Monday, April 16, 2012

93 How to paint trees

THERE IS A DANGER of representing the overly familiar as symbols rather than reality. As a time saving mechanism the brain projects a shorthand onto familiar subjects and compresses them into abbreviated clich├ęs. The symbolic versions are difficult to counteract and the resultant drawings often reflect inward symbolism and not objective reality.

In her book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain author Betty Edwards suggests drawing a portrait from an upside down photo. Looking at the image upside down allows the mind to see the object as if for the first time. We are freed to see familiar shapes as abstract shapes and not an amalgam of symbols disjointedly representing the the face.

The face is not the only object to suffer this unfortunate phenomenon. Any form we are overly familiar with will get the same treatment. A landscape feature I consistently misrepresent are trees. It is almost impossible for me to represent trees as having individual shape and detail. I routinely portray them as symbols uniformly dotting the landscape representing the idea of treeness.

But, just like with the face, if you can suppress the symbol imposing part of the brain you can see a tree for what it is; a complex and unique mass of lines and forms. It is the unique nature of trees that lend them their beauty. If you see such beauty but can't represent it your painting will lack the beauty you intended.

In the studio it's easy to turn your reference and your painting upside down. This allows your mind to find the abstract elements of both the composition and individual objects. Inverting your motif outside is a bit difficult although I have heard of artists peering between their legs to get a different perspective. A better idea is to use a prism. A prism will allow you to invert the scene before you. Turn your canvas upside down as well and paint the inverted scene. I don't suggest painting a complete painting this way, it would be too distracting. But it is a good way to quickly correct shapes you may be compressing into boring symbols as well as a method to reinvigorate your composition.

Brad Teare, April 2012

P.S.-Two right angle prisms (dove prisms) can be joined together on the long side (hypotenuse) to produce a bi-prism which flops the reversed, or mirrored image. This will allow you to see an inverted image (upside down) but not a reversed image. For more info go here.

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