Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Seeing is Believing.

Many many artists these days, let's face it, work primarily from photographs and there's nothing wrong with this.   As a starting point.  But there comes a time when you MUST forget the photograph and pay attention only to the piece you're making - whether you're at the sketch stage or the blocking out of the quilt stage.

Adhering too closely to the photo leads to many problems.

1. Objects:
The photo is not necessarily a good composition.  the shapes and lines might well be in the wrong places!  Wrong in the sense of a good coherent, pleasing and Interesting arrangement.
Don't put the tree slap bang in the middle just because it was there in the photo!

2. Horizon Line. As it happens, the most common thing to have right in the middle is the horizon line - because  that's the way we look through the camera - holding it at that mid point to take the photo.
However a composition is invariably much more interesting if the horizon line is high, or low...not right in the middle bisecting the image exactly in half.

Note in the above photo, I've got a nice low horizon, and  the focal point is off center...but see how the camera makes all those deep shadows into one dark black?  in actuality, they were dark green, marroon, purple and blue... 80% and 90% black not 100% black.

3. Focal Point: Also when we compose a photo, we usually put the focal point right in the middle...but in a composition in cloth (or paint and paper), the design is much more interesting if the focal pint is NOT exactly in the middle.

4. Value: The values are almost certainly going to be wrong - it is well known that the camera tends to push all the light values into one Super Light value, and to put all the darks into one Really Dark value.
If you think about values on an 11 point scale : 0% dark, 10% dark, 20% dark all the way to 100% black, the camera will probably get the middle values: 40-70% about right - in that it will show them as being different....but it will frequently blur the 80, 90 and 100 % together.  Ditto at the light end of the scale.

5. The subject of the photo: The photo is only what the camera sees and not what you actually see (your Eyes are much better and you have Two of  them!).  Look with your eyes, then compare that visual memory to the image on the camera ( or these days for it seems every one except me still muddling along with a dumb one...) the image on your (perhaps not so?) smart phone.  Where is the sparkle?  Where is the depth?  where is the subtlety of tone?  Where is the sense that the air is soft and misty or sharp to the point of crackling?

6. Your own impressions: Nor does the camera view reflect what you feel, what you sense in the temperature of the air, the stillness or windiness, the smell, the sounds, perhaps even the taste.  A camera can't capture these...but you can take a quick moment to note them all.

7.  Make notes: So when taking the photo, don't just hastily whip it out, snap snap snap, barely even look at the scene with the Real Thing: your artist's eyes....instead look and look and look - capture it all in your mind and then take the photo, for reference.  Make a few notes on a scrap of paper if you can.  I usually carry a pencil and a few 3x5 cards with me when out for a walk.  It's amazing how often you have Great Thoughts when walking!

8. Color: On the other hand....a photograph can tell you something about the color of the objects in the scene, because it just images what is there.  It doesn't label the colors as our brains do - frequently incorrectly as it happens.  Look at the tree you have just photographed - see how many different greens there are?  often the leaves will go from very light, almost white to very dark tones.  If  the sun is warm, or there are reflections from a warm toned object, they'll show those overtones too.  And vice versa with cool tones.  But what does the brain do??  Leaves are green...all the way round!  Look at an orange sitting in a sunny window.  Our brain says oho that orange is orange all over....but - no - really look - see how it's almost white where the sun hits it?  see how the underside reflects the color of the window sill?  see how there are blue shadows, and green shadows?  This is even more noticeable if you can get a naked person to sit in a sunny window!!  I guarantee you'll see practically every color there is - but probably NOT beige!

 9. Rose colored spectacles: If ever I see another quilt with a bright blue sky, a bright green tree, a bright red barn, bright yellow chickens, brown fences, purple and pink flowers, I shall have to search out those rose-colored glasses again - long retired and used only for the sake of my stomach when eating school dinners (I went to a convent school where the usual fare was grey mutton, grey mashed potatoes, yellowish grey swedes followed by grey rice).  Ugh......

10.  Color is light, light spreads: Trees are rarely (if ever) a solid viridian green, fences are rarely a solid brown etc.   Just look and see!
And if the sky truly is blue, that blue is usually reflected (to some extent) in anything that is in any way glossy that is facing towards the sky.

yes Seeing, really really really Seeing...can lead to Truth!
and you know the adage:  Truth is Beauty!
If you have been, thanks for reading....and do please comment - I promise I won't put those rosy specs on to read your comments!



Elsie Montgomery said...

The "I love to teach and to learn" in me is simply delighted with this post! Well said and very necessary. Good for you!

Anonymous said...

An excellent post - thank you. I've now bookmarked it for frequent future use too!

Regina B Dunn said...

A very important post. I especially like your sixth point. If you want to make art that imitates the photo, just print the photo. The most interesting art to me is art that has a lot of the artist's soul in it. I want to see what the artist is feeling. I want to be moved by the art.

Elizabeth Barton said...

You are right, must put yourself into your vulnerable and open.

Faith said...

This is an especially hlpful post for me. I have also bookmarked it. The rose colored glasses be VA would be good to use in choosing our colors, since they help getting the values.
Got my QA magazine this week. i
I've yet to read it, but I enjoyed seeing your work.