Friday, October 31, 2014

Guilty of garish colour?

I was teaching a class here, in my studio, on Halloween a few years ago. I donned a special hat to greet my students. J I remember that the pumpkin was surprisingly heavy – hurry up and take the picture. LOL 

The Challenges of Colourful Art

This week I am responding to a question from a reader that is struggling with super colourful subject matter (she wishes to remain anonymous). 

Specifically, she has been working on some landscape sketches and drawings this fall and she is feeling a bit overwhelmed by the foliage colours. She thinks her efforts are garish.

Her question was if I had any advice on how she could approach fall foliage.

This is a great question and it doesn't just apply to fall foliage. Colourful subject matter, whether depicting a busy market of vendors selling astonishing fabrics, rugs and colourful jewelry or perhaps a garden scene filled with brightly coloured flowers offers up some unique challenges.

Here are my suggestions for embracing colourful challenges:

1)    Simply embrace the colour, in all of its boldness and brightness. Just go ahead and depict it. Turn off the voice in your head that judges the work as garish. Sit with the piece for a while. Before making any changes, see if the colours might start to grow on you.

2)    If you think that all of the bright colour is creating a chaotic mess, make sure you have established a focal point. Give the viewer’s eyes a place to enter the picture and compose it in such a way that there is a path to visually travel around the scene. For example, if creating a landscape, chose a particular tree or small grove of colourful trees as your focal point. Place your brightest colours here. Subdue other areas as needed or soften the edges of adjacent trees.

3)    You can adjust the intensity of the piece by deliberately toning down the bright areas. Try dulling down some of the super bright areas that are not your focal point. Fortunately it is always easier to dull down a bright area rather than brighten up something you have already made dull, so work bright first.

4)    You can make the areas that are in strong light the brightest and dull down the areas in shadow. When viewing a scene, it is harder for our eyes to see bright colour in shaded areas so simply reflect this fact in your art.

5)    Limit your palette. If you are feeling compelled to throw in every colour in your pencil box, rethink this. A great way to get control of your colour is to limit yourself to fewer pencils or pastel sticks, etc. You will create with better colour harmony and the piece will have a more natural flow.

6)    You do not have to depict everything you see. Edit out some of the colour variations (there are an awful lot of them in fall foliage). Try limiting the colours you create and not just the pencils you use.

7)    Have a look at how other artists handle brightly coloured scenes. You may be surprised at what you see. Many contemporary artists work very bright and bold, unapologetically so. Years ago their work would have seemed unskilled and ugly. Today our minds are more used to busy images.

Below is a picture of one of my favourite paintings, Tangled Garden by J.E.H. MacDonald completed in 1916, (if you are ever in Ottawa, the original is hanging in our National Gallery. I urge you to go see it, as well as all other works by the Group of Seven).

At first glance it can seem a busy, chaotic garden mess but look at it long enough and it becomes a visual feast.

This is an example of a painting that can be immediately overwhelming, creating a desire to look elsewhere. But, if you really examine the image you can start to make sense of it all.

Obviously there is a lot going on with regards to all of the blossoms and plants but you can see that MacDonald has controlled his use of colour carefully. There is an amazing amount of colour harmony going on here.

Try and imagine the impact of Tangled Garden if you could see it full size –  47.8 inches x 60 inches (121.4 cm x 152.4 cm).

(with regards to copyright, this image is now in the public domain)

Bottom line, don’t be afraid of colour. Explore. Experiment.

As long as you are drawing or painting, it is all good! :-)

This was a great question and I hope my ideas are helpful.

If you have something that you would like my ‘two cents’ on, just send me an email.

Anyone else out there love the spooky art of illustration legend Arthur Rackham?!!! I have a book on his life and this week I have been delighting in revisiting his brilliant work. Such a master of drawing and such gorgeous use of line!  His work is definitely appropriate for Halloween.

Rackham, Fairy Ring, public domain

You are going to have to look closely in order to see the faces and fairies. I suggest you look for examples of his work on the internet or look for work he illustrated at your local library. I am a huge fan of Rackham trees! :-)

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