Artists need to be constantly on the prowl for ways to make their work more visually exciting. Art needs magic bullets beyond mere subject matter. Fact is, perfectly dull subjects can be made more interesting with a little extra thought and effort. You may already be applying some of these ideas, but if my request seems more like a tough order, perhaps these exercises will be all the more important for you.
Take a small card or canvas and divide it into six areas. The first on my list is an easy one.
1. Paint a smooth gradation from warm to cool or cool to warm.
2. Using a red, a yellow and a blue, or a green, a purple and an orange, paint three equal-intensity colours side by side. When you half close your eyes, they should all be about the same value.
3. Without showing any form, paint something that appears to protrude from something that appears to recede.
4. Paint some patches of tone or colour in alternation along a partly disclosed curved line and try to “hold” the line by implying it. Still with me?
5. Paint a “transformer” — that is, some subject or motif that looks like or becomes something else. Think of a praying mantis that could be a truck, or an owl that could be Uncle Fred.
6. Paint a simple motif or subject from life, then cover part of it up by further painting up to and past it so that the motif or subject is now only partly disclosed.
Always learning, always questioning, we see exercises like these as experiments — even when they come from some dude in a computer. “The true method of knowledge is experiment,” said William Blake. “Life,” said Ray Bradbury, “is trying things to see if they work.”
Exercises like these have the distinct tendency to wander into your regular work and add mystery, interest and appeal. Displacing the commonplace, they show your artist’s hand.
PS: “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Esoterica: Of course you can do these sorts of experiments in and about your regular work. Those you make up yourself will be the most valuable. Those who search, find. The idea is to make the business of exercise and experimentation habitual. Just as a tinkerer can go on and on in his shop, missing meals and important appointments, the artist stays glued to the unfolding of experiments. I call it magic — you can call it anything you want. You may not be able to put your finger on exactly what the magic is, nor will you be able to put it into words, but magic will be in the air.
This letter was originally published as “Six exercises in magic” on September 17, 2010.
Art is magic… But how is it magic? In its metaphysical development? Or does some final transformation culminate in a magic reality? In truth, the latter is impossible without the former. If creation is not magic, the outcome cannot be magic. (Hans Hofmann)
This workshop is foundational for all figurative painters, providing a tangible step-by-step system on how to create realistic skin tones, and apply them with ease to the portrait.
Emphasis is placed upon ‘tiling’ colours next to each other (darks, half-tones, lights) in a mosaic-like manner, and then refining edges to depict lifelike 3-dimensional form.
By the weekend’s end, you will have a finished portrait, and newfound confidence in adjusting colour while applying paint, all in one stroke!
For more info, or to register, please visit our website: https://www.canvasmethod.ca/classes/fall-courses
Painting is my passion and joy. My process is intuitive, though informed by good composition and design principles. I paint what I remember, or think about, or feel, or just what comes off my hands to the brush to the canvas. Texture and color are of primary importance to me. I typically choose my support, texture it, select my palette, and go. There is nothing more satisfying to me than watching paint run and move. I love the surprises. I experiment and learn constantly. It is a remarkable journey. One I am pleased to share with you.