Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Studying The Texture of Fur

I have recently been studying the texture of fur while working on a commissioned painting of two dogs.  This post describes how I approached representing the texture of fur.  My thought process for modeling fur was greatly enhanced by Scott Waddell's Still Life Demonstration video on representing fur and Doug Flynt's advice to focus on considering the texture of fur in terms of planes.

The Process I Used
I will describe the process that I used through an example of a small section of the painting.

 I began with a thin underpainting, thinned with turpentine, to get a quick sense of the large planes of form.  This underpainting was applied to the entire painting as well.  The underpainting also assisted in making sure the light color of the canvas did not show through while applying paint during the next step.

Large Planes
I then painted in a few distinct planes of form.  I painted one plane at a time and while placing in adjacent planes I focused on how much each plane was facing towards or away from the light source.  I started with the plane most facing the light and attempted to gain a feeling of each new plane bending away from the preceding plane.


 Then I tried my best to model a sculptural representation of the form.  This process was focused on bending the large planes into each other to create a more subtle curve of form.  I intended to model the form smoothly during this stage, as if the form was made of plastic, to make it easier to focus on the sculptural quality of the form.

Setting up the Fray

 I set up the fray from the fur on the neck into the shoulder.  Since the shoulder was darker than the neck I made a thin band of a color that was a bit darker than the neck and placed it next to the right edge of the neck.  I let the edges of this band fray into the darker color of the shoulder.  Since the paint was wet while I was working on this form it was easier to blend the edges of the band of fray into the shoulder.

Examining Fray

 This diagram shows a simplified version of the fray of fur.  The image on the left shows a microscopic image of distinct strands of fur fraying into the gray background.   As the fur frays into the background less of a solid area of fur is seen and the color behind it shows through.  While this distinction is very apparent upon a close view, the small image on the right shows how the interaction between the fray and the background influences the color and soft edge of the fray at a normal viewing distance.  Because the area of the fray shows both the fur color and background color seen together that area is a bit darker than the solid area of fur.  That darker band of fray is what I focused on representing when setting up the fray of fur in my painting.

Adding Fray

 Adding the more distinct areas of fray was focused on distinguishing the areas of fur form that were most opposed.  The more opposed the planes of fur are, the more distinct the edges of fur are perceived.  I focused on adding more distinct fur where I perceived that opposition most clearly and let the other areas remain closer together in value.  

I found it helpful to consider this opposition of planes of form in relation to the distinction of blades of grass.  In the image below, the top leaves of grass are most distinct where the grass below it is grouped together as it is turned more away from the light.
Grass image from Nicolas Raymond
Direction of Strokes

 While applying the strokes of fur I focused on making the direction of my marks in the direction that the fur was emitting from the form.  I found it helpful to use a more thick amount of paint and a worn brush tip at the edges of the fray to attempt to mimic fraying strands of fur.

Considering Gradations In Paint

 Study of an eye made under the guidance of Scott Waddell in a portrait workshop.
As form turns away from the light it becomes darker in value and less intense (less chromatic) in color.  Therefore in painting, specificity in gradations reveals the structure of form.

As the sphere turns away from the light it becomes darker in value and less intense (less chromatic) in color.  The hue (property of color pertaining to the spectrum of colors, whether blue, yellow or in this example, orange) remains the same for the entire sphere.   The hue of a form can be determined by a form's local color.  

Local color is the inherent color of a form under the specific lighting scenario. A form's local color can be identified at the point where a form is most facing the light.  As the form turns away from the light, less of the local color is diffusely reflected and the form becomes darker in value and less intense (less chromatic) in color.  The reason for this phenomenon is based on a form's orientation to the light source(s).

Light's Interaction With Form

Many light rays are projected from the light source in every direction.  The image on the left only shows a small number of the millions of light rays emitted from a light source.  (Please note, these diagrams are simplified for illustration purposes only).

Each of these light rays is made up photons.  A photon is essentially a microscopic piece of light.  Photon's are made up of wavelengths from the color spectrum (consisting of colors ranging from red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet).  The quantity of the wavelengths from photons projected from an object causes the combined wavelengths of photons to appear as a specific color.  Photons are made up of the same color properties of the light source and their combined make up is very influenced by any form that it interacts with.
(Doug Flynt has published a very informative article on the reflection of colored light on his blog here).  

(Please note, this diagram is simplified for illustration purposes only).  A single photon alone does not reflect the color of an object.  The combination of the wavelengths from photons reflected from an object portrays an object's color properties.   Technically speaking,  the arrow in the diagram can be thought of as a combination of light rays (paths of photons) whose wavelengths combined to portray the orange color shown.
The photon originally was composed of wavelengths that when combined with the wavelengths of the millions of other photons emitted from the light source appeared as white as the light source.  Once projected from the light source, the photon traveled in its light ray to meet the orange sphere.  Due to diffuse reflection, once the group of photons emitted from the light source interact with the sphere some of the photons and their wavelengths are absorbed by the sphere while some photons and their wavelengths are reflected.  This interaction causes the wavelengths of the reflected photons to combine and reflect the color properties of the sphere.  (Scott Waddell has also created a very informative video on the science of light that can be viewed here).  Photons continue along their path to enter a viewer's eye and make up the images that one sees.

There are millions of light rays that strike a form.  The diagram above shows, in a constricted sense, the distribution of light if six light rays were projected from a light source.  The more a plane is facing the light the more light rays can reflect off its surface area.  
     In this example, because plane A is most facing the light it receives 3 light rays, plane B receives 2 light rays and plane C only receives 1 light ray to reflect.  Therefore the less light that is received by a plane the less light rays can reflect the color of planes.  And as the planes turn away from the light they become darker in value and less intense in color.

The interaction between light and form creates specific gradations that are essential to conveying the structure of form.  Although much of this post discussed color, drawing has a critical role in representing these gradations.  No matter the color of a form, representing the structure of form is entirely dependent upon the drawing of the shapes of form and its gradations in value.

-Fate of Photons. (n.d.). Retrieved December 27, 2014, from http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/phy05/phy05213.htm

The type of analysis into gradations that I have presented in this post may seem to be over complicated.  So I would like to include a statement describing why these types of investigations into the appearance of form have been important to my artistic development.

It is my understanding that the representational art that I am pursuing to make has much less to do with any "skill" as it has to do with awareness and acceptance of what one sees (both optically and conceptually). 
     For example, once one accepts that the images they see are composed of shapes one can draw the subtleties that one is aware of in those shapes.  Once one accepts that form is turning more or less towards the light one can represent the turning of form that one is aware of.  This theory even extends to material handling.  Once one accepts that the gradations in their piece represent sculptural volume and that their tool of a pencil or brush is a chisel, one becomes aware of how to apply their chisel to affect their sculptural piece in an intended way.  
     In my opinion, the most important ability that I am striving to develop in my representational pursuits is the discipline to become and remain aware of what is occurring without interruption in my thought process.  The most beneficial aid that I have found in this pursuit is acquiring more information on the science of light on form, because nature holds no secrets.  By enhancing my understanding of what is percieved I may heighten my awareness to more fully represent what is seen.

Simplifying Forms

 While working on a cast painting study I was struggling with understanding how the structure of form was bending.  By simplifying each form into small strip like sections and focusing on how the axis of each strip was turned I was able to better understand the form's structure.

Use of Strips

Even understanding the subtle turning of form on a sphere can be difficult.  But by simplifying the sphere into large planes that define its structure one can gain a less complicated realization of a form's structure.

The section on the sphere outlined in red represents a strip of form.

By further simplifying the planes on the sphere into strips, or slices, of form one can approach modeling with a simpler and clearer sense of a form's structure.

I have found painting in strip like sections of form to be very helpful in gaining a better understanding of a form's structure.  I began modeling the sphere by simplifying a strip into a few distinct planes, as shown in the image on the left.  Then I simply turned each of those planes into into each other to gain a more subtle curve of form.  I would continue painting small strips of form next to each other, using the same process, until the entire form was painted in.

Simplifying Complex Forms

The study of part of an ear cast above was painted in strips of form.

While the sphere was a more simple form to investigate, considering the position of each strip can be very helpful for better understanding more complex forms.

Each strip of form has a specific orientation to the light.  To more easily comprehend each strips orientation to the light one can imagine an axis running through each strip.  By imagining each strip being pulled on its axis, as if the axis was a lever or handle, one can more easily approach investigating the curving of complex forms.

A step by step diagram, left to right, of strips being turned by their axis to make up a complex form.  Since I was working in strips while painting the ear study above this is the thought process that I was using to simplify that complex form.