Sunday, February 10, 2013

Painting Break: Breaking Preconcieved Notions

What color is water?  If you ask a kid, they'd likely say blue.

What shape is water?  Wavy like this, right?
These are the most basic images and colors that represent water in most of our brains.  As a designer I tap into these innate semantic cues all the time.  They are universal symbols that make our two dimensional and three dimensional designs speak for themselves.  They enable us to convey massive amounts of information into simple graphics and visual cues.

But reality of course is very different.  Take fire, for example.  The hottest flame is actually blue, while the cooler flame is red.  Yet we associate blue with cold, and red with hot.  These things can give you a headache if you think about them too much so I'll move on!

This is one of the many reasons that I feel that doing a little painting between design projects helps keep my creative brain and my rendering abilities sharp.

I decided to do a miniature painting this weekend, of this photo that I took last fall of the wake behind our pontoon:

The original photo I used for reference

I have always been intimidated by the thought of painting realistic water and sky.  But I've decided that I cannot LIVE on a lake and be afraid to paint water.  So, I am forcing myself to confront water by painting some of my favorite photos of our lake.

Look at the water in the above photo.  Funny...I don't see much blue at all, and the surface texture is nothing like my blue waves above.

Some of the colors pulled from the water in the final painting
Water is the color of whatever surrounds it.  Sure, if the sky is clear and blue, the water is clear, and the sand underneath is white, it'll look blue too.  But I don't live in the Caribbean.  And even the Caribbean blue changes minute by minute as the sun rises and sets. 

So when I attempt to paint water I break it down into simply colors and shapes.  I have to throw out all of my preconceived notions of what water is.  It really exercises your brain!!

 The final size of this painting is 10" x 8" so I printed the photo full scale for reference.  I started with a couple faint pencil lines...the horizon, and the outline of the tops of the trees.

Then look at just the overall shades to cover the canvas with.  It's very loose and sloppy at this point.  Ugly!!  I know.  I work the acrylic like water color at this point, so it looks pretty thin.  It helps to blur your eyes here to help your brain ignore the details.  Or if you're fortunate enough to have horrible vision like me, you can just take your glasses off.

Next I start to define some of the waves...focusing again on the blob-y shapes and what color they are.

Amazing how it suddenly starts to look like water when you add crazy colors like really dark gray and a really washed out yellow.

A little more definition in the sky and more detailed reflections (shapes!) in the water.

Adding the black silhouettes is my favorite part.  Now it really looks like a sunset over a lake.

 Finally, the trees and my signature!

 So here are some of those colors I pulled out of the water via Photoshop...
Aaaah, it feels good to stretch my designer brain a little, throw out the preconceived aqua blue wavy notions, mimic seemingly random blobs and suddenly see water appear!

I did this little painting in 3 or 4 hours over the weekend.  A little weekend painting break can positively impact my design projects in many ways.  But the ability to realistically paint different materials and textures ties right into what I do as a designer as well.  I am constantly asked to create realistic renderings of products and displays, and whether I do this via Photoshop or with pen and paper, I am always tapping into this basic understanding of shapes and colors, and how their placement can define materials and textures for the viewer.

Kindof a cool connection if you ask me! :-)

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