Sunday, September 19, 2010

Let's take a look at this!

I haven't done this in awhile and I hope you've missed these exercises as much as I have.
Today we are taking a look at this:
The Berry Pickers by Winslow Homer
There is a very soft palette of colours used for this painting. As is proper strong sunlight has washed out the colours depicted. We can also see it is a windy day by the shore by the hat ribbon. It doesn't seem to be a hot day though as there are no signs of haze or humidity (we see sharp edges of distant colour). And the shadow cast by the girl on the rock is sharp and strong, I bet it is close to lunch.

The berries being picked are a mystery but I think we can safely say they are ground growing berries by the posture of the pickers.
Looking at the foreground you'll see lots of details, both by line and colour. In the bare shrub and the girl in the ochre dress, you can see lots of variation in value.
The next plane away from us is the standing girl. If any of the design class students are reading this you will see immediately this is an L shaped composition. This girl who appears to be supervising gives a strong vertical thrust to the painting. You'll notice her colouring on her face is properly shadowed and muted as it should be, under the brim of her hat. Look also at the coloration from one hand to the other, not the same at all and provides even more clues to the strength and direction of the sun.
The rock she is leaning on is depicted close and from a distance. You can see three serious value changes along the way and are not presented in graduation form making them appear more dramatic and focusing our eye where things of importance are being revealed.

On the next plane are the two bigger boys and the girl on the other side of the rock. Light bouncing off the rock has made that girl a bathed in sunshine model but by making her features indistinct we are informed of her distance from the focal points. I enjoy looking at the blocks of colour used to create the straw hats both under and on top. There is not much " explained" here for us. In other words Homer didn't see fit as we sometimes do to help his viewer along by being literal, maybe we would try to hook with straw of make every line of stitching or use binder twine to hook it. Instead he used what he saw ( shapes and colours ) to give it form and function and to help our eye "guess " what is there. I believe this is the way we like to see. It is how our brains automatically default. If we try to be literal we take away from that natural understanding and can create confusion.

There are two loners over on the right hand side. They are indistinct patches of light and dark, just barely formed indicating their removal from the main picture. They are probably over there eating all the berries they pick, that's why they're being so secretive.

One thing I adore about painters and their paintings, the way they carry colour families around their paintings. The blue of the water shows up in the rocks, the grass, the twigs, the shirts and the ribbons of the girl behind the rock.
The sky... so subtle, barely any colour there because we are viewing the sky so close to the horizon. We could take a lesson there from Homer.
Look at the berry pails now, there it is again. Though the same value, look at the foreground portion of the rock and the sky. The brightness of the rock , the dullness of the sky makes them do their jobs, receding for the sky and advancing for the rock.

There is a bit of a story we are being told here, but the details are being left to us. I admire that skill.
Have a good look at something today!
Being a careful observer will take your work from ho hum to incredible.
Attention to details, making them congruent - that's a winning combination


  1. thanks Wanda,
    a timely lesson... i am finishing up a portrait of my friend Cynthia in her Dahlia garden... and struggling with her face... dull under her hat. you've given me impetus to re-hook it proper.

  2. Wanda, thanks for the breakdown of different ways to look at this fine picture. It really helps from a design perspective. Just today I was out walking taking pictures of rocks, as I want to hook some soon, looking at the shapes and lines that give our mind the message "rock". One thing I find hard in hooking is making the defining line that says rock ends here, dirt starts. In real life, so much of this interpretation comes from our mind supplying known ideas that it can be hard to "see" this. I must say it seems like to me it comes mostly from value change in what I saw today, and it isn't always that dramatic a change. Directional slants of surfaces also helps. I like trying to break down what I see into design aspects, and then bring it back to what my mind contains in 60 years of knowing about rock.