Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Abstract of the Block In

Whenever I write about painting ideas or methods, just to let you know, I'm only speaking about my own ideas or methods, and how I proceed with them.  There are many other methods and at anytime I may be using one other than what I'm discussing in any particular post. 

The other day I was having a conversation with a friend, who had taken a look at a lot of my paintings, and noticed that I frequently employ the use of a 'lead in' to the picture in the form of a road, shoreline, fence line, or some other linear idea to add a diagonal entrance into the painting.  This is true, they are great compositional tools for doing just that.  She also noticed that I often place that entrance to the right side of the composition.  I looked at some of those and realized she was accurate.  It was a surprise to me, so I began to think about it.  

I am right eye dominant.  You can do a simple test to see which eye is your dominant eye.  Hold both hands out if front of you gripped together as if holding a pistol grip, straight armed, and point your index fingers out in front.  Aim at an object in the near distance in front of you, put the two fingers on the object.  Now close each eye, one at a time.  The object will stay lined up with your fingers when your dominant eye is open, it will move when your dominant eye is closed.  

Back to my right side roads... I don't know this for sure, there are others who have probably studied such things, but I think that because I am right handed and right eye dominant, I tend to favor that side of the composition when it comes to drawing or painting a diagonal, or near vertical, entrance into the composition.  This is all subconscious, I don't purposefully, nearly always, place these entrances on the right side.  But, it would be more awkward for me to reach my right hand across to the left to draw in the same entrance on the left side of the canvas, unless I think about it (which I can guarantee you that I will be doing now) and make that conscious choice.  Also, my mechanical paint applier, my arm and hand, are on my right side... 

This seems to be a mechanical issue because I don't have a problem with placing other dominant compositional items on the left side, it's just this placing the entrance in on the right side that is interesting to me.  

A side note that may be related... When I was younger and skied, I taught skiing and did some casual racing and was coached.  I was always told that my turns, when on my right side downhill ski, were beautiful, very well done.  But when turning onto my left side downhill ski, I was told that I was "blocked" on that side, I don't perform a right hand turn as well.  Could that also be because of a dominance favoring my right?  Don't know.

Enough on that for now, but the way our brains work without our being aware of what they are up to sometimes is fascinating.  And thank goodness for artist friends, our 'third eye' contingency, for being honest in relating what they see in our work.  It's always helpful.  


Getting back to the topic "The Abstract of the Block-In"... To me this is the second most important stage of a painting, be it in the studio or in the field.  The first most important step is forming a Concept, an idea about what you're going to paint.  Without that, you have nowhere to go, not even enough information to get to the Block-In.  Concept is a blog post all by itself.

I use the block-in as the abstract break up of the blank space, the visual reminder of my conceptual idea about where I intend this painting to go.  It can be very complicated, or very simple, very specific or very loosely defined.  Either way, it sets the stage for the next steps in paint application to come.  
This is the way that I am able to see the 'big picture' of my idea for the painting.  If these big idea shapes aren't working, not proportioned in a pleasing way, not balancing each other, not providing a color scheme (loosely stated) that I am happy with, I will never improve the painting past this point.  

This is a critical stage. 

I'm asked often about using a toned painting surface.  As you can see in the photos of block-ins here, these are all painted on an untoned surface, linen on board to be exact.  That's one way.  I also sometimes tone the surface ahead of time and paint more directly and opaquely with out this same kind of a start.  Having many methods in your technique bag is never a bad thing.  

The other thing about beginning to place your Conceptual idea on the canvas in this way, is that it's a fluid situation, it can still be changed, moulded, wiped or continued at anytime.  The paint is thin, like a water color wash, nothing is locked into place yet.  This is the time to make the decisions...

If you normally get out the small brush or charcoal and begin to draw the little pieces of the composition instead of going for the large masses, try this way out, it might fit in some cases.

Thank you... Marc






















These area few examples of slightly more drawn out block-ins.  In the one directly below, I began to use the middle to dark values that made up the road, weeds, treeline and buildings, to paint the negative shapes of the snow on the ground.  












29 comments:

Dave said...

Thanks for this, such an interesting art of the process. My lead-ins are left to right like the printed page.
I like the cool/warm of your block-ins and a strong dark note too.

Sandy Farley, Fine Artist said...

Wonderful help, Marc. Thanks for the illustrative photos of your block-ins!

Chris Gillis said...

These are really great - thanks for posting. What is your "wash" made up of? Also do you us scrape your palette or are you using any of these colors moving forward from the block in phase.

I always run into trouble when I put down a color too thick in the beginning of the painting and try to thin em out as much as I can - sometimes excitement can get the better of me when I mix an insane color though but it doesn't relate as the painting progresses.

Melanie Thompson said...

Very enlightening, thank you for this post Marc! I love seeing how artists I admire approach a blank canvas.

Chad said...

Beautiful block-ins! Love it.

Daroo said...

Thanks for posting these. Its amazing how well they read in the thumbnail view.

I'm often hesitant to cover up my block in because it makes such a strong statement. Subdividing the bold shapes and lost edges of the block in seems to muddy that initial statement. Taking a picture of the block in for reference, is a great way to remember what you were trying to say in the first place. Thanks for the tip.

Laurel Daniel said...

It's so interesting what the subconscious does all by itself. :) And just like with the skiing, you lead in from the right quite beautifully, my friend! These block in examples and your descriptions are so instructive. Thanks for putting them up for all of us to learn from. Love them.

violetta said...

This is such a good post! And I found out I am left eye dominant in the process. I have read about Notan and other compositional requirements, and, yet, that pleasing abstract of subconscious know/choice which good artists such as yourself convey to viewers, always comes across as exciting art.

Andrew Baker said...

The abstract motif is as you say essential for where things go afterwards. It also is the heart of its expression. I often practice with poster paints on a coloured sheet of paper and paint large areas keeping the main thrust or movement unchanged by the later changes which should never mask this but compliment it or refine it.

DMannion said...

Fabulous post! I always start drawing with a #2 bristle and forget to put it down. Should make myself use a #12 at least... or a rag (while wearing a glove, saftey first) for blocking in. This is one post I'll refer to again and again. Thanks, Marc.

Dalibor Dejanovic said...

Excellent post Marc. Thank your fore showing your process and explaining it. Do you do similar block-ins in pastel too?

Neville Connor - Australian Painter said...

nice to get your updates they are always interesting do you usually favour looking at the subject to the left or right of your easel im assuming you dont paint square on normally

Marc R. Hanson said...

Dave... Glad you enjoyed the post. I've been thinking about my right side road compositions. I wonder, and am going to play with this, if it's because I am always standing on the right side of a road, path, or other, when I paint or photograph them? I'm going to go stand on the opposite side of the roads, paint and see. I am guessing that will make a difference. I realize that it's a totally controllable situation, I can change the position of these things at any time... Now anyway. I simply wasn't aware and have just been painting from where I've been standing and from what was comfortable. I'm very glad that my eyes have been opened to this.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Sandy... I'm happy that you also enjoyed the post!

Marc R. Hanson said...

Hi Chris... The wash is nothing but OMS and pigment. When I'm ready to start mixing opaque paint, I wipe the palette down, it's just a stain left, not enough to use. In a way I move on with the same colors... these block-ins set the stage for the color harmony for the painting.

Marc R. Hanson said...

Thank you Melanie.

Thanks Chad.

Daroo... I agree. They almost make me want to get out the water colors again and have some abstract fun! Might do that...

Thanks Laurel! I appreciate the thought.

Marc R. Hanson said...

Thank you Violetta...

Andrew... that's a great tip... use something like tempera, gouache, or water color to practice seeking the abstract in compositions. I for one am more comfortable swinging a wider, broader tool like a brush than I am using markers, graphite or charcoal to do this. And I also feel the same about the underlying abstract statement that we end up covering over and in my case, usually muffing up.

Marc R. Hanson said...

DMannion... Yes! To your comment... loose the little brushes at this stage, or use the little brush like a larger one, on the side maybe. Thank you.

Marc R. Hanson said...

Dalibor... Thank you! Yes, I do begin the pastels in the same way. I lay on in broad, open strokes, the basis of the abstract, but sometimes first do a quick charcoal or pencil notation of positioning of shapes, then use a paper towel and 'wash' the tonal areas together as large masses. Very similar to the oil painting technique used here.

Neville... Thank you! Hmmm... I look off of the left side of my easel. Now I'm wondering why I do that too!? LOL

René PleinAir said...

It could also well be a safety thing, don't know about the traffic in the US but her I tend to be more at ease when I see the cars coming towards me while painting, ... Lovely go on the washy thing Marc, to incorporate some colour into it is a nice thing, going to try that one.

Thanks for this posting, I shared it on my FB wall, hope you don't mind.

Daryl Lyn said...

Love the abstract "training" and samples. They are beautiful in their own right - and each can obviously turn into something spectacular! I've read about abstracts, your samples made it very clear!

As to the lead in on the canvas, I have read that Western artists (regardless of dominant eye/hand tend to lead from left to right and back in to the left since that is the way we are taught to read. Apparently, those artists whose reading runs from right to left or top to bottom, tend to paint leading in the direction of their books! Interesting theory... Thanks. Daryl

Marc R. Hanson said...

Rene... I think you are right. Thanks for sharing it... didn't see it come up on FB.

Thank you Daryl... so... I read magazines from back to front! :) Seriously, I do. I just look at the pictures anyway you know...

Kathryn @ Bucks County Fine Arts Gallery said...

Well- thank you for this interesting post because now, thanks to you I have discovered that I am extremely right eye dominant- and I will be checking myself from now on to see if this is influencing my work- much like the right brain vs the left brain thing!
~Kit

Anonymous said...

Marc, you are great! I'm glad you are posting again, It's always a joy to read your posts!

Gary said...

Hi Marc ... I haven't as yet read your blog in detail, but I will. I think deep down, blocking in is really my most favourite part of painting. It seems to contain more than the finished painting. There is an air of mystery, a sense of possibility ... I love it!

catherine elliott said...

I agree! The blocking-in part is very fun..no commitment, the shapes all get along and the values are so soft. I've had children look at my block-ins and say wow thats a really nice painting..its so beautiful and you're such a ''good'' artist. And I say oh thats just the first step and they don't get why I'd want to do more....hmmmm?

Bruce Trewin said...

I must be ambiscopic, the focal item shifts equally with each eye.

Thanks for the great post Marc and good luck with the move. I shudder to think of having to move from here...too many barns full of really important (I might use this some day)junk.

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Sergio DS said...

Very interesting these abstract paintings. Congrats!