Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Work in Progress: The Beginnings of Refinement

Work in Progress, painting by Jan Blencowe

About This Painting: This stage, refining, begins by softening areas using scumbling to create atmosphere, and by adjusting color and value for harmony.

Media: acrylic on linen
Size: 14 in X 11 in (35.6 cm X 27.9 cm)

One of the most important skills a landscape painter can have is the ability to create distance. I remember when I first learned how to do this, I was thrilled when it worked and I could create acres or miles of land. My viewer could look over the stream to a line of trees 50 yards away or look out across the marsh for miles and miles. That was creatively empowering. Learning that skill increased my joy in painting exponentially. It felt amazing to transfer the scene in front of me accurately onto the canvas. Later, after really mastering that skill I was able to create landscapes from memory or imagination showing any distance I chose.

Here are the techniques artists use to create distance in a painting:


a.) linear- objects get smaller as they recede into the distance and lines converge towards a common vanishing point.

b.) atmospheric- this is a very important concept to get a handle on because it's the one that allows you to convincingly portray distance as well as create mood and emotion in a painting.

1.) Values get closer together in the distance, in other words there won't be as much contrast between areas of different values in the distance. So rather than having a full range of values in the distance values will be very close differing by only a half shade or a shade at most, give or take.

2.) Values overall will be lighter.

3.) Colors become cooler (bluer) in the distance. Leonardo Da Vinci said that if you want to convincingly paint mountains in the distance paint them 5 times bluer than you see them. For warm colors in the distance the addition of white will help to achieve the cooling effect if adding blue changes the color in an undesirable way. For example adding blue to a distant yellow would create green, which you may not want. In the case of yellow a lighter, less intense(see below) yellow is what you would want.

4.) Colors are less intense in the distance.

5. ) Edges get softer.

6.) Details get smaller,merge,blur and lessen the further back in the picture plane they are.

Compared to yesterdy's block in,( left),you can see the furthest trees were over painted. In the block in they were painted with one flat, local color. Now they are modeled using several kinds of mixed greens in 3+ values but the values are all very close together. You can also see that the line of cedar trees are now less distinct as they go back and that there is a lot of light blue added to the furthest ones. They also follow the rules of linear perspective getting progressively smaller as they go into the composition. Also the small tree at the water's edge was too dark for that distance in the picture plane, it was as dark as the tree on the right in the immediate foreground, so it was lightened. The immediate foreground marsh grasses in the right and left corners were darkened creating greater contrast with the light values in the distance further enhancing the illusion of space.

The next phase consists of repeatedly scumbling, glazing, adjusting edges and adding details. This is the longest stage and the changes are less radical. After painting alla prima, very quickly outside for years I am learning not to rush this very important stage. I'm taking my time building up layers of paint and creating a rich surface of paint.

Some of you have asked about my brushes, so here they are(picture below). These are the ones I used on this specific painting, I have plenty of others, but these sufficed for this piece. On the far left is my script liner a brush with long thin bristles, very good for grasses and sigining your name! The next 2 are Habico Lazur glazing brushes, big, size 18 and small, size 6. These are very soft and hold a good amount of paint mixed with glazing medium. They're a little pricey but well worth it. The 5 red handled brushes are my Vermeer filberts. They are made of mongoose hair, softer than bristle but not as soft as sable, (not as expensive either!). The next brush is made by Princeton, I believe it is a bristle mix but I'm not sure it's an older brush and a bit frazzled but I love it for that quality. It creates great irregular textural marks and I can scrub with it using a dry brush technique while scumbling. The small, stubby red handled brush is Loew Cornell stippling brush. It has very stiff hairs and is great for scrubbing back layers of paint or adding bits of foliage to the edges of trees. The fan shaped one is,well, a fan brush lol. I like to hold the bristles vertically and use the brushe's edge to create grasses and branches. If you hold it the other way and make those little fan shapes you need to blur and obscure some of them or the repitition of the same type of mark over and over looks mechanical. Last is my cheap hardware store brush, it's only 1", I said it was 1.5"the other day but it's only 1". This brush is great for the imprimatura stage and for making textural grassy marks. I buy 95% of my art supplies from and you can find all these products there, except the hardware store brush)

Tomorrow I will post the finished painting!

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