Actual vs Apparent: The "Phonetic" Code of Painting

Another classic problem for the uninitiated in rendering the visual world before them is to begin by looking at the objects  per se, rather than their visible and paintable abstractions. I have noticed students making the assumption that if you can just see or feel the "appleness" of the apple on the table, you can draw or paint it. With that in mind, they begin their effort to make the apple shape. However, as noted again by Gammell, “We are not drawing the actual but the apparent shapes.” In fact, shapes are painted because that is all a canvas contains: shapes produced by values, in contrast to nature before you. In fact, knowing what an object "is" in its actuality interferes with one's ability to see what it is visually. The mind fills up with presumptions and assumptions of all kinds based on non-visual experiences. So, to restate, one realizes that one sees with values primarily and therefore what one must learn to see is not units of things but units of value. Ultimately, all that drawing from life entails is the accurate rendering of the relative values of the different areas of the ensemble of value units before the eye ... and not the objects themselves. The exception being when one simply isolates an object of one value in a space of a different value without any context. Then drawing around the object is all you have to work with. Yet the normal use of line in painting, rather than being mindlessly used for the delineation of objects, becomes the way of indicating seen shapes. Of course since what we wanted to do was draw "the apple," many of us were hard pressed to buy into that idea until we had suffered sufficient failure. Realize again that I am talking about the training of the eye to render accurately the visual ensemble before the viewer. The way any aspect of nature must be seen is as value, color, and size, because that is all you can accomplish with paint. All you have to work with are pigments whose only characteristics are value, hue and chroma. Returning to our quote by Joseph Decamp, “It's just the right value, the right color in the right place.”

 Joseph DeCamp, "Sally," 1907

Joseph DeCamp, "Sally," 1907