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Breaking down a composition to understand emphasis with color

It is useful to understand when making a digital painting the core elements that make up an entire scene before adding details. I strongly believe that if the foundations of a painting are not set properly, the end result, even when a lot of detail is added in, can look somehow off-putting. It is useful to understand from the get-go how color for instance, when building the first elements of a painting can direct the eye and put a certain emphasis on certain elements of the scene. Making a color sketch during the early stages of the painting allows the artist to visualize what the color palette of the scene will look like, and which elements should stand out in relation to others. Making studies directly from photographs is useful in being able to break down lighting aspects in the mind to become more effective in creating certain lighting effects.

The picture that I am showing below is a very recognizable scenery of the interior structure of a church. It is a picture that I took somewhere in Mexico (can’t remember exactly where), but the point is that it is a good example to recreate digitally because it directs the eye towards a specific point in space towards the center. The arches that surround the sides of the composition help to create the impression of the size of the space, without taking much attention from the altar.

Interior view of Church towards the altar with low ambient lighting

The figure of the wooden crucifix is interesting because it has a somewhat stark contrast with the background that differentiates it spatially, having a darker tonality. The shadow that is cast towards the left of the illuminated figure indicates visually the space that exists between the figure and the background wall. The ambient lighting is low but there are certain focal points that can be seen which create the effect of a desired emphasis of looking towards the altar area. These light sources are coming from four sides, two visible with their light beams mounted on the columns and two others that are illuminating the back wall from the ground up. This is evident because their light intensity is the highest closest to the ground behind the altar.

The altar in contrast has darker tonalities when compared with the surrounding immediate space, having a lighter value and more of a yellowish hue.

The result of this one hour exercise is a painting that breaks down the image into its bare color and compositional essentials. It is not a very aesthetic painting, having imprecise brushstrokes, but the intent is really to build a visual library that is available to the artist when there is no specific visual information that is required to solve something in particular of a painting. Even though it is important to paint with visual reference to get better results and effects, sometimes there will be gaps that have to be filled with what the artist has seen before and knows how to paint from memory. It is a useful tip I think to paint using both strategies in mind: painting from reference and painting from memory, simultaneously.

1 hour study from the photograph

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