Painting the white space

Edit: I added pictures.

I’m painting again.  This time it’s a picture of a Chinese junk sailing past the Sheraton Xuzhou hotel based on this photo:


It’s strange to watch it slowly taking the correct form in front of me.  It has a long way to go and its more than a bit rough at this point, but still, it’s coming along well enough to surprise me some.


When I painted or drew anything as a kid, I would start with the focal point details of the image and work my way out and back of it.  This was not a great method and the final product would always be somewhat to very skewed accordingly.  I was looking at it all wrong and didn’t know it.

In college, I took graphic arts as the minor to go with my social psychology major.  I’m goofily diverse that way.  The annoying thing in this major was that I was a single parent at the time, barely skimming by.  I had GI Bill money to go to school on but that didn’t cover everything.  The school, Shoreline Community, required I go to a ballet, concert, or opera for every single quarter I was in the arts program and that wasn’t covered but it was VERY expensive.

Anyway, in my drawing classes, the first formal ones I’d every taken aside from mechanical drafting, I learned a new way of looking at things: the white space.  By this I don’t mean literally white unless the picture were in black and white.  I just mean the area in a picture surrounding the focal point.  It’s full of colors and shapes, but they won’t be the ones you’re looking directly at unless you’re the one painting it.  For me, this is a really big challenge.  I like challenges, don’t get me wrong, but it takes every bit of my limited self-discipline to stick to the program.

I’ve been painting on it for 3 days.  The first, I used a pencil to draw the bare outlines of the focal point, fighting myself against the temptation to draw in detail.  Couldn’t resist drawing in a little detail but then erased it.  The second day, I mixed a few dark shades of blue, the most background color in the picture, and painted around the focal point, the ocean and sky; many shades of roughly overlapping blues, but very nebulous.  The third day, Sunday, I painted in the darkest shades of color inside the focal point, but still very rough and nebulous, lacking any real highlights or detail yet.  Even so, the picture is magically – albeit slowly – emerging.

Impatient with the slowness of the process and the beleaguered putting off of detailing, I played with designing homes, gardens, nightclubs, pools, and fountains in my Sims game as well as actually playing the game some.

My werewolf sim likes to crash parties and talk to himself and make faces in the mirror.  My witch sim, despite her alleged virtuosity, is a slacker and a space cadet who keeps getting lost on the way home.  She’s tired, she’s hungry and cranky, but she’ll go the opposite way when I tell her to go home and then she detours through (not over) mountains and walks across water.  Thinks she’s Jesus or Chris Angel I guess.  Didn’t want to coöperate either when I told her to join a science career.  Oh no.  She stubbornly held out until I offered a music career.  Oh well, at least she’s working now.  The werewolf is so much more cooperative.

Who knew being a goddess to sims could be so damn challenging?  Can you just imagine what we put our god through?  LOL.

The easel is set up right next to my computer because I was unable to print the photo I’m painting from so put it on my screen saver, which is working pretty well for me actually.  It even gives me the distraction I need to keep me from painting new colors adjacent to those not dry yet that shouldn’t be mixed.  Luckily, acrylic paint dries a lot quicker than oil paint does or I’d really have gone nuts with impatience.

Day three already done and gone.  I should take pictures from this point on.  Should have from day one.  I need to remind myself now and then that this process really does work and that I really am making progress.

The weird thing is, I can stand several feet away and get a real sense of the picture coming into being while, closeup, it’s still unformed and messy looking.  It’s like watching an old Polaroid picture developing.

It occurs to me that this process applies to more than painting.  People, animals, everything, can often be read just by paying more attention to the white space than the focal point.  Focal points are often distractions from what’s really going on.  They are not the bulk of the action going on, but only the result of it as surely as the sea shapes an island and a child is the product not merely of its DNA but also its upbringing.  It’s just hard to read beyond so not something we tend to do automatically.  It’s a lesson worth learning though and definitely a challenge worth taking.

About Ampbreia

I'm an ex-Pentacostal, ex-Muslim, ecclectic Agnostic with slightly Wiccan leanings. I am not affiliated with any organized religion or political platform, but I do believe in magic and all things wise and wonderful. I work as an admin in a calibration lab. I've published 2 books so far this year: Lost in Foreign Passions: Love and betrayal, passion and loss in the heart of an alien land (a memoir of my time as a Muslimah and living in Iran for a year), written under my previous married name, Debra Kamza, and Dream Lover (a paranormal romance, the tale of witch that summons her favorite character out of a Bewitched spin-off and the actor who plays him as well). I'm constantly writing stories and poems, thoughts and dreams, and quite a few opinions - many of which are not popular but oh well. Bite me. I'm interested in art, animals, the paranormal, and people. I love to dance, all sorts, but have been studying belly dance since 2006 and LOVE it! I love anime too and love dressing up and going to conventions. My writing runs the gummut of historical, science fiction, fantasy, romance, and erotica. Beware: I may not be safe reading for work. Just saying....
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2 Responses to Painting the white space

  1. jr cline says:

    I think you’re correct about the white space. It’s very important to me in photography and I think about it philosophically often.


  2. It’s going to be a beautiful painting! Enjoy the process and then enjoy the painting for years and years to come!
    You are so right about the process applying to more than painting. The white space is very important. Often humans are so into the focal point, they don’t see anything around it, behind it.
    Your last sentence of this post is inspiring!
    HUGS!!! 🙂


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