"Put off the finish as it takes a lifetime - wait until later to try to finish things - make a lot of starts."
Ok, I've been doing these little exercises I call digital starts and I thought they might be useful to some others as well.
So what's a "start" anyway? Well, Kevin Macpherson really emphasizes the start of a painting as critical to the finished painting. It's the block-in of a painting. For Sarback, it's stage 1 and 2 and also of critical importance. For anyone of Cape Cod School thinking it's basically just putting in the major masses (few in number!) at the beginning of any painting. You reduce everything to it's basic masses of color. All the while you are asking "Is this basic mass, light/darker, warmer/cooler, more/less intense (chroma, saturation) that the one next to it?" You keep adjusting the masses with these questions until they are in proper relation to each other. Hensche might say adjust this until the "light key" emerges. I feel it is THE exercise (whatever the medium): judging one color against another.
"It is so hard and long before a student comes to a realization that these [first] few large simple spots in right relations are the most important things in the study of painting. They are the fundamentals of all painting." -Charles Hawthorne
Hawthorne and Hensche were devoted to it. While painting schools were indulging in abstract art or tonal based painting, these guys were saying it's the judgment of color that is crucial in painting. Their students would do these basic starts all the time and rarely ever get into detail. Hawthorn did it with mudheads, Hensche with block studies.
I've come to believe in this zealously too, but simply don't have the time/patience to do endless block studies (or Hensche to make me do them).
What do I have? I have some 2 hour time slots in which I can get a an actual small oil painting done, but I have a lot of is 15-30 min time slots (modern life eh?) between doing all the other crap in my life I gotta do. So I tried to figure out a way to exercise my eyeball during these little time slots. Oil painting time is all in the setup and clean up for me (ugh!), so I starting trying to do these color judging exercises in photoshop.
Disclaimer: Let me throw out that I realize nothing compares to judging spots of color next to each other en plein air. If fact, doing these little color starts of photographs has only taught me this more. There's a lot more color and range out eyes can see that what a camera can pick up. That said I still think this is really useful because it does still exercise that basic muscle of judging one color against another.
So, here's what I do (finally!):
Find any image or more commonly a piece of an image that you think you can divide into a few colors masses (blur and squint to judge this). Don't worry about content, or making a pretty picture or composition etc. When you squint, are there are there just a few contrasting shape? Got one? Good. Drop it into photoshop.
When I squint at this one I see 4 shapes: 1. The water shape up high. 2. the shadow shape that includes the shadow on the goat (squint they blend together) 3. The sunlit grass and 4. the sunlight parts on the goat. If you squint as much as possible you can really see the image group into 2 families: the sunlit shapes and the shapes in shadow.
Now make a duplicate version any way you like (I do this: ctrl+a, ctrl+c, ctrl+n, hit "ok", ctrl+v). We're gunna paint on this duplicate, but let's not cheat so get rid of the color, including value. We just want to see the lines of it so we don't have to draw because not what we're focusing on.
This is just one way to get it to be a simpler line drawing: Filter/Artistic/Photocopy (with detail 1 and Darkness of 50), hit ok. This usually gives me some outlines to paint by. Now I've got this:
Looks like a dark dull green to me. start a new layer, make your best guess of green and paint it in there. Yup I know it's way off, don't let that stop you , move on.
I'm going to start with the shadow shape because it seems the most out of whack. Select that layer and hit cmd+u to bring up the Hue, Saturation, Lightness box. Make sure the preview box is selected and begin to adjust your slider to try to match the color better. Im gunna start by making it much warmer, a little more saturated and a lot darker. That's closer.
Now I'll select the water shape and adjust it, I'm squinting and I can see it should be darker and I think a little warmer.
Now the light foreground . I'm judging it should be a little darker, much warmer and maybe a little more chromatic. I also
My shadow shapes still seems too light. in messing with that I see that it also needs not only darker, but more saturated and a little warmer.
I realize it may not be so pretty, maybe not even fun, but if you have time you can put in some variations into these masses which I think is really fun but can be time consuming. It's where the beauty and magic starts to come together, but remember it's built on the shoulders of the a good start. OK, that's the exercise, but if you're got steam and time, have some fun with variations.
Let's start with the water mass:
Shadow shape has a bunch and a few to the goat light shape:
Now some to the foreground shape:
That's it for the variations. We're done (again)!
Whew! I'm tired. I hope that answers some questions and might be useful to some. I'd love any feedback and also any exercises you might do along these lines. :)
Just for reference: From my first post on some digital start examples (at bottom) Here's an example of the original, masses and then variations.
What I've Learned (after 120 paintings)
My Setup - All my equipment for painting.