Nicholas Baxter

Realism Techniques 6

After a few experimental forays I returned to the studio recently to continue work on The Apostasy series, which has been my major ongoing project for the past year.  Due to time and size constraints, only the first 10 paintings in this series debuted at Last Rites Gallery for my solo show in May and June.

I’m still very inspired by the themes and subject matter of these images, so it was great fun diving back in–I felt like I picked up right where I’d left off before my show.  The most recent painting I completed was a perfect example of the realism artist’s need to deviate from a strict reproduction of the reference material in order to maximize the intended symbolism or desired aesthetic qualities.

Using Reference Effectively

In this case, my reference image, which in itself had been highly manipulated from its original photographic state with Photoshop, featured a metallic instrument rather starkly silhouetted against a harshly lit background of tender skin.  I was faced with the artist’s “executive decision”: to ride the simple, graphic power of the flat black silhouette, or to increase the nuances of its surface texture in order to emphasize the effects of the hard light behind it.  Either choice works just as effectively within the overall composition, but caters ever so slightly to a different level of meaning within the piece. Power of steel instrument to manipulate the fleshly realm, or power of the light of truth usurping man and all his manipulative tools?

I chose the latter. So, this involved the invention of some extreme lighting effects on the surface of the instrument. These I hoped would more fully express the metallic nuances and form of this foreground object, as hard backlighting bends around it, creating a bit of a warm flare.  In general, I thought this increased action would add some more life to the piece. You can compare these deviation attempts in the provided sequence of photos, which starts with the specific area of my reference image, and ends with the corresponding section of the completed painting. (Image of the full painting coming soon…)

Intentionally painting the instrument too light at first allowed more control in creating subtle variations of lighting on the object.

Ultimately this entire issue is of minimal impact to the outcome of the entire image, and for those unfamiliar with the quirks of extreme realist painting, may seem like an exhaustingly trivial matter.  However, I enjoy it as yet another example of the myriad opportunities for creativity in a genre often mistakenly deemed uncreative.  Often, the creativity in ultra realistic styles simply operates at an unexpected and far subtler level than most viewers are trained to recognize.

Far from a mere copy-machine, the experienced realism painter works often with fully premeditated intention on every minuscule aspect of the painting, making a countless number of creative decisions and unique departures rarely noticed by the undiscerning eye. In fact, if the artist’ technical skill is strong enough, there’s no way that these aspects can be noticed. Like a magician, full acceptance by the audience signifies completion of the ultimate illusion.