Saturday, June 15, 2013

Learn from the Master

After Sorolla
8 x 10

I've been enjoying the summer sun and warm light and it's really influenced my choice of subjects in the studio.  A long-time favourite of mine is children in water because the mood of these paintings is so uplifting, and the light bouncing around the figures and off of the water are such a challenge.  I don't always succeed, but that only seems to make me want to try harder next time.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to copy a Sorolla painting from a wonderful book by Blanca Pons Sorolla, his great granddaughter.  I figure there's no better education in the effect of light on the figure in water than to copy the work of a man who was mastered it.

Reproductions are always suspect; you never know if the printed version of a painting (or the Internet one, for that matter) actually matches what you'd see in real life, but I figured that if I liked the reproduction, it didn't really matter how true to life it was.

So here are the most important things that I learned:

- keep the shadows high key.  Despite the fact that it's a sunny day and there are lots of cast shadows, the feeling of powerful illumination is greater if the shadows stay light.  That makes the viewer believe that there is a lot of bouncing, reflected light.  Try it: paint a figure with a broad range of values from very dark in the shadows to very light on the light-struck planes and compare it to one in which you don't hit those real darks.  You'll find there's an airy luminous feeling to the latter sketch.

- put a lot of warmth in the water.  This works in this particular scene because of the close up, top view of the shore line.  What we're seeing is the sand under the water as well as the reflected blue sky on the tops of waves.  It wouldn't work if the water you were depicting was off in the distance.  Then you'd only see the colour of the reflected sky.

- keep it colourful but not straight from the tube.  Like flowers under the bright sun, the colours on the children's skin and the little girl's dress are rich and warm, but I was surprised by how little pure colour I needed to recreate the painting.  There are no modern colours like magentas or pthalos in this painting; it's mostly made up of cad red light, ultramarine, yellow ochre and a touch of cad yellow light in the hat.  All of the mixtures are grayed out but they still manage to sing because the colour temperatures are carefully observed.

- Sorolla could really paint!

This exercise was inspiring and I feel like it launched me toward some exciting new paintings.  I'll post them when the appear.

Happy painting!


ann stoker - Lincoln UK said...

Thanks for sharing your discoveries Ingrid, they're very helpful and inspiring! You've reminded me of how copying a master can be such a great way of learning.
Best wishes

Ingrid Christensen said...

I agree, Ann. I often think I should just copy for a few months and make copious notes. Then a year or two to process it, and then back to painting.
But, I'll stick to just copying the occasional work, I think.