Thursday, June 29, 2017

'What Is The Blast Rule?'

Detail, Sargent watercolor
Jonathan asks, "What is the BLAST Rule?"

That's a shorthand I try to remember when I'm painting. Those letters stand for five principles of paint technique:

Big brushes.
Large to small.
Accents last.
Soften edges.
Take your time.

Big brushes
Regardless of the medium, I get out the biggest brushes first. As I proceed, I may choose smaller brushes later if I need to, but I always try to use a brush that's a little bigger than I need for a given passage. Flat brushes are especially good for giving you a variety of strokes, from large areas to sharp lines.

Large to small
Typically, some overall light and dark value statement should be made right away, even if it's in a lighter key. It helps to work out the big shapes first. Rough them in, get them right, then subdivide. In watercolor, I often like to put down a big ghost wash early on, covering 90% of the surface, leaving only the brightest highlights.

Accents last
Accents are the eye-catching darkest darks and highest highlights, or the brightest dashes of chroma. They should stand apart from the rest of the system of values. Usually with oil or gouache or casein, they should be added last, saving the final punch for the end. With transparent watercolor, the whites have to be considered from the start.

Soften edges
Edges shouldn't be all soft or all hard. They should have variety. But softness is often a measure of quality and professionalism, and soft edges are harder to achieve in water media. To avoid the “coloring book look” it takes a conscious effort to capture a feeling of melting, merging, blurring, and blending. Softness must be accomplished early in the process. Forms get sharper and more detailed in the later stages.

Take your time
Patience and concentration are a rare commodity in our attention economy. You can be be both a lumberjack and a watchmaker. Paint fast and furious, but allow yourself also to slow way down and really observe. The limits I run up against are my ability and willingness to focus deeply and for long periods. To do that I have to ignore distractions such as wind, changing light, intrusive passersby, and the computer.

The BLAST Rule is one of many painting tips in my book Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist, which you can get signed with free shipping at my website store.


Bug said...

When I paint I say Blast! a lot. But in my case it usually means Doggone! *EUPHEMISM ALERT!* The Rule version is much more useful.

Teri said...

Thanks so much James - it is always good to remember stuff like this!

Meera Rao said...

Thanks ! Easy shorthand to remember!

Unknown said...

That's a great acronym. I'd say A and T are the ones I need to focus on and they often overlap. I get impatient and add the accents too early.

DeeDee said...

Thanks you, James. I appreciate your willingness to share your wisdom. This was just what I needed.