Category: Art How-to Tips
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Introducing Hank’s Pithy Art Tips!
For all our Facebook and Twitter fans—and those of you that don’t yet follow us there—we’re introducing a regular new feature: Hank’s Pithy Art Tips! Check in with us every few days to see what helpful hint Hank McLaughlin recommends to solve some of the pesky problems that all artists encounter. The tips will be here on the blog, as well—so you can find them easily whenever you log in with Famous Artists School!
Here’s some background on Hank:
As an artist, Hank McLaughlin has a close relationship with nature. When choosing a subject to paint, he’s usually drawn to the natural world. But even though he tells his students that they’ll be more successful if they paint from nature, he reminds them that they don’t have to go on a camping trip to do it. As he says, “Go to the refrigerator and take out a couple of apples. That’s nature!”
That’s the kind of humorous, down-to-earth touch that characterizes both Hank’s approach to art and his work with students. He’s a well-rounded artist who is comfortable in a wide spectrum of mediums, from oil pastels, pencil, charcoal and pen and ink right through watercolor, acrylics, and oil paints. He’s even dabbled in sculpture and woodcarving.
His formal art education began at age 18, when he admired the work of Harold Wolcott, a noted painter. Mr. Wolcott invited Hank to study with him. After two years, Hank moved on to the Art Students League in New York City, and later studied at Paier School of Art in Hamden, Connecticut.
For many years, Hank combined his own painting with a full-time job as Art Director of Remington Arms Co. Now, in addition to his work with Famous Artists School students, he has a busy freelance career, handling commissions for portraits, commemorative illustration, and package design, as well as lecturing and teaching classes in art. His paintings have been exhibited widely, and can be found in the collections of former New York Mets Ed Kranepool, Jerry Koosman and Dave Kingman, and Paul D. Arnold of Arnold Bakers, among others.
One of Hank’s favorite activities is leading “paint-outs”—location painting workshops in picturesque Connecticut spots for fellow painters and students. It’s just one way of maintaining that friendly relationship with nature that he’s always found so inspiring.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Studio Talk: Painting Trees
Trees, like people, are individuals. A maple is different from an elm. A cottonwood is different from an oak. And no two trees of the same species look exactly alike. In painting them, much of your success depends on how carefully you observe. You can always change the shapes and values to suit your own purpose, but a first-hand study of real trees will result in a more convincing painting.
When painting a tree, try to visualize the complete trunk and main branches, even though they may be hidden by foliage. This will help you establish the correct placement for any branches that might show through the leaves.
Distant trees can be painted flat or in detail, depending on their importance or the effect you’re after. But those in the foreground should appear to have depth as well as height and width. This can be done by using light and dark values to represent light and shade.
Foliage is never a solid mass. It should look as though a bird could fly through it. Leave some “sky holes” to achieve this effect—big ones for the big birds, little ones for the little birds!
One way to handle painting foliage is to use the “dry brush” technique, which produces simultaneously the effect of large masses and individual leaves. It’s accomplished by applying the color with the side of a fairly dry brush. The paint is deposited on the ridges of the paper and skips over the depressions. This effect is achieved most easily with a flat watercolor brush.
For a group of distant trees, you can keep them quite simple and yet avoid a flat appearance by giving each tree a slightly different value and color.
Monday, December 05, 2011
Studio Talk: Learning to Draw, part 2
While drawing, don’t focus your attention on a single part of your subject at a time, but look at each part in relation to the whole. This helps avoid unwanted distortion.
If you can capture the character of the object in a convincing way, it is not important that it be realistically accurate. Drawing is not simply copying an object; it is expressing your own personal observations.
The three important characteristics to look for in every object are shape, value, and texture. Shape refers to the proportions: width in relation to height, the size of one part compared to another, and whether the surface is flat or curved. Value refers to the lightness or darkness of its surroundings. Texture refers to the appearance of the surface: is it rough, smooth, hard, soft, shiny, dull…?
All of these things can be learned by observing and drawing—continually and repeatedly. Skill does not come overnight, any more than you can learn to play a musical instrument masterfully in a day. But the results of practice and study are rewarding—to you and to those who see your work. Art is a creative venture, offering an artist’s insight to the world for the pleasure and inspiration of viewers.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Studio Talk: Learning to Draw, part 1
The old cliche—“I can’t even draw a straight line”—overlooks the fact that artists use rulers for this purpose. But great drawing seldom relies on straight lines, anyway. It combines free-flowing lines to weave magic tapestries, and is a skill that anyone can master.
The tools for drawing are simple ones: a pencil, pen, or a piece of charcoal make wonderful drawing mediums. And any paper you have available will do.
Learning to draw is a matter of learning to see. When you look at an object, are you really aware of it? Think about it. What is it made of? What does it do? Is it wider than it is tall? Is one part larger than another? A tree has a distinctive shape, but not all trees have the same shape. A tall pine is cone-shaped; a maple may be fat and rounded; an old apple tree in winter is gnarled and angular. Be alert to these descriptive differences.
Practice drawing what you see by making many sketches of objects around you. Sketch commonplace things: a chair, table, fire hydrant, your house. In all your sketching, try to find the expressive characteristics that make the object unique. In addition, try to make the function of the object clear to anyone looking at your drawing. Let’s say, for example, that you’re drawing a pencil sharpener. Notice the size of the handle in comparison to the overall size. Where does it attach to the back of the sharpener—near the bottom or near the top? When you’ve trained your eye to see proportions and construction in this way, you’ll draw convincingly.
Watch for Part 2 of this Studio Talk on learning to draw!
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Tips on figure drawing
Drawing the human figure is a rewarding activity—but it can also be very frustrating. Here are some helpful hints from the Famous Artists School Instructors on how to overcome some common problems:
One way to start a drawing is to lightly sketch in the general position of the figure—not so much its detailed appearance, but what it is doing. Try to see the whole figure, not just an isolated part. Once you have established the proper overall size and action, you can start defining the various parts of the body.
A proven way of checking your drawing for error or “faulty seeing” is to look at its reflection in a mirror. Many professional artists keep a mirror handy so they can study their work at various stages as it develops.
Look at the figure not as a drawing, but as if he or she were a real person —one you passed on the street. Then ask yourself some questions. For instance: if I saw this person, would he look as though his arms were too long or his head too large? Would I consider her too heavy or too thin? Does he look as though he is falling over, or as though he is doing what I intended to depict? Should I emphasize the action just a little bit more?
Study anatomy or muscles, but concentrate mainly on what muscles do. Don’t allow your figure drawing to be so dominated by muscles that you lose sight of the overall effect.
Good luck and keep drawing!
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Tips on portrait painting
FAS Instructor Hank McLaughlin has had many portrait commissions over the years, including a painting of the former archbishop of New York, Edward Cardinal Egan. That portrait hangs in the Archbishop’s Residence in New York City.
Recently, Hank had an inquiry from one of his FAS students regarding how to handle values in the background of a portrait. As he often does, Hank answered by citing several relevant anecdotes. The first came from a painter who was commissioned to paint a portrait of John D. Rockefeller. For three days, Mr. Rockefeller sat for the artist; and for those three days, the artist painted only the background, not the sitter. An interested observer asked the artist why he had bothered to have the sitter there at all, if he was just going to work on the background. The artist answered, “I wanted to paint the background as it would look to a viewer who was concentrating on the subject of the painting—the center of interest. In order to paint it that way, I myself had to be looking at the subject and not at the background.” Hank went on to explain that, in order to be sure that the face is the center of interest in a portrait, you use brighter colors, sharper edges, and more contrast in that area. The human eye doesn’t like to look at blurred images or low contrast, so will pass over those areas to get to the center of interest.
The student also wondered about whether the colors in the background should merge with the figure. Hank answered that you should always try to include some colors from the background in the figure, and vice versa. This creates the effect that both are bathed in the same light; it pulls the painting together. Hank’s second anecdote, this one from Monet, touches on this point. Monet said that if you paint a landscape with blue sky, green grass, and a red barn, there should be some red and green in the sky, some blue and green in the barn, and some red and blue in the grass.
Good advice from Hank—and the masters!
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Color in Shadows
Techniques of the Impressionists: What Colors are Shadows?
From Marion Boddy-Evans,
Your Guide to Painting on about.com.
How the Impressionists changed the colors we use to paint shadows.
Once you start painting and closely looking at colors, you soon realize that simply reaching for a tube of black paint whenever you need to put in a shadow doesn’t work. The result isn’t subtle enough to capture a realistic shadow. The Impressionist Renoir is quoted as saying “No shadow is black. It always has a color. Nature knows only colors … white and black are not colors.” So if black was to be banished from their palettes, what did the Impressionists use for shadows?
The True Colors of Shadows
Working from the then-relatively new theory of complementary colors, the logical color to use was violet, being the complementary of yellow, the color of sunlight. Monet said: “Color owes its brightness to force of contrast rather than to its inherent qualities … primary colors look brightest when they are brought into contrast with their complementaries.” The Impressionists created violet by glazing cobalt blue or ultramarine with red, or by using new cobalt and manganese violet pigments that had become available to artists.
Monet painted his moody interiors of Saint-Lazare station, where the steam trains and glass roof created dramatic highlights and shadows, without earth pigments. He created his astoundingly rich array of browns and greys by combining new synthetic oil-paint colors (colors we today take for granted) such as cobalt blue, cerulean blue, synthetic ultramarine, emerald green, viridian, chrome yellow, vermilion, and crimson lake. He also used touches of lead white and a little ivory black. No shadow was considered as being without color, and the deepest shadows are tinged with green and purple.
Ogden Rood, the author of a book on color theory that greatly influenced the Impressionists, is reputed to have loathed their paintings, saying “If that is all I have done for art, I wish I had never written that book!” Well, I’m sure am glad he did.
Trying to Observe Color
Monet described his attempts to observe and capture the colors in nature thus: “I’m chasing the merest sliver of color. It’s my own fault, I want to grasp the intangible. It’s terrible how the light runs out, taking color with it. Color, any color, lasts a second, sometimes three or four minutes at a time. What to do, what to paint in three or four minutes. They’re gone, you have to stop. Ah, how I suffer, how painting makes me suffer! It tortures me.”
Monet also said: “It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.” “When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives you own naïve impression of the scene before you.” Doesn’t he make it seem easy?!
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Helpful Hints for the Artist #9
Creating the Illusion of Three-Dimensional Form and Depth in Your Landscapes
Parallel lines, such as railroad tracks, the edges of a straight road and the furrows of a freshly plowed field, appear to close in on each other as they move away from us, and to finally converge at the horizon.
A faraway object looks smaller than the same thing nearby, even though they are actually the same size. You can use this illustion to put distance betwen three trees and give depth to your picture.
When we see one object in front of another, we know that it is closer to us than the object it partly conceals. That is why the overlapping of shapes in a picture creates the illusion of space.
Objects you see in the distance not only look smaller, they are grayer, hazier and less detailed than objects near you. They are blurred and softened by the atmosphere that is betwen them and your eyes.
The way light falls on objects and landscape areas can give a strong illustion of space. One interesting and effective device is to let the shadow of one object fall on another. This creates a space relation betwen them, in addition to unifying the picture design.
Point of view
Before you start to draw or paint, spend a bit of time viewing your subject from different angles to see which is best. This will help you find the point of view that shows the forms to best advantage.
Friday, April 13, 2007
Helpful Hints for the Artist #8
Composing a Landscape
When you are looking at a landscape, it may be a problem deciding where the “edges” come, where the picture should begin and end. An easy solution to this can be a homemade viewfinder which is nothing more than a piece of card with a rectangular hole cut in the middle. Alternatively the viewfinder of a camera can be used. And it is always worthwhile to bear in mind that pictures can be vertical (known as “portrait” shape) instead of horizontal (“landscape” shape).
This will help you see not only in composition but also in relating the elements to each other, helping you to see in tones rather than shapes. Sometimes tones seem to be overwhelming, and it helps to half-close your eyes, so that although the details is lost the broad masses are more easily differentiated.
Perhaps most important, remember that when drawing landscape—or any other subject, for that matter—put down what you can see and not what you know is there. Rely on your eyes and the messages they’re sending you.
Friday, January 05, 2007
Helpful hints for the artist #7
Watercolor techniques—applying a wash
The most important thing in watercolor painting is to know how to apply a wash—and luckily it’s quite an easy process. A wash is a smooth and even transparent tone of diluted color. To begin with, you need to have sufficient color mixed, because you will rarely get the same tint again if you run out halfway. Use a large brush, fully loaded. Place your paper at a slight slant (you can use a book under your drawing board), and carry the brushful of color lightly across the top of the paper. You can move either from left to right or the opposite, but keep the direction consistent. The wet color will gently roll down like a little wave. When it gets to the bottom, or to the place where you want it to stop, mop off the surplus with a dry brush or blotting paper.
If you want to graduate your color from darker at the top to lighter at the bottom, you will add water to your brush after each line of wash, so that at the bottom you will be using almost pure water. This is an excellent technique for skies. If you want washes that are darker at the bottom than at the top, start with water and add the wash gradually. Another approach is to simply turn your paper upside down. You can introduce different colors into a wash in progress, or even add touches of pure color direct from the tube or palette.
Experiment, and have fun!