Sunday, January 16, 2011

Workshop: Tony Ryder, Part IV, "The Poster Study"

The poster study on left, and the form painting, Day 10, on right.
From the Ryder Studio Blog.

"A painting is a miniature world, a microcosm.  In it every brushstroke relates to every other.  This microcosm is tonal:  it consists of many colors relating to one another in a delicately balanced harmony.  That balance is called 'the poster'.  The poster is the state of tonal agreement in the color microcosm.  The 'poster study' is the exercise in which we study the poster.  It is a small (5" x 7"), very simplified, very abstract, color sketch that represents the major tonal elements and tonal relationships of the composition.

The poster study is the first exercise in the form painting process.  It helps students see the composition they intend to paint in the sense of a whole tonal field.  Once painted, poster studies are kept close at hand.  They serve as reference for the subsequent steps of the painting process." - Tony Ryder¹

Artist Tony Ryder refers to the method he uses and teaches as "form painting," a process through which the play of light upon a subject is carefully and accurately rendered in order to give the impression of reality.  It is the same method which his teacher, Ted Seth Jacobs, taught Ryder, and one which Ryder has never tried to improve upon;  instead, Ryder has worked within the steps of this proven technique to continually improve upon himself as an artist.  Other painters may pick and choose different techniques learned from several teachers, and try to make one successful process from such a synthesis, but this approach to the "language of painting" has never made sense to Ryder;  as he says, "It takes a real genius to combine 80% Greek, 10% Chinese, 5% German, and 5% French and make a single language of it."

Ryder is specific in the steps of his form painting process, and although he may occasionally employ an abbreviated method* during certain single-session painting demonstrations (such as at the "Face-Off" segment of the Portrait Society of America's annual conference), his easel paintings all follow the same order of execution, whether they are a portrait, a teapot, or a floral still-life.  "If I eat dessert first," Ryder says, "then go back to the pot roast, it doesn't quite taste the same."  Though the stages of this procedure are important, it must be remembered that painting is more than knowing technique.  Ryder's emphasis in his teaching is really about learning proper visual analysis:  "One must see, and understand what one sees, in order to paint well."²  The individual steps of the form painting process are therefore arranged in such a way as to help the student understand what they are painting, as well as teach them the skills of how to paint.

Naturally, Ryder began the workshop by demonstrating the poster study, the initial step in the form painting process.  As stated earlier, it is through this sketch that the artist first establishes the composition of their work, and begins to evaluate the scene before them in terms of color-  that is, the three aspects of color (hue, tone, and saturation in Tony's terms) as viewed simultaneously.  It is meant to be done quickly and loosely, and to give an overall impression of what the final painting is to be, rather than a fully realized sketch of the finished painting in miniature.

The early stages of my own poster study from the workshop showing the
simple drawing and the lay-in of the first few colors.  The drawing, as seen
 here, was more detailed than necessary.

Using Old Holland Deep Ochre oil paint heavily diluted with Gamsol odorless mineral spirits, Tony quickly outlined the head and shoulders of our model, Randy, on a gessoed hardboard panel, no larger than 5 x 7 inches.  Accuracy is not important at this point, and there should not be much time spent on this stage of the process.  At most, this quick drawing should take 5 seconds to only a few minutes.

After this "map" drawing was done, Ryder began blocking in the subject in color, pushing the paint into the texture of the panel with a round, nylon brush.   The darkest mass was established first, which,  in our demonstration, was Randy's cast shadow.  Once this extreme was determined, he continued working from dark to light, moving onto the background next.

While Ryder blocked in the background, it became clear that what he was painting was what the light appeared to be doing.  So while the background was the same value all of the way across, Ryder lightened the color of the backdrop as it approached Randy's cast shadow in order to enhance the relationship of the light to the dark in the painting.  This is an illusion our eyes often create, but rather than allowing the viewers' eyes to make the same perception, Ryder recreated the illusion.

Ryder mixed a new color for almost every brushstroke he laid down on the panel.  He did not save lumps of paint, nor did he try to recall color combinations-  a color can be arrived at "in a multitude of ways."  This is not to say that Ryder, even with all of his experience, mixes the exact color he wants at first attempt ("Mixing colors is like playing golf- rarely a hole in one." - Tony Ryder).  The process of finding the correct color, no matter how many tries or how many pigments in combination, is all part of understanding the subject in front of you.

Paint was applied as if Ryder were laying down strips of masking tape.  Brush strokes were kept clean and intentional, with no attempt made at blending edges;  it was important that the comparisons between areas of varying hue, value, or chroma were kept distinct.  As Ryder continued on with the poster study, and more abstract shapes of color were added, certain color relationships no longer worked, and Ryder made necessary adjustments to retain the kind and the feel of the light in the space defining Randy.  Despite the definite separations between the light and shadow shapes within the image, Ryder was quick to point out that the "dark light" - the part of the light which is turned farthest from the light source while still being part of the illuminated surface- could not be overlooked when recreating form in this manner.

A very small poster study by Ryder from the same workshop, as done from a student's easel.

Generally, Ryder, who always works from life, spends six hours a day painting, broken down into two three hour sessions.  This first step in form painting, from setting the model or still life, through painting the poster study, should take no longer than the first of these three hour sessions.

* Ryder has recently developed another approach to his paintings which he uses on occasion.  In it, Ryder skips the second and third steps of his normal form painting method, and instead begins drawing his subject in paint on a toned ground.  The poster study is still integral to this other manner of painting.  To read more about this approach of Ryder's, visit his School's website.

¹ Ryder, Anthony, Portrait Painting Demo (2002).  Retrieved 2005 from
² Idem.


Judy P. said...

This detailed explanation is so helpful, and the paintings so clarifying- many thanks!

catdraw said...

Thank you, with great documentation, you explained Anthony Ryder's process.

skopas said...

Holy smokes..!! Does he actually use all those colours??

Alexandra Tyng said...

The poster study makes a lot of sense to me as a teaching tool, to separate color from accurate drawing. It also makes sense to me as a quick color study for a larger work that will be painted using other reference material, i.e. photos and/or monochrome drawing or grisaille.

For me, though (I'm the type that can eat dessert first and then sit down and totally enjoy a pot roast) the poster study does not make a lot of sense if an experienced artist is using it as a smaller prelude o a larger painting. Why not just map it out on the canvas, then start right in putting colors down but with the accurate drawing already done? It looks like Tony is demonstrating that very method further on in your description. It saves time by eliminating redundancy for the artist who can handle it all at once, and who has a pretty good idea of how he or she wants the painting to look.

Laurel Alanna McBrine said...

Fascinating - I wonder where this idea originated as my recent teachers, Cedric and Joanette Egeli, have us do a small, undetailed painting to use as a reference as well. The common thread seems to be the extensive colorist palette used by both as what happens afterward couldn't be more different!

mongoose1 said...

Interesting post. But then I love Tony's work.

Do you really think it's ok to download (i.e., my photograph of a piece of art I own) an image from someone else's blog without asking?

Not trying to be offensive, I am just a tad gobsmacked is all.

innisart said...

@Mongoose1 Is yours the bowl of onions? It's the only one I cannot remember the source...

innisart said...

Ah, yes it is. I just found it on your blog during a search. Sadly, I collect images all the time, and am not always as careful as I should be in recording from where I retrieved them. In writing that post, I started going through a folder I had put together of his poster studies, and came across that and thought it a good example. Many of the others are from photographs I had taken, and others are from Tony's studio's blog (a friendly nod to someone else rarely creates waves in such a case).

Would you like me to take the image down? Otherwise, I'd be happy to credit you and link back to your blog. I'm sorry for any trespass; it was not meant as a slight against you.

innisart said...

@Mongoose1 - Having not heard back from you, I've decided it would just be safer to remove the image taken from your blog. Again, my apologies. Tony gave me permission to write the series back in the spring of 2010, and I mistakingly thought the image of the onions was one I had downloaded from a site directly related to Tony's teaching, even though I posted it not remembering from exactly where it was retrieved. Mea culpa.

mongoose1 said...

I am sorry for the late response, I didn't see your response.

I did respond pretty hamfisted, so I apologize as well. By all means, you're welcome to use the image in this posting.

Tony painted it while teaching at Studio Escalier (Tim Stoltz and Michelle Tully) in France. The school used to sell small paintings via ebay to finance their scholarship fund. I purchased the painting through their auction.