Unlike plein aire painters who set up their easels before the panorama they wish to paint, realism painters often take a more circuitous route on the journey toward a composition that pleases the eye.
While an outdoor painter usually attempts to paint the light that exists at the moment, and might use his eyes and brain to edit out this tree or that shed, a realist might actually “cut and paste” a composition using sketches, whole or cut up photographs, and/or studying the object or scene he wishes to paint. He also has the luxury of choosing the time of day, the direction of the light, and the clarity or haziness of the atmosphere. So, “realism” is made up of accurate imaging, but can often be a scene created totally out of the imagination of the artist.
The collective method of realist composing serves dual purposes: First, the correct positioning of the focal point and the best placement of objects, people, or animals in comparison to each other and the focal point can be determined before touching brush to canvas. Second, each photograph serves as a reference for not only the shape, but the little details that make a painting truly realistic.
I often will research a subject for hours, searching out individual images of the components of my idea. This often comes down to things as trivial as a particular grass from the area in question, or as mundane as a tee shirt that’s been worn for a full day (wrinkled and grimy.) After I’ve collected what feels like an adequate assortment, I print the images in whatever size suits the purpose as a reference. (I find resizing an image to more or less match the eventual painting size helps me when I do the detailing.) Then I play with the images, almost as if they were pieces of a puzzle. A sketch or three comes next, including notes about value, color palette, and focal point placement.
Using this method, I seldom find that I am unhappy with my composition, and I am able to paint happily away, building layer upon layer and adjusting values and hues until the painting is done.
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