By Tim Rees
When one decides to dispense with the idea that becoming a painter involves some mysticism, real progress can be made. My painting career began with one assumption: There are very skilled artists painting realism today, and if they learned how to do it, so can I.
I just needed the understanding, or the science. As I later found out, this was the mentality of Harry Houdini, the formidable magician. He had done what I did — picked up the how-to books, performed everything they described until tricks could be done without them, and then started to make up new things. This brings up another habit students tend to have — accumulating a great library of expensive books that go unread. Occasionally they have been read, but almost never have they been copied or the processes replicated. This was one of the pillars of art education in ateliers and academies from the 1500s to the 1800s: Want to learn to draw and paint? Copy the master. Once you begin to learn how each “trick” is done, you start to reveal the magic.
This was the foundation of my art education. Read and replicate. Watch others make certain mistakes and don’t do them. Review each painting and compare to masterworks. Bit by bit my knowledge grew. Teaching cemented this knowledge and helped it grow. I was always too reserved to make any statement for which I couldn’t cite a professional or dead master as the source of the information. Every so often I would write down everything I knew about a particular topic to find the gaps in my knowledge, and I encouraged my students to do the same.
All this is not to say I didn’t have to figure a few things out myself. Hopefully I can reveal some of them to save you a bit of trouble. Here are three pieces of art advice that most students haven’t heard.
1. The Notan is the fastest way to a likeness. Though it goes by many names, Notan is a black and white pattern (the term refers to a Japanese design) that reveals the light on an object, and therefore the structure of the object. Students who focus on features and details first are doomed to reworking. The Notan allows the student to squint and see an abstract pattern to replicate, which is often easier than drawing something complex like a face. Think of an old newspaper photograph — it’s all black and white, but people are easily recognized.
2. Edges do more work than you think. Most students already know you can use edges to suggest different atmosphere. Some know that you can use edges to describe “what’s in focus.” Few seem to realize that edges play a huge part in describing the quality of the light. Intense lights and the sun have harsh edges. A diffused or dimmer light has softer edges. If your painting of a model under a harsh light has soft edges but the shadow pattern of a spotlight, it will be confusing and never look right. The value range we paint with is almost the same for each painting. Light values don’t describe a spotlight; edges do!
3. Color matching is as easy as 1-2-3, or red-yellow-blue. Matching colors, especially to paint back into a painting, was always a bit stressful to me — until I was struck with what I can say is the only life-changing epiphany I’ve ever had. I knew, like most, what the primaries are and that red and blue make purple, etc. However, I realized that by arranging my palette in a certain way, and shifting my approach to mixing color, I could easily match any color I desired (with opaque direct paint) without the need of a color chart.
Hot off the press! Tim Rees has a NEW workshop on how to paint the figure with oil through Streamline Premium Art Videos! Here’s a glimpse at “Modern Figures: Painting Big, Fresh, and Loose” >>>
The Figurative Art Convention & Expo (November 7-10, 2018, in Miami, Florida) is the conference for museum quality artists and those who strive to be: