A PAinter's Perspective

From Lori Putnam's Blog

October 12, 2015


I experience the world through the eyes of a painter. I spend so much time thinking about color, light effects, and composition that I can’t help but see painting ideas wherever I go. As I thought about what to write for this blog post, I wanted to share my perspective as a painter.

The meat and potatoes of painting is simple: translating a 3-dimensional world onto a flat surface, but it’s a constant struggle to find the best way to capture the complexities of our environment. There are several fundamental ideas considered by painters; light, color, composition, atmosphere, edges and shapes, among others. Color can describe the feeling of a scene through harmonious relationships, and can also vibrate and sing to create the effect of strong sunlight. Edges have varying qualities, from soft and blurry, to a hard and defined line. We need to think about composition, and how to organize a canvas into a strong image. These fundamentals are important to each new painting.

Color interactions are what grab my attention most often in daily life. I love trying to puzzle out how a color combination is working to describe light or atmosphere. If I see a white object I notice if it’s a cool white or a warm white, and look for how it relates to the other light colors around it. If I see a shadow, or a dark color, I almost never think it’s truly black. I’m looking at what other colors are being reflected to give character to the dark color. Is it a blue-black, or does it lean towards the red/brown side? How does that color relate to the other colors around it? The eye picks up subtle shifts in color, and I want my paintings to include those subtleties. I’m constantly on the lookout for color surprises in nature.

Maybe the most important thing I can do as a painter is to stop naming things I have to paint. Instead of seeing individual objects, I only want to see pieces of color. My favorite paintings don’t outline the edges of each object. Edges are described through color interaction. A rock may be solid, but our eye takes it in as shape and color. The sky may be vast and deep, but its bright blue sings against the white of the clouds, or the warmth of the ground. An apple may be red, but when I look closely I see blue reflected from a window, and yellow reflected from a lightbulb. I want to second guess all of my assumptions about how the scene should look, and make sure I’m painting colors as I see them.

Our brain organizes color information as it comes in. It tells us that a mountain is far away, or that the sun is shining, or where land ends and ocean begins. The brain makes sense of visual information, but as a painter, I need to see the colors as they come directly into the eye. I want to step in before the brain has made sense of it all. I want to paint colors as they appear, without naming the objects. My paintings should be less about what I’m seeing and more about how I’m seeing.

I want to paint as I see; colors bumping into each other with varying sizes and edges. I try to put those colors in the right place, so the drawing will feel accurate. I also think about different qualities of brushstroke and paint quality, so the surface of the painting will be interesting. But my main job throughout the process of painting is to recreate the subject with smears of paint.

Painting is a way of exploring and developing my understanding of my visual world. The most interesting results come from painting as I see, when I trust my own eyes and instincts. Painting is challenging, but should also be fun, and should embrace the variety and depth of color of our visual experience.

As much as I want to improve as a painter, I also want to be more educated visually. I spend my life studying paintings, photos… anything visual that can help problem solve and give me ideas. Sometimes I get a color idea from looking at my 2 year old’s Legos, or a pile of her princess costumes. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and I want to be open to it.