Naomi Tiry Salgado

Naomi Tiry Salgado grew up in Chippewa Falls, WI and now lives in the Twin Cities with her husband and nearly adult children. She has been actively painting since 2007 and dedicated to full-time painting since 2015. She taught elementary art for several years, was a president of the Outdoor Painters of Minnesota and regularly competes in regional Plein Air Painting events.

Skin and Bones: what color and value provide a painting

In this short article, I want talk about the skin and bones of a painting.  One time, in the middle of a conversation about a painting, I once said, “This painting has good bones.”  The person with whom I was chatting asked what I meant by that.  I answered, but it was a muddled answer.  If I could rewind time and re-answer, I’d say, “It means that the painting has a solid value structure.”   The value (lightness and darkness) of a painting provides the skeletal structure of the painting.  And if “Value” is the bones, “Color” is the skin.

What does your body need more: skin or bones?  Of course, we need both!  But humor me for a second: imagine if you just had skin but no bones.  You would be a gushy blob with accurate skin, hair and eye colors, but you wouldn’t be recognizable.  Now imagine if you had bones, but no flesh.  You’d be your exact height and shape – legs, arms, head, trunk — but not very huggable, nor very recognizable! 

 

Some Visual Examples:

I painted this portrait of my daughter during the early days of Covid lockdown.  I don’t paint many portraits.  So, this painting is doubly special to me, because not only is it one of my rare portraits, it’s the only one so far that I’ve signed, “Mom”.  (I’m still trying to convince my son to sit for me.)  

“Megan”. 18″ x 24″. oil on canvas. NFS.

I was wondering which is more important – Value or Color? So I did a couple of studies based on this painting to experiment.  Sometimes the best way to see the importance of something is to remove that thing and see what happens. 

I started by tracing my daughter’s face from the original painting onto two canvases so that the proportions/drawing in each study would be identical. The first study has accurate value, even though the color (hue and saturation) is off-kilter:

“Study of Megan–value on, hue off”. oil on canvas. NFS.  (Note: this is a hastily painted study – for experimental purposes only. Interpretation: I know it’s ugly.)

In the above examples, when we removed the accuracy of color but left the value in place; the color got wild, but the structure of the face remained intact.  Therefore, we can assume that the value is what gives a painting structure—just like bones give our bodies structure.

Now let’s experiment see what the second study looks like.  Remember, it’s the opposite of the first study, it has (somewhat) accurate color, but not at all accurate value:

“Study of Megan–hue on, value off”. oil on canvas. NFS.  (Note: this is a hastily painted study – for experimental purposes only. Interpretation: I know it’s very, very ugly.)

This study was quite difficult for me to paint (and also share with you) because I know better than to flatten values.  It made me twitchy.  I still needed to use values in some places just to delineate shapes (nostrils, top vs. bottom lip, under chin, etc.)  However, I tried to screw up the values so that the experiment would still work.  

In this study, when I removed accurate value but left the color intact, the image flattened out, and it became a symbol of a face, rather than an attempt at representation.

To be able to see the values even more clearly, here are the same two studies side-by-side in black and white:.

Once turned black and white, the study on the left might actually look better with the super-saturated colors gone. It still has depth (and could have had more, if I had taken the time to fully develop it).  The study on the right looks just as bad as the color version, if not worse.  It lacks the underlying value structure…the bones upon which the entire painting should be built. 

 

There is a phrase that I hear my artist friends use often: “Color gets all the credit, while value does all the work.”   It sounds like a quote from a famous artist. However it is said so often and without a quotation, that I have no idea who said it first.  However, it is very true.  In fact, I think the sentiment could be pushed even further by saying, “Color demands all our attention, so we can’t see that value is doing all the work.”  

 

Three Methods for Seeing Value (by limiting color)

If you want an accurate picture of what value is doing, you need to find a way to temporarily hide the color from your eyes.  I do this all of the time when I’m painting by using one or more of these three methods:

  1. Modified Squinting –  Try this: Gently lower your top lid about 97% so that you’re looking through your lashes. You should see general areas of light and dark shapes with subtle colors – no sharp detail, no intense colors.  The nice thing about this method is that you don’t need any special tools to carry around, we always have our eyes with us (hopefully!)  But until you get used to it, it can be hard to trust the ethereal picture you vaguely see.  (Note: this is not squinting where you’re squeezing both your top and bottom eyelid.  Real squinting actually changes the shape of your eyeball, and may help you see clearer, if you need glasses.  We’re trying to see worse so that the color gets reduced.)
  2. Value Finder –  This is looking through a small piece of colored glass or plexiglass.  The one I use is red, however, I’ve seen green versions as well.  The main purpose of doing this is to turn everything the same color so that we no longer pay attention to the many colors, but the values instead.  I keep a small value finder in my main plein air easel and another near my studio easel.  They’re a quick, cheap, low-tech way of being able to see and compare values.
  3. Phone Camera – Use your phone to take a photo of whatever you want to see black and white by editing the photo.  Here’s how with an iPhone: take a photo with your phone. Find your photo in the gallery and open it.  Click the blue word “Edit” in the upper right corner. Once in edit mode, go to the color options. (This is the icon of three interlocking circles.) Then scroll until you see “Mono” or “Silvertone” or “Noir”.  These all are basically a black-and-white version of your image. 

 

Just like our bodies need both skin and bones to function well and look like ourselves, paintings need both value and color for structure and distinctiveness.  Color is very exciting and can attract all of the attention.  But when enjoying paintings, be sure to take a moment to look past the color.  Use one of the above techniques to help you have “X-ray” vision and see the bones–i.e. the value structure–underneath. 

To find out what I’ve been up to lately, click here to read my Goodbye-to-Fall 2022 Newsletter.

Goodbye-To-Fall 2022 Newsletter

From My Heart

Happy Thanksgiving, my dear friends!  I hope you had a wonderful fall. Here’s my Fall 2022 Newsletter:

My “baby” girl (who’s portrait is featured in this season’s blog article) just left for college.  My son went off to college last year, and now my daughter this year.  To be honest, I was a hot mess with all these emotions at the beginning of fall.  I’m thankful that I have my art to focus on which is why I loaded my schedule with back-to-back plein air events.  (I posted a summary of each event in the section below.)  It was a truly exhausting couple of months, but was just the thing I needed to adjust into empty-nesting.  Now I’m so glad to be back home that I don’t even mind that there are no kids around!  Plus, they just came home from college for Thanksgiving weekend; so at the moment, my heart is full. 

My plan for winter is to work on a new series that has been tumbling around my brain.  I don’t want to share too much until I experiment and see if I can get it to look like it does in my head.  But before I can start, I have to clean up my studio.  It’s a complete mess that has me blocked.  I’m also heading to Florida for a few days next month to collect more studies for this project.

Here's What Has Happened Since the Last Newsletter:

PLEIN AIR HUDSON, Hudson, WI

  • Best of Show: “Where Silas Sleeps” 14” x 24” oil on canvas panel.
  • 2 Purchase Awards
  • 5 of 6 paintings sold
  • Hosted by Seasons Gallery
  • Image: “Where Silas Sleeps” (sold)
plein air painting

UPTOWN ART FAIR, Minneapolis, MN

  • Three days—1st day was burning hot, 2nd day was raining, 3rd day was finally nice weather
  • 11 paintings sold
  • Met really cool people!
  • Uptown Art Fair
  • Image: booth shot from that weekend.

PRAIRIE LAKES PLEIN AIR,
Battle Lake, MN

  • Sold 1 of 2 paintings
  • Hosted by Art of the Lakes Gallery
  •  Image: “Henning Skyline” (sold) – The Henning newspaper wrote a small article on me because I happened to setup right outside their office to paint this piece.

 

BETWEEN THE BLUFFS PLEIN AIR,
La Crosse, WI

  • Merit Award, “The Not So Muddy Mississippi”, 12″ x 12″. 
  • 3rd place Quick Paint, “Leaving Grand-dad’s”. 8″ x 12″.
  • 1 of 4 paintings sold
  •  Between the Bluffs Plein Air
  • Top Image: “The Not So Muddy Mississippi” (available)
  • Bottom Image: my quick paint setup with “Leaving Grand-dad’s” still on it. (available)

BLUFFSTROKES PLEIN AIR,
Dubuque, IA

  • 1st place Quick Paint, “Making Shot and Flattening Pennies”, 12″ x 12″.
  • 3 of 7 paintings sold
  • Bluffstrokes Plein Air
  • Image: “Making Shot and Flattening Pennies” (available)

PAINT THE TOWN IN FALL COLOR,
Plymouth, WI.

  • Honorable Mention “Flutter, Hum, Buzz”, 12″ x 12″.
  • People’s Choice “Future WI Cheesemakers”
  • 2 of 5 paintings sold
  • Hosted by Plymouth Arts Center
  • Top Image: “Flutter Hum Buzz” (available)
  • Bottom Image: “Future WI Cheesemakers” (sold)

Here is this fall’s artsy article:  Skin and Bones: What Value and Color Provide A Painting

Hope you have a wonderful winter.  Blessings to you!

-Naomi

Idealism vs Realism – Are You Greek or Roman?

Idealism vs Realism – Are You Greek or Roman?

This blog post is really about the great debate between the Ancient Romans and Greeks regarding Idealism vs Realism. Random conversations with strangers while out plein air painting triggered these thoughts.

plein air painting

“Where Silas Sleeps”.          14”x24” oil on panel.          Available at Seasons Gallery, Hudson, WI.

I love it when people chat with me while I’m out plein air painting! (Well, as long as I’m not competing in a timed competition… but I digress). I was working on the above painting entitled “Where Silas Sleeps” at the overlook in Prospect Park, Hudson, WI when I had two memorable conversations.

The first interaction was an older lady who mentioned how the landscape would look better if the ugly power plant and bridge weren’t in the background.  She had a point, the landscape always looks better when it’s as pristine as the day it was created. However those particular features make this area a comfortable place to live. We hardly ever deal with power blackouts and the new bridge makes crossing the St. Croix River a breeze.  More likely, she was hinting that I shouldn’t include those features in my painting.  However, if they weren’t there, the painting would no longer be set in location because those distinctive anchor points would be missing.

A little bit later, a little girl dropped by with her grandpa and thought my painting would look better if I had included the large dead tree in the center foreground of the painting as it is in real life.  Even though the dead tree really is there now, I chose to leave it out of my piece because it would overwhelm and detract from the focal point, and will likely be gone soon anyway.  It’s also not needed to place the viewer in that location.

Neither of these opinions bothered me. In fact, I found them quite fascinating.  These conversations started me thinking about how these two opinions are at opposite ends of the spectrum in representational painting—idealism on one side and realism on the other.

What is Representational Painting?

Representational painting is painting a subject in a recognizable way.  While the piece of artwork doesn’t necessarily have to be realistic, it does have to be a scene that can be described with nouns.  In contrast, the opposite of representational painting is complete abstraction. A piece of art that can only be described with adjectives and adverbs.

Idealism vs Realism

The older lady valued idealism while the young girl valued realism.  This debate is as old as art itself.  In fact, the Ancient Greek and Roman cultures had their preferences as well.  Though they didn’t leave behind blog posts like this one so we could know what they thought, they did leave us their artwork for us to study and compare.  Not many Greek or Roman paintings remain through the centuries (other than the Roman frescoes of Pompeii). Yet we do have plenty of sculptures from each culture, so we are able to compare and contrast this form of art.

Ancient Greek Sculptures

greek man
https://www.metmuseum.org/ 
https://www.metmuseum.org/

As you can see, the Greek artists idealized the facial features of each sculpture to a point where every statue looks like they hired the same model—a young person with standard proportions and no distinguishable features.  The Greeks cared more about idealism—making sure the artwork fit the ideal beauty (what the culture determined it to be at that time), to the sacrifice of reality.

Ancient Roman Sculptures

roman bust of man
https://www.metmuseum.org/
Marble portrait of the emperor Caracalla, A.D. 212–217 Roman, Severan Marble; H. 14 1/4 in. ( 36.2 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Samuel D. Lee Fund, 1940 (40.11.1a) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/253592

The Roman artists didn’t care if their models had a protruding forehead, large nose, or lots of wrinkles. They sculpted what they saw for likeness’ sake.  The Romans cared more about realism. Their artwork documented the good, the bad, and the ugly. While they wanted their piece to be beautiful, they cared more about reality than fitting a certain prescribed ideal.

Are You Greek or Roman?

Where do you fall on the idealism vs realism continuum?  If you were to stand at the Prospect Park Overlook and paint your own painting, would you include the distant power plant and bridge?  How about the dead tree in the foreground?  Do you prefer art that transports you to an ideal, utopian place of perfection?  Or do you prefer art that roots you to the reality that exists, with all its imperfections? In other words, are you more Greek or Roman?  Good thing there’s room for both!