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?


  1. You know your eyes are bad when you have to squint while wearing glasses at the same time! (Like me..)

  2. Susan your squinting post reminds me of a watercolor class I took years ago at the local High School.

    Each week I'd be squinting to see the still life subject we were painting. It was then that I noticed two banks of the overhead lighting were dark.

    The next week it was the same thing! I mentally cussed the janitor for not replacing the bulbs.

    When I mentioned it to the teacher she said the bulbs weren't burned out. She turned the lights out to help us "see"!

  3. Beautiful landscape here, Susan. I look at this and wonder why I can't manage the look of profuse stems and leaves like this. I always end up with a look of trying too hard.

  4. Since I learnt about squinting I just can not do without it. In fact I keep squinting at things even when I am not painting. Just for fun. It is indeed the one of the biggest tools. And I really loved the so called soory painting..

  5. My name is mayra Mancebo, I'm your new blogger. Squinting, to me is fundamental because my eyesight is not so good, I wear bifocals and when I paint I always use the observation distance and squint, not technical, of necessity ... but with narrowed or without your work is divine good, congratulations! .. excuse me my English is that I use a translator .. greetings!

  6. I have the same painting tool as you, Susan!! How lucky are we!. From now on, I will take my glasses off as well, to see values!. This painting has to be one of my favorites of yours. Its absolutely gorgeous and wish I was close enough to take a workshop with you! You're amazing.

  7. And I'm another new follower!!! I must say I wish I could paint a scene like this one for it's are such a gifted happy to have found you!! Blessings.

  8. J'irais volontiers gambader dans cette herbe odorante où les fleurs des champs ont pris le dessus sur les graminées. Une peinture printanière (même si c'est le mois d'août!!), remplie de fraîcheur... En ce qui me concerne je ne souffre pas de strabisme mais d'exophorie (qui est une anomalie des axes visuels) ajouté à de la myopie... le résultat demeure le même, une vue brouillée qui parfois je trouve très inconfortable et parfois bien utile en peinture pour l'avancement de mon travail...
    Une belle peinture ma chère Susan.
    Gros bisous

  9. I'm not an artist - at all - but I so admire people who can capture the beauty around us - whether in paint, photography, watercolors, sculpture....I WISH I had that ability!

    Your work is absolutely beautiful! ;)

  10. I love your paintings! If not being able to see is what does that, I need to take off my glasses also. I see nothing but a big blur without them but never thought about taking them off to get the squint effect. Thanks for the hint!

  11. Great post Susan. I am a 'glasses off' painter as I find, glasses a big distraction somehow when I paint. When I was in college, I went into the studio and told my instructor that I'd forgotten my glasses and he said 'you'll probably paint better' ...he was right!

  12. beautiful! there is enough detail and the blurry parts give it a realistic look and leave a lot to the imagination! great work!

  13. What a beautiful, soft painting Susan. I thought it was a pastel at first glance.

    I find that painting without my glasses is a wonderful way to paint looser. I tend to noodle everything in a painting to death so if I can't see it, I can't noodle it.

  14. susan, tes fleurs sont merveilleuses!

  15. This is so interesting to me--the part where you teach a new painter how to look at detail with squinting and that they really paint something in that time period! I love this painting and the look of it. :))

  16. Beautiful work, Susan! I am going to try painting without my glasses, too!!

  17. Nice to know that on occasion you struggle with simple shapes too. It gives me hope.

    Your painting is gorgeous, just the right amount of detail and reads perfectly.

  18. THis is a amazing, charming paintig! :))) I love BLUR!!!
    Really Beauty!
    just have no words!

  19. So beautiful, Susan - just enough detail - you are a wonderful painter!

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