The Painter As Visual Leader

Step in the oil painting of Wickers the Warmblood with all colors established
Ok, finished with the 2nd background layer. I like the graduated tint from the cooler Cerulean Blue to the warmish Cad Yellow mixed with some Cerulean. I'm not ready yet to commit to anything definite in the background layer, but it will most certainly remain soft and without much detail. The focus will stay on Wickers.

Notice the areas where I went back and softened, such as along the neck top/mane, the ears, and down the shoulder. I used my fingers to blend the background layer into the horse and vice versa. These are areas I wanted to deemphasize, to bring the viewer back to Wicker's face.

My deciding to send the viewer to particular areas is a key difference between an oil painting and a photo. If I were outside in the pasture next door, talking to Wickers like I often do, I would be looking at her face and her entire body. However, being a human, in my focused field of vision I would have the most clarity looking right at one point on Wickers, such as her eyes and mid-face. Sure, I can see everything else, but not with the same level of clarity and detail. I could even paint the rest of her body without directly looking at it. It would, however, be softened value masses without detail, and probably somewhat distorted.

To test this, continue to stare at the screen you're reading now. Then, use your side/peripheral vision to see what's surrounding you. Don't turn your head or move your eyes! Now, imagine having to paint what you see peripherally, the way you see it.

If I were shooting a photo, however, unless I really knew what I was doing with apertures and exposures, most everything in the photo would have the same level of detail, lighting and focus. It's as if there is TOO much information at once. So when using photos as reference, use them with discretion. Think and plan what you're trying to accomplish in the end result so you don't slavishly mimic a camera's point of view. Make it your own!

I want to direct the viewer to what I think is the most interesting, intriguing place, then send them around the rest of the painting from there. When this is done successfully, it's much more like the real-time experience of being outside talking to Wickers & her big beautiful red self -with my eyes flowing from her eyes, face, neck, to her body, the grass, sun, sky, etc.

Photo of Wickers and Bethany at Wakefield: Twomey
Wickers and mom Bethany, With Carrots