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Sunday, 20 September 2015





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 Painting 101:  

A sense of the real

David Brittain the reputed English artist encourages us to concentrate on line, shape and tonal accuracy to achieve a convincing sense of reality in our drawings and paintings. The one thing it seems to me, that prevents a painting or drawing from conveying reality is disunity - evidence of a break in continuity some where in the execution of the work.

A sense of the real is achieved when the viewer sees an image painted or drawn with sufficient fidelity to the subject to enable him or her to relieve the experience of seeing that or a similar view or object in real life.

A view of Adamís Peak painted on wet-in-wet technique

For most people this simply means trying less hand. For most people this simply means trying less hand. So many students concentrate and work incredibly hard in the firm belief that the more they work they are to succeed in conveying a sense of reality in their work.

But its no good trying if you are doing all the wrong things. Rather than concentrating on making the structural drawing as perfect as possible, make rule for yourself that every single mark you make will be made in the same spirit, with the same carefree abandon.

If you like decide that instead of matching the colour of a field to the colour you remember it as having been last week an hour age when you were sketching it, make it a colour that will look right with the other parts of the painting.

Let me add here that is nothing at all wrong with drawing to a high degree of structural accuracy, nor is there anything wrong in trying to get precisely the colours you found in the subject. There is nothing wrong more over with paintings of drawings done in detail. However, if you want to produce pictures that convey a convincing sense of reality then these are not the qualities on which you need to concentrate. Rather than these qualities, let me give you three others.


By this I mean the character of the shapes which make up the subject. Notice the way certain objects merge together to become one combined shape usually because they are of a similar tone. Concentrate on the such combined shape and look at the nature of its edge.

Reproduce this shape in your sketch representing it with a line. As you draw the line make sure that your hard moves in freely with the character of the edge you are following. You will find this much easier to do it, instead of looking first at the subject and then looking down at your sketch as you draw,

look down at your sketch to place your pencil point in the right position, then follow with your eye the edge of the shape in the subject trusting that your hand will move in coordination. The first time you try this it will feel as unnatural as trying to write whilst looking in a mirror. A little practice will soon get you used to it however.


For a painting or drawing to have unity it is essential that every line mark and space in the picture is given the same consideration - or lack of it . All these elements should be made in the same spirit, with the same degree of effort or concentration, whether they are positive shapes (objects) or negative shapes - the shapes between the objects.

If you think that landscapes are easy but figures are difficult, when you attempt to paint a landscape containing a figure your approach is likely to change when you come to paint the figure. This will produce a change in character and create a tension in the composition which will be the most arresting focal point in the painting. The viewer's eye will be pulled to it instantly.

Tonal accuracy

The more complex the task you take on, the more likely you are to fail. It seems that everyone believes that the best way, to get results is to keep it simple, but this idea is usually accompanied by a sense of complete hopelessness rather than leaving out certain things such as every third fence, post and seagulls. Think in terms of line, tone and texture.

Start by drawing lines representing the edges of the big shapes in a landscape perhaps the sky a big light shape, the hills and trees all joined together to make a huge area of middle tone and the foreground or may be a field or a river. Once these major lines are in place, the big shapes they produce can be subdivided to create clouds trees - but don't take it too far. It is difficult to resist including tiny shapes if you are using a carefully sharpened H.B. pencil or 2B

instead. Check that all your shapes are complete and then shade them in. Look for the lightest areas in the view perhaps the white edges of the clouds and the bright reflections of the sun on the water. Reserve these as white paper on your sketch and shade everything else very lightly with the side of your lead to represent the next lightest shade.

Look again at the subject for light middle shades and shade in everything that is light middle or darker. Now look for the dark middles and finally the very dark areas such as the gaps in the foliage which go deep into the bushes.

The important thing is to resist seeing aspects of the subject as 'things' such as rocks or trees and see them instead as shapes, tones and textures.

The scene of Adam's Peak painted wet-on-wet technique on 150 lb Bockinford paper using Nos 1, Nos 2, 6 and 12. sable hair brushes.


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