Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sun and Shadow - SOLD

4" x 4", oil on panel
You can view this painting here.

There's a story behind this one

The NC Museum of Art has a fabulous exhibition right now, called 0 to 60: The Experience of Time through Contemporary Art.  Related to the exhibition, there's a contest for best Vine video showcasing the idea of time. I decided to do a time-lapse painting showing the sun and the shadows moving—because for a plein air artist, that's what time is all about: getting the scene captured before the sun moves.

The first thing to know is that a Vine video only lasts SIX SECONDS. The next thing to know is that you can't save, edit, or revise a Vine. You just do it, all at once, and then you upload it to Twitter and/or Facebook. If you don't upload, it just... vanishes. So it's an extremely ephemeral (and frustrating) process. It's amazing what people have done with 6 seconds.

You can see my Sun and Shadow video on my public Facebook page:

Because it's so easy to make a mistake during the "filming," I planned both the process and the painting in great detail. I didn't want to leave anything to chance. And of course I did it in my studio, not outdoors.

I chose a cropped view of a scene I've painted before, and simplified it. I decided on four changes of time. Here I've drawn the scene four times, and I'm beginning to work out the values by assigning a number (1-5) to the object or plane. For the original scene, with the sun overhead, I'm following the traditional landscape formula of sky=lightest value (1); ground=2; slanted verticals=3; verticals=4; shadows=5. Those values change places as the sun changes position.

I have pre-mixed acrylic paint, in five stages from white to black, that I use frequently to work out a value range in thumbnail sketches before I paint. I'm using 3x3 cardstock for the sketches.

I also made a color storyboard, to nail down color temperatures. My stock of acrylic paints is quite small, so I worked with colored pencils. Even with those I don't have much range, so the color sketches are just approximations.

 I worked out how many frames I can spend on each time scene. Through experimenting, I determined that a Vine video is approximately 120 frames—each time you tap the screen, it takes a shot. I decided to start with the first time scene already in progress, so it has only 20 frames allotted, and the others 33-36, depending. 

Here's the final scene, at 4"x4". I decided to have two prepared in case of mistakes. I didn't make any mistakes :-) so the painting offered for sale here is the back-up painting, completed through the first time scene.
Here's what the starting point looks like. My original script had me painting the sky last in each of the time scenes, because I usually paint in that order, but it occurred to me that the change of sky color/value is what really signals that time is passing, so I re-ordered the sky to be the first thing painted in each scene.

This is my registration board, on a work table, so that I can get the painting back into the same spot each time to take a shot. The big piece of cardboard is pinned to the table, and there are a couple of guides glued onto it. The painting is taped onto a piece of cardboard, which slides up flush against the guides. (somehow I've gotten this shot into a mirror image, but you get the idea).

Here's the phone rig my husband built for me. Similar to the registration board, it's designed to make sure the phone stays in exactly the right place. There's a hole drilled in the wood where the lens is.

Leaving nothing to chance, I premixed all the paints according to "object" and time scene (except for the sunset colors; those I will improvise). I learned this method from Richard Robinson. The advantage is that you can compare your colors and values right next to each other on the palette, where it's most accurate, and work out all the mistakes before you start painting. Usually I don't have the patience for this (the mixing took me about an hour), but because I only had so many frames per scene, I couldn't afford to go back and make color corrections on the canvas.

I don't really have progress shots of doing the painting, because there's not much to see. I put on a few strokes of paint at the easel, carry the board to the rig, take a shot, got back to the easel. Here it is about three-quarters done, in the sunset scene. I've got lamps at 45° angles on each side to light the painting evenly.

These are screen captures from the video. For most of the shots I positioned my paintbrush in the frame, to give the sense that it was being painted "live." The video ends with almost-black night (not shown here)

This is the first time I've done an animation or time-lapse, but I had a pretty good idea of the principles. I knew to make a storyboard; I knew to build a registration rig. Where I didn't quite "get it" is how short six seconds is! This painting was far too ambitious for that amount of time. If I did it again, I'd have only three changes of time. Also, I'd paint more of the scene "off camera," and then take several frames of that scene, instead of one-stroke-one-frame—the brain needs time to catch up with what's going on, and the changes were too small and too frequent.

I had some problem with double-tapping the screen, so I used up more frames than planned in the first half of the video. I had to make up for lost frames by abbreviating the animation in the last quarter or so. That made the ending a little choppy and confusing, and muddled the nice details like the lights in the house coming on and stars appearing a few at a time. All in all, though, it was a pretty good result for my first video!


  1. I love your process here! A lot of work involved. You are good...I usually only do a notan study and premix my paints.I like Richard Robinson's work, I would love to go to one of his workshops one day!!

    1. Me too, as long as we can do one in New Zealand!


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