Wednesday 18 July 2012

3 of the Most Common Issues in Student Works

While on a rainy day mission for art supplies today, I walked past a few students’ canvas works on display out the front of the shop. Across more than ten artists, there were three things consistently holding back the works from realism or believability – tone, colour mixing and form (shaping). These are some of the most common issues amongst all art students and can define the difference between a student and a professional.

A lot of the techniques to address these issues aren’t readily available to art students. Many books don’t cover these either because the writers don’t know, can’t explain the issues well or because they’re well guarded secrets in this competitive industry.

In a nutshell, tone means the range of lights and darks. A lot of people’s works don’t reflect the full range of tone, either because they don’t see the full range, or don’t know how to mix their colours well, creating  greys, muddy colours and blanched white colours instead of clean, strong mid and dark tones.

The most common colour mixing mistake is to mix across colour systems before having a good working knowledge of how the colours will blend. Colour mixing is a complex science, and more than I can go into at this point, however, to keep it to one rule – only mix warms with warms and cools with cools, til you have extensive experience mixing across. Make a decision early on which way you want to go and stick to it.

The third issue I saw today was form. Many students find it hard to conceptualise the objects they are painting as three-dimensional, and/or, can’t translate the three dimensions of the objects onto a two dimensional flat space. The result is flat work with a lack of believability.

Think about how our eyes work. Our eyes are set up to measure depth quickly and accurately. Every day we navigate through rooms full of furniture, around shops full of products, through hurried, unpredictable crowds or around moving trains, buses or cars. Our eyes are well trained to search for the cues that tell us where the object is located in space – how far across, how far up and how far back, (X, Y and Z axes), as well as the dimensions of the object itself - its size, depth, texture and even weight. To trick our eyes, we need to have these cues well aligned, particularly when working on a flat, two-dimensional plane.

The easiest way to tell our eyes that an object has depth is to show part of the side of that object. Avoid sharp edges as this makes the objects look flat, like a paper toile. This is particularly the case for rounded objects - rounded edges don’t end quickly in reality so don’t paint them as hard lines. To show the side, it may be necessary to adjust your objects or your point of view slightly, otherwise, smudge your edges just enough to suggest that not all parts of the object end at the front.

While this is a quick overview, most students will find that improving these three areas - tone, colour mixing and form - will have a huge impact on their work.

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