Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Mullins Study

I've wanted to do a study of this Craig Mullins piece for a while, since... y'know, it's Mullins. 

I figured out a lot of what I tend to do wrong with my pieces right from the beginning, just by studying the big shapes. Something you see consistently in all good painting, and which I still need to make myself pay attention to in my own work, is very strong silhouettes. Everything here is divided into light and shadow, but their overall shape is maintained. The light being cast on the floor is used to carve out the silhouettes of the people in the crowd, so that most of them read even with very little detail. Attention is first paid to the large abstract design. Notice how the big shape of the crowd blends seamlessly into the large vertical structure.

The shadows in this are also airy, with very dark accents only used in a few select spots. This allows them to carry much more color and texture information. Trying to figure out how this is done is one of the reasons I wanted to do the study, because in my own work I tend to either crush the shadows till they're nearly black, or go in the other direction and wash them out. That might be because I take the value too close to the light- in the Mullins piece, the shadows get very light in areas, but the degree of value separation from the lights is always consistent. 

Flow of light is important in the whole piece. The dark shapes in this get significantly lighter as they go back into atmosphere, but counterchange is used to keep them clear. Few of the shapes- the pillar on the left, for instance- have the same value from top to bottom though. If the pillar were the same value the whole way, it would look pasted on to the picture. It's darker than the arch behind it at the bottom, but as the arch lightens towards the top, the pillar does as well, without ever getting light enough to break the shape. You can see flow of light, and color shift, on the floor as well. It's more orange towards the right, near the windows. It cools and lightens as it goes back in space.

This is as far as I took the study. I didn't get into any detail, and didn't pay as close attention to edges, but still did pick up on how important they are to the piece. None of the big shapes are changed much from the earlier stage, aside from a little refining, but edges and texture are used so masterfully within those shapes that you can always tell what the material is. Definitely makes me want to hit the material studies, something I tend to neglect. Knowing those properties allows you to suggest how something looks without having to go in and render the crap out of it.

Another thing that the study reminded me of was the need to paint with a harder brush. It's not a problem I run into with oils, but in Photoshop I still find it so challenging to make the exact marks I want that I veer towards softer-edged brushes and pen pressure turned out. It makes it easier to inch towards what I want, but the flipside is that it becomes much harder to make a bold, clear shape with a sharp edge easily. I need to return to the hard round every now and then.

Edit: Notice how, even with the piece I'm copying right there, and full awareness of having this problem, I've still managed to make a lot of this just a little too dark. Note to self...


  1. I really enjoyed reading through this. His work is pretty unique in the digital side of painting in my opinion, because he keeps such a traditional look cutting down on that "plastic" feel.

    I found it very informative to see how you broke down his painting and explained what your eye sees.

    I hope to see some more of this kind of work on your blog, as its rare.

    Great post.
    Thank you,

  2. Thanks, Andy, glad it was informative :). Mullins is definitely unique and his work's very lively, even going back to when he used a mouse for his digital work. Really stunning stuff.

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