Posts Tagged ‘perception’

Just a Pile of Rocks

April 20, 2013


Somewhere in Between
pastel on paper, 9 x9,  ©Marianne Post 2013

Today’s sudio painting is from a field sketch and photo reference of a pile of rocks. But there’s more to the story.

This week I had the incredible opportunity to offer a workshop to a group of talented, professional artists. There is nothing more intimidating than having thirteen of my peers standing behind their easels poised to explore, paint and listen to what I had to share with them. Our subject was color, how to see and paint it.

In covering the basics I felt like I was preaching to the choir. But the setups I had prepared opened their eyes to the phenomenons of simultaneous contrast, the effects of variable light sources and the color of ambient light. We saw how even a few inches of space effects color, and that white can be as dark as black and green can really appear as red. We experienced that context is everything.

During our lunch break I shared with the group Beau Lotto’s TED presentation on how the mind perceives color. We wrapped up the day working with big color masses gradually broken down into color spots to create form and space.

The discussions and questions were the icing on the cake for me. We talked about finding beauty in the mundane, and how values and color can elevate the simplest of subjects into something to be admired. So with that in mind, today I just painted rocks.


Color Curiosities

August 10, 2009
River’s Edge, 11 x 16″ plein air
© 2009 Marianne Post
Fall River, Oregon

I don’t know about you, but I am fascinated with the properties of color and how they play with our psyche. Perhaps that is what feeds my colorist approach to painting with soft pastels.

According to Mark Fineman, author of  The Nature of Visual illusion, the human eye can discriminate among over 7 million colors. No wonder then, that everyone sees color differently. There is certainly room for discussion. Some of us seem to be able to discern subtle color difference more easily than others. But I have also personally witnessed that seeing color nuances is a learnable skill.

I remember once I was doing a painting demo and after I was done a woman came up to me and whispered in my ear, ” You know, I see those colors, too.” It reminded me of the riveting line in the 1999 psychological thriller film, Sixth Sense, written and directed by M. Shyamaian. Young, and lonely Cole Sear played by Haley Osment, turns to child psychologist (Bruce Willis), who is equally troubled, and whispers “I see dead people.”

But, there really is nothing mystical about seeing color. Some may have a given talent right out of the gate. Their rods and cones, their color processors, may be “fancier” or more powerful than others. But one can learn to flex ones muscles so to speak to hone their color seeing skills. We all might not have the makings of olympian caliber athletes when it comes to seeing color, but we can still enjoy the journey.

How do you see color? Have some fun and test your color vision.

Once you’ve completed the test you may be interested in more color facts. While there is a lot of “science” discussed on this site there are also interesting facts about how color influences our making and perception of art.

Sketchbook Thursday No. 10

July 23, 2009

Since last Thursday I have been participating in an incredible pastel plein air workshop as mentioned in my previous blog, Less is More. So you would think that this Thursday’s sketchbook post would be filled with pages of sketches. Truth be told, my pages are filled with notan studies of all the places we have stopped to paint. But instead of showing you those (my internet connected is so-o-o slow) I have just as many pages filled with notes on theory and technique.

This week I thought I would share my sketchbook as a notebook and have selected a few “gems” that I think are worth considering:

  • Take a picture of your painting every 20-30 minutes–a great way to review your process.
  • Plein air painting does not mean a start to finish painting for all artists. It is about the opportunity to see with sensitivity.
  • The plein air experience should result in a good “start”. Strive for a field sketch.
  • Cool greens should be handled with a more neutral bias.
  • Violet is composed of a warm and a cool and threads or weaves the landscape together
  • The foundation of any painting is value.
  • The key to most failed paintings is poor composition and incorrect value structure.
  • The tools of the artist: shapes, values, edges and color relationships.
  • When faced with a painting location that at first seems to lack inspiration look for strong contrasts, then direction rhythms and textures.
  • Always ask, “What can I leave out?”
  • Look for movement, angles within the composition. Create counter movement.
  • Create asymmetrical movement, even if it doesn’t exist in the scene.
  • All landscapes have a warm bias. Even overcast days have warm light.
  • Set the shadow shapes early on.
  • Turn your painting into a different light to really see colors and values.
  • Ask yourself, “What is the one color that threads throughout the painting?”
  • In a vertical landscape, emphasize aerial perspective.

Any one of these is fodder for a future blog. Hope you stay tuned!

Sketchbook Thursday No.8

July 9, 2009

sketchbook066aMy sketchbooks are filled with hundreds of small black and white schematics. They might look to someone like Rorschach ink blot tests. But they are there for a reason.

Upon entering a gallery I immediately take a broad sweep of art to get a feel of what I am about to encounter. And no matter whether the art is representational, expressionistic, or abstract there is always something that catches my eye immediately. Why is that? Maybe it is a subject that doesn’t even resonant with me, yet I am captivated by it.

It usually is the underlying value structure of the painting that my eye is attracted to. When we are born our sight perception develops in an interesting way. We first recognize light and dark, we then see shapes, and lastly we see color. Artists can use this same progression to develop a successful work of art.

Try making compositional studies using two, three or four values to explore different arrangements of your subject matter. I find it more efficient to do a few value mass thumbnails first to explore the overall painting structure before going into too much elaborate composition planning. I think you will find that exciting shapes make the most interesting paintings. If you are faced with depicting reality or choosing interesting shapes, always choose the shape.

The Refinement of Perception

June 1, 2009


Just last week a woman walked into the School of Light & Color. She was inquiring about class offerings. She wanted to learn to see light and color, She wanted to learn to paint in oils.

In the course of our conversation she admitted that her drawing skills were not great. But she was certain that her lack of drawing experience would not hold her back. After all, she wanted to paint light.

In many ways she might be right. In other ways she was mistaken. As an instructor, I have had students of all levels in my classes, beginners as well as professional artists. And no matter where they were in their exploration of art, the students who took the time to acquire the skill to render shapes, who became sensitive to the relationship between lines and form, and who learned linear perspective had a significant edge over those who hadn’t expended the effort.


It is not necessarily the act of drawing, but what the act of drawing leads one to: the ability to see as an artist. Robert Ruskin in his notable book continually published since 1904, The Elements of Drawing,  expresses this beautifully:

I believe that the sight is a more important thing than the drawing; I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love nature, than teach the looking at nature that they may learn to draw.

Funny thing is, one can learn to draw almost effortlessly. And in the process, we learn to really see. The most important activity I can encourage my students to do is contour drawing. This activity is the most forgiving and the most rewarding. After all, you don’t even look at the paper on which you are drawing.  You can do it anywhere if you have paper and pencil handy. At the start, the results can be awkward or they can be surprisingly quite good. But the pressure is off. It is what it is. But as one continues, surprising things happen. More often than not the ability to render what we see as we trace the contours of the edges becomes increasingly easier. We learn to see as our hand to eye coordination becomes fine-tuned. We begin to acquire the refinement of perception.