Monday, April 23, 2012

Empty Bowl of Apples, pastel, 9 x 12
In my weekly pastel classes that I teach, I focus on landscapes, since that's the primary focus of my own work. However, every once in awhile we have "still life week." A few of my students are into plein air painting, which I strongly encourage, but we do work a lot from photos in class. I think it's important to break from the photos once in awhile and work from life, whether it's outside or using a still life setup in the studio.

The more years of painting I get under my belt, the more I realize that you can take your abilities only so far working just from photos. In the past year, I've greatly increased the time I spend outside painting on location, and I feel it's made a positive difference in my work. You have to understand what happens to your subject matter when it's directly in front of your eyes. Shadows, highlights, values and color are among the key qualities that are compromised, or even completely lost, in a photo.

With today's still life class, I took the opportunity to focus on hard, soft and lost edges. I used objects in the set up that had the physical properties of "hard" (apples and bowl) and "soft" (cloth), but that's just the beginning. By using the old squinting trick we're always told to use, I asked students to look for areas where the edge disappears. This is normally where the values of adjacent areas are equal, and would be a lost edge that doesn't need defining. The highest contrast areas, with at least one object having a "real" hard edge, such as the bowl or an apple, will be your "razor sharp" edges. You don't want too many of those...only in a few key places. All other edges will appear softer, and would fall in between "razor sharp" and "lost." So by using more or less value contrast, and also with the application of a soft or crisp pastel stroke, you can manipulate your edges throughout the composition. This focuses the viewer's eye where you want it to go, and avoids giving equal emphasis to everything in the painting.

"Empty Bowl of Apples" is my demo from this morning's class.

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