Category Archives: Daniel Gerhartz

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.

book cover new web

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.

book cover new web

Click Book for more info….ENJOY!


Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #1

This is the first 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!

“Mr. Johnson”  pages 58-59  “A Study in Edges”

Often as I survey the model before me…I look for the one key visual aspect that initially catches my eye and make this the focus of my study as I strive to convey the inspiration.  This can include a desire to capture an elusive harmony so subtle and beautiful that its only real tangibility is a vibration in the heart or a chasing after a fleeting quality of light that lasts only moments.  Perhaps it is the lyrical rhythm of line that weaves through the subject so as to express continuity and harmony that words could never express or any myriad of aesthetic qualities that capture your eye.  In essence, these characteristics are variations of line, harmony, tone, color or edge. In this particular work, a study in edges was the focus as I strove to convey the power of the form and drama of the subject.

(I must mention at this point, that as a beginner,  I was a bit overwhelmed when I approached the subject and faced  the overload of problems to solve with so much to sort out at once. For my own sanity during the early stages of development, it was important to focus only on one thing at a time.  For instance, if edges were my main focus, I would not worry as much if I had all the color temperatures accurate or the tonal ranges in perfect order.  Of course, as you progress you must bring all of these together, but as a beginner, it is fruitful to not let discouragement take hold and tackle only what you can handle in manageable pieces.)

As I proceed to describe the way I handle edge treatment, I will show you what to look for in the subject to best discern what the actual edges are and how they should to be delineated in order to convey the accurate form that we literally see . The key to painting edges accurately is to truthfully observe how they look in there proper relation to each other and paint  that relationship. I realize that there are many theories on edge treatment that deal with the arbitrary hardening or softening of an edge to diminish or strengthen the design or better convey the emotion or mood, but these attributes of what edges can achieve will not be my emphasis here.

Before I set my brush to the canvas, I find it very important to take an assessment of the subject in terms of the extremes of value, color and edges and organize my thinking from the outset.  In this case, as edges were my focus, I squinted down at Mr. Johnson, and made a mental note of the hardest visible edges. (These are circled in red). Why do I squint???  If I don’t, everything appears to have a sameness of edge.  By gently closing my eyes about half way, the forms are simplified and the variety between hard and soft becomes more visibly evident.  This contrast between the hard and soft is critical to capture and is a powerful tool we must utilize.

You will notice in the circled areas that the edge quality is razor sharp in some spots.   This is how they looked when I was squinting down!  It is so important to paint these RAZOR sharp.  I could not notice the contrast between these hard edges and the softer edges with my eyes wide open.  For instance, observe the difference between the sharp edge circled between his eyes and the edges of his brow line as the eye sockets rounded up into the forehead or the hard edge of the hat visor compared to the softer edges on the cast shadow on the forehead from the hat. Another area of great edge contrast is on the area of the neck beneath the chin.  Notice the extremely sharp edge between the neck and shirt compared to the softer edges of the cast shadow of the chin on the neck.  Also, an area that I often see painted too hard by students is the edge quality of the transition between the top plane and the bottom plane of the nose. Observe the very soft quality of this turning form.  It is tempting to block in the forms with much vigor and strength and then leave it. We must not fail to take note of the subtle transitions to accentuate the turning of form and record it accordingly.

Early in my development, I would admire many of the broad brush painters and be seduced by the bold sweeping strokes and remember only them when rendering a head or figure.  Those “beauty strokes” as my friend Scott Christensen so aptly calls them, should not destroy the form or take away from the sensitivity to the subject.  What I failed to notice was the painstaking attention to the accurate rendering of the form beneath the bold surface quality.

So the next time you have a subject before you, carefully assess the subject, squint down and let the sharpest edges emerge. When beginning a work, establish the sharpest edges as early as you can in the painting so that you can use them to compare against.  THIS IS CRITICAL!  As you progress, hold on the sharpest edges as reference points and notice the how all of the other edge transitions relate to them in descending order.  It is this great contrast that will give your work new dimension!  And as my great teacher Bill Parks would say, “Keep smiling at your work, yourself and the model!”

book cover new web

Click book for more info…ENJOY!


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