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  • It's time to break out your pocket watch and your paint brushes for this episode of 10 Minutes to Better Painting

  • I'm your host -- Marco Bucci

  • Each episode will be structured as follows

  • Part 1 will be a short lesson that gets us into the subject with some visual examples.

  • Part 2 will feature a full painting demo where I will show you how to apply the episode's lesson to your work.

  • and Part 3 will be a final wrap-up of the episode with some closing thoughts.

  • Richard Schmid said once that painters don't see more information than other people do.

  • They actually see less.

  • This episode is about merging shapes.

  • You know that old painting maxim that advises you to simplify?

  • Well, merging shapes is one of the many possible ways to do it.

  • I love these etchings by Anders Zorn.

  • They contain such a strong statement of light and character and mood and composition.

  • And yet the medium is so primitive: It's just a bunch of chicken scratch lines on paper.

  • Now, Zorn was a master of simplification and merging shapes.

  • And that's exactly the tool he used to get such a high degree of quality here.

  • Let me show you what I mean with a very simple example.

  • Let's put four simple objects on this frame.

  • And these objects will be lit by light, which means they also cast shadow.

  • We just painted a picture!

  • But it's not all that exciting right?

  • I mean it looks computer-generated and boring; it certainly doesn't look like light.

  • But why? Let's count the number of shapes in it: there's one two three four five six seven eight nine.

  • I had to make nine shapes just to paint that?

  • Geez that's gluttony!

  • Let's see if we can simplify this by merging some shapes together.

  • I'll start by duplicating the painting; now watch as it slowly fades into a simplified version.

  • The same picture, but with the shapes merged together.

  • Let's count the shapes in this version.

  • One shape for all of that.

  • Two, three and four!

  • I just reduced the shapes by more than half.

  • Merging shapes means a reduction of information.

  • I've given up the silhouette of every one of those little objects in favor of a larger silhouette.

  • Fewer things to look at.

  • A more simplified, effective statement.

  • The reason we simplify is to allow the mood to come through.

  • And mood -- that's where art lives.

  • Take a look at this beautiful painting by Dean Cornwell

  • which I'm showing you in black and white for the purposes of this lesson.

  • Specifically, look at this area here.

  • And I'd like you to appreciate for a moment how much information Cornwell has opted to lose

  • by means of merging those shapes together.

  • That's like half the picture reduced to one shape.

  • We're not seeing pants or belt buckles or buttons.

  • We're just seeing a big dark shape.

  • What that subliminally confers to the viewer is [that] this area is not important.

  • Rather, look up to where the guy's face is because that's where all the juicy mood and character lies.

  • And even when we look at the face, sure there is more information here

  • but Cornwell is pulling the same kind of design idea.

  • The lower two-thirds of the head, as well as the neck and the shirt are merged into one shape.

  • Merging shapes enhances the element of mystery as well

  • which coincides perfectly with how we feel about this guy.

  • Look at this Breathtaker by Walter Everett.

  • I think a lot of people would say that there's a lot of detail here

  • which in painters' speak means a lot of shapes.

  • But I actually don't think that there is.

  • Looking at it with this simple filter applied

  • we can see it's actually a carefully manicured path of dark and light shapes merged together that lead us through the picture.

  • I feel like everything this red line touches is an unbroken shape of dark

  • comprising the very backbone of this picture.

  • And of course you can merge shapes together in light too.

  • For example, this large shape made up of the women's veils and faces.

  • So Richard Schmidt is right: through merged shapes a painter does see less than what's actually there.

  • But what he didn't say was that painting less is actually harder

  • because it requires us to do something that largely goes against our nature

  • that is to express something not by being literal about it, but instead to reduce it to an essential design.

  • This is the finished painting. I'll be demoing for you in just a second.

  • Now I chose this particular subject for its complexity.

  • There are six or seven boats in the painting

  • water, reflections, buildings, figures, atmospheric perspective -- the whole nine yards.

  • If our little example in a moment ago had nine shapes

  • Imagine how many thousands of shapes you'll have to deal with in a picture like this.

  • As I build this painting, pay specific attention to areas of shadow and areas of light

  • in order to see which shapes are sacrificed in favor of a clearer design.

  • So right away, I want to point out that I actually designed my pictures with shape merging in mind.

  • Even though I know there's going to be boats and figures and houses

  • I first want to block in overall areas of light and shadow as you see me doing right now.

  • I'm committing myself to a kind of abstract design

  • the way that this picture is going to read.

  • I know that in these big areas of light and shadow that is where I will play with merging my shapes.

  • So you see subject matter is actually secondary.

  • And I'm a firm believer that even the most realistic rendered painting is still an abstract piece of art first

  • because the painter always has to deal with these shapes that are divorced from reality,

  • but that's what makes art fun!

  • It's a reaction to something. It's not me literally trying to show you every window on every house and every figure.

  • I want to imply that stuff and I want you to be part of that experience

  • that is, I want you to fill in the shapes that I merge.

  • So I'm kind of curating you through this picture.

  • I'm stimulating your imagination, I guess

  • through means of merging these shapes and arriving at kind of an abstract design.

  • Now see that texture I'm putting down?

  • I think it's really helpful to work underneath texture, at least for me.

  • It helps me escape that literal mindset and get into the abstract design mindset.

  • And that's where you want to be especially if you're painting out of imagination like I am here.

  • So right now you can see the boats coming into the foreground

  • and you notice already

  • where the boat meets the reflection in the water -- those shapes are lost ; they're merged together.

  • Even the boats themselves are kind of merging into the houses.

  • If you look at that boat about a third up from the bottom

  • it's kind of merging into the house.

  • That, to me, is interesting you know.

  • I don't need to show you where the tip of every boat is for you to understand it.

  • The human brain is remarkable.

  • We fill in shapes all the time even in real life.

  • In fact, my conviction in this kind of approach

  • is bolstered by the fact that this is actually rooted in human psychology.

  • When you're walking around the street, you aren't seeing everything.

  • In fact, you're barely seeing anything.

  • You're only seeing the information directly in front of you.

  • Your brain fills in the other stuff left and right.

  • It happens all the time, every minute of every day.

  • So the visual equivalent of that, to me, is merging shapes and

  • actually showing less in your picture like I explained in the lesson.

  • By showing less, we can actually communicate more.

  • Let me expand on that.

  • If I were to show you every literal shape that actually would exist in this picture

  • I would lose the feeling of this location.

  • It wouldn't capture it.

  • It would be like reading a textbook

  • whereas if I'm doing it like I am here with merging shapes and try to mimic

  • visually how I feel about this scene.

  • I'm essentially sacrificing one thing that is the amount of shapes

  • in order to gain something else, which is the feeling that is going to allow this picture to resonate with viewers.

  • Now, this is where painting gets very creative because I'm the one who gets to choose

  • which of these thousands of shapes get merged?

  • and I just threw a posterized filter over it to evaluate my progress.

  • The posterized filter helps me see kind of the trends of my lights and darks to see if I'm on the right track.

  • So that's something you can use if you work digitally.

  • Even if you work traditionally, you can scan your stuff, bring it into Photoshop, and check it out.

  • So I'm on the right track here.

  • I like where this is going.

  • I like how the posts are merging into the water, merging into the boats, which are merging into the houses.

  • There's even an indication of figures there, kind of ghosting in and out of lights and darks.

  • Now, you do want to choose the key areas where your silhouette is very clear.

  • Look at the third boat up from the bottom, this area here.

  • You notice that that boat is silhouetting over the light shape.

  • because we need something to latch on to as a viewer.

  • So that is a very clear area of silhouette where there is absolutely no shape merging going on.

  • It essentially tells your brain "This is a boat".

  • And then it gives context to all the other stuff that's lost and merged

  • So I'm halfway through the painting here which by the way took me about an hour and a half of real time to do.

  • And the thing I love about this idea of merging shapes and coming up with big areas of light and dark

  • is that it gives you a structure that you can depend upon for the entirety of the painting process

  • You know I don't feel like I'm guessing now as I'm working on this

  • I feel confident that the picture as an abstract design works!

  • And that leads to conviction and confidence that anything I do within that structure is also likely to work.

  • You know, I think the real hard part of the painting is actually at the beginning

  • when you're first making these big decisions that are going to dictate the rest of the process.

  • but at the same time if you fail to make those big decisions early on

  • you will certainly run into the problem of so many shapes creeping into your painting

  • none of them seeming to have any purpose behind them and you'll go back and forth and back and forth.

  • And it'll just be a really frustrating experience for you.

  • So again knowing which shapes I'm likely to merge as I work

  • and knowing how that contributes to an overall structure of the picture's design

  • it gives me the confidence to kind of freely create

  • because I know that so long as I adhere to the structure I set out for myself

  • I'm likely to have a successful picture by the end and because merging shapes means you paint fewer shapes

  • you can actually get a piece of work like this done quite quickly

  • which is actually very important, especially if you're a concept artist or something

  • So here's another way to think of shapes.

  • Think of them as being like annoying maybe crying children in a daycare

  • all clamoring for your attention all at the same time

  • and you want some peace and quiet

  • yet you only have the capacity to satisfy three of the children.