Yesterday, while hanging out in my studio with some fellow travellers, we got worked up about squinting. We agreed it is one of the most important things we do. “Squinting demands a twice-weekly letter on its own,” someone said, pushing me into a corner and roughing me up a bit. While being beat upon, I was remembering how Richard Schmid dedicated an entire painting video to The Secret Squint. Being a believer, I’ll explain:
Looking at work with half-closed eyes has several benefits — and there are several ways to do it. We have to agree that establishing an effective pattern — the overall compositional integrity of a design — is valuable. Simply put, squinting makes notes of weak areas. Squinting tells you what’s wrong and what’s bad. Squinting lets you know where darkness or lightness might be added. Even high-key equal-intensity work can be improved by squinting. Artists must know that compositions “form up” with patches of tone or colour. Interestingly, these needed patches can often use general rather than precise placement.
By squinting, the eye can be made to defocus, or, by further reforming the shape of the eyeball, bring subjects into sharper focus. Also, by drawing together the eyelids like an external iris diaphragm, you see the subject as more or less reduced to black and white. When work is viewed without the benefit of colour, decisions can be more readily made. It seems that in standard easel-working vision, you “can’t see the forest for the trees.” The squint becomes a quick and easy re-evaluation technique that simply gives the artist a second opinion.
Funnily, it’s not always easy to remember to do it. Like swizzling your brushes, squinting really needs to be built into your habit pattern. A plan is to make sure every work session has a dedicated squinting period. Consciously sit back and squint at the whole work and its particulate areas. Your brush will inevitably go where needed.
Another great ploy is the “multiple squint.” This is where several works are placed side by side on an easel and squinted as a group. It’s a remarkable experience, as weak works are contrasted by proximity to stronger ones. As well as benefiting from the mutual feed that one work gives to the other, the multiple squinter gets an overall understanding of stylistic direction.
PS: “Never knowingly leave anything wrong on your canvas.” (Richard Schmid)
Esoterica: If your work process takes you to middle tones first, and you habitually leave your darker darks and lighter lights till last, the calculated squint can guide your latter hand. An advantage of this system is the avoidance of the almost inevitable tightening up that occurs when works near completion. Squinting sees the big picture and keeps your work true to its higher ideals. As they left the studio, my friends dropped a few bouquets: “Tell them to learn to squint,” said one. “The world will never have enough squinters,” said another. Yet a third said, “Squinters of the world, arise; you have nothing to lose but your crap.”
This letter was originally published as “In praise of the squint” on April 27, 2007.
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“It often takes two to do a good painting – one to paint it, and another to rap the painter smartly with a hammer before he or she can ruin it.” (Richard Schmid)
August 22-25, 2022
Join Ellie Harold for “Expressive Painting: Making Your Marks.” With a focus on intuitive mark-making, this workshop is designed to facilitate a fuller expression of your deepest and most essential artist Self. Content, process and lightly structured exercises give you permission to create the art that wants to be made by you in the safe space of Ellie’s studio and the fresh air and cool light of northern Michigan near Sleeping Bear Dunes. You’ll return home with a specific art “care plan” to assure support for “Making Your Marks” in the world. Details and registration at www.EllieHarold.com.
I was trained to become an Illustrator and did Illustration work for over 25 years. That experience gave me the discipline and skills to do a wide variety of subjects and in different mediums. Because of that I have been honored to be a “Designated Master” with both the American impressionist Society and the Oil Painters of America. I consider myself a “Traditional/Impressionist” and have worked hard to strive to keep my standards up and make a good work of art. As I tell my students..”an accomplished painting has an interesting and beautiful arrangement of shapes and colors”. That is what I strive to do, regardless of subject matter; to make a decent “work of Art”. I also have always loved to travel and am fascinated by different peoples and their cultures along with all of the beautiful and interesting landscapes that are part of this wonderful world that we live in. I feel very fortunate that I get to do what I really love to do.