Art, In Theory And In Practice – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Art in theory and practice article sketch

A while back, I suddenly realised that I didn’t know a huge amount about how to paint realistic fog and I tried to learn how to do it.

So, for today, I thought that I’d talk about the learning process in case it’s useful to you if you’re trying to work out how to draw or paint something new. At the very least, it might help you to avoid some of the mistakes that I made.

This whole thing started when I had a dream one night, where I saw an abandoned fog-covered version of the school that I went to when I was a teenager. Since it looked a bit like something from the old “Silent Hill” games, I wanted to make a painting of it. But, also suddenly realised that I didn’t know how to paint fog.

So, I did what I usually do when I don’t know how to draw or paint something – I looked closely at lots of reference images on Google Images.

From the many pictures of foggy roads and forests that I saw, I was able to work out that fog makes distant things appear to be lighter than things in the foreground. Not only that, it also makes distant things look like nothing more than undetailed blurry silhouettes. The fog itself was also usually a pale grey/ dark white colour too.

So, with this new knowledge, I made a painting based on my dream. However, the only way that I was able to get the fog to look even vaguely realistic was to digitally adjust the highlight/midtone/shadow levels in the image in a certain way after I’d scanned the painting. Not only that, since I’m more used to ink drawing than more traditional painting, I actually drew ink outlines of some of the silhouettes in the distance (which made them look too sharp). Anyway, here’s the painting:

"Through A Window In A Dream" By C. A. Brown

“Through A Window In A Dream” By C. A. Brown

Still, I was interested in learning more about how to paint fog traditionally.

So, realising that I shouldn’t outline the silhouettes in the distance, I decided to make a more traditional painting where I only used a pencil sketch as a guideline. This painting turned out fairly well, although I underestimated how dark a particular brand of black watercolour pencil would look when I used it for light shading.

"Realm Of Fog" By C. A. Brown

“Realm Of Fog” By C. A. Brown

After this, I was interested in learning how to paint fog-covered streets (mainly since I wanted to make a painting that was set in New Orleans). But, instead of looking at more reference pictures, I just decided to apply the same principles that I’d learnt from painting forests and open areas.

However, when I finished the painting, I (wrongly) thought that the foreground looked too detailed and I initially considered the painting to be something of a failure:

"Misty New Orleans" By C. A. Brown

“Misty New Orleans” By C. A. Brown

However, when I later looked at reference images of foggy city streets, I realised that I’d pretty much got it right. Unknown to me, fog behaves slightly differently in narrow streets – and it only really makes things in the far distance look hazy and blurry. So, from this, I learnt that if you’re going to use references then you need to be slightly more specific.

After this, I wanted to learn how to paint fog at night. So, I looked at more references and learnt that, at night, fog is pretty much the same colour as any nearby lighting is and that fog is also only really noticeable in the general area around lights too.

For example, if a street is let by streetlights, then the fog will appear to be orange and it will only be noticeable close to the ground and in the area surrounding the streetlight.

So, I tried (and failed) to paint this in two paintings:

"Station Corner" By C. A. Brown

“Station Corner” By C. A. Brown

"On The Last Train" By C. A. Brown

“On The Last Train” By C. A. Brown

In theory, this seemed like an easy thing to paint. But, as I realised in these two paintings, it was also very similar to the technique that I usually use for painting lights at night too. So, these paintings either didn’t look foggy enough or the fog appeared to be very localised and/or badly painted.

In the end, I decided that this was probably somewhat above my current skill level and I decided to try to make another “ordinary” fog painting. Despite a lot of digital editing to this painting, I made a few critical mistakes (mostly due to incorrect colour mixing on the tents in the mid-distance and/or brightness levels):

"Festival Fog" By C. A. Brown

“Festival Fog” By C. A. Brown

After this disappointing failure, I decided to take a break from painting fog. But, although I didn’t really learn as much from this experience as I’d hoped, I now at least have a basic understanding of the theory behind painting realistic fog – even though putting it into practice can be something of a game of chance.

What this means is that if one of my future paintings requires me to add fog, then I’ll be a lot less unprepared than I might otherwise have been. So, I guess that this experience hasn’t been a total waste of time.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Unravelling The Mysteries Of Art – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Unravelling the mystique of making art

One of the most interesting things about being a self-taught artist is that you gradually get to understand a lot of the “weirder” parts of making art, albeit at a slower pace than people who learn how to make art in the traditional way probably do.

Although I’ve been making small doodles and cartoons for pretty much all of my life, I only really got serious about becoming an artist in 2012 when I decided to make at least one piece of art every day.

I started out making drawings (using ink and coloured pencils) before moving on to using ink and watercolour pencils in early 2014. Here’s a picture that compares what my art looked like in 2010 and what it looks like these days:

"A Character From 2010" By C. A. Brown

“A Character From 2010” By C. A. Brown

Even though I’ve learnt a lot of interesting technical stuff in that time and my art has improved as a result, the experience has also – to some extent at least – demystified art for me. Yes, there’s still a lot about art that I don’t understand but I’m constantly amazed at how much weird stuff I now understand that I didn’t before.

For example, I’ve never taken a life drawing class. In fact, back when I was in Sixth Form, I was always kind of puzzled when some of my friends who were on art courses mentioned that they’d had to do a life drawing class. I couldn’t think of anything more strange and awkward than having to sit in front of a nude model for an hour and draw them.

A while before I wrote this article, I happened to read a (slightly NSFW) online article written by a life drawing model. The thing was, when I was reading this article, I didn’t really find the idea of life drawing as strange as I did when I was sixteen. In fact, if anything, my initial reaction to the article was more along the lines of brash over-confidence than anything else.

Since I’ve become vaguely competent at making still life paintings/drawings, copying old paintings and making drawings/paintings from photographs, I knew exactly which types of observation skills I’d have to use if I ever went to a life drawing class.

But, as any artist will tell you, drawing or painting people from life is significantly more challenging than making still life paintings or making art based on photos. On the rare occasions that I’ve tried drawing portraits from life (where everyone thankfully kept their clothes on), it proved to be a lot more difficult than I expected.

Not only that, any artist will tell you that it’s easier to draw clothed people even vaguely realistically than it is to draw nude people. Seriously, nudes are a lot more complicated to draw or paint well than you might think. In fact, the only way I can draw or paint even slightly realistic nudes is to copy old paintings.

So, thanks to all of this experience, I now know that life drawing classes are designed to challenge artists, rather than being some kind of bizarre arcane ritual that involves nudity.

There are other strange things about art that I’ve only really begun to understand recently too. For example, for quite a long time I was always puzzled about why some artists tend to use unrealistic colours in their artwork. It always seemed like one of those strange “modern” things that was more about pretentiousness than about anything else.

Of course, over the past year, I’ve learnt a lot more about colour theory (eg: which colours go well with each other and how to work this out). Not only that, as an interesting challenge, I also spent about a week or so practicing painting using a limited palette (eg: I only used three or four watercolour pencils) and produced a lot of art that looked a bit like this:

"Horror Hour" By C. A. Brown

“Horror Hour” By C. A. Brown

"To Perdition" By C. A. Brown

“To Perdition” By C. A. Brown

From this, I’ve learnt that artists sometimes use unrealistic colours for several reasons. The first is that a good colour scheme can make a piece of art stand out from the crowd. A good colour scheme can also add extra atmosphere to your painting or drawing too.

Not only that, making a painting using only a couple of colours is a brilliant test of both an artist’s skill and their knowledge of how to use colours.

Another thing that I’ve learnt is that even “non-weird” things can be surprisingly weird. For example, as regular readers of this site know, a lot of the paintings that I made in the days before writing this article, but posted here in early February (since I seem to be much further ahead with these articles than I am with my daily art posts) were my attempts at learning how to paint realistic fog.

Even after I’d tried to improve my original paintings with digital effects, some of these attempts have still been better than others. Here are the four “fog” paintings that I’ve made at the time of writing this article:

"Through A Window In A Dream" By C. A. Brown

“Through A Window In A Dream” By C. A. Brown

"Realm Of Fog" By C. A. Brown

“Realm Of Fog” By C. A. Brown

"Misty New Orleans" By C. A. Brown

“Misty New Orleans” By C. A. Brown

"Station Corner" By C. A. Brown

“Station Corner” By C. A. Brown

You’d think that fog would be easy to draw and paint, but it isn’t. I understand how fog works (from looking at lots of photos of it) better than I used to, but it’s still more of a challenge to put that knowledge to use on paper than you might think.

Sometimes, I’ll do it really well, and sometimes I’ll fail miserably. At the time of writing this article, painting realistic fog is still more of a game of chance than anything else.

On the other hand, making art regularly has also helped me to see through at least some of the bullshit that surrounds art. For example, I’ve become a lot more cynical about conceptual art over the past few years as a direct result of practicing painting and drawing regularly.

When you put a lot of time and effort into making paintings and drawings regularly, seeing someone earn thousands (or even millions) from just arranging a few pre-made objects in a vaguely unusual way seems a little bit unfair to put it mildly. Not only that, making conceptual art doesn’t really seem to involve anything near the level of skill and practice than making paintings or drawings does.

In conclusion, being able to see art from both the outside and from the inside is an absolutely fascinating experience. Within the past three or four years, things that once seemed amusingly strange or bizarre have gradually become a lot more “normal” to me. I guess that the only true way to understand the stranger parts of art is to actually make art yourself.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂