Artist at Work: Creating Depth of Field
Illustration by John Hersey
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Establishing a focal point


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Artist at Work: Creating Depth of Field

with Mary Jane Begin

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Video: Establishing a focal point

This is also a really large area of color that's touching a lot of objects. So I'm going to mix up my green, which is a Viridian Green, with Raw Umber, and a little bit of VanDike Brown. I'm trying to make an olive color, with that. And I want to make sure it relates to what's there. So let's just knock that in there. I have to watch my value, it's a little bit, just slightly deeper than the mug, but not much.
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Watch the Online Video Course Artist at Work: Creating Depth of Field
1h 6m Beginner Feb 12, 2014

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If you can convince a viewer that there is depth in a flat image, you can increase the emotional resonance and believability of your artwork. In this course, professional illustrator Mary Jane Begin explores how color and contrast affect the illusion of space. Mary Jane shows how to choose a focal point for your image, use temperature to define your foreground and background objects, employ contrasting colors to create depth, and work with edges to create contrast. As with all Artist at Work courses, the techniques shown here can be applied to both traditional and digital media.

Mary Jane uses the following materials in this course:

  • Arches 140 lb hot press paper
  • Tube watercolors - Winsor & Newton Cotman brand
  • Paper stumps for blending
  • Pastels - a variety of stick and pencil forms (including Conte pastel pencils)
  • Short, fat, fine-bristle Winsor & Newton #2 and #4 brushes (for scrubbing color off)
  • Sceptre Gold II sable/synthetic blend #3, # 6, and # 10 brushes
  • Winsor & Newton Cotman brand 25 mm/1 in. flat brush (for washes)

Subject:
Design
Author:
Mary Jane Begin

Establishing a focal point

This is also a really large area of color that's touching a lot of objects. So I'm going to mix up my green, which is a Viridian Green, with Raw Umber, and a little bit of VanDike Brown. I'm trying to make an olive color, with that. And I want to make sure it relates to what's there. So let's just knock that in there. I have to watch my value, it's a little bit, just slightly deeper than the mug, but not much. I also want the value of this color to change when it hits the shadow.

So let me just pop this in quickly. Now, when you're working with purple, you know, I can just test it over here. If I'm not sure about the color and I was pretty confident, but if I wasn't sure, that's what I would do. You should always have a test paper of the color of your ground. Whatever that ground is, whether it's made with any kind of material. Just test it on the side. And I think that's true when you work digitally you should make a composite, make a little color study, very quickly, just because you don't want to get into the painting, get really deep into the details and you realize aw man it's the wrong palette, the wrong colors.

So I have a tendency to make a composite or do a lot of little testing on the side. So, I'm looking at this color and right now, pretty transparent. So it feels more like a shadow color. So what I'm going to do is knock this whole thing in and then I'm going to go back in and lighten up the area that the light, and it's a pretty warm light in this scene. I'm going to hit it with the warm light. And I'm going to make it much more opaque than what's in the shadow area and I'll show you how that'll start to mimic the light. But you can probably see it relates to the shadow in the mug pretty nicely.

It's a similar color but it's distinctly a little bit more green. When I was looking at the set up before, I looked at the coffee mug. It's a pretty big shape of a white creamy tone, I was a little big worried about it. And I thought oh it's a little too close to the color of a croissant and a croissant had to be in there, it's Paris, so. What I'll probably do is just shift the color. I'll edit what I see and make the color of the croissant a little bit different than the coffee mug. And I think one of the things that people when they're working from references or even working from a still life or working from, you know, photography, they tend to want to mimic exactly what they see.

They think oh, well the shadow's grey in the picture, I have to mimic that. You don't it's, it, the rule is you edit for your purpose to make your pictures stronger. So I will do that here. And if there's an extraneous little piece of light hitting something and it doesn't add to the composition, I won't paint it. You're allowed to do that because it's your work. And I think that's, that's what makes it interesting. And that's what makes the piece really different from the set up. I could just take a photograph and be happy with that as a wonderful finished piece. But, I want the material to do some of the work and make it interesting.

And you can see I've got the ground in here, it's pretty dark, it dries pretty darkly. So what I'm going to do while it's still fairly damp is I'll add the opacity and the light. Again, to emphasize the con, emphasize the contrast of the lit area versus the shadow and keep our eye in the foreground. I'm also keeping everything in the foreground warm. If I made this surface that the coffee mug is sitting on really cool, and then made the background cool again it would flatten the space, because you'd have the same kind of temperature in foreground and background.

And that doesn't work. Okay, so I'm assessing the color that I see over there and, it seems pretty, it's warm and it's neutral. I'm just going to test over here, no that's too green. So I'm going to push it a little bit more in the warm direction, of a little yellow ochre, test that. It's closer, that's better. Alright, so let's see how that looks. Yeah, that's, that's near too, and I'm just going to put this all in the lit area, and I'll keep this again, really simple.

I'm simplifying what I'm seeing in terms of shapes. I could noodle this and, and play all day with it, but I just want to show you the basics of getting from foreground to middle ground to background with color. And when I say middle ground, I'm mostly talking about the pot, the window, the curtain and then the distance or background is the Eiffel Tower. And if I feel that I need to go back into this shadow to pop it up, and make it more of a contrasting shape, which I think I will. I'll let it dry first, and then lay another shape of color over that shadow.

So, really what I'm seeing really looks like a shade. Right now, the value's just a little too close from shadow to, to lit area. So that's fairly close. I could hit that shadow and this might be instructive, I'm going to keep it warm. Something that you might think about with color, and this is important for knowing that that mug is sitting on that tablecloth. The tablecloth is reflecting some of the color of that mug, and people often don't realize that. And so what I'm going to add into the shadow is a little of the color of that mug. But darker than the mug itself, so it doesn't look too light or too bright.

So I'll mix kind of reddish-brown, and lay that into the shadow, because anything that's 50% value or lighter is going to have a tendency to reflect colors around it. Even this green cloth, I can see the red in that shadow it's very subtle, but it's there so I'll just lay it in transparently and very lightly. And the other thing that this will do which is just a really cool thing I think, is the red of that shadow that slight red that I'm shifting it to is not only reflecting the mug, it's also contrasting the green yellow of this area of light.

So let's just see if this works to make it a stronger shadow. It should, but let's just see. And also needs to be, you know, darker because it's a shadow; there's less light there. So as you can see I'm, I'm really keeping everything warm upfront here. There'll be nothing that's super cold. Except one element that I'll show you in a little while, and there'll be a reason. Okay, so that starts to look like a shadow to my eye. I'll probably go back in and push it further but that's fine for right now.

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