Observe!

Cretacolor pastel pencil on Kraft paper, study of clementines

Cretacolor pastel pencil on Kraft paper, study of clementines

Whoa! What’s this? A tightly rendered clementine, have a I totally shifted gears and gone back to realism? No, just practicing my observation skills. From time to time, especially when I have a new medium to try out that is more suited to detail, I like to practice my observation skills by doing a color rendering of surface detail. An orange, or as in this case, a clementine, is a great subject for this exercise as it has lots of subtle color shifts and textures.

Normally, when I’m painting in my usual manner, my aim is to grab the most significant details and place them quickly, usually with just a brush stroke. In order to develop that skill, an artist needs to practice their seeing skills by direct observation of a variety of forms and surface textures. I don’t consider this drawing practice–drawing to me is monochromatic and the emphasis is on form and value, not surface texture. Depciting surface texture is better described as rendering, the act of adding detail on top of a well drawn form. In other words, you have to be able to draw it first, then you can focus on how you want to render the detail–tightly as I’ve done here, or loose and expressively the way I usually do in my paintings. When I do this, my aim is not to improve my hand in the application of the medium, but to improve my ability to understand and see detail so that I can simplify it when I am painting.

Working in this manner is very relaxing for me, I don’t think a lot when I do it, I just look very carefully and put down what I see. When I am painting, it is a much more energetic process, very quick with a lot of thinking on my feet. This type of opposite process actually enhances the skills I need when working plein air, doing a demo or trying to impart energy and life into a painting. By truly understand the details and identifying the ones that really make a clementine a clementine in a a highly detailed rendering, I can translate that into one or two strokes to create a highly expressive and lively version in paint.

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