Art has been a key element in Chris Krupinski's life. She has been drawing and painting all of her life, and once she discovered watercolors, she never looked back. Her work pays special attention to detail. Dynamic light and shadow treatments are prominent statements in her paintings. Her work has drawn national attention and Chris is a signature member of the American Watercolor Society (along with quite a few others) and earned Dolphin Fellow in 2015.
Why do you paint still life? What does painting still life offer you as an artist?
My background is graphic design and still life offers me the opportunity to use design heavily in my compositions. Still life gives me complete flexibility in the arrangement of elements and cloth to create dynamic compositions.
Can you walk us through your painting process?
I start painting at the focal point. This is the most important part of the painting. I paint this area to completion. Doing this sets my values for the balance of the painting. I usually have my darkest dark and lightest light here, and optimally butting against one another.
As I fan out from this point everything painted has a relationship to the focal point reflected in either color, temperature, shape, or line. For instance, a fold leading to the focal point will demonstrate line and the shadows of the fold may become warmer or cooler as it nears the focal point. These decisions are all made as I paint. All the while I am watching for color composition ensuring that color is positioned in triangles throughout the painting. Once I have the elements drawn and compositionally correct it allows me the freedom to pay attention to color and value.
What does an idea look like when it first begins? How does it evolve before you are ready to begin to pull out a camera or your paint?
Oh my! You would have to be inside of my head to see that! The motivation for any given still life is either color or shape. And the composition and elements sort of come together in my mind. I begin by thinking about where I am going. I do not create thumbnails (the fun is done with thumbnails … I’d rather see it come to life while painting the actual painting). I think about the direction of the design. What am I trying to accomplish in the finished piece. I think about what my color palette will be (this is of such importance!).
This will be easier to explain if I give you a hypothetical. I decide to paint a complementary color design, let’s say a blue and orange palette. I know that I have a quilt with a wonderful blue pattern. I know that oranges and blueberries with this quilt will set my color palette. The blueberries may get lost in the folds of the quilt and against the blue pattern so I’ll need to place them in a glass dish or container. This is all in my mind … not the layout, just the elements.
How do you approach photographing your subject matter? What are you thinking through and playing with when you photograph? What are you trying to capture?
I use a photo lamp to shine a strong direct light from a low angle. I do not carefully place elements but rather drop the quilt, place the glass piece, fill the glass with blueberries, and roll the oranges onto the quilt. I’ll toss a few stray blueberries onto the quilt as well. I then walk around this and take pictures from every possible angle, repositioning elements as needed. It is important to see the arrangement from all angles. Backlighting can give some dynamic views; a bird’s eye view many times will be more abstract; and a view with side-lighting is at times very dramatic. I can end up with 20-30 pics of this particular set-up.
You paint realism but that doesn’t mean you don’t use artistic license. How do you translate the photo? What do you keep as you see it and what do you know will change?
Oh, I know I paint realism but I surely don’t see it that way while I am painting. I see an abstracted design. I do paint from photos but that is, more or less, just for positioning of the elements. I do not use the color that is in the photo. In fact, I could and have painted from black and white photos and use my own color palette. When I see a grayish shadow in a photo I know that it will sing with blues and violets. I do not own a single tube of gray paint. I know that my deepest value will more likely than not be a rich violet painted over yellow (many glazes) and not the black that appears in the photo.
I push color and I push value farther than in a photo. I want dynamic. I paint the elements oversize which immediately strays from reality and then it is all about color, value, and contrasts to create a dramatic design.
You've said that you like watercolor because you can keep moving. What does that look like while painting? How do your materials or how you work allow you to keep moving within a single piece? (I normally think of watercolor as needing to wait to let things dry.)
HA! Then you should watch me paint ☺ Let’s say I am painting a pear … it is oversized so usually a fairly big element. I will paint a glaze of yellow over the entire pear with a 5-7 size brush at the largest. While this is drying I will work on the stem of the pear with a smaller brush. I always use wet brush on dry paper which dries faster than a wash would. Then, when I glaze with subsequent glazes my brush size progressively gets smaller over the next 6-10 glazes until I get to about a size 1 brush. Obviously the smaller the brush the longer it takes to paint an area. But at this point using a smaller brush creates the mottled appearance I am seeking on the fruit. The paint dries before I actually finish painting the pear surface.
Where does the bulk of your composition work happen in a piece? Is that in the photography or the sketching phase? What are you deciding on in your composition work? What's important?
The elements in the photograph usually stay as is with the occasional addition or deletion as I progress in the painting. I would not have chosen the photo to use as a reference if the composition was off. But, the color composition happens as I am painting. Of course, the elements in the photo (such as pears) already lead to color composition but it is what I do with shadow color that makes the color composition exciting. Sometimes when I use striped cloth and add yellows, blues, reds, and violets it actually creates movement in the fabric.
When you talk about using contrasts in your work, could you explain what you mean? Why are contrasts important? What kind of contrasts do you use and how?
To me, this is the most important aspect of design. Contrasts will make a painting exciting!
Size contrast: With each still life I will use contrasting sizes in the elements. As above, I suggested oranges and in contrast would use blueberries. So many of my paintings have grapes. As a contrast in size I might use pears or pomegranates. When all of the elements are the same size it gets pretty static looking.
Color contrast: Complimentary colors. Need I say more?
Color temperature: The changes in color temperature give a painting depth. Warm colors are perceived closer and cool colors push objects back. Color temperature can also add to the mood of a painting. I change temperatures often in the shadows of the fabric. I also change temperature in the black backgrounds I use in some of my work. The black is created by Alizarin Crimson and Winsor Green (Blue Shade) … I will go stronger with the red for the warmth and stronger in the green for the cool. This gives the background additional depth and avoids a flat background.
Value contrast: This is what makes a painting pop! Value contrast adds visual interest and drama. It also gives an added dimension to a painting. A piece with 3-7 value range will tend to look flat. Adding a wider range of value can take a flat painting and give it depth. I use high value contrasts throughout my paintings to add depth and excitement.
Textures: Again, as with all other contrasts, texture contrast adds another depth of interest to a painting. For instance, I will use an orange with the rough texture rind against the smooth surface of glass.
Composition is clearly so important and yet the idea of composition feels really intangible. How does a beginner painter begin to improve her composition? Where does one even start?
Simply put … triangles. When you use a triangle approach then color, elements, etc. are placed to help make a composition pleasing. It takes a little experimentation. But, for example, if you have a red at the edge of your painting and balance it with a triangle so that a touch of that red appears somewhere at the opposite side and top/bottom of the painting it will be much more balanced than falling in just one place.
Also, the rule of thirds. If the paper is divided into 3 even horizontal and vertical lines, a good starting place for your focal point is where any of the lines intersect. This will keep it clear of center. The nine rectangles created can also be used as the basis of triangles.
Fabric is a big part of your work. What is important to know, look for, and think through when painting fabric? (Shadows, grid)
Fabric is so important in my composition. Rather than have the fruit/glass elements in my work just sitting on a plain surface, the fabric increases the visual drama. Some of the patterns are used as a size contrast. The patterns are small and intricate against a large piece of fruit. The lines created by the folds act as pointers to the focal area. The fabric also ties the entire composition together. For example, stripes are a uniform pattern behind the other elements creating a unity in the design. Fabric can also create rhythm in the composition. I do grid when I draw my initial drawing so that the pattern on the cloth remains uniform. A pear can be misshapen and it doesn’t matter but the fabric pattern has to be correct or it can throw the entire composition off.
What’s the difference between painting every day and painting on the weekends from a development standpoint? How does daily painting give you insight into how you work in a way that weekend painting can’t? Why is that important for developing as a painter?
I made a commitment to myself 25 years ago to paint every single day for a minimum of two hours. I did. Even on holidays, I would find the time. I truly believe that we are our own best teachers. So much can be learned from experience. I want to paint like me and not anyone else. So, I attribute my growth to painting a lot and learning through trial and error. I believe that painting every day opens your mind to new ideas. I NEVER have artist block. As I am working on one piece new ideas continually develop in my mind.
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