Category Archives: Daniel Gerhartz

Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #8

This is the eighth  installment from the series of posts that will describe my thoughts and  technical insights from selected works included in our newly released book, “Not Far from Home”….Enjoy!

Looking for the Abstract….

At the outset of a painting, the thread of inspiration comes and I begin by gathering the model and objects that will build the composition…

There have been times when setting up the pose, whether out of laziness, fear, or just because I have to start somewhere, I begin to arrange the elements in a predictable fashion that seems right at first, but when observed with a critical eye later, it is obvious that the attempt is lacking.  I have found that this is not the time to give up, grab the brushes and paint it anyway, hoping that some flashy brushstrokes will save the weak arrangement.  When I realize that my composition is too staged, or lacks the power I had initially envisioned, it is imperative that I find a way to get a fresh look at the elements in front of me before the brushes get wet.   Sometimes just a few minutes away from the model can help.  Then upon my return, I keep an eye on the model when they are not “posing”, looking for an unexpected turn or twist in their line that lifts me from the conventional start.  Richard Schmid gave us this hint many years ago. (Thank you Richard!)

Another sure way to shake up the composition and mood is to spin the model stand 180 degrees to a backlit approach, always being aware that the right combination of shapes may appear at any point.  Another would be to change the vantage point height, maybe higher, maybe lower… After all, the most important matter is that I end up with an interesting arrangement of abstract shapes that weave the eye around the canvas.

As I am surveying for a fresher look, I find it necessary to divorce myself from the literal subject to more effectively see the composition in the abstract.  I have found my best compositions have risen from such an approach.

The arrangement for “Backlit Peonies”, page 75 from “Not Far from Home”, came about by such a sequence of events.  The detail on the opposite page in the book further exemplifies the abstract nature of the piece… Enjoy!

book cover new web

Not Far From Home”   click book for more info.  Thanks!


Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #7

This is the seventh  installment from the series of posts that will describe my thoughts and  technical insights from selected works included in our newly released book, “Not Far from Home”….Enjoy!

Inspiration and obedience…

Have you ever had the feeling that you needed to be painting a subject more grandiose than what lay presently before you in its simple, sensitive beauty.  I need to confess that I have and am amazed at my thick-headedness as I have ignored the profound, staggering elegance of the subject right before my eyes in hopes to find something “more important”.

I have found this hubris humbling as I have tried to deny the inspiration that has been given, picking and choosing, trying to squelch the “insignificant” ones to find a more profound “storyline”.  In the temptation to “tell a lofty story” in the literal sense with the subject, I have overlooked the grander message that the simple beauty is conveying.

The “Visit”, as Canadian composer Loreena McKennitt refers to the inspiration, should not be ignored.  I truly believe that it was given for a clear purpose and that my best works were completed when I have followed the initial spark.

I do not say this to advocate a lazy approach in looking for a subject that moves us deeply or to shirk the responsibility of developing more complex compositions, but too often I have let the temptation to paint something “profound and important” block the true inspiration God has given in the twist of a branch or the ever so subtle shift from red to green in the face of the model.

Certainly we should continue to strive toward greater heights as we develop our artistic abilities in whatever direction that leads us, but I for one, need to “obey”, for lack of a better word, and proceed as directed.  My greatest joy in painting has followed when I have.

In my opinion, no profounder message could have been told than that of which these cedar trees expressed.

My job was to absorb the beauty, convey the message and rejoice…

book cover new web

Not Far from Home” 


Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #6

This is the sixth  installment from the series of posts that will describe my thoughts and  technical insights from selected works included in our newly released book, “Not Far from Home”….Enjoy!


Connected Masses and Design

Design at its simplest, in my opinion, should be an arrangement of shapes that have a dominance of either dark or light and should be woven together with a thread that lyrically carries the eye to the focal point and around the canvas.  This thread is often comprised of the least dominant value that is either literally connected to or leading to the next progression of shapes that follow the pattern.  In other words, if the painting has a dominance of dark values, then the thread should be the lights that carry your eye around, or vice versa.

Notice how the lights are connected in the painting “Amaryllis”, page 39, and inversely, how the darks are connected in “Hollyhock and Eden”, page 158. This was no accident, but was an intentional design choice from the outset to group the lights or darks to carry the viewer’s eye.  This massing of shapes helps to create a more dynamic design which will give a painting its visual impact, particularly at first glance.  Great movie directors pay close attention to this detail.  One can freeze frame Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” at almost any point and see a master designer’s work.

As I sought to understand this concept, I studied the work of the great illustrators Howard Pyle, N.C Wyeth, Dean Cornwell and others and found that doing little pencil sketches of their abstract designs was very beneficial in understanding the importance of this principal.

Other examples contained in “Not Far from Home” that help illustrate this point are, “Amethyst”, page 144… “Summer Table”, page 121… and “Backlit Peonies”, page 75, among others.

Rememberconnect your lights and darks if possible, your designs will have more unity and power if you do!

Looking forward to seeing you again soon!

Not Far from Home… click book for more info.  Thanks!


Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #5

This is the fifth  installment from the series of posts that will describe my thoughts and  technical insights from selected works included in our newly released book, “Not Far from Home”….Enjoy!



“Morning Conversation”… page 167

As I reflect back on the experiences of this painting and ponder what may be interesting and useful to you, a couple of things come to mind.  First is the richness of the plein air experience and how all of the elements of conversations, the sounds, the smells, etc., work there way into the painting and provide a fullness of spirit that cannot be faked.  The brevity of light also added spontaneity that would not have been as possible had the lighting been more controlled or if the subject had been painted from a photo.  Secondly, in this work specifically, I had a window of about two hours of consistent lighting before the back lighting changed to a side raking of light which affected the whole mood.  It is critical to stop at this point or you will ruin the painting, trust me, I have done it!  After the light had changed and I was packing my easel for the day bemoaning the changing light and such a short window of opportunity, I noticed Bud and the other model standing in the doorway continuing their conversation.  At that moment, I was struck by the carefree expressions and gestures and realized that we must attempt another painting. With the models willing to stay for another round, I made a trip to the car for another canvas and began.

Moral of this story… always have plenty of canvases in the car and if your light changes, (which you can count on much of the time), try to muster the energy to begin again and make the most of the opportunity.

This photo shows the second work that was painted during the afternoon light.

These paintings required several return visits to complete, but the time spent was well worth the investment.

Bud’s final comments as we concluded the work were, “Dan, there’s only one problem with this painting, why are you painting the front of my ugly face and the back of Wendy’s head?”  Everybody needs a “Bud” in their life…what a treasure!

Enjoy !

book cover new web



Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #4

This is the fourth  installment from the series of posts that will describe my thoughts and  technical insights from selected works included in our newly released book, “Not Far from Home”….Enjoy!

Photographs…

Some have asked if I use photographs when painting. The short answer is, sometimes yes.  However, it is extremely critical to work with the subject as much as possible from life.  If I must use photographs because the small children are too restless to sit still or an animal is involved, I will always do a color study from life to gather the necessary information that is missing from the photo.  The subtleties and variations in tone, value, and color are simply too intricate to guess at.  To paraphrase the great landscape painter Edgar Payne who commented on the subject, “Our brains are way too small to invent such infinite variation”.  In my experience with painting, I would completely agree with his words.

Again, if I must use photographs, I have found the best case scenario is to meet with the model to arrange the composition, photograph them, then, to go back to the studio to draw or map out the composition on the canvas. I will also print out a black and white photo and tape it to the canvas and meet the models back on location to begin the painting. Now I have all I need… the models bathed in the beautiful light, and the photo which will give me the information I will need to accurately draw the subject.  This does take a bit more time, but is well worth the effort.

I have read that William Bouguereau had somewhat the same approach when he painted small children, only he used carefully drawn pencil studies created from marble sculptures instead of photos.  He had the study for the drawing, and would have the “children running around the studio” for the color and value.

The following images show a finished painting and the study from life that corresponds. The degree of finish in the studies will vary based on the amount of time I had with the subject from life.   Often this plan of attack is necessary in very early or late light, when you are only given a few minutes of a certain light quality. As you can see, little attention was given to the drawing in the study, and because the time with the model was short, all of my energies went into accurately capturing the value and color relationships.

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Other examples of the varying quality in the studies and the intricate relationships between the field sketch and finished work can be seen on pages 28,52,62,96,112 and136 in our recently released book, “Not Far from Home”.

Enjoy!


Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #3

This is the third  installment from the series of posts that will describe my thoughts and  technical insights from selected works included in our newly released book, “Not Far from Home”….Enjoy!

Squinting…….bring on the Botox, or not.

Through the 25 years I have been painting, there is one recurrent problem that will hinder my efforts to produce an effective representation of what I am seeing.  That problem is not properly squinting at the subject to simplify the information enough to solidify the masses and amplify the essentials.  I have “Squint” signs up all around my studio, because even after years of doing this, I still want to open wide to see every little thing.  The whole idea seems counter intuitive.  You ask, “We are trying to see the subject aren’t we, wouldn’t that work best with our eyes wide open?!?!?”  It seems like the answer should be yes, but, most of what we need to lock into is best observed with the non-essentials obscured or simplified.  As I have described squinting in previous posts, I would like to address the technique here.

As I tried to figure out the squint in the early days, I had an approach that looked something like this, minus the gray hair.

Not only did I have a splitting head ache in about 10 minutes, but Botox wouldn’t touch these wrinkles.

Another not so excellent approach is the “Cheat Squint”.

I see this a lot as I teach. As I am harping to “Squint Down”, I have seen some in a stealthy half squint, gathering all the info they can with the open eye.  I, too, have been guilty of this.  :(

The best approach is to gently close your eyes until the lights and darks become more separate or value patterns simplify and the sharpest edges emerge. The key is to keep this up through the process, only opening your eyes to more easily identify the color temperature shifts within the simple shapes.

What might a good squint accomplish?  As is seen in the detail of “Yellow Rose”, (page 83), with the squint I was able to more easily differentiate between the light and darks of the roses and organize the warm and cool lights on her head to accentuate the forms.  When I would look at the subject open-eyed, the simple forms were almost hidden beneath the complexity of light.  Simply put, I was able to wrap my head around the problem and break it down more easily.

Keep smiling and SQUINT DOWN!

book cover new web


Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #2

This is the second  installment from the series of posts that will describe my thoughts and  technical insights from selected works included in our newly released book, “Not Far from Home”….Enjoy!

Creating Dimension…. when to use color temperature or value to turn the form.

One of the more important questions we face in creating the illusion of form with a two-dimensional painting is the dilemma of whether to use value or color temperature within a simple shadow or light shape to turn form. As we survey the subject and clearly identify a form change, many times our default seems to be to use a value shift.  Often this is the case and a value change is necessary, but we must be sure that this is what we visually perceive or the painting will lose the solidity of mass and the beautiful airy quality that we are seeing. Many times it is a color change that is defining the transition and it is so important to utilize the appropriate means to show the form.

The guideline I follow to best discern the transition is …. what am I seeing when I squint. Squinting forces me to see the value shifts more clearly, reducing the distractions of the reflected lights and darks and color changes.  As I am squinting , the question going through my mind is, is it VALUE OR COLOR that is turning the form. If when I am squinting I see no visible value shift, then I must open my eyes to see the color transitions within the simple shape to describe the turning of form!  See the painting below and notice the simplicity of values in the light side and shadow side of the girl’s face. We must keep the lights and shadows separate to maintain the strength of form.  We can achieve this by using color temperature shifts and not value shifts. This is very obvious in the black and white.  The light side of her forehead and cheek has no changes in value. But in the color photo, notice how the forms appear more dimensional because they are warmer on the top plane and cooler as they spin around the form. Notice also Bud’s collar, in the black and white, the shape seems very flat, but in color, we see a top and side plane.   Again, what is very important here is clearly defining the light side and shadow sides of a form and keeping the two separate.

“A Moment to Reminisce  36″ x 48″

The beauty and true asset of this approach is that in doing so effectively, we conserve the values using color temperature to show variation in form within each specific light or shadow side without destroying the simplicity of the shape.  Why is this so important?  So in the end, our paintings have simpler masses and more graphic appeal, while still reading as fully dimensional.   Keep Squinting!  (We will address the proper squinting technique on the next post…stay tuned).

Other paintings in the book that illustrate this point clearly are… “Beginning” pg. 149,“Hind’s Feet Study” pg.52 and “Gentle” pg.70 among others.

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Click Book for more info….ENJOY!


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