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Octopus: Anatomy of Disaster

Anatomy of Disaster Color Study Over Thinking

WHAT is wrong with this?! Image note: WHAT is wrong with this?!

I was lucky enough to spend Sunday with my Mother watercolorist Lynn Powers. Mom has been painting and drawing for over 40 years. She’s worked as a professional graphic designer. She also teaches painting classes. To say she has a handle on art is an understatement, and her feedback always helps me see as an artist much better.

I brought what I hoped might be my PDX octopus painting. At some point during last week’s Disaster Tuesday ™ I royally messed up. Where? I somehow made all the values the same with the exception of the suckers and the underneath side of the tentacles. I also made everything sort of the same color. Those explained two of my problems, but when I thought a simple background lightning might fix everything and I was sorely mistaken, I still couldn’t explain it just as a value thing.

These places draw the eye because of their darker value. Image note: These places draw the eye because of their darker value.

Mom looked at it for awhile and after starting with the obligatory compliments (which I’m not down playing. It’s really important to pick out a thing or two you like about a piece before launching into criticism. Us artists have delicate souls, plus Mom understands that she’s basically dealing with my 14-year-old self and not my 34-year-old self.)

Here’s what she said:

1. Value.

What a mess. (My words not hers.) When I told her about attempting to lighten the background, she suggested that I instead try and darken the creature itself. She showed me the places that drew her eye, and they are all places where I had gone dark.

Look at all that value uniformity! Image note: Look at all that value uniformity!

2. Circles

Circles are the strongest shape. Circles draw us in. Humans are always looking for the iris and the pupil, which, well, are both circles. My piece is currently a barrage of tiny circles. The eye doesn’t a path to travel because there are those damn circles all over the place. This chaos is what my brain translated as off. No visual rest.

3. Complementary colors

This piece is basically full of analogous color, however the one place where I cross the color wheel most dramatically is those violet suckers and the light green tentacle undersides. In that that’s the only place I do it, it pulls the eye. Again, I do this all over the place in a way that pulls the eye all over the place. Again, no place to rest. This creates the dizzying effect that I thought was a value issue. Really it’s a warm/cool issue.

Next steps:

There’s a great point in a painting where after you screw something up, you mourn a bit and then after the mourning, you are liberated. I’ve already messed this painting up. It’s gone. So now I can really try some things. Here’s what I’m going to try based on Mom’s feedback:

1. Darken the octopus. A LOT. Maybe teal plus umber? Not sure. I’ll need to try some different colors. I’ll also need to be careful that if I do any washes, that I don’t grey everything out by doing whatever is teal’s complementary. Basically I need to stay away from red/orange.

2. Calm the suckers down. I’ll try and get them closer on the color wheel and maybe closer in value as well. I want them to create interest, not distraction.

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