OBSERVE AND EXAGGERATE
Observe and Exaggerate
Artists are some of the greatest observers of the world that you can find. We tend to look at things a lot and analyse them in terms of colour, shapes and tones.
Observation will give us a better leg-up in our progress than most other things. This is mainly because we have seen things for ourselves and that is a more powerful learning tool than anything. We can be told, we can be shown, but when we find out something for ourselves it becomes a revelation that is not easily forgotten! It’s called experience and a journey we should travel with joy.
Plein air painters are way ahead in the observing-from-nature stakes. You really do see colour as it is and not through a printed photograph or screen and the very nature of painting plein air means it is done in somewhat of a rush. Conditions change, particularly light and shade and this means we really concentrate on what we see. We observe intensely because we know it could change in less than a minute. It sharpens our decision-making skills when it comes to colour and this is an immense help to all of our painting.
As well as seeing the larger picture when we are painting plein air, we also see some of the subtleties that many others miss. When I say miss, I mean everyone sees them but don’t know they’ve seen them!
For example, the colour of the sky at the horizon is quite different from other parts of the sky. It can range from light blue, yellow, purple or pink. This often subtle band of colour is missed in many paintings and can rob them of projecting the illusion of distance. When we paint this horizon colour, everyone who sees it can feel the distance. Most people are not sure why, but the answer is that we are used to seeing it, without realising it!
Such subtleties of colour abound and not just in landscapes. It can make a painting just right when we include them.
Often though, we need to exaggerate things that can hardly be seen to get the point across - it’s what painters do.
Shadows on a blue sunny day have some blue in them. Sometimes you can hardly see it or believe it, but when you paint the shadows with exaggerated blues or purples it can really work. We are enhancing what everyone sees, even though most don’t realise they see it.
Observing nature and thinking how we can translate it in interesting ways on a canvas will help us make compelling paintings. It is something we can engage in when we are not painting because artists are always artists, even when we don’t have a brush in our hands!