I get asked quite a lot about the emphasis I put on accuracy.
Most often, people are curious about whether I think you should always strive for accuracy, or whether it’s something you just do for a while, when you’re learning, and then relax at some point.
The questions usually take one of two forms – people asking me why I do sight size block in practice, when I can already (kind of) draw, and people asking me why I put so much emphasis on colour matching accuracy in my online colour courses.
My feeling is that learning accuracy is excellent training. The best there is, actually. Not least because you learn far more than just being able to hit a colour or accurately replicate a shape.
Those are exceptionally valuable skills, and you’ll struggle more to paint realism well without them, in my opinion.
But training accuracy also teach you focus, stamina, concentration. Learning to replicate the colours you perceive as closely as you can teaches you how light works. You learn to look further, and deeper. You learn the limitations of paint, and how to get round them…so much more than just how to hit a colour.
I think I’ve learned a fair bit from accuracy training, but I still do it. I still try do draw accurately, and often, I still try to match colours very accurately.
In fact, when I’m actually painting, I aim for accuracy a lot – but not necessarily in the whole painting.
So, I thought it might be interesting to show you two different paintings of the same subject, one more “accurate”, or faithful to the subject, and the other more interpretative.
This painting is fairly faithful to the subject. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of it next to the subject, but I was trying, as far as I could, to get the values, the drawing, the colours close to what I saw.
Close up like this, you can see all the brush strokes, but from a distance it hangs together more:
Parts of the painting are still interpretative, though. Mostly the edge handing. I tend to manipulate edges a fair bit, because we don’t see the whole of our visual field with the same degree of focus.
But I matched the colours of the lemons as closely as I could, the colours of the background, and the values of the cloth as closely as I could.
This one could be described as a little more interpretative, perhaps. In this painting, I started with a very high chroma red underpainting. Here it is at the start:
I did that intending to let little patches show through in the finished piece, to give the painting life and also unity. As well, the colours on the subject were quite low chroma and limited in hue – everything was yellow or grey. I wanted to add some variety by letting this underpainting poke through.
Also, you can see the viewfinder with the grid that I often use at the start of paintings, to make it easier to get things in the right place. It gives me some other useful things too, but I’ll perhaps go into those in another post.
When it came to painting the cloth, I tried to get close to the values (I didn’t quite get the lights). When it came to the lemons, I was extremely careful to get the hues as accurately as I could.
I think the painting works *because* the colour of the lemons and the overall values are fairly accurate. In parts of the painting, I’ve gone right across the edges of the forms. But the form still works despite being almost destroyed, and that interplay between dissolving form and realism fascinates me.
I’m not sure that just one without the other, either one, would have worked as well.
The point I want to make is that although these two paintings may appear to be quite different in approach, they both rely on the same basic skills to work – drawing and colour. On accuracy.
I don’t see them as essentially different, just different points on a continuum. Without all the practice with drawing and colour accuracy I’ve done, I wouldn’t have been able to do either of them.
So, when you think about training accuracy, I’d like to encourage you not to see it as a chore, as something you have to do for now so you can drop it later. For realist artists, I think accuracy training is at the heart of what we do, even – perhaps especially – when we depart from it.
What do you think?
Best wishes and thanks for reading,
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