Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Art of Realism

Serene Splendor is now available in print! Click here to view

oil painting of bobcat and the original photo used to paint it by Barbara Ivie Green


     As an artist I have always been drawn to realism. Being able to portray something that looks as real on canvas as it does in reality has been a life-long dream of mine. I am still working on that ability and probably will be for the rest of my life. That being said – I want to say that I love and enjoy all forms and styles of art. I have always believed that it’s not about what style or medium you used or even how good you are as an artist, but how well you communicated. If a picture truly is worth a thousand words then I ask what are those words? Some of the greatest pieces of art have been done by children. You can feel the exuberance and delight in the piece. So it is prudent to ask I think as an artist, what did you feel and did I invoke within you a sense of the wonder I was feeling? To accomplish that is the act of the true master.

     It is important, however, to acquire some control over the medium and have the technical skill to create the artwork. I wanted to show something that brings a little more understanding to the art of the realist painter. For many years I think people have assumed that I just copied the images I painted. Transferring the information like a computer. Is it real or photocopied? On one painting I even had someone ask if I had d├ęcoupaged the image of the wolf onto the canvas. Hahahaha!  One man rather snidely asked, why, if I already had the photo, was I painting it to look exactly like it?  So here is the answer to that, I rarely do, in fact, most of the time I change the image to create what I want to portray, although if what I want is the photo I can and have painted the photo – exactly.

Not everyone is a fan, however, one gallery owner groaned upon seeing my work and said, "Augh, photo realism." I looked around to see paintings of neon dogs and cowboys as well as a few images of dissected fruit parts, which I liked, but felt a little downhearted that my art wasn't considered valuable there. The truth is, is that all art is in the eye of the beholder. I have been in some of the most prestigious galleries and sold in shows before some of the biggest names in the business. I tell you this for two reasons. It shows how subjective art and its critiques can be, as well as, how important finding your own validations is. It is the only way to find your truth. The lessons that I was given by these stranger's comments were priceless as they helped me to claim ownership and see the value . . . but how I digress.

     Being "photo real" is not my goal, you see as a realist it is real life that I want to be able to express. The camera is an incredible tool, but it also has it's limitations. For instance we see with two lenses and the camera has only one. The challenge is to use it as a tool and yet see beyond it. In the two images above, you will see my finished oil painting on the left, and the reference photo I painted it from on the right.  This is something you will rarely see an artist share for obvious reasons. LOL! Now you can see for yourself my shortcomings and the place where my thumb wore away some of the photo ink at the bottom from holding it while I painted it.

     I wanted to use these images side by side to show not only the similarities, but to also point out the differences – some obvious and others more subtle. One, I did not copy this work by tracing or using a projector. I can paint exactly what I see before me, but more importantly I can change it. I loved the pose of the bobcat, but wanted it crouching over a creek – as if you had the rare opportunity to come across this scene in nature. (I have been doing this type of thing using the computer recently, drawing a sword – forging it in the computer and placing it in a setting using computer graphics – for instance, but this painting was done long before I had the ability to do that.)

     You will probably notice the difference in the lighting between the two images right away. I changed it to bring more focus onto the bobcats face using the lightest lights and darkest darks to pop it. Also in the reference photo the face of the bobcat is blurry and the back legs are in extreme focus. I switched this around, bringing more clarity to the eye and fur around the face rather than the back legs. The other changes are the extension of the branches and leaves in the background. Some are painted from reference photos I took out in the back yard, but most of the changes you see, including the lower portion, such as the rocks and creek, are from my imagination. Yes, you read right . . . they are from my imagination.  This is the point and reason I decided to post the original reference photo. To all of those who think that what they are seeing is just some enhanced photo or that painting an image to look like the real deal is easy or not a valid form of art - there is actually some skill involved. The other changes you might see are in tone, placement of plants, and lines were created to lead the eye throughout the canvas.

     Someone once explained to me that being able to copy someone else’s version of a photo or scene was the first level of skill. You may be extremely good at that, but when you go up to the next step, interpreting the photo yourself it will be harder to acquire the same level of artistic rendering. The next is painting the scene from life, without the use of a camera, analyzing the information yourself. Obviously, having the same skill level to do this is going to be much harder to accomplish. The next and final phase of course is painting from your imagination with the same amount of skill that you had when you copied another’s interpretation and that takes some mastery over the medium as well as artistic ability - and some might even call it art! Hahahaha!

    So this is for you, my fellow artists of realism, I feel you - keep seeing, keep dreaming . . . we are not just copy machines - and on another rather amusing note, the hardest thing to paint in this painting and make it look real was the dirt. :O)

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