Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Dissection

Today I'm going to be dissecting the above Erin Hanson Painting. This is from her petite painting collection. A lot of artists complete several small studies of a painting before they move to a large canvas. These early versions are intended to allow the artist to work out the painting before moving to a larger, and more expensive, canvas. While Erin Hanson does not call her petite paintings studies, enough of them are similar to her larger paintings that is seems safe to say some are studies that have worked out well enough that people wish to buy them.

So why am I dissecting an Erin Hanson painting instead of running to a canvas and starting to make my own painting? Simple, because that is just not how it is done. Many, probably most, people have a romantic notion of how art is created. They want to believe the artist has some innate and natural talent that just allows them to stand in front of a canvas or a block of clay and create something beautiful. I think this notion is perpetuated for a couple reasons. First, because it is a nice romantic notion that there are these special people out there who are able to create beautiful things. By even more so, I think the notion comes from most people giving up at producing good art very early on. They try, and fail (because that is what happens when you don't try hard enough) and then, as humans do, just give up. Their egos, freshly bruised from their recent art failure then forces them to believe that they are just not one of those special people called artists. It is a coping mechanism to rationalize their failure. Art, like EVERYTHING else in life requires practice to do...and A LOT or practice and study to do well. If you read the biographies of any well known artist, you will find that they either spent a significant amount of time (years) in school or as an apprentice to a master. Sure they might have some natural inclination towards understanding color, or form, but no one has every been born with the ability to know what to do with a paintbrush, pencil, or chisel. So what does this have to do with today's post? Well, if I want to learn the methods Erin Hanson uses, I need to study Erin Hanson's work. Not just try to paint one of her painting, but really study it before I start. She does very specific things in very specific ways, and I need to know (as much as possible) before I even pick up a paintbrush. For example, most people will look at a painting, and never really look and enough to really recognize what colors were used, and then ask why. So, here we go:

Colors: This painting has a complementary color scheme, which Erin uses frequently. There are several values and tints of orange (on the cactus, rocks and lower sky). The upper part of the sky, rocks, distant mountain, and cactus shadows are painted in blue, the complement of orange. The sun side of the cactus (highlights) are painted in red. The rest of the cactus, rocks, and foliage are painted in green, the compliment of red. Notice that in every case, a color boarders its compliment color on at least one side. This is how most impressionists create identifiable forms even though they use very broad and loose brush strokes. Placing complementary colors next to one another creates a defined boarder without having to actually draw a border or outline. not only does the complementary color scheme create interest in the form of color, it is also used to define the forms in the image.

Brushwork: The brushstrokes in the sky are short and vertical. This is different than what most people might naturally paint as the sky is generally thought of as a horizontal element due to its alignment with the natural horizontal horizon. Here Erin uses vertical brushstrokes to create interest in an otherwise uninteresting sky (there are no clouds or other points of interest). In addition, the vertical brushstrokes lead the eye back down into the painting once the viewer investigates the sky. The cactus brushstroke reinforce their form, as is the case with the diagonal brushstrokes making up the foreground rocks and foliage.

Under painting: This painting uses a multi tone under painting. The under painting for the lower part of the painting is blue, and seen between the rocks and other foreground objects. The under painting for the sky is a light red, which can be seen at the very top of the painting. The blue under painting reinforces the notion of shadows from the very low setting sun in the foreground objects. The red under painting in the sky reinforces the colors of s sunset in the sky in a subtle way that matches the overall low contrast nature of the painting. Finally, the shapes of the cactus were laid in using a dark blue under painting. Erin then painted the sky around the dark blue shapes that would become the cactus before painting the main brushstrokes forming the detail of the cactus using orange, green, and red paint.

There we have it. That is the basics of this painting. Nothing magic.

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