Red Barn - 16 x 20
Oil on Canvas
Copyright of Dena McMurdie 2009
If you are a serious artist or are around serious artists often, you have most likely heard the saying, "Paint what you see, not what you know". Artists such as Richard Schmid explain this to mean that you should paint or draw the shapes, colors, values, and edges that you see, rather than the actual objects themselves. It takes great concentration, but you should look past the object that you are painting, like a portrait, until you no longer see an eye, nose, or lips, and concentrate on finding correct shapes of color, making them the right value, and getting them in the right place. Theoretically, if you are able to accomplish this goal with each brushstroke, your painting will look right because you didn't focus on painting a person's face. However, there may be more to getting your painting to look right than simplifying.
In college, I had a professor that repeatedly said, "Paint what you know, not what you THINK you see, until the happy day when you know what you see. Then, you can paint what you WANT to see." Often, we are faced with difficult areas to draw. Problems with foreshortening, and perspective can especially cause problems if they are drawn exactly as they appear to an untrained eye. For instance, you may look at a human eye and think that it looks exactly like the outline of a football. But if you have studied characteristics of the human eye, you will know that it is NOT the shape of a football. In this case, you will take what you know, and apply it to what you see, hopefully coming up with the correct shape for your eye. If you do that enough, you will learn to observe more carefully the shapes that you are trying to replicate. Once you know what you see, then you can paint what you see, or what you want to see. Sometimes, even if you know what you are seeing, it will just look wrong once it is put into paint or on paper. In those instances, you can make slight adjustments to your drawing to make it look right, thus painting what you want to see.
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