Merging Shapes – 10 Minutes To Better Painting – Episode 1

Merging Shapes – 10 Minutes To Better Painting – Episode 1

It’s time to break out your pocket watch and your paint brushes for this episode of 10 Minutes to Better Painting I’m your host — Marco Bucci Each episode will be structured as follows Part 1 will be a short lesson that gets us into the subject with some visual examples. Part 2 will feature a full painting demo where I will show you how to apply the episode’s lesson to your work. and Part 3 will be a final wrap-up of the episode with some closing thoughts. Richard Schmid said once that painters don’t see more information than other people do. They actually see less. This episode is about merging shapes. You know that old painting maxim that advises you to simplify? Well, merging shapes is one of the many possible ways to do it. I love these etchings by Anders Zorn. They contain such a strong statement of light and character and mood and composition. And yet the medium is so primitive: It’s just a bunch of chicken scratch lines on paper. Now, Zorn was a master of simplification and merging shapes. And that’s exactly the tool he used to get such a high degree of quality here. Let me show you what I mean with a very simple example. Let’s put four simple objects on this frame. And these objects will be lit by light, which means they also cast shadow. We just painted a picture! But it’s not all that exciting right? I mean it looks computer-generated and boring; it certainly doesn’t look like light. But why? Let’s count the number of shapes in it: there’s one two three four five six seven eight nine. I had to make nine shapes just to paint that? Geez that’s gluttony! Let’s see if we can simplify this by merging some shapes together. I’ll start by duplicating the painting; now watch as it slowly fades into a simplified version. The same picture, but with the shapes merged together. Let’s count the shapes in this version. One shape for all of that. Two, three and four! I just reduced the shapes by more than half. Merging shapes means a reduction of information. I’ve given up the silhouette of every one of those little objects in favor of a larger silhouette. Fewer things to look at. A more simplified, effective statement. The reason we simplify is to allow the mood to come through. And mood — that’s where art lives. Take a look at this beautiful painting by Dean Cornwell which I’m showing you in black and white for the purposes of this lesson. Specifically, look at this area here. And I’d like you to appreciate for a moment how much information Cornwell has opted to lose by means of merging those shapes together. That’s like half the picture reduced to one shape. We’re not seeing pants or belt buckles or buttons. We’re just seeing a big dark shape. What that subliminally confers to the viewer is [that] this area is not important. Rather, look up to where the guy’s face is because that’s where all the juicy mood and character lies. And even when we look at the face, sure there is more information here but Cornwell is pulling the same kind of design idea. The lower two-thirds of the head, as well as the neck and the shirt are merged into one shape. Merging shapes enhances the element of mystery as well which coincides perfectly with how we feel about this guy. Look at this Breathtaker by Walter Everett. I think a lot of people would say that there’s a lot of detail here which in painters’ speak means a lot of shapes. But I actually don’t think that there is. Looking at it with this simple filter applied we can see it’s actually a carefully manicured path of dark and light shapes merged together that lead us through the picture. I feel like everything this red line touches is an unbroken shape of dark comprising the very backbone of this picture. And of course you can merge shapes together in light too. For example, this large shape made up of the women’s veils and faces. So Richard Schmidt is right: through merged shapes a painter does see less than what’s actually there. But what he didn’t say was that painting less is actually harder because it requires us to do something that largely goes against our nature that is to express something not by being literal about it, but instead to reduce it to an essential design. This is the finished painting. I’ll be demoing for you in just a second. Now I chose this particular subject for its complexity. There are six or seven boats in the painting water, reflections, buildings, figures, atmospheric perspective — the whole nine yards. If our little example in a moment ago had nine shapes Imagine how many thousands of shapes you’ll have to deal with in a picture like this. As I build this painting, pay specific attention to areas of shadow and areas of light in order to see which shapes are sacrificed in favor of a clearer design. So right away, I want to point out that I actually designed my pictures with shape merging in mind. Even though I know there’s going to be boats and figures and houses I first want to block in overall areas of light and shadow as you see me doing right now. I’m committing myself to a kind of abstract design the way that this picture is going to read. I know that in these big areas of light and shadow that is where I will play with merging my shapes. So you see subject matter is actually secondary. And I’m a firm believer that even the most realistic rendered painting is still an abstract piece of art first because the painter always has to deal with these shapes that are divorced from reality, but that’s what makes art fun! It’s a reaction to something. It’s not me literally trying to show you every window on every house and every figure. I want to imply that stuff and I want you to be part of that experience that is, I want you to fill in the shapes that I merge. So I’m kind of curating you through this picture. I’m stimulating your imagination, I guess through means of merging these shapes and arriving at kind of an abstract design. Now see that texture I’m putting down? I think it’s really helpful to work underneath texture, at least for me. It helps me escape that literal mindset and get into the abstract design mindset. And that’s where you want to be especially if you’re painting out of imagination like I am here. So right now you can see the boats coming into the foreground and you notice already where the boat meets the reflection in the water — those shapes are lost ; they’re merged together. Even the boats themselves are kind of merging into the houses. If you look at that boat about a third up from the bottom it’s kind of merging into the house. That, to me, is interesting you know. I don’t need to show you where the tip of every boat is for you to understand it. The human brain is remarkable. We fill in shapes all the time even in real life. In fact, my conviction in this kind of approach is bolstered by the fact that this is actually rooted in human psychology. When you’re walking around the street, you aren’t seeing everything. In fact, you’re barely seeing anything. You’re only seeing the information directly in front of you. Your brain fills in the other stuff left and right. It happens all the time, every minute of every day. So the visual equivalent of that, to me, is merging shapes and actually showing less in your picture like I explained in the lesson. By showing less, we can actually communicate more. Let me expand on that. If I were to show you every literal shape that actually would exist in this picture I would lose the feeling of this location. It wouldn’t capture it. It would be like reading a textbook whereas if I’m doing it like I am here with merging shapes and try to mimic visually how I feel about this scene. I’m essentially sacrificing one thing that is the amount of shapes in order to gain something else, which is the feeling that is going to allow this picture to resonate with viewers. Now, this is where painting gets very creative because I’m the one who gets to choose which of these thousands of shapes get merged? and I just threw a posterized filter over it to evaluate my progress. The posterized filter helps me see kind of the trends of my lights and darks to see if I’m on the right track. So that’s something you can use if you work digitally. Even if you work traditionally, you can scan your stuff, bring it into Photoshop, and check it out. So I’m on the right track here. I like where this is going. I like how the posts are merging into the water, merging into the boats, which are merging into the houses. There’s even an indication of figures there, kind of ghosting in and out of lights and darks. Now, you do want to choose the key areas where your silhouette is very clear. Look at the third boat up from the bottom, this area here. You notice that that boat is silhouetting over the light shape. because we need something to latch on to as a viewer. So that is a very clear area of silhouette where there is absolutely no shape merging going on. It essentially tells your brain “This is a boat”. And then it gives context to all the other stuff that’s lost and merged So I’m halfway through the painting here which by the way took me about an hour and a half of real time to do. And the thing I love about this idea of merging shapes and coming up with big areas of light and dark is that it gives you a structure that you can depend upon for the entirety of the painting process You know I don’t feel like I’m guessing now as I’m working on this I feel confident that the picture as an abstract design works! And that leads to conviction and confidence that anything I do within that structure is also likely to work. You know, I think the real hard part of the painting is actually at the beginning when you’re first making these big decisions that are going to dictate the rest of the process. but at the same time if you fail to make those big decisions early on you will certainly run into the problem of so many shapes creeping into your painting none of them seeming to have any purpose behind them and you’ll go back and forth and back and forth. And it’ll just be a really frustrating experience for you. So again knowing which shapes I’m likely to merge as I work and knowing how that contributes to an overall structure of the picture’s design it gives me the confidence to kind of freely create because I know that so long as I adhere to the structure I set out for myself I’m likely to have a successful picture by the end and because merging shapes means you paint fewer shapes you can actually get a piece of work like this done quite quickly which is actually very important, especially if you’re a concept artist or something So here’s another way to think of shapes. Think of them as being like annoying maybe crying children in a daycare all clamoring for your attention all at the same time and you want some peace and quiet yet you only have the capacity to satisfy three of the children. So what do you do to the rest of them? Well you… Yeah, you get the idea!

100 thoughts on “Merging Shapes – 10 Minutes To Better Painting – Episode 1

  1. Great insight! I have learned about negative shape and the importance of values, but never thought about merging shapes. Thanks for bringing this up! Also nice reference. I just learned about Zorn & Schaeffer because of this video, and I love their works.

  2. I learned basic drawing to get admission in design school, improved in school and became obsessive about it after graduation and asked so many ppl to teach me, even youtube but after eight years, last two days of my life are the best as I am getting some advance knowledge through your channel. thanks marco.


  4. your videos are phenomenally great soon ill have $to support your patreon account. will very much be my pleasure. THANK YOU THANK YOU

  5. This is just beautifully explained. I love making short films and thinking about visualizing actual stories and I think your videos will give me a lot to think about in the next years of filmmaking 🙂

  6. just want to say thank for all the videos u share – they are absolutely amazing and helpful!! look forward to seeing new ones!

  7. This is an aspect of digital painting especially where I really struggle and now I have a name for it and an idea of how to improve. Thank you very much!

  8. 9:44 You Sir, are going to hell! ^_^ Takes you an hour and a half to paint all that, would take me easily a year and a half and mine would not even be recognizable on what it is… O_o

  9. 8:26 all of that is an hour 1/2 way through… Wow I found you from skillshare. watch a video that you said to watch your episode videos. (I know you only said 2+3 was recommended) But this one sounded interesting as well.

  10. Great lesson, although I don't necessarily agree with the extent to which you downplay the amount of shapes in the Walter Everett. There's certainly groups of similar shapes creating paths of low resistance for the eye to follow. But they're a region rather than a shape. The use of contrast is what presents the "detail" that most artists refer to in that particular painting; there's many shapes that the eye can observe, even within regions that have similar colour.

    Additionally, the reduction of detail towards the bottom of the image creates a frame, exaggerating the paths created through the higher-detail regions.

    Nonetheless, this video is quite excellent and I'm sure you've improved a lot since you created it.

  11. Yo you're amazing! I'm not even a painter and I feel like I want to paint something! I hope you get the success that you deserve!!!!!:^)))))

  12. I'm so thrilled that I've found these videos! I don't go to art school, but I'm really passionate about art and it makes my day when I find gemstones like your videos here on youtube! Thank you so much!!

  13. im am so happy to find this video! i have been searching ways to improve my artwork and all of them tell me to do the same thing and i never actually learn from them! i actually learned new information! i really appreciate that! thank you

  14. you saved so much time! I feel like this gets people to listen and try it out instead of watching a 3 hour lesson and being unmotivated

  15. Mike Mignola is an absolute MASTER when it comes to simplification. He's my inking idol. He does so much with so little. And yet, he has perhaps one of the hardest comic styles to mimic.

  16. You're a great teacher, Marco! I've learned more from you in 3 hours than I did in 5 years of high school art classes…

  17. I love that your voice sounds so oddly close to a music theory Youtuber named Adam Neely. Makes for seamless transitions from jumping between art and music studies

  18. OMG like, seriously, you blow my mind with every video, in each detail you paint or say. You help me to keep my inner child – my excitement and passion for art – alive and growing. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  19. Marco, you're my hero! Man… I just saw your ArtStation Gallery, and I had to pickup my jaw from the floor haha, awesome art! And your videos are VERY helpful, thank you for doing this 😉

  20. This concept is so rarely (or poorly) taught, I'd love to see you do other instructional videos that analyze merged shapes in master artworks. Great video!

  21. Thank you so much for creating all this great content. I bought one of your classes years ago from School of visual story telling and I loved it. Recently I came across your youtube channel and I'm learning so much from your tutorials. Every single one of your videos are like gold!! Thank you!!

  22. Wow! I love this! Well explained, simple yet detailed! This is helping me a lot. Thanks, you are awsome! 🤗

  23. I am curious, do u have to learn how to line art before doing this type of painting? What is ur journey to reach to this kind of confident?

  24. Thank you so much for these tutorials, you opened my mind on something no one had been able to explain to me before and I get it now, holy shit. I actually can make things now!!

  25. Mike Mignola is a great example if anyone wants to study a more graphic style that adheres to a lot of the techniques discussed here.

    Awesome series btw.

  26. Hi, love this painting of Venice in the video… is it in one of your books? I don't see it in the prints…

  27. A great tutorial, thanks very much Marco. You definitely have a point and I wish I could hammer your concepts into my painting.

  28. Huh, is this why I love sketches more than finished drawings?

    I fill in what I want by looking at the sketches, but when it's finished, it doesn't feel right.

  29. i am having troubles with simplifying…i still struggle to see good shapes and deciding which shapes i can merge to reach a good composition. maybe my paintings are trash because i never liked abstract art and never gave a damn about it? :/

  30. Closing thought at the end of the video says it all…..
    Man big fan of yours after watching just two of ur vids…
    u r an expert of making complicated things ridiculously simple…may God give u strength to make such more videos…
    Such an inspiration u are..ur vids are gems n masterpieces especially these lesson vids

  31. This is not only useful for painting and drawing. This is how art itself works!! If we read a novel, we don't need to know ALL the life of EVERY single character or what they're doing every second; we just need to know the things that complements the argument of the whole story. Same for the cinema. In music we don't need every single sound to play a melody on their own; even Bach (king of polyphony) guided our focus to a single important theme while the others just completed the MOOD of the piece. And I could continue talking about other disciplines of art, but I think my point has been settled. Thank you Marco!! 😀 Yours is a really great content youtube channel!!

  32. 👏👏👏👍😭I cannot agree you more. I was try to draw every details at the begining and end of frastrating. I learnt a lot from your vedio. Huge thanks!

  33. That embarrassing moment when you realise the annoying the image of the 3 children and the last image of the house is better than you can achieve.
    I guess I just can't draw…

  34. I've watch these videos a few times and it's like under-cooked spaghetti, not sticking. So I decided to treat these like courses and take notes. As simple as that sounds it helped a lot! So if your reading in the comments and having trouble understanding some of these concepts don't fret you aren't alone.

  35. Thank you. Now I understand the value of a) squinting, and b) simplicity in design in order to communicate more to the viewer. This is the heart of Impressionism and abstraction.

  36. Perspective is where art lives. Mood is only one aspect of perspective. Art is a story – one we tell to learn about ourselves as a species. Mood alone cannot tell that tale.

    Interesting video. Disagree with you on most of it 🤷‍♂️.

  37. Brilliant. This brought some relief to my struggle as a painter suffering from vision loss. I don't want to give up painting, but I need to learn to do it differently and more forgivingly. Thank you

  38. I feel that you putted in words something that I've been struggling with but I couldn't define. Now that I now my enemy I can make the adjustments. Thanks I'm going to make progress with this mindset of simplification!

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