...

Thank you Alicia!
I don't know the color names I use for the pastels and if you ever saw my pile of pastels you would be afraid! It is a mess!!!
For oils though it is easy I am ONLY using
cad yellow medium, alizarin crimson Ultramarine blue, white and black. That's it. All colors are mixed from these.