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