Some of my favorite paintings - the ones where I feel I really got it - are the ones where I've kept my focus clear: I am painting sunlight. I'm not painting hair or skin or water or fabric or rocks or hillsides, I'm painting sunlight. I'm painting the stuff that bounces off all those objects and reaches our eyes. When I manage to keep this purpose clear in my mind, my entire composition and the way I approach the image is more unified.
In the image, "Mermaid", I started with one cool color flowing through all the shadow areas in the entire painting, and then a single warm tone flowing over all the sunlit areas... and this process works whether the form I'm depicting is water, a figure, a dock, trees, a house - I let the shadow tone flow over all the forms equally, such that the shadows are all connected in the first layer - one big unbroken shadow form. This helps in composition and checking proportions but also illustrates in a concrete manner my constant awareness of how we (or any object) are connected to our surroundings. We are connected via chemistry in the physical realm - we are constantly sharing macro and micro parts of ourselves... esters bring our scent on the wind, we breathe in the air and everything in it, macro particles are constantly floating off and trailing behind us, we are taking in sunlight and giving off heat, there are so many ways that everything, every object or figure, pulsates with everything around it... and this same effect is happening to every surface everywhere. We are also connected to our surroundings via color and light in the visual realm - the set of colors we see in a given moment, a given scene, is completely dependent on earthly conditions: sunlight, clouds, water vapor in the air, land elements and objects absorbing/reflecting light, and how each of these surfaces (sets of molecules) reflect the light streaming from the sun into our eyes.
|Mermaid, watercolor, 5" x 5"|
This same thought process can be used for any image, whether it's a dark foggy scene, or an evening scene (the moon still reflects the sunlight) and even for interiors - you can always view a set of image elements as the light they are reflecting, rather than as objects with certain colors. I think it keeps the artist focused on the underlying visual reality and not about pre-conceived particulars, like "what color is a tree?" ... all colors, of course.