Art & Design Magazine

Altered Perception

By Ingrid Christensen

Altered perception

Black mirror

One of my students in the Steveston, BC workshop gave me a very cool gadget.  It's low tech - just my speed.  It's another tool in my basket, allowing me to see my subjects and my paintings from new perspectives.  There's nothing like a new viewpoint to show you where your painting needs work.
The black mirror is a piece of glass coated on the reverse with black acrylic paint and, though it looks goofy when you use it (you look up to see an upside down version of the subject reflected in the glass), it is incredible at separating values in a subject so that you can understand the form of what you're seeing.  We used it in the workshop to clearly discern the value changes
along our model's arm, from low light up to high light on the top of her shoulders.
 Since then, I've discovered it's amazing at showing the value changes across subtle shifts such as on a white shirt worn under average light.  While it's easy to see light and shadow in bright sunlight, it's much harder under regular indoor fluorescent panels like the ones in the studio where I teach.   I'm enjoying examining the world through this new tool.  Thank you, Coral!

Altered perception

red acrylic

The second image shows a piece of red acrylic that I've found helpful over the years.  It's a value finder and, while I buy mine in a local art supply store, I've been told they're stocked at quilting stores, as well.  It works by turning the subject into a monochromatic scene, thereby showing its values without the distraction of local color.  Its only drawback is that it shows red objects as white.  There is a light wave explanation for this.  Don't ask me to explain it.

Altered perception

hand mirror

The final tool: a compact mirror, is always in my painting kit.  By turning my back on the painting and looking at it in the mirror, I can get a fresh perspective on the painting.  Any drawing errors leap to view though they were well hidden when I was facing the work.  I have a large, wall mounted mirror behind me in the studio for the same purpose.  My rhythm of working is to make a mark or two and then swing around and look at the painting in the mirror to gauge the effect.  It helps me to avoid overworking because I can see when the painting has enough information to make sense from a distance: the mirror image is, essentially, doubling the viewing distance as well as reversing the image. 
If you've got any tools to alter your view of your painting or subject, I'd love to hear about them.  A painter can never have enough ways to freshen her eyes.
Happy painting!

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