Friday, December 31, 2010

Design, Part 2

Work in Progress 18x24"
by Susan Roux

After establishing the lines, blocking in the big shapes was next. Paying attention to what's in light or shadow and blocking it in accordingly will give you a quick visual of your plan. It's sort of like your blueprint for the painting you're creating.

At this point, you've invested very little time and if your design is flawed, things should jump right out at you. Adjustments can be made easily and painlessly now. Look at the sizes of your shapes. Are they varied enough? Are they interesting to look at? Think of your original idea. Is your painting still supporting that? So far so good. I noticed the shadow on the lawn also points to the roses. Though it's good supporting motion, I must caution myself on not directing the viewer too abruptly or the painting will loose interest.

We want the viewer to explore the entire painting, not just one spot. Keep their eye dancing all over, that's the plan.

The big shapes were a bit difficult to completely establish, since the rosebush is airy. I made certain to carry my background shapes beyond where I thought they belonged to allow room for some play with the rose edges.

I began placing my roses with a value darker than its final highlights. I found patterns in sun/shadow play in both the fence and the house. Stepping back helps you identify potential problems before you develop too much detail. Adjustments are always easiest in the early stages. I was focusing primarily on the outer shape of the rosebush, trying to keep it interesting and varied. Stepping back helped me notice a snow storm effect. Before it turns into a blizzard of pink and white, swallowing the entire canvas, adjustments need to be made.

I keep thinking of design throughout the painting process. How is my eye traveling on the canvas? As soon as I put in something that becomes too confusing for my eye to differentiate one thing from another, a caution flag goes up. At any point during the development of your painting, when you've just added something that doesn't support your original idea, it's time for an adjustment.

I made certain to calm the white snowflakes in the background. The further I developed the rosebush, establishing some of its density as a form, the less conflicting my pink and white dots became.

To keep the eye moving, I'm painting in directional strokes as I work my dark values. Notice the repeated movement from upper left to lover right in both the darks in the rosebush and the tree shadows on the house. While this movement in the roses is supporting the focal point, the house shadow is pulling you away from it. It works well because it's creating a new rhythm and a bit of tension. The movement is no longer just pulling you towards the roses as in the original line drawing. Now the eye begins to dance diagonally as well. To prevent the eye from completely going off the canvas on the right, the tree trunk directs you down and small dark strokes in the greenery calmly pull you back towards the center.

Color and value also play an important part in moving the eye around. They are the elements of design that are the most noticed. Unlike the first lines of design that remain stable throughout, color and value continue to be adjusted right to the very end. I'll talk about that in my next post...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Work in Progress 18x24"
by Susan Roux

Good design. How important is it? Is it important to you?

Artists will tell you of the importance of good design, but often have trouble explaining it. That's because there are many elements that affect design. Elements such as line, proportions, value, patterns, color, texture, etc. In a way we can think of this as complicated or as I prefer to see it, giving us lots of tools to help achieve a good design.

A good design will hold your viewers eye, sending them on an exploration of your entire canvas.

It isn't extremely complicated. As a matter of fact, it can be quite simple. Keep your viewers interest. How do you achieve that? Shake it up a bit with variety to keep the eye stimulated and traveling about. You can focus on any of the design elements, use them in proportions near 2/3 to 1/3 and you're already off to a great start.

Design comes in right from the start. It isn't something that just happens on your canvas. Consistent good design is planned. When you select a photo or arrangement to paint, there's always something about it that struck you, otherwise you wouldn't have chosen it in the first place. Identify that. Know why you've chosen a particular image to paint.

Here is the image I'm working from. It's quite obvious by the way I took this photo that the rose covered fence is what struck me most. If you think in terms of thirds, it's covering about 2/3 of the canvas. Rather than begin with an intense drawing of this complex scene, I chose to place my basic design lines first.

As I painted them in, I adjusted them. Though I was putting lines, my mind was imagining the bulky shapes these lines represented. I had to move several of them. It's a great time to back away and imagine your image within the boundaries you've created. At this point I was concentrating solely on design. Where am I going to place the components in my painting and how will they interact with each other in this placement?

Notice how the lines already travel your eye in a unified direction. As I stepped back to imagine my scene, I thought of the direction things were pointing. Keeping in mind that my floral fence was my center of interest, I could see the movement in my painting was already supporting that. Don't loose sight of your initial idea. If it remains your goal throughout the painting process, the result will be more powerful than if you switched ideas on yourself along the way.

Next I looked at intervals. To keep the viewers eye interested, variety is necessary. Were my intervals varied enough? Not at first. I had to move most of these lines, because as I followed my photo, the lines seemed to be evenly spaced. For the sake of a painting, even if representational, it's better to create interest than to copy an image precisely. (Save that for when you're doing portraits.)

Paying attention to the bare bones of your painting is simple. By doing so, it allows you to concentrate on what you've created that is already working for you. In this case I identified direction. Don't you just love pointers? Make sure their helping you and not pointing the viewer in the wrong direction...

As I continue to develop this painting, I'm keeping in mind this directional movement. I'm supporting it with the colors I'm choosing and the values I'm placing. The bare bones are there to help me, but it's necessary to keep adjusting things as I go along. This will help me build upon the initial structure. Concentrating on good design is a good way to improve your work.

I'll continue to show you the development of this painting, explaining my thought process as I make choices. You'll see how the various elements of design come into play individually. Breaking things down simplifies the process. So rather than have to concentrate on all the elements of design at once, thinking of them one at a time and adjusting them, just as I adjusted my initial lines, becomes easy to understand.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


It's not your ordinary week. I don't think I have to remind you. Reading everyone's posts and finding many of you missing, is just an added reminder that everyone's lives are turned a bit upside down this time of year. I'm no different.

My classes are cancelled for the week.

I hope that doesn't mean my paintbrushes will be too, but one never knows what to expect as Christmas approaches. We suddenly take on additional chores and hopefully with good cheer we celebrate our blessings with people we love.

Thursday, just as class was beginning, am enormous Dick Blick order arrived. I often order for my students and it's kind of like Christmas every time the boxes come rolling in. Several of my students decided to upgrade their paints to the lovely Gamblin's I'm enjoying. What a nice Christmas gift! I can't wait to see how their work will change. When class ended, I looked at my palette full of paint and knew it would shrivel up and dry before finding easel time again. Blick-stamped cases of canvas cluttered my entry. Next thing I knew I was opening various sizes and applying a layer of color.

Oh how fun
it is to paint
on brand new
Blick canvas!

Happy Holidays everyone! Thank you for stopping by and leaving your wonderful comments. They mean so much to me, as do you...

When easel time manifests itself, I'll be ready!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Artists journey

Gardner's Home
Original oil painting 18x14"
by Susan Roux

Where has your art journey taken you?

I was reading Kevin Mizner's post this morning and he talked about the artist's journey, well mostly his own... He made the statement, "The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know, and how much more there is to know."

Wow. Now there's a loaded statement and it's so true.

Think back when you first started. Didn't you think painting was easy? Do you think you'd have started to paint if you'd actually known how far you had to go? It's one of those totally frustrating things. Like a cartoon mirage. Remember that desert oasis? You see where you want to go and you work towards it only to find when you get there, you're not there at all. You have a long way to journey still.

Art is one of those things that as soon as you get comfortable settling in or accepting your level of achievement as the final end, your work suddenly turns into formula painting and it automatically slips in reverse. Think about that for a minute...

I know you know artists who've done that exact thing. I won't mention any names, but even some of the greats of today have fallen prey to that terrible trap. The artists journey is one without an end. The desire to strive for improvement must remain throughout your life. Look at Monet. He pushed himself to the very end. Even blind, he continued to paint. Just before he lost his vision (those nasty chemicals. I hope you're taking precautions to protect yourself...) is when he did his best work. Why? Why were his nympheas so magnificent? He'd spent a lifetime pushing himself. He never settled into a comfortable place where he accepted his level of achievement.

I remember several years ago studying about color. I began to understand color at a level I didn't know existed. How wonderful to have your eyes opened anew to a subject that already excites you tremendously! Who would have known there was more? I certainly didn't. I floated around wanting to explode with joy and had no one to describe my new discovery to.

I've been trapped at a fairly stagnant level for a few years. Yes, there were some paintings that rose above the others, but mostly my work had flatlined. I didn't stop pushing. It seemed futile, but oddly something inside me kept telling me there was more. I listened. I was frustrated. I'd get discouraged. Still I pushed on believing there was more and if I continued trying, I'd achieve it. Now, just like the deeper knowledge of color that opened my eyes a few years back, I feel equipped with a new understanding of grays. Yes, I said grays.

I know it sounds dumb. Insignificant grays are anything but insignificant...

Suddenly I'm exploring like a child let loose in a giant toy store! Seriously, it's that kind of excitement. There is more too. A renewed realization that we aren't just portraying an image, but painting poetry, a passion, a vision of more than just objects. Suddenly I'm finding my work moving forward. I'm thrilled I never stopped pushing. Though the lulls are discouraging, the triumphs are exhilarating enough to compensate. I just want to explode on canvas.

I feel equipped with new tools of understanding and my journey continues. I know these new tools will take me forward for awhile. Forward in improvement, I hope. But I also know that in time it will flatline again. It's the journey. If I'm to be all I can be in this line of work, I know I mustn't ever get too comfortable. Luckily, though frustrating at times, it's also the excitement that drives me ever forward.

Don't you just love knowing it'll always be exciting? There'll always be more to learn and develop.

Have you fallen into the formula trap? It can be a tough rut to climb out of. May the new year ahead jolt you enough to push you out of your comfort zone and propel you forward in your journey. Allow yourself to be renewed in that childlike excitement of discovery. Don't stop pushing yourself. The rewards will amaze you.

Posted is the finished Gardner's Home. It was painted with a class, drying completely between sessions. I may revisit this scene on my own when I can paint wet on wet. I'd be interested to see the different results. I posted this work in progress on Oct. 29. Oddly it was the post where I introduced Kevin Mizner to you. I'm just noticing that. I wonder if that means anything?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

In Awe...

Lupine Cottage
Original oil painting
by Susan Roux

In June, I rented a house on Deer Isle, Maine with other artists to paint for a week. My intensions were to go paint lupines. Unfortunately Spring was very early this year and though we did find lupines, most were on their way out. I took lots of photos including the one I worked from for this painting.

I remember coming around a curve on a narrow winding road. The wooded area I was driving in opened up to a spectacular view of a causeway with the ocean on both sides. The sun was shining that morning and the green twinkling forest I was in bursts into a vista of blue. I slowed my car in awe, taking in the view. It was early. I was in search of a place to paint. I had left a sleeping houseful behind and ventured off in excitement, so thrilled to be on a painting holiday. It was day one.

I wasn't accustomed to causeways. This was the second one I'd found on the island. I liked them. They were curved roads, built up in round rocks, that connected two adjacent islands. Not at all like a bridge that passes you in a straight line above the water. No, this was more like kayaking. You know what I mean. Its like being at water level as oppose to above it like in a typical boat.

I wanted to pull over, but there was no place to park. I suppose it really didn't matter. There was no traffic. I could have left my vehicle in the middle of the road. But it was day one and I didn't yet realize just how rural this place was. At the start of the causeway, across the street, was a tiny spot were I could park my car. Having spotted it at the last minute, I quickly veered and pulled in rather crooked. The tail end of my not so small car (my family calls it a boat...) was still protruding out into the street. No problem. I was just stopping momentarily to snap a few pictures of the view.

I stepped out of my car and as I did I looked back towards the woods where I came from. Tucked up on a hill was this spectacular house. The sun brightened it like a shining beacon. A field of lupines, passed their prime, embraced it. What a romantic looking house. What a view.

I laughed at myself for almost missing it. If I hadn't stopped to take a picture of the ocean, I wouldn't have seen this house until my return at midday. The sun wouldn't have dramatized it like in morning.

Day one. Stopped on the roadside, stunned in awe at the beauty that surrounded me. Where was I? I think I landed in paradise.

I just noticed, today makes a year I've been blogging...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Inferior photos

Original oil painting 18x24"
by Susan Roux

If you ever get the opportunity to see my work hanging somewhere, please go. I keep telling you my images are not correct and I'm serious. Take this image. The blue's are too intense. The pinks aren't intense enough and the oranges harmonize way better in reality. Ouch! That's practically the whole painting!


That's why I'm telling you to go see my work in real life, if you ever have the opportunity. I recently found out that my computer is set on the wrong color setting. Its the reason I can't see many colors I've painted, on my images. The problem with that is I can't just change that setting. I would need to re-calibrate everything, including my printer, which would take me a long time and frankly I prefer to spend any spare time I have, painting. So I apologize for such inferior photos. If you do get to see my work, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the soft relaxing color harmony present. You can't even see all the hot pinks dispersed in between the green grasses! I cringe every time I see my images...

I know I'm not alone with this problem. It is a frustration for many of us. We work so hard to get our paintings just right. Every color change, every value matters to us. How long do you take to tweak your paintings? I'm surprised I haven't worn a trench in my floor from this process. I'm one of those put down one stroke and walk back 15 feet to see how it looks and to decide where to place the next stroke. Tweaking can be a long day's work, but on the bright side, I do get my exercise!

So you can understand my dilemma every time I photograph and re-photograph my work countless times in different light, trying to show you what my art actually looks like. I adjust so many images before I get one suitable to post. But honestly I think I just give up trying. Maybe I would save a lot of time if I'd simply reconfigure everything. Somehow, I keep thinking I would still be dissatisfied anyway...

So bless your heart if you read to the bottom of this complaining post. I'm going to go paint.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Little Performer
Original oil painting 10x20"
by Susan Roux

I'm not in a rush. There aren't any time limits or deadlines imposed. Its just me and the paint and the canvas. I'm experimenting. Pushing. Seeing how far I can take a painting without letting it fall apart. In July, I bought new paints and worked on portraits. Everything was new to me, my tools and my subject. I never took time to explore their possibilities with subjects I was already comfortable with. Yes, I do use them in my classes, but its different alone in the studio, moving to the rhythm of my muse (and Luka). Lately I'm exploring what these new thicker, richer paints can do for me. Or rather, what I can achieve with them.

This was the beginning of my painting. I was trying to achieve shadow on the rocks without punching the values too deep. It worked, I could clearly read shadow verses sun on the rocks, but I felt it looked weak. In fairness, I did have fun with all the colors I was using. Perhaps I'll try light shadows again on something that should be soft, not rocks. My little performer hardly showed when I stood across the room. It was in need of help.

This little seagull was a hoot. He pranced around opening and closing his wings, never flying off. He stayed atop his little rock stage as the other two sat appearing somewhat annoyed. On he flapped demonstrating every position his lovely wings could do. Perhaps the other's were just nervous, waiting for their audition...

I decided to warm things up and darken behind the birds. I really liked the direction it was going. I started to lengthen his wings to give him a stronger presence in the painting. I darkened my rock shadows, but never adjusted the lights. Some might say they looked more like sugar coated muffins than rocks.

Again I pushed.

In the end, I was happy with the evolution. I surprised myself as to how long I could continue to work it. I began this painting almost a month ago on November 10. Its had a finished look since then because all the elements were painted. Its been interesting to keep working it, all over. Oddly, I felt almost in control through most of it. How many times have we been told, or find for ourselves, that we should have stopped awhile ago? Our observation is, It looked better earlier but I didn't stop, only to ruin it in the end. I'm not sure why this was different. Am I understanding more? Is there magic in these new paints? Personally I think its my Napa Valley mentor. Thanks Don for not deserting me...