Assignment #1: A Pair of Shoes. Design a composition with a pair of flat shoes. Use any kind of sneakers, walking shoes, old worn shoes, boat or tennis shoes. Keep in mind that the laces provide a nice design element. Play with the composition until it presents something visually interesting that works. Working from a photograph and direct observation, paint the composition, keeping in mind color and value. -- from Braldt Bralds
The Process: I chose to paint my pair of Japanese geta, a kind of sandal with an elevated wooden base and fabric thong. I only wear them in my studio because the flip-flop sound they make when walking drives my husband crazy. I placed them on a small Japanese obi. After photographing several compositions, I settled on this one for I liked the angle of the shoes and the soft folds of the obi. I made both a color print and black & white print of the composition, the latter to help focus my eye on the relative color values – the darks and lights. As I began the painting process, I quickly realized the challenges presented by my choice of shoes: I had to represent the solid wood base of the shoes and the soft fabric of the thong and obi. Using Saral, a wax free transfer paper, I transferred the image to watercolor paper. With a hard HB pencil, I added the details of the wood grain in the platform of the shoes and also added shading using graphite. I then applied a fixative over the pencil sketch to preserve the details and prevent smudging. I was now ready to apply watercolor washes while first preserving the whitest white areas like the highlighted edges of the obi. I could have applied Frisket to mask the white areas, but chose not to, knowing that if necessary, I could add the whites later using gouache. To achieve the shiny, wood grain surface of the base of the shoes, I added Gum Arabic to the paint; the medium adds gloss and brilliance to the painted surface. After much experimentation and several failed attempts, here is the final painting.
The critique: Artists are often too hard on themselves and I’m my toughest critic. In spite of much experimentation and several failed attempts, I was disappointed in the final painting. First, there was not enough color contrast. Rather than staying true to the colors of the obi and thong, I should have taken artistic license and used a cool color -- perhaps on the thong or obi -- to contrast with the overall warm reds. The piece also fails because all the color values fall in the mid range. I welcome your comments.
Lesson learned: Tonal values are critical. The lights and darks contribute more to the success of a painting's composition than any other factor, including color. Begin each painting by locating the darkest darks and lightest lights.