Advice on a painting
Well, I don't even know if this is good enough to request for critique, but here goes nothing.

I want some feedback on this particular piece I just did. General pointers on anything I can do better would be great. It's quite a personal piece and I feel it looks like crap so any feedback would indeed be appreciated.

[Image: portrait_of_a_friend_by_personinator-d8d255n.jpg]

It looks pretty good so far.

Most of what I can say is fairly generic as far as critique goes but I'll say it anyways

I think you could use a more definite light source. It looks like you're going for some sort of overcast/dark lighting situation and while there's nothing wrong with that it's fairly hard to pull off well if you don't have a good understand of light and shadow. If that creature or plant in the background is intended to be large then having a good understanding of values and lighting can help push that, and can help you render the form and make it go bump more and feel more realistic. You can do some lighting studies and really focus in on the lighting and form rendering (ie give that priority over gesture or accuracy of overall shape, or whatever else you usually focus on), you can also watch some tutorials on it or read some books. Dave Rapoza talks about form and lighting a lot in his videos on youtube, and "How to Render" is good to learn about shadow projection and basic form rendering.

The perspective needs some tweaking as well. You have a horizon line set up already, and you're converging the lines of chair ok but they're not converging to the horizon you have there, which is only the case if it's on a hill or a slanted surface. If you're not sure about you're drawing or think it looks weird but aren't sure why you can always look at reference. People act as if looking at reference without doing a "study" of it implies you'll forget that knowledge right after it's been used, but really you'll remember the experience and likely won't make the mistake again. I found a picture that has a similar vantage point/horizon line to your picture

Notice how squished and shallow the seat actually is. It's tempting to draw things that objects sit on taller than they are so they feel like there's room to sit on it. But really, if you look at a seat perfectly perpendicularly, you can't see the depth at all but a person still fits. If you get up a bit and look at an oblique angle at the seat, you're still not seeing much, but the person still fits. Notice how, in these pictures, the legs are always parallel (in perspective) to the edges of the seat If you get a somewhat accurate square built in perspective you can easily predict how much foreshortening you need. I think you have the fox drawn ok, you just need to fix the seat

Compositionally I have no problems with the centered approach you chose. Some would argue against it, but if you're going for something more static/passive it's fine. Depending on what you want to say you might want to break the symmetry here and there. Big symmetry is fine, as you're doing, but you can vary the symmetry on the same scale with little rocks and details in the ground plane. Watch out for the tangencies though; one ear is merged with the curve of the plant in the background, and the other is just barely squeezing past it. I think the best way to solve that and sell the distance and the overlap is to make the plant thinner, push it to the right slightly and mirror that tapered root. Maybe making it a more different tone could help split it as well, or some fog/atmosphere

Speaking of the plant, I understand it's a personal piece but you I think you could still use this as an opportunity to tell some sort of a story. I imagine there's symbolic meaning behind these two things, but I'm not sure what the relationship between them is or what the thing in the background actually is. Part of it is the rendering of it, part of it is the actual drawing aspect of it (ie the design, the separation of forms and the details) and part of if is because there's no other references to work off of in the picture. The link between fox and giant insect-faced plant is not easily made without background knowledge, for me at least. But , if there is a link, you can suggest it with intermediary symbols scattered throughout the piece

Lastly even though it's a monochromatic piece, you can still vary the colours a bit here and there to make it more interesting. Look at zdzislaw Beksinskys work; he tends to use warmer palettes than this but in my opinion he's quite adept at making monochroma interesting, and the subject matter is similar in mood

Hope that helps

Wow, thank you very much for the thorough, well thought out response, Patrick!

I agree, it doesn't really have a very definite light source, looking back at it. I'll check out the resources you recommended and do some lighting studies. Any exercises you or anyone else would particularly recommend for the purpose of gaining understanding of lighting?

Thank you for the pointers on perspective too, I'll keep those in mind for future reference. I'm still working on and off from the Robertson book on perspective, so I'll make sure to keep studying it.

As for the subject matter of the piece, to elaborate upon it, it's for an old friend of mine, a sort of abstracted portrait of them. It was a sort of joint request/conceptual collaboration. I realise that probably doesn't help clarify what it's about, but I thought I'd say anyway.

Once again, thank you for the very good critique!

You're welcome

As for exercises, until you can get the book there's not much beyond studying from life and photography. It's really worth the investment to be honest, it sounds expensive at 40-60 dollars but the it's easily worth 10 times that, if not more, in terms of knowledge value.

But that's the boring answer! More specifically, I would recommend this:

Find a good grayscale photograph of a subject you like. You seem to like drawing insects and animals a lot, so maybe that could work, but the forms might be too complex and so might the perspective. You can try working from that and really focusing on the values. No colour, no switching between mediums. I think charcoal would likely be the best medium if you don't do digital yet. Pencil is good too, but the tendency I've noticed among beginners , and I did this too at first, is fearing to go too dark and pencil doesn't encourage boldness of value unless you really force it/work it in. But the subtlety required to properly show form with minimal value ranges is most likely out of your league at the moment. Generally, being subtle is much harder than being obvious. And if you want to learn about lighting, the best way is to study things that are well lit.

I don't know what kind of reference you're looking at for your studies, but judging by the value ranges I see in them they're probably pretty flat and low contrast. If you want to learn how to show form, it's much better to find a higher contrast picture and really see how it works, really see how values change across a shape and show its 3D-ness. If you look at old master paintings and old master studies, most of them have pretty intense, direct lighting with fairly strong shadows. There's a good reason for this: it's easy to show the forms, which was a key interest for several centuries in art history (renaissance and onwards) and it's easier to study and understand properly. Low contrast and subtle lighting is more recent, in general.

Charcoal is nice because it goes dark very quickly, it gradates really nicely and its easy to work with, if just a bit messy. The key with charcoal in my opinion is to really make use of its advantages and limitations. Use it's ability to smudge fully so you can play with a wider range of values and experiment with what you like.

If a complex form is too much to work from, find some simple things to draw. Still lives are usually pretty good. If you can't find any good b&w photographs, set yourself up a still life with some basic geo forms (cups, boxes, fruits, eggs etc) and shine a fairly strong light on it, and try to minimize ambient lighting from windows and other light sources if you can.

Some examples of good lighting setups. Not necessarily to study from, but this is the kind of contrast you're after

It was harder than I thought to find simple form to render, but that's the idea. Distinct light and shadow side, lighting set up in a way that when you sit you see both and in good proportion and a variety of shapes and forms to work from. Studying from B&W photography will make it easier to see the values, if its a good picture, but if you cant find anything decent, nothing beats a desk lamp and some fruits. Oh and master charcoal drawings of figures are good to study as well.

Remember, the idea is to exaggerate the values so you show the form. Subtlety can come later, if you choose, but there's no replacing a good foundation in a strong lighting sense. Also remember to think about what you're looking at. Don't just copy, try to take some notes. Try to identify as many steps of value as you can.

Hope that helps

Once again, thank you very much for taking the time to provide me with such helpful information. I'll start working on the value studies shortly.


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