Observation, Construction and Visualization

by Armand Cabrera

Observational painting directly from nature opens your eyes to a world filled with color and light. There are very few situations outside that shadows aren’t filled with ambient and reflected light. Colors of local objects are affected in unusual and unpredictable ways. The organic groupings of rocks and the undulating flow of the landscape are always more interesting than imagined.

There is a drawback to observational painters though; the information is overwhelming at first. Learning to translate the 3d image of what you see is harder than copying a 2d photo. It is hard to decide what to use and what to ignore. The organic patterning of trees and other elements are hard to organize. Too many easel painters don’t transcend the observational aspects of painting. They cannot construct what they cannot copy. They lack the basic knowledge of construction to elevate their drawings past the mundane.Until they learn to visualize their compositions tend to be weak always depending on what is in front of them, whether a figure model or scene.

In the book on the biography of the Payne’s, Edgar’s daughter Evelyn remembers “He sometimes planned his studio painting in the evening; he very often sketched penciled compositions as he sat listening to the radio. They were little composition sketches, working out artistic problems. It was interesting to watch him draw; his hands moved very rapidly, and he held his Venus 6B pencil in the same fashion you would hold a piece of charcoal when drawing on canvas…” What she is talking about is construction and visualization.

A constructive approach is the one often used by comic book, illustrators and production artists. In these industries many times you learn the rules governing perspective and anatomy and construct the scenes out of your head. Color schemes follow strict rules of theory to maximize impact. Little time is spent using models under real world lighting conditions if at all.

Visualization is also used in these disciplines, creating worlds, creatures and characters from the imagination or scenes from antiquity. The skill is an important one in painting and drawing because it allows for manipulation of elements to suit the image. Artists are not tied to something observed and more focus can go toward design and composition.

The problems arise when people rely too much on these systems for a completed painting and ignore observation. A lack of understanding of how light actually works or natural effects really look can over simplify a scene. Too many illustrators ignore real world observation and use only construction and visualization for their subjects, relying solely on these skills which can never match the lighting in a real world situation. Their lighting is simplistic with the shadows too dark and their colors too saturated and color combinations monochromatic.

NC Wyeth maintained his plein air painting his whole life he incorporated impressionist observational studies into his illustrations to great success. His illustrations were painted using the places he knew giving them life.

Painting from life doesn’t just benefit the easel painter. Construction and visualization are not just good tools for the illustrator or the painter of historical subjects. Any painter serious about their painting should incorporate all three of these skills in their work. It requires a lifetime of dedication and practice.

Combining all three, visualization, construction and observation will take your art to the next level and your paintings can only improve no matter what the final use for them is.

 Top two images Edgar Payne
Bottom two images N.C. Wyeth

Maine Workshop

by Armand Cabrera

I will be teaching another workshop in Maine again this year at the Acadia Workshop Center on Mount Desert Island. The center is close to Bass Harbor, Southwest Harbor and a short ride from Bar Harbor and Acadia Park. It will be a fun intense workshop and a chance to paint some of the most beautiful scenery on the East Coast. I hope you will join me. The workshop is from Sept 19-23 2011 and is limited to a maximum of 12 students. The weather is usually mild that time of year and we have a big professional art studio if inclement weather does occur.  I hope you will join me.

For More information contact Gail Ribas at the Acadia Workshop Center

Gail Ribas
Workshop Director
Acadia Workshop Center
7 Bernard Road
Bernard, ME 04612

Translating the Idea

Armand Cabrera

I constantly see people in my classes and workshops struggling to find the right approach to painting from life. In my demos I try to stress the importance of good drawing and accurate color and value relationships. These tools allow you to make the marks you want to make when and how you want to make them. This is facility but facility only gets you so far. Many people think if they can just copy what they see the painting will be successful. The problem is you can’t copy, ever. What you can do, once you have the facility to make the marks you want is translate what you see into an intended arrangement of shapes.

Translating is the key to a successful painting from life. Everything you do, no matter how tightly or expressively you paint when working from life, is always translating.

Translating is turning 3 dimensional objects into 2 dimensional marks on your painting surface. What separates the more successful artists is the ability to only use the information that enhances the painting and doesn’t detract. This is easier said than done.

Everything is relative- color, value, shape and edges. All must be used in service of an idea that you hold in your mind for the finished painting. Translation requires more thought and ability than copying which is why so many artists struggle with painting from life successfully. You must understand that you are trying to fool the eye for the viewer and at the same time be aware of the marks you make and how they relate to the whole as just marks of color and value. It is this last part that gives the viewer the emotional response to your work. This is especially true for outdoor work.

When you paint outdoors you are always keying the color and value. Keying is limiting the range of color and value available to you in pigment and observed in nature. It is your exaggeration and sublimation of the information presented by you in an intelligent way that leads to a finished painting with clear intent.

No one is an artist unless he carries his picture in his head before painting it, and is sure of his method and composition. Claude Monet

Painting Demonstration

Armand Cabrera

I will be painting at Riverbend Park in Northern Virginia tomorrow, Tuesday, June 19th, at noon, 12pm. I’ll start and, if weather permits finish a painting on location. For anyone interested in outdoor painting or painting from life in general, its a good opportunity to come out and pick my brain while I work. There is no cost to enter the park. There is a chance of rain tomorrow but I’m hoping to get my painting finished before it starts. If you decide to attend bring something to sit on, some water and an umbrella just in case. It will take me a little more than two hours to complete a painting. Although I got their permission the park and staff has nothing to do with me being there so please don’t bug them about it. I will post an update here at 11AM to let people know if the weather will force me to cancel or not.

Update: I will be painting starting a little after 12 noon.