Saturday, August 16, 2008

Getting a Fresh Eye

When I work on a painting I literally get too close to it, and I grow accustomed to its faults. There are at least six ways to get a fresh eye on a work in progress.

1. Turn it upside down and look at it (or work on it) inverted. I spend about one-fourth of my painting time working on my fantasy paintings inverted, either to see them objectively or to get a better angle on the strokes and perspective lines.

2. Step back from it, squinting and tilting your head.

3. Use a reducing glass—a double concave lens that will make your full composition fit handily into the palm of your hand.

4. Shoot a digital photo of the painting and look at it in the LCD, flip it 180 degrees or process it in Photoshop to see how it works in two values.

5. Set up an adjustable mirror on the wall behind and above your shoulder (see above). Mine is mounted on a wall bracket with an adjustable ball in socket joint. Making the painting both smaller and reversed will help you spot problems right away.

6. Ask a trusted friend, family member, or visitor to take a look at it. They don’t have to be an art expert. What interests me most about someone’s reaction to my picture is what strikes them first, what they notice most. It’s not always what I was intending.


Erik Bongers said...

For once, no new info for me this time, but in fact a very recognizable modus operandi.

The upside-down was the latest I discovered.
It doesn't work with faces for me (an upside-down smile becomes a sad face), but for perspective it works great. I'm confident enough to do some small corrections while inking architecture upside down.

I don't have a hanging mirror, but the typical protruding 19th century marble fireplace and chimney just beg for a large fake-antique mirror.

dragonladych said...

Eric, working upside down is supposed to help you forget you are drawing a "smile" or even a "mouth".
If you've ever read the very famous book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" By Betty Edwards. She had people copying a picture upside down to show how much we rely on our perception of what "should" be and forget to observe what "is" : the actualy shapes and values.
I love giving this exercise to my pupils they are always so surprised by the result.

My problem is that, while I always check things in one of these above manners, I often work too fast and forget to "analyse" things. I live alone, so I can't always ask for advice, I should leave my work for a few days and do something else, I often see the flaws then. Deadlines don't always allow this.

Anonymous said...

I usually make preliminary sketches on tracing paper. First a very rough sketch - then I flip the paper to see it in reverse and correct things, while I fill in more details. Then I flip the paper again and erase the first sketch, so I have the corrected and a bit more detailed version in reverse. And so it goes on, each flip providing a fresh eye on the sketch.

Unknown said...

I love the # 6 option! I hadn't thought of that before. What better way to know what is going on in a composition than to ask someone "what do you see?" These suggestions are interesting, when I do the mirror thing or look upside down through my legs (?!) it really transforms the figurative into the abstract.

Dianne Mize said...

In my former life as an art school instructor, I often had my students turn their work upside down as they worked. At first they'd try to twist their heads, but once accustomed to a new way of seeing, many found doing a greater part of the work upside down beneficial, even exciting.

Thanks for the rear-mounted mirror idea. I often check my stuff in a hand mirror, but to have it mounted and simply turn back and look is a much better idea.

Anonymous said...

The amazing thing is, when some paintings look better upside down heh. Happened to me a few times.
What more can I say, I have tried ponts 1,2,3,4 and 6 before. Points 2,4,6 most often though. I never tried option 5 before. Very interesting.


Now that I have tried it, I must say my painting looks even better in that mirror! HAH! But maybe that´s just because of the different angles which are presenting the scenery in a familiar, yet changed way. Have been looking on that painting for some hours now.
Sadly, taking a digital picture does seem to take away some of the colors and sharpness. Even when using a device to put the camera on and using morning daylight. Then of course I can change colors, sharpness, contrast and all that stuff with the software, but a real picture always looks better in my opinion. And when I paint something on the PC then it looks best on the PC. Ah well, in time I am going to figure the secrets for that (I hope). :)

tlchang said...

I haven't tried a wall-mounted mirror before - great idea.

I'm always amazed at how much more one can see just by changing the format you're looking at (like the LCD screen on your digital camera, or on your computer screen after scanning, or the printout of said scan, etc...). The dismaying part is all the *new* things you see when you get the official, printed version of a piece... :-(

What do you do when something comes back looking quite differently than you had intended? (painter error, not printer error) It may not happen to you much. I, however, find it repeated grounds for near-despair...

John Nez said...

And there's always my best approach for a fresh assessment.... namely waiting a week or two and looking at it again.

I find sometimes just passing time is the only way, since somehow I get so wrapped up in a piece the way it is... I remain willingly blind to most things about it.

Oh, and there's one other, very perilous method... to be advised only with caution. That is asking one's spouse what her opinion is!

Beware of this option... as often it is fraught with emotional overtones not related to the actual art.


Unknown said...

I love this blog. I'm not much of an artist, but I enjoy art. Its very interesting to see the processes and all the thought that goes into art.

Charles said...

All of these suggestions are great ways to see one's work with a fresh view. The upside down one has worked well for me since a prof suggested it in college eons ago. Also, being nearsighted, upside down with glasses off drastically changes how a realistic painting looks. My really bullet proof method is to ask my wife to come out into the studio to see what I'm doing. I do not ask her to critique the recent piece, or her opinion, but, I can tell by her face if something is amiss. She claims to "know nothing about art", but I think that is an advantage. The process does not get in the way. Her response to seeing the image for the first time, or at least not for a while, is immediate and almost always accurate. And, being a lawyer, succinct.

I also use a small hand held shaving mirror while working, and the small image reflected while holding it in such a way as to see over my shoulder does wonders for me. This is especially useful when putting the initial layout on a large canvas.

Paul Moyse said...

I do everything you mention, apart from the working inverted, not sure how that would work for me. Using a digital photo is great, it gives me that extra separation from the piece. I find I take more photos the nearer the end of the piece I get.