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A painting is an object crafted by human hands. Its visual vocabulary reflects this hand-wrought sensibility. Rather then machine-like percision, painting reveals the hand of its maker via small imperfections and accidents. The viewer then senses a painting as unique object rather then a reproduction. By understanding the visual elements that make up the vocabulary of a painting, a photograph can act as a source framework upon which to replace its language with that of paint.
In this video, we'll take a look at the vocabulary of painting. Well, first and foremost, the granular element that makes up painting is brush strokes, or what I sometimes refer to as brush work. So it is this brush work that is the assimilation of the image, and is what the viewer senses and is able to read as imagery when they look at the final work. In this example this is a Van Gogh painting, and if we zoom up on it, a bit, you can see how his brush work was very distinctive.
It's almost impossible to not recognize a Van Gogh painting. Even though this is one of his earlier works, and not necessarily one that you think of in his later period. However, it's still the same approach, and that is that it is done with a very, what I call economy of stroke. He doesn't over-elaborate through a lot of application of strokes to define his imagery. Here's an example. I keep using this example of a tree doesn't have every leaf in it. Well, here's a tree in this scene, and we certainly recognize it as a tree, but if you really look at it close up, you know, you don't even know what that is when you get too close to it.
However, you can see how just by some different dabs of paint applied in a sort of mottled manner, he's able to give us the impression of a tree so that when we look at this in the overview of the image, there is no doubting that that is a tree within the scene, but up close you can see how little is really there to define the fact that that is a tree. So brushwork is first and foremost the component of painting that is basic to it.
Then we get into how a painting is constructed, and the approach I use here and is also used in traditional painting, is you begin often with what's called an under-painting. And I'll give you an example of that. This is an under-painting. This is a version of the image we're gonna be working on. Now, we can tell this is a, a building outside, but you don't know much beyond that, and that's because, at the stage of the under-painting, you are basically describing the compositional nature of the artwork.
So, at this point, it's really very flat. There's not a real great attempt yet to actually define 3-dimensionality within the work. It's basically just dividing up the planes of the canvas into its major compositional components, and once that's applied, the under-painting then acts as a framework that we build upon. So the next step beyond the under- painting is starting to apply the intermediate detail. What we're doing, essentially, is replacing the photographic high detail with selective detail that the artist applies by slowly building this up.
So he starts from a very vague representation, as we see with the oil painting, and then it starts to proceed forward to where more detail and more bits of the imagery are added to it. And this is a continuation of just slowly, selectively returning detail to the image, but rather than photographic, precise detail, it's this selective detail that the artist is just applying within certain regions. So once we get closer to the finished version of this work, now enough detail has been applied here that we recognize the surface, that it's brickwork.
We recognize the countryside, that there's some houses out there and some fields with trees in them. It's this continual refinement of the image from this very base image, up to finishing it with enough detail that the eye recognizes it and reads it, and the trick of applying this detail is doing it in such a manner that it's in this indicative way that I've described. You are providing the dots so that the viewer can put those together and assemble it into a final image. And the more you let the viewer connect those dots, the more it engages the brain and becomes a source of interest that leads the viewer into the work.
So, being able to apply this selective detail takes a little bit of time to learn how to do without overdoing it, but that's the key to really ending up with a good painting is understanding how to apply selective detail, to apply just enough dots so that the user has to connect the rest of them.
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