Sunday, December 5, 2010

Salmagundi Club Thumb-Box Exhibition

I have a small still life study (pictured below) in the upcoming Salmagundi Club Thumb-Box Exhibition.  The exhibition is on display from Dec. 6, 2010 to Jan. 1, 2011.  All works in the show are 8"x10" or smaller. The Salmagundi Club is located at:

Salmagundi Club
47 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10003

"Old Friend"
Oil on Canvas

Black Hills Pine

Here's another quick landscape from our road trip photos.  This was from a beautiful vista in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  The Black Hills are a really fantastic landscape- not huge and majestic, but simple and satisfying.  Also, there were practically no mosquitoes, which is always a plus.

Black Hills Pine
Oil on Canvas
8" x 10"

Low Frequency Sketches

Recently I've become very interested in the idea of spatial frequency in relation to painting.  As such, here are some sketches practicing low-frequency drawing.  Most of these were done on the subway or Metro North.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Business Parable for the Artist (sorta)

This parable comes from Merlin Mann's excellent blog 43 Folders:

This parable is directed towards business owners and freelancers (particularly web designers), but it resonates for the artist all the more- artists in particular seem to have trouble when it comes time to start charging for their artwork.  I know it's something that I still struggle with.  This parable speaks to that business side, and to remember that if you make a good product, there are people out there who are willing to pay good money for it- even if it's artwork.

Being a Parable for the Edification of Independents Seeking Independence


THE OSTENSIBLE CUSTOMER enters a deli and saunters up to the counter. The deli is tended by its rakishly handsome owner, THE SANDWICH GUY.

Hi,” says The Sandwich Guy. “What looks good to you today?”

Slow down,” says The Ostensible Customer, as THE LUNCH RUSH starts trickling in. “Lots of delis want my business, so, first I need to really understand what you can do for me.”

Well,” says The Sandwich Guy, “I guess I can try to do what I do for everybody here and make you a customized version of any of the 15 awesome sandwiches you see on my menu. What’re you hungry for?”

Easy, easy, Ricky Roma! Before I make any decisions here I’m going to need to know a lot more about my options. Why are you so obsessed with ‘what I want?’”

Okay, sorry,” says The Sandwich Guy, uneasily eyeing the growing queue of The Lunch Rush now piling up behind The Ostensible Customer. “What else can I do to help here?”

That’s better,” says The Ostensible Customer. “Let’s start by sitting down for a couple hours and going over all the ingredients you have back there.”

The Sandwich Guy laughs congenially and hands The Ostensible Customer a menu. “Friend, I can make you whatever you want, but, if it helps, the 15 sandwiches listed here show all the ingredients–right there between the name and the price…”

Whoa, whoa, whoa! The price?!? Already you’re reaching for my wallet? Jeez, I barely just arrived.”
The Lunch Rush is getting restless and grumbling audibly.

Well. You know. I do sell sandwiches for a living,” says The Sandwich Guy. “Did you have a certain budget in mind for your lunch?”

Oh, God, no. I’m nowhere near that point yet. I still need to learn a lot more about how you work, and so, obviously, I have no idea what I want to pay. Obviously.”

Okay,” says The Sandwich Guy, “but…I can’t do much for you here without knowing either what you want to eat or how much money you want to spend. You get that, right?”

The Ostensible Customer is miffed.

Listen, here. What I ‘get,’ so-called Sandwich Guy, is that you’re not going to rush me into some tricky lifetime sandwich commitment until I understand precisely who I’m working with. And, so far, I do not like what I see. Still. I intend to find out more. So, meet me in Canada tomorrow to talk about this for an hour.”
The Lunch Rush begins waving their wallets as they lob their completed order forms at The Sandwich Guy’s face.

Sorry,” says The Sandwich Guy. “I can’t do that. How about I just make you a Reuben. It’s really good, it’s our most popular sandwich, and it only costs eight bucks.”

WHAT! EIGHT DOLLARS! ‘Dollars’ with a ‘d?’ That’s way too much!”

I thought you didn’t have a budget,” says The Sandwich Guy.

Well, I don’t. And, besides, I don’t really ‘need’ a sandwich at all. Now, kindly fly to Canada.”

That’s not going to happen, sir.”

Also,” says The Ostensible Customer, “if I do decide to get a sandwich from you–and it’s looking increasingly less likely that I will–I’ll absolutely expect your deeply discounted price to reflect the fact that I’m not particularly hungry right now.”

The Lunch Rush begins lighting torches and chanting a guttural chant, not unlike the haunting overtone singing of Tuvan herdsmen.

Look,” sighs The Sandwich Guy, “it sounds like you need a little more time. Here’s a free Coke and a complimentary bowl of pickles. Please have a seat, take all the time you need, then just come on up whenever you’re ready to order, okay?”

READY?!?’ TO…‘ORDER?!?’ Are you out of your mind?”


Presently, The Ostensible Customer turns beet-red.

This is an outrage! I can’t even imagine how you stay in business when you treat your customers like this.”
The Lunch Rush grows silent as The Sandwich Guy slowly leans over the counter and smiles–his nose one slice of corned beef from The Ostensible Customer’s nose.

Sir. First off: you aren’t my customer yet. Right now, you’re just some dude holding a bowl of free pickles.”
Buh?” fumbled The Ostensible Customer.

And, second, the way I ‘stay in business’ is by making great sandwiches and having as few conversations like the one we’re having as possible,” The Sandwich Guy coos.

Because, the truth is, my real customers are actually all those nice people standing behind you. They’re the people who buy my sandwiches with real money over and over again. I really like them, and so I give them almost all of my attention.”

The Sandwich Guy waves at The Lunch Rush. The Lunch Rush waves back. The Ostensible Customer looks stunned.

Sir,” says The Sandwich Guy “enjoy your Coke and your pickles with my compliments. But, please step aside. Because right now, there’s a whole bunch of hungry people trying to buy sandwiches that won’t require me flying to Canada. Next, please!

The Lunch Rush roars approval. The Ostensible Customer is still stunned. Which is unfortunate.
Because, several men from the back of the line spontaneously rush forward to drag The Ostensible Customer, screaming and grasping, onto the busy sidewalk outside, where they proceed to devour his flesh like those street urchins who eat Elizabeth Taylor’s cousin in Suddenly, Last Summer.

Meanwhile, The Sandwich Guy goes back to making sandwiches. And, The Lunch Rush goes back to eating them.


  1. The Sandwich Guy can’t do much for you until you’re hungry enough to really want a sandwich.
  2. Once you’re hungry enough, you still have to pay money for the sandwich. This won’t not come up.
  3. Few people become “a good customer” without understanding both 1 and 2.
  4. Few companies become “a smart business” without understanding 1, 2, and 3.
  5. Basing his business on an understanding of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 doesn’t make The Sandwich Guy a dick; it makes him a smart business.
  6. If you vacation with Elizabeth Taylor? Seriously. Avoid provoking the cannibalistic rent boys.


Me? I just very much hope it takes you far less than 15 years to see and accept these sorts of things. Both as a customer and as a business.

Guys, avoid working for anyone who’s not hungry enough to compensate you for your sandwich. It literally doesn’t pay.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

El Capitan

Here's a quick study of El Capitan from Yosemite.  This is from a photo I took when my wife and I drove cross-country a couple years ago.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Digital Painting

I'm finally getting some digital paintings done that I'm satisfied with.  I'm trying to build a small portfolio together for fantasy illustration work.  Here are two that I'm pretty happy with (the second one is still in progress):

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sunnyside Subway View

I painted this a few weekends ago in my neighborhood, Sunnyside, Queens. The subway tracks are a distinctive feature of Sunnyside- they are above ground on a concrete structure with these great arches.  It's common to see new visitors to Sunnyside discover that there is a big echo underneath these arches.

The light really changed as I was doing this one- it went from a sunny afternoon to an overcast late afternoon.  The blue sky in the background remained the whole time, though it was cloudy overhead by the time I finished, with some gray clouds finally breaking into the picture plane.  It was an interesting challenge.

Sunnyside Tracks
oil on canvas
8" x 10"

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Experience Versus Knowledge

One thing that's been sinking in as my life as an artist continues is that there is no replacement for experience.  There's so much that can only be learned by putting in the hours with a pencil or brush in your hand.  This is the physical side of art. Compared to, say, gymnastics or boxing, painting seems like it's not very physical, but really we can't avoid the fact the we must interact with something in the physical world to get our art created.  Even someday when we can paint on the computer with our minds, there will be a level of experience needed to get that thing out there to do what I want.

And so we need to learn how hard to press, or how to sweep our arm, or how much of this paint to mix into that paint, or how this brush loaded with this paint will make marks on this canvas.  The only way to get this kind of understanding is by doing it as many times as we can, and paying attention while we do it.  Being humans, we can't pay attention constantly, but the extent to which we can will speed our learning.  But the important thing is to get the hours in.  It's popular these days to say it takes 10,000 hours to really master a skill.  The saying is becoming a bit hackneyed in some circles, but unfortunately it's true.  While it's ultimately better to do it with attention, we can't always force ourselves to pay attention.  So, we need to give ourselves as many chances as possible to be able to do it with attention.

When I was a teenager, I spent an awful lot of time copying and regurgitating comic book drawings.  I would basically memorize every line that an artist made with very little understanding of why he made it.  Then I would dutifully recreate either the exact image or some very slight variation of it. For a time when I was older I considered this approach to be a waste of time- just rote copying with very little comprehension.  In one sense, I was right in that this kind of learning is less efficient than others.  But lately I've come to appreciate how valuable all that rote copying really was long term.  It improved my dexterity, gave me something objective to work towards, and most of all when later I finally learned why the artists put lines here or there, I was able to execute that understanding almost immediately without waiting for my hands to catch up with my head.

While I think there are far better ways of learning than rote copying, there's still something valuable there: the fact that you cannot make up hours of experience.  You only get so many in your life.  Intellectual knowledge and comprehension comes fairly cheap by comparison.  If you have the prerequisite knowledge, one read-through of the right text and you might have it instantly. But to get your hand to move just so- you can't get that for free.

So even if you're not sure what you should be doing, or what the right way is, or what's "correct", get out there and get working anyway.  All that understanding can come later, but you're wasting hours worrying about it now.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sunnyside Gardens Plein Air

Last weekend was beautiful, and I decided to hop in the car to find a nice spot to paint and listen to the Cubs game.  I didn't have to go very far- I found this nice spot in Sunnyside Gardens, a very nice part of the neighborhood in Queens I live in.

Sunnyside Gardens, Spring
Oil on Canvas
8" x 10"

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Shawangunk Meadow

During our Easter trip up to New Paltz this year, I had some free time and was able to just drive around until I found a nice scene for a painting.  I find it quite enjoyable to be driving somewhere for the sake of looking instead of just getting from one place to another.  I found this very dry meadow alongside a road heading east from New Paltz.

Shawangunk Meadow
Oil on Canvas
8" x 6"

Monday, April 5, 2010

Skytop from Huguenot Street, New Paltz

Here's a small plein-air study I did this past weekend up in New Paltz.  It's painted across the street from a field on historic Huguenot Street.

Skytop From Huguenot Street
Oil on Canvas
6" x 8"

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Trusty Brown Pitcher

Here's a quick study I did the other night of my trusty brown still life pitcher.  I picked this up years ago at a holiday sale for a shared ceramics studio down the hall from Bridgeview's old location in Long Island City.  It's a nice form and a great size for New York City still life setups, where there's often not a lot of room.  I also find it's color rather interesting and challenging.  Lean too much in one direction in the painting and it looks drab and dull, lean too much the other way and it looks far too vibrant and bright.

Pitcher IV
Oil on Canvas
6" x 8"

Monday, February 22, 2010

Perspective and the Figure - Part 2 : Joints

When I was a teenager acting out the customary role as Future Comic Artist (by which I mean copying and memorizing individual poses out of comic books), it was unsurprising that I became obsessed with the idea of anatomy.  I felt that "learning all the muscles" was going to magically make me a better artist, though it seemed like a daunting and impossible task.  I dutifully copied some diagrams from an anatomy book, and felt a little tinge of pride knowing what a deltoid was, or that the calf muscle was called the gastrocnemius (I skipped over the soleus).  However, I had skipped over two huge facets of anatomy: the skeleton, and perspective.

George Bridgman used a brilliant phrase as the title of one of his books on drawing the figure: "The Human Machine".  It's a good way to think about the figure.  From a sculptural point of view, a good exercise would be to build an actual machine out of metal and wood that mimics the functionality and range of motion of the human skeleton, using parts you find at the hardware store.  The goal would be to build something that could move in the same way as a human, but it wouldn't necessarily need to be shaped like one.  If we had some space-age synthetic muscle, we could rig it up to actually move.  What kind of joint would you need for the shoulder?  What would you make a vertebra out of, and how would it connect to its neighbor and how would it move?  How would you construct a pelvis so that there were joints in the proper places? 

The good news is that we don't actually need to build this machine- it's very helpful just to plan it out mentally.  The more accurately and true-to-life we can plan this machine, the better our understanding of the figure will be.  The bad news is that as two-dimensional artists we need to be able to draw it.  We don't necessarily need to be able to draw the actual parts we'd get from the hardware store- we can use some imaginary parts that have the same types of mechanical movement, and we can use simple masses for the bones. 

This inevitably gets back to perspective.  It's not enough to understand what a particular joint would be, we also need to be able to draw that joint and the major axes of the bones involved  from any angle.  Further, once we draw two joints, we also need them to be arranged in a way that would make sense given a single, fixed viewpoint and the ranges of motion for the joints involved.  One of the most common errors in figure drawing is drawing the different masses in a way that implies either that either the joints are in the wrong location or moved past their possible range of motion, or that the masses are in fact being viewed from different viewpoints.

Let's take one of the more simple joints in the skeleton- the elbow joint of the humerus and ulna.  In other words, the joint that allows you to bend your forearm up to do a bicep curl.  If we ignored the radius for now (which allows you rotate your palm), we could build this joint very simply for our machine: just a couple two-by-fours and a regular door hinge. When drawing, we can represent it with a long, thin box for the humerus, a long, thin box for the ulna, and an imaginary cylinder joint between them for the hinge.  Assuming the "elbow" isn't bent, things are pretty easy to draw, right?  From the sides and front, it's a piece of cake.  You could probably even tip it around in space fairly easily as well. 

However, once we bend that elbow a bit, things get complicated.  From the sides it's not too hard, and using that information we can estimate the front view fairly well (we're fudging the foreshortening).  But once we rotate our bent contraption, we get into trouble:

See?  Right away we are back at perspective.  How would you solve this particular problem?  If you have no idea, then how are you going to draw the arm in a similar position?  Even if you have the model posing in front of you, it's beneficial to understand that this particular perspective problem is at play.  If the pose is short enough, you will need this understanding to get something legible down quickly.  If the pose is longer (particularly if there are multiple breaks) you will need this understanding to compensate for shifts in the pose.

This is for one of the simplest joints in the body.  It's further complicated by the fact that the ulna does not actually line up with the axis of movement created by the cylinder joint- it's slightly skewed off in what's called the "carrying angle" of the lower arm (named because it allows space to carry objects such as a full bucket without it hitting your thigh).  To complicate things even more, the carrying angle varies from person to person, especially between men and women (due to the relatively wider pelvis and narrower shoulders of the female skeleton).  And we haven't even thrown in the radius.

A good first step to this kind of understanding is to start planning out your human machine, and understanding how to represent it in 3-dimensional space from a fixed viewpoint.  Start simple.  Start with what you understand.  When you find a gap in your understanding, look for an answer.  When you find a discrepancy between your mental machine and the model or a piece of reference, adjust the design for your machine accordingly.  Let your machine evolve along with your understanding.  As it does, you'll find both drawing from the figure and from imagination much less mystifying.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Perspective and the Figure - Part 1

This is based on a post I wrote over at a few months ago.

Realistic drawing in the Western tradition is dependent on the idea of a fixed viewpoint and the relation of all forms in the picture plane to that viewpoint. This is really what perspective is. Imagine a box facing you at eye level- you will only see its front plane. Move it straight to one side and you will see its side plane and its front plane. Move it straight down from there and you will see the top, side, and front planes. But then, if you keep it in that same location but rotate in certain ways, you might only see its front plane again.

This, combined with the idea of diminishing, is the heart of perspective. The exact implementation of this is all the vanishing points and horizon lines and eye levels and all that. While those things are very important to know, they're really secondary to this idea of the fixed viewpoint*. When you're drawing the figure, it's too complicated to figure out most of the vanishing points- you have to understand the first part well enough to estimate the effects of perspective on a given form. Figure drawing pretty much boils down to a complicated puzzle involving the cube example from above for each form of the body- but each form is much more complicated than a box. These forms change shape based on muscle flexion and forces from the environment, and are oriented in complicated ways dictated by the joints of the skeletal structure. Just take the most basic pose: a person of your height standing straight up facing you, with their eyes at your eye level. You will see the tops of their feet and shoulders, but not the top of their head.

Along with studying buildings and the other usual suspects in perspective, practice the simple rounded forms (cylinder, cone, sphere) bounded by a box from every possible angle, then move on to more complicated forms like vases. Really understand how each form fits within the box, and what happens to the ellipses in all possible cases. Then move on to more complex assymetrical forms with cross-sections that aren't circular. Most people blow this off thinking they understand it, but strangely can't draw a proper cylinder and unsurprisingly can't draw a figure except for a few static & memorized poses. It's easy to understand but hard to do properly.

The idea is to work out all the scenarios carefully ahead of time, so that when the model is in front of you don't need to spend time figuring it out then and there. What is a calf but a strangely shaped vase? And if you can't draw a simple vase tipped toward you in perspective without a lot of headache, how are you going to get the job done with the model in front of you (and probably with much less time)?

Spend the time up front and get these perspective scenarios into your vocabulary, so you're able to use them "conversationally" while drawing. It's important to be able to think this way, but not be mechanical about it.

* I recently found Bruce MacEvoy's excellent (but technical) articles on perspective over at, and was pleased to see that he explicitly breaks out the Stationary Viewer as the first step in creating a perspective view.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Quick & Dirty Division

Dividing things visually is pretty critical for drawing- a teacher of mine used to go so far as to say "Drawing is division".  When doodling in your sketchbook, it's easy to start with a head, maybe add a torso, and if you feel like it (and there's still room on the page) you can throw in some legs.  But when you start thinking compositionally, you need to be able to say "The figure goes here".  That is to say, it needs to fit within a certain spot on the page or the greater composition in order to create a good whole.

When it comes to that point, it's critical to start thinking in terms of division.  Unfortunately, humans are pretty terrible at dividing anything other than in half- and they're not very good at that over large distances.  Head lengths, a common proportional device, fail us pretty quickly.  Unless the figure is 8 head-lengths, which is convenient for division, we can't divide our composition space into some weird number of head lengths that most people are (7.5, 6, 6.5).  Proportional dividers and grid transparencies can help with this, but sometimes they're too cumbersome to deal with- especially in quicker poses or when working on larger surfaces. 

Plus, all of this is assuming a nice standing figure with little foreshortening.  If the model is crouching or reclining, head lengths pretty quickly become useless- even with the proportional divider.  In such a case, or if the pose is quick or you don't want to use too many aides in your drawing, you can use this technique to quickly find a halfway point of something.  It works on both the model and on your drawing.  All you need is a straightedge, which a relatively straight pencil, brush, piece of charcoal, or knitting needle can function as just fine.

  1. Choose a top and bottom point.  If it's your drawing and it's in the beginning stages where there aren't many marks on your page to grab on to, make a small mark at the top and bottom.
  2. Estimate a halfway point.  Don't labor about it- just take your best guess.  It's most likely going to be wrong, but it will help us quite a bit nonetheless.  If you're measuring on your drawing, put a very faint mark where you think halfway will be.  If you're looking at the model or some other subject matter, just choose some landmark on the subject.
  3. Extending your arm all the way and locking your elbow, take your straightedge and put the end point at your estimated halfway point.  Slide your thumb down so it lines up with the bottom mark that you made or decided upon.
  4. Keeping your arm extended and your elbow locked to minimize forward and back movement, shift your arm up so the end point is now at the top mark.
  5. Unless you made a very good estimate, your thumb should be above or below your estimated halfway point.  Here's the key- halfway between your thumb and the estimated halfway point is the actual halfway point.  Since it's a much smaller distance to work with now, you can now estimate a new halfway point based on this new information, which will be significantly more accurate.  If you're looking at the subject, find a new landmark to hold on to mentally.  If you're measuring on your drawing and there's nothing on the page to grab on to, make a new mark on the piece
  6. Keeping the end point of your straightedge aligned with your top mark (or putting it back there if you used your straightedge to make a mark), slide your thumb the new & improved estimated halfway point.
  7. Because we're human, it's good to check out our estimations.  Small shifts in our position can make a big difference, as can things significantly above or below our view point.  Further, ssuming something is correct that is slightly off can be the death of proportions.  The beauty here is that to check things out, you simply have to repeat the process. Go back to step three and repeat until you're satisfied. On a quick drawing I might do this process only once, but on longer drawings I might repeat it several times.
It's important to note that this process- or any measuring technique- will only get you so far.  They sound really good on paper, but they are never as accurate as they might seem.  Most people go through a phase when they begin to understand such techniques where they become overly dependent on them.  They try harder and harder, but still things don't line up.  While there is a certain degree of meticulousness that will bring results, it doesn't seem to be a silver bullet.  It's best to supplement this kind of measuring with other kinds of proportional systems, especially constructive systems.  I tend to use such measuring just to get me in the ballpark, or to cross-check other proportional estimates.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mixing Color: One Approach

(This is based on a post I wrote over at

There are many ways to think about mixing paint, and knowing more than one is useful. I might even go so far as to say it's necessary to have multiple mental approaches to mixing paint, and have the ability to switch between them as the situation calls for it. However, here's a good method to get started:
  1. Choose two colors that "bracket" the hue you are trying to hit- meaning, they are on either side of the hue on the hue wheel. Occasionally one color will hit the hue exactly, but chances are it will lie between two.
  2. Use white to raise both of these colors to the value you're trying to hit.
  3. Mix the two lightened mixtures together until they match the hue you are trying to hit more precisely.
  4. If the chroma (better word for saturation when painting) is too high, mix black and white together to the value of the mixture.
  5. Use this gray mixture to bring the chroma down to the chroma you're trying to hit.

The basic idea is- start with an approximation of the hue, then match value, then match hue more precisely, then match chroma.

Of course, there are complications to this method. The biggest one is that, as written, the hue will likely shift towards blue-purple as you mix if you're using Ivory Black and Titanium white, so you would need to learn to compensate for that. One way is to choose the initial colors slightly shifted away from blue. Another way is to use a more neutral black and white- for example, Cremnitz white and certain brands of Mars black will shift the hues less significantly. You can also use a pre-mixed neutral of black, white, and brown. Note than none of these are foolproof, but they will get you closer. In the end you still need to rely on your own judgment rather than leaving it to the system.

You also need to use some judgment about the chromas of the initial colors you choose- they need to be at least slightly higher in chroma than the color you're trying to hit.

This method can also be a bit slow when painting from the model. As you get used to it, there are lots of shortcuts you can take, or you can use a different method altogether. A few shortcuts:

  • Premix neutrals from black to white in equal steps, which saves time for steps 4 & 5 and also give you "targets" to match the colors to.
  • Also premix the colors to the same values, which saves time in steps 1 & 2.
  • Be less rigid about the order
  • Adjust chroma by choosing initial colors that are further away from each other on the hue wheel (this can be unpredictable, but with experience you can learn to control this).
  • Supplement this method with another method of mixing color.

It's not a magic bullet, but it's a good starting point. It's especially useful if you're used to thinking in HSB on the computer.

I highly recommend, a site put together by David Briggs, who teaches out in Australia. It can read like rocket science, but it's good to read and then re-read as you work more. If you do that, more and more of the complicated stuff will make sense. There's a lot of misinformation about color out there, but is all solid, and refreshingly free of bias.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Value Scale

It can be very useful to assign numbers to even steps value, often referred to as a value scale. I learned to use an eleven-step value scale- 0-10, with zero being black and 10 being white. The number of steps doesn't really matter, nor does which end is white (some people have 0 as white). But, it helps to pick something and stick with it, since you can then build a library of values to expect for different subjects in different lighting situations.

For example, when I go to paint a model under an artificial fluorescent light, I can expect that a lighter skinned model might have something close to a 3 for the shadow value, going up to an 8. For a darker skinned model the shadow might be closer to 1 or 2, with the main lights around 6 or 7 and highlights approaching 8 or 9. These values might change depending on the exact setup. For example, a light source within the scene might force the light values on the figure to compress down further to leave room for the light source to appear relatively very light in comparison.

It's also useful for keeping values consistent and properly differentiating values. For example, under most circumstances the shadow area will not be as light as the areas in light- even most reflected lights can't reach as high a value. So once you've determined the darkest number in the light, you can make sure to always use a darker number for everything in shadow.

The concept is bit difficult to get used to in transparent mediums such as graphite or watercolor because it's difficult to know when you're at a 5 versus a 6. However, in oil paint it's easy to pre-mix colors in equal steps. You can eyeball it, or mix it to match a predetermined grayscale- either from a good inkjet printer, or from a standard grayscale such as the one determined by Munsell System.

Once you're used to the idea in oil, it can be translated to a transparent medium, although it generally is not as exact- often the darkest dark in a drawing changes slightly as a drawing progresses, and thus it's tough to determine what your 0 value is and how the others should relate. As such, there's a period at the beginning where the value scale is a bit nebulous. It can be useful to draw a quick scale on a small piece of the same paper your drawing is on and compare the values in your drawing to this scale to determine the value numbers. Or, you can keep things more fluid and let the scale evolve naturally. Either way, it's useful to decide which pencils are associated with each value- generally you want to leave the harder pencils for the lighter values, and add softer pencils to the darker values (though you can still use the harder pencils over the soft to smooth things out).

It's worth noting that you don't have to be deadly precise with this for it to be useful, and you don't always need to stick to whole numbers. In some paintings it becomes clear that a value must be between two steps, and in some lighting situations the darks or lights might be so compressed that you can't use the whole steps.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Notes: Modeling Factors

The concept of modeling factors builds on the idea of the poster. Within an individual form, the artist decides on a certain number of steps to use in the poster, and these steps correspond to the progression of values one sees in chiaroscuro. Again, the exact number of steps depends on the artist on the technique being used. For example, in more naturalistic techniques the artist might use as many as twelve modeling factors, but in a more impressionist technique five or six modeling factors might be sufficient.

These five modeling factors are quite efficient at representing forms, and are a good base for realistic paintings:
  • Shadow (or Tone)- This area is all parts of the form that are parallel to the direction of the light source or further. It also includes cast shadows.
  • Light - The area of the form generally facing the light.
  • Halftone - Between the tone and light. While the light and shadow together establish the overall mass of the object, the halftone is critical for defining the more precise shape of the object.
  • Highlight - A specular reflection of the light source. This differs from the light in that it usually will not appear where the form is facing the light, but rather in the spot where the light source would show if the form were a mirror.
  • Depth (or Accent) - These are areas where very little light is reaching. Particularly when the light is from above, there will be small pockets where very little light reaches. Generally they are found in the shadow areas, but do also occur in the light where two forms or subforms overlap each other dramatically. For example, underneath the edge of a cloth laying on a table you will usually find a dark line- this is a depth. They're also often found where the feet touch the ground, where necklines and cuffs of clothing overlap the figure, and in crevices like the armpit and the crotch. Depths are quite valuable for showing one form sitting on top of another.
As few as two modeling factors can be used and with intelligence still be quite effective- and very beautiful in the right hands. Note that for certain surface materials some of these factors might not appear, or you might choose to leave them out. For example, matte materials may or may not exhibit a highlight. On fuzzy objects such as a tennis ball there will be no highlight. On very shiny or reflective objects some or all of the modeling factors may obscured by reflections. You might choose to leave out a highlight in situations where the technique you are using doesn't allow you to provide enough information to clearly identify the mark as a highlight.

To create a very convincing representation of form and surface more modeling factors might be needed. In such a case, it can be useful to divide the light, halftone, and shadow areas into smaller and more specific modeling factors. For example:
  • Highlight
  • Light Light
  • Middle Light
  • Dark Light
  • Light Halftone
  • Middle Halftone
  • Dark Halftone
  • Terminator (the division between the halftone and shadow)
  • Dark Dark
  • Medium Dark
  • Light Dark
  • Depth