Found on artist and Illustrator’s website
How to Paint from a Different Perspective –
Carl Purcell’s Step-by-Step guide
When it comes to painting, most of us are not using the truly artistic side of our brains. In an exclusive extract from his new book, Carl Purcell introduces a new way of seeing
Your brain processes visual information entering through your eyes in two distinctly different ways: spatially (or visually), and intellectually. The first and faster is the spatial process. Its primary function is to keep you informed about the constantly changing space around you by recording where and how big things are. It perceives shapes and spaces, dark and light patterns, vertical and horizontal orientation, size relationships and the relative locations of shapes.
The spatial part of your brain does not identify these as trees, cars and people; that kind of identification comes later. All of this is done on autopilot, just at the threshold of your consciousness. When you parallel park a car or walk through a crowded mall, you use this spatial tool. Its primary job is to navigate you through space safely.
The analytical or intellectual portion of the brain processes the spatial information not as visual images, but as data. When you identify the shapes you are seeing as trees, cars, people and so on, you are using the intellectual brain. This is the right tool for just about every other conscious activity of your life. But when you use this part of your brain to draw, the results are disastrous. It first translates the visual information it has received from the spatial brain into data, then creates a simplified visual symbol to stand for the information.
Focus on shapes to make a stronger painting
Here is a simple subject made of large shapes. Remember, you can either approach it from an intellectual standpoint – allowing yourself to name the grass, road and so on – or you can use your artist’s brain to focus your attention on the shapes, the colours within those shapes and how their edges convey essential information.
Reduce the scene in the photo to three basic shapes. Each is interesting and needs little changing. The first shape is formed by the grasses on the left, ending with the buildings. The second shape is formed by the trees at the top of the composition, and the third shape is formed by the grasses on the right hand side. Draw these shapes carefully rather than drawing objects. This allows you to capture the heart of the scene – what gives it visual impact. Place the horizon line higher in the composition to avoid dividing the picture in half. This will mean shortening the height of shape two.
1. Paint the first shape
Load a No.12 round with a juicy mixture of Quinacridone Burnt Orange and Cobalt Violet. With the painting support tilted about 30 degrees, paint the top part of shape one. There should be a bead of colour at the bottom of the painted area; if not, you need to use more water.
Rinse the brush and load it with Quinacridone Sienna. Begin painting along the edge of the bead, allowing the first colour to run down into the new colour. Continue the wash down your paper, recharging the brush with a new mixture of Quinacridone Gold and Manganese Blue.
At the bottom, carry the wash over to the dark shape of the rut in the road. Without a break in the wash, carry it on up this shape until you reach its point. You now have one single shape with varying colours. The top is geometric, revealing the silhouette of a building and fence. At the bottom edge of the darkest part, paint a few strokes of a dark shade to reveal grass.
2. Establish the second shape
Load a one-inch flat with Quinacridone Sienna. Hold it horizontally and drag the colour with the edge of the brush to produce a ragged edge for the tree shape on the left. While that is still wet, load a No.12 round with Quinacridone Burnt Orange and Cobalt Violet and touch this mixture into the base of the shape you just created.
With a one-inch flat loaded with Quinacridone Sienna, begin the larger portion of the tree shape, moving from left to right. Tilting the board to make the left side about 30 degrees higher will allow the paint to puddle in the direction you will be travelling. As you carry the bead along this shape, charge it with some Permanent Rose and Quinacridone Burnt Orange. Then add Cobalt Violet followed by Manganese Blue. Leave some light patches between trunks.
Once you rach the right side of the tree shape, drag the brush along its edge again to produce a ragged edge. This gives the impression of foliage without too much detail. Extend the bottom of the shape until it touches the right side of the paper. Now we have created a single interesting shape that reads as a number of trees, with places where the surrounding space moves into it. The shape also changes colour from very warm on the left to cool on the right.
3. Move on to the third shape
This shape is not as clearly defined in the reference photo, leaving itself open to interpretation. I have chosen to draw it with smaller instructions of white along its left side. The choice is yours, but it must be interesting.
Load a one-inch flat with a mixture of Quinacridone Sienna and Cobalt Violet and begin the shape at the right edge of the paper just below the tree shape. Touch just the tip edge of the brush to your paper and drag it sideways with a somewhat jerky motion to produce a stroke of varied width. About halfway along the base of shape two, merge the wash with the tree shapes so they connect. As you approach the left side of the shape, charge the brush with Quinacridone Gold in addition to the other mix. Carry the bead of colour down to the bottom, changing the colours as you go by introducing Permanent Rose and Cobalt Violet.
Keep the interior of the shape simple. Never go back into a previous stroke; this will muddy it. Break up the edge of the shape in places with strokes indicating grass. If the edges of the shape are carefully treated, you won’t need much more detail. Notice how well you can read the subject at this point even though there are no supporting details. The painting is strong because of its shapes.
4. Add the finishing details
Think of the details as decorations on shapes – little touches that help explain the shape. Add a few calligraphic lines with a No.6 round to describe the tree branches. Add a few more in the opening where the road leads, and place a tree trunk on this side. On the right side, add a tree trunk and limbs. Along the edge of the grass shapes, add a few strokes to indicate grass.
With a No.12 round, paint the shadows across the road using Cobalt Violet and Manganese Blue with a touch of Permanent Rose. Make sure the shadows undulate over the surface of the road, defining the road’s contours. With a pointed No.12 round, paint some shadows at the edge of the snow with Manganese Blue and Permanent Rose.
Add the background sky last. With a two-inch flat and a light mixture of Cobalt Violet and Quinacridone Burnt Orange, quickly paint the background directly above the trees. Dry it immediately with a hairdryer to minimise any bleeding of colour. With a pointed No.8 round and clear water, paint a few grass blades in the interior of the shapes and then lift them out with a paper towel. These details enhance the shapes but don’t alter the structure of the painting.
This is an extract from Your Artist’s Brain by Carl Purcell, published by North Light Books.