Friday, March 16, 2012
Squint they say. Squint!
Original oil painting 14x18"
by Susan Roux
I have to admit, I really can't see.
I don't mean that I'm blind, though I often refer to myself as the blind artist. Without my glasses the world is a blur. I like to think of it as a good blur.
Most art teachers will stress the importance of squinting. It eliminates detail and reduces your subject to a series of values. It's a great tool. You can quickly evaluate which darks are the darkest and assess exactly where the light turns to shadow. Sometimes color can be confusing. It can play tricks on your eyes. An object of bright color placed in shadow may appear lighter than another of a dark color in light. A quick squint and the real values come into clear view, instantly. I think it may be one of an artists most important tools.
I teach to a new group of beginners twice a year through a local Adult Ed program. I've come to realize how useful it is for me to teach this class. It keeps me focused on the fundamental basics. When you take people who've never picked up a brush, perhaps never even drawn before and try to teach them to achieve pleasing results in a total of 16 hours, you find yourself focusing on the bare essentials. My first lesson is all about learning to see. I refer to it as apple night. We paint a single apple three or four times within two hours. I've found the first thing a student needs to know is how to begin looking at things.
Objects of any kind can be broken down as a form. If you learn how to see the basic make up of forms, you can be taught to imitate the values and thus capture form on your canvas. It is the fundamental premise of representational art.
Squint. Remember to squint!
I began the above painting during my artist retreat at the mansion last month. In one sitting (standing really) I played wet into wet capturing this simple marsh scene. I was unhappy with part of the foreground. Now I wish I had photographed it at that stage to show you, but it didn't occur to me to do so at the time. All I was thinking of was fixing it! The swooping bush of delicate white flowers didn't read as a full bush. It was a problem of overlooking form. The entire form. In this case, the bush. I had focused too much on capturing the tiny delicate flowers and by doing so, overlooked it as an entity. What I needed to paint was the bush itself and then add flowers.
Today I set this sorry painting on my easel. I removed my glasses. It helped me see beyond the dotted details I had spotted in. Looking at my reference, all I could discern were the values. I picked up my friend, the BIG brush. (It's a number 10 filbert that measures about an inch wide.) Fearlessly, I chopped into my white dotted flowers and began to establish the form of a bush. Immediately it improved. I dropped a few more quick colored strokes, adjusting my values.
No squinting necessary.
Without my glasses, I see a lovely blur. A blur that has the same effect as squinting. Not only is it a great painting tool, it's even saving me from developing an abundance of crows feet! How can you beat that? After capturing my form, I put my glass back on to clean up my details.
I would have to say as a teacher, I forget to remind my students to squint. I've grown so accustomed to not needing to, that I forget to mention it. How about you? Do you remember to squint? Are you an on the glasses, off the glasses type of painter too? How do you go about finding your values?