Thursday, January 2, 2014

Looking with peripheral vision

Still Life with Little Dancer
24 x 30

This replica of Degas' little dancer has been a prized, but never successfully painted, possession of mine since I bought her last spring.  I've tried to paint her a few times but each time I bailed when the figure got tight and too representational.  Having seen the original in the Met, I wanted to capture her attitude and the thrust of her pose, but not belabour the details.

This time, I caught her and I did it by not actually looking at her.  Using peripheral vision rather than staring right at the figure, I massed in general shapes, colours and values without any outlines to start.  In fact, the whole painting was done with this peripheral gaze.  Somehow it's easier to understand the complexity of a scene when you look indirectly; colour relationships, value, and shape all simplify and are perceived as a whole rather than as individual parts.  As soon as you look at the dancer directly, it's harder to see her in context because you stop looking at the scarf, the bowl and all of the other elements of the still life set up; you can only look at one thing at a time.  And that's when you notice all of the little stuff that tightens up the painting.

This was a fun experiment in looking and I'm going to apply it to other subjects to see how it works.  I'll let you know how it turns out.

Happy 2014 and happy painting!


Bobbi Dunlop said...

What a unique idea, Ingrid and such a lovely result! Really enjoyed this post ...

Happy New Year, my friend ... looking forward to seeing and reading more of your journey!

Ingrid Christensen said...

Weird idea, isn't it? I did a plein air yesterday using that method and found myself able to avoid the literal trap much better.

Happy New Year to you, Bobbi. We have to catch up!