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Painting Upside Down

31 Mar 2014

A few years ago I remember seeing some paintings by C.W. Mundy that he had created upside-down. I liked the paintings a lot, especially the looseness, with the large shapes of color and values. I hadn't thought about those paintings until recently.

I was going to paint from a photo reference one morning and turned the pic upside-down in my photo editing program to see what the pattern of shapes looked like. I decided to leave it that way as I laid out the composition. I made myself leave it on its head until I felt I was close to the finish. When I flipped it over I was surprised how much I liked it. I then added some touch up adjustments and called it finished.

Within the Rocks and Woods 14 x 11, oil painting by Bill Guffey.
Grid of Within the Rocks and Woods
14 x 11, oil painting by Bill Guffey.

Since this first experiment I have been doing more of the upside-down paintings. I have, in fact, incorporated the exercise into beginning painting classes I teach. The students love it. And I love what it teaches them.

I believe doing a painting like this teaches an artist to "see." And that's the goal for me. To see more like an artist every day. To see the pattern, shape, color, value, and how all those things come together to form the whole. To not see the symbols, such as letting your mind tell you what a house is supposed to look like, or a rock, a car, flowers, etc. I like to think that doing these exercises helps kick start the creative side of my brain into seeing only the facts. I'm not totally stupid, and I know when looking at the reference that the green stuff at the top are trees or clumps grass, and the light value at the bottom of the reference is sky. But focusing on the essential elements it all seems to come together.

Further along with Within the Rocks and Woods 14 x 11, oil painting by Bill Guffey.
Further along with Within the Rocks and Woods
14 x 11, oil painting by Bill Guffey.

I painted an 18 x 24 of a New York City scene recently using this technique. And I took it a step further by gridding the reference in my editing program and gridding my canvas. I broke the picture down into a 4 x 4 grid, or 16 separate rectangles. Then I went box by box, enlarging the reference on my monitor to show just the one rectangle at a time. That really brought home the notion of looking only at the shapes and their relationship to each other.

Within the Rocks and Woods 14 x 11, oil painting by Bill Guffey
Within the Rocks and Woods
14 x 11, oil painting by Bill Guffey.

I would encourage everyone to give it a try and see if it helps you focus on what you are seeing. I find it has already helped in my plein air painting. Making it easier for me to switch brain gears and see the essential shapes to compose the painting, and not letting all the detail cloud my mind and overwhelm me.

--Bill

 


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Comments

AndyMay wrote
on 9 Apr 2014 1:14 PM

This upside down technique is also effective when painting a portrait from a photo.