Pushing Your Ideas

This report is all about pushing your ideas through your art. I'll cover what it means and provide you with specific examples.

Pushing your ideas essentially refers to the decisions you make throughout a painting and what you decide to exaggerate or restrain. It also suggests that, if you are going to make a mistake, it's better to do so in the direction of your ideas.

My most recent painting is a great example, Fiery Sunset (see below)Contrast is the big idea of this painting. Pushing in the direction of this idea meant erring on the side of warmer, brighter, and richer lights and darker, vaguer, and more ambiguous shadows. I erred on the side of more contrast than less.

This is a safer way to paint. Mistakes look like an exaggeration of my ideas rather than actual mistakes. Is it a mistake if I make the sunset too fiery and dramatic? Or a rainforest too luscious? Or water too fluid? Perhaps, but not nearly as much as making the sunset timid and weak; the rainforest dull; or the water rigid.

Dan Scott, Fiery Sunset, 2022
Dan Scott, Fiery Sunset, 2022

Suitable For: Portraits, gesture drawing, and dramatic landscapes.

Elements to Push: Curves and movement.

What to Think About: What are the key actions, movements, and gesture lines? Push those aspects. Err on the side of a more lively and fluid subject.

Steve Huston's work is the best example that comes to mind. You can see his work here. Below are some other examples, starting with a drawing by Michelangelo Buonarroti. With figure drawings like this, you can push the gesture by exaggerating certain ridges, contours, and pinches in the form. Think about how you can lead the viewer through the gesture using the elements of the subject.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, Male Back With a Flag, c.1504
Michelangelo Buonarroti, Male Back With a Flag, c.1504

Here's another drawing by Buonarroti. Look how he captured the tilt of the head, the extension of the arms, and the tension in the back. Look how the lines follow through the main gestures.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, Study for the Libyan Sibyl, 1511
Michelangelo Buonarroti, Study for the Libyan Sibyl, 1511

Gesture can also apply to nature. Look at Joseph Turner's dramatic seascape painting below. It has a gesture just like any figure painting. The waves, wind, and clouds twist and swirl around the painting.

J.M.W. Turner, Snow Storm, 1842
J.M.W. Turner, Snow Storm, 1842

Suitable For: Any subject where color is a key feature.
Elements to Push: Contrast and saturation.
What to Think About: What colors should you push? What colors should you restrain? Should you push the warm or the cool colors?

The Fauvist artists were all about pushing the color. They used unusual hues and rich saturations. See Andre Derain's Big Ben below. For the Fauvists, the subject was merely a means to express and explore color.

Andre Derain, Big Ben, London
Andre Derain, Big Ben, London

William Wendt's work is a more representational example. He was more faithfull to the subject and the true hues, but he did push and restrain certain colors. In The Hill in the Summer, notice the rich blues, reds, and yellowish-greens. These have a striking contrast against the darks. In life, the colors tend to be more restrained than this. The only landscapes to come close for me have been parts of New Zealand. When the conditions there are right, the colors are surreal.

William Wendt, The Hill in the Summer
William Wendt, The Hill in the Summer

In Red Poppies, Wendt pushed the reds and restrained the surrounding greens. This plays well into the focus on the painting (poppies).

William Wendt, Red Poppies
William Wendt, Red Poppies

Vincent van Gogh had an uncanny ability of using wild colors without it seeming garish and overdone. Look at the almost pure cadmium yellows and cobalt blues in The Sower and the Sunset.

Vincent van Gogh, The Sower and the Sunset, 1888
Vincent van Gogh, The Sower and the Sunset, 1888

Suitable For: Dramatic subjects.
Elements to Push: Any contrasting elements. Light against shadow, warm against cool, curved against straight, etc.
What to Think About: Can you overlay multiple contrasting elements? Such as warm, thick lights against cool, thin shadows. Can you use contrast to focus attention on important areas?

Rembrandt painted with deep, stygian blacks against brilliant highlights (often referred to as chiaroscuro). The result is striking. Below is Rembrandt's only known seascape. The contrast heightens the drama and focuses your attention on the light areas.

Rembrandt, Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee, 1633
Rembrandt, Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee, 1633

My painting below is a contrast of color temperature (warm lights against cool shadows), value (light against dark), and brushwork (thick lights against thin shadows). This is my attempt at capturing the brilliance of sunlight itself.

Dan Scott, Tree Series, High Contrast, 2021
Dan Scott, Tree Series, High Contrast, 2021

Suitable For: Vast and misty landscapes.
Elements to Push: Soft edges and color transitions.
What to Think About: A good rule of thumb for atmospheric perspective: As an object recedes into the distance, it gradually takes on the appearance of the surrounding atmosphere. What is the nature of the atmosphere? How far away is the object?

My painting below depicts the Routeburn track in New Zealand. I made sure to push the atmosphere in this painting by using soft edges for the distant mountains and light, cool colors. For the foreground, I used relatively warm colors, thick brushwork, and sharper contrast.

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Foggy Mountains, 2020
Dan Scott, New Zealand, Foggy Mountains, 2020

The effects of the atmosphere are more severe and visible on a misty or foggy day. Objects quickly disappear into the atmosphere as they recede into the distance.  My painting below is a good example. You should also refer to this newsletter: A Lesson on Atmospheric Perspective.

Dan Scott, Maryvale, Foggy Morning, 2021
Dan Scott, Maryvale, Foggy Morning, 2021

Suitable For: Portraits and any subject with a distinct character.
Elements to Push: Depends on the nature of the character.
What to Think About: What exactly is the character of the subject? Is it the rigidity of a cityscape? The tiredness of an old man? The power of crashing waves? The stillness of a lake?

Rubens pushes the character in his Portrait of Son (this month's featured artwork). The soft highlights, weak shadows, and light-orange tones play into the child's youth and delicate features. For other subjects, this drawing style might be considered weak and timid, but it works perfectly here.

Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of Son, c.1619
Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of Son, c.1619

Compare Ruben's drawing to Anders Zorn's painting below of an old musician playing a violin. Notice how Zorn picks up the sharp contours and ridges on the man's weathered face.

Anders Zorn, Musician, 1914
Anders Zorn, Musician, 1914

In John Singer Sargent's Portrait of Madame X, he leans into the delicate and feminine qualities of the subject with fine rendering, soft highlights, light mid-tones, and intricate facial features.

John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Madame X, 1884
John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Madame X, 1884

There are usually two ways to achieve anything in painting. If you want to push one idea, you could do so by making it more prominent and compelling. Or you could restrain all the other ideas, allowing the main one to dominate. Or you could do both—push one idea and restrain the rest. This will have the most dramatic result.

Say, for example, you are painting a still life with fruit. There's a red apple that you want to stand out. You could push that idea by painting the apple with a rich, strong red. Or you could make the apple stand out by restraining all the surrounding colors. Or you could make the apple really stand out by doing both—a strong red apple surrounded by dull greens.

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read this report. I hope you found it useful.

Happy painting!

Dan Scott

drawpaintacademy.com

6 thoughts on “Pushing Your Ideas”

  1. Thank you for a fascinating conceptual comment on the approach to the various aspects of how to approach your art. I am familiar with the work several of the artists and artistic trends that you have mentioned.
    For myself I spend quite a proportion of my preparation time sorting out a detailed resume of my action plan that examines as many aspects as I can think of before even putting brush to canvas. As a retired structural design engineer I suppose the attention to detail that I developed as part of my everyday work is reflected in my approach to painting where I only feel comfortable having a detailed plan of action. Because of this I have difficulty in loosening up with regard to my paintings but since starting with your website I have been practising by trying to resort to “splashing the paint on” in a an abandoned manner inspired by your time lapse videos and find the experience relaxing. The only other time I experienced this feeling was when I was doing some course work on the impressionists and completed an A1 painting in about 1 hour.
    James

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  2. Thank you for the encouragement for pushing the idea.
    I am usually quite loose with the reality and more tended to relay on feeling as transmitted by color (in spite having been a structural engineer like James in my working time). I am presently working o a small painting of braking waves, containing only rocks and waves. This article and the example of Turner’s storm encourages me to try to go wilder.
    Of course all other examples are illuminating, but who can paint like Rembrandt or Van Gogh?

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  3. This article was really helpful. My approach to painting has been very locked into the “faithful” reproduction of what I see before me, with only a few modifications. The planning aspects you speak of has opened up a whole repertoire of characteristics I can use to find my artistic voice. I now understand better how to personalize my style instead of being a slave to realism.

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