Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Squinting at Sunflowers

This simple still life was painted in a 2 1/2 hour session at a recent workshop.  The goal was to establish the basic shapes of the subject with minimal brushwork and detail, using value and edges instead.  The subject matter did not have a lot of color other than the yellow and muted green of the sunflowers.  Squinting was the order of the day. 

Squinting - now there's an interesting painter's tool.  After years and years or reading and hearing about squinting, I'm finally beginning to get it.  In the still life below, squinting helped me see the three basic shapes in the subject: the can, the group of foreground flowers that swoop up and to the left and the arc of background flowers.  Not only were the shapes apparent by squinting, but I could see quickly where they belonged...foreground, middle ground or background.  And I was able to paint them that way.  During a recent plein air session, which took place after I painted this still life, I deliberately and consistently squinted at the subject.  The result was one of my more successful plein air sketches. 

Squinting simplifies the subject, and shows you what's important...what  detail is important and what isn't.  In plein air situations in particular, squinting allows you to see light and dark patterns quickly.  And when you can see shapes and light and dark in simplified form, you can see the bones of your subject and the 'plan' for your painting.  And when you see that, you can see ways to alter or arrange them if needed to suit your composition.  For instance, the grouping of the flowers in this still life was not actually what you see in the painting.  The arrangement in the painting is the result of conscious decisions on what to leave out and what to add or just plain make up in order to build a design.  You are freed from the subject in front of you   

I can't wait for the next opportunity to "squint"! 

Sunflowers  Oil on canvas panel  16 x 12

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art


  1. I am always trying to remember to squint,it is soooo soooo helpfull!!!! So it is squint, back up and look and use a mirror to look at the painting from a different view.... Need a big runway with no obstacles when getting into reverse, nothing like tripping over your own stuff, and the mirror I use in my studio,it really does give a different perspective... Vickie

  2. PS, like the painting!!! I did some sunflowers not too long ago, will send you the picture!

  3. Thank you Vickie!
    When I back up in the studio, I inevitably fall over either the stool, which I pushed back instead of moving properly, or the dog who always insists on parking right there!
    Looking forward to seeing your sunflowers, Vickie.