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10 classic paintings I love, and why by Álvaro Escudero

By Álvaro Calvo Escudero

Web: https://www.artstation.com/escudero (will open in new window)

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Date Added: 13th February 2018

Illustrator and concept artist Álvaro Escudero takes a look at 10 classic paintings he loves, and what makes these paintings so successful; from the use of light, to composition, and more...



This assignment has been a very difficult. There are hundreds of master pieces that amaze and influence me which I would love to share with you. After doing a big review I decided show you ten important pieces in two ways: as a contemplative view from an artist perspective, and as something to learn from like a student. It is an opportunity to know and enjoy art, and at the same time learn some different technical aspects.

Portrait Pope Inocencio X – Diego Velázquez – 1650

How often does an artist give us the opportunity to empathize with a character? He tells a story and introduces us to the scene. I would like to go beyond the general technique here, like composition and the magic use of reds throughout the painting.

Retrato del Papa Inocencio X. Roma, by Diego Velázquez

Let's look to the portrait and more specifically – the mouth. The way the attitude of the character is defined using a very subtle stroke when creating his expression; a little gesture that can have a big impact. Next, let's check out his eyes. See how the model has a balance of tired eyes and angry eyebrows telling us about his personality, and how he feels in that moment too. Here we see the importance of showing the character as he really is – do not censor yourself.

Self-portrait and model – Anders Zorn – 1896

I love the use here of limited palettes, and enjoy the simple way that the strokes flow along the picture creating a warm and friendly environment. It's also a very good example of color use, especially on the skin.

selfportrait Anders Zorn 1896

This teaches us about using a basic palette, forcing us to think about how the colors works each against each other in a simple way. The "muddy colors” create a balance within the painting which is harmonic. Take a moment to practice this in your daily color sketches.

Self-portrait – Joaquín Sorolla – 1909

Here we have an example of "aggressive brushstrokes”. Sometimes, when painting, you have to dive in and discover. It maybe depends on your feelings in determined moments, and how you deal with them while learning new ways to express yourself. Painting this way, quickly, you can gain confidence and new ways to be artistic.

Joaquín Sorolla 1909

Be brave and take a chance to doing unpredictable things. See how the hat is modelling only with one smudge stroke. As well the face and the artist palette, this conscious and unconscious stains give us a controlled surface and an unexpected happy surprises. Those can be used on next painting, that moment will be in controlled way. It's amazing feel this magic when you've finally learnt something new.

Strolling along the Seashore - Jaquín Sorolla -1909

Take a moment and feel the wind and heat on the skin. I love how the white colors are presented here.
Jaquín Sorolla is mastering the light and how it combines elegantly, with many nuances, including different grey values to contrast the richness of the white clothes.

1909 Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida - Strolling along the Seashore

When you model a surface – whatever the material is – it's very important to understand how the tonal variation helps to give an amazing vibration in color. There is a difference between painting something apparently white, with only pure white and blue variations at sunlight, and applying an understanding of the possibilities of grey pinks, violets, greens, yellows, and so on. Here, more than ever, is where experience of the world and still life study can pay off.

Rain, Steam and Speed. The great western railway - Joseph Mallord William Turner – 1844

Here, I love the mood, temperature, ambience, and how all these things are brought together. The abstract style creates a large and complex mass between the air and the smoke.

rain steam and speed the great western railway 1844

In what might have been a boring background, a sense of mystery is instead created. It's an interesting way to concentrate on the main character (the train) and solve in a spontaneous and fresh way the problem of the background. It's abstract but not necessarily random; the use of form and material gives shape. It's important to understand the behavior of materials and tools, so that they can be interpreted and utilized in new and creative ways.

When All's Quiet – Frank Tenney Johnson – 1930

Do you really understand how color behaves at night? The quality of light captured here is impressive, showing the difference between a fully dark night, and the possibility of darkness with some illuminated night. It's a nice color palette that can sometimes bring in too many dark values.

When All's Quiet, 1930 frank tenney Johnson

To begin understanding night, almost always the sky has to be lighter than the earth. With these two values we can continue to organize the others parts. Here again we find the possibilities of using a rich tonal variation instead of a big mass of boring color. See the amount of green and blue variation, and how they contrast with the opposite side of the color palette to bring attention to the focal point.

La Canal de Mancorbo at Picos de Europa – Carlos de Haes – 1876

The aerial perspective and sense of size is monumental here. It's amazing how we are made to feel as spectators in a big environment, and how the way of representing it can make us so small. It is the perfect balance between the intention to be realistic and romantic.

CARLOS DE HAES la canal de mancorbo en los picos de europa 1876

Nowadays some of this depends on the purpose of the final piece we do. With so many photorealistic techniques in digital art way we can do as much as we want. The really important thing to learn here is really to understand it; how the hue, value and contrast are combined to represent distance and feelings. Go deep in your artist sensibility and focus on this when you paint. It's important not to lose the habit of practicing value thumbnails to keep improving.

Trail Dust – James Reynolds – 1989

Cold things in hot places, hot things in cold places. Enter the ambience that James Reynolds creates here, from a cold shadow to a hot, warm place.

James Reynolds TRAIL DUST

Contrast is the key word here. Many artworks are about building contrast through your decisions about colors, lines, weights or distances. This is a great piece because it has all that, while still being balanced. The motives are balanced. It's also an example of the general rule: to go from the general to the particular. See how the touches of cold reflected light on the trees vibrate, and the hot sienna nuances on the earth and plants finally create the parts of a whole. So, unity with variety; one of the best rules I've learned.

Death dealer – Frank Frazetta – 1973

A painting can become a symbol. Force, power, fear, and death; all these aspects can be shown only through a pre-meditated design and composition.

death dealer - frank frazetta - 1973

There's a great balance of negative space and color contrast within this piece. Also the light direction is very particular and defines exactly what the artist wants to show us. It's controlled. Maybe he decides for a good reason to use only the eyes and his strong hand to get the emotion across, rather than showing a fierce grin or an angry face. In this way, and with the horse's expression, both are complemented to create a whole, brutal main character where the components don't compete with each other. The character is a dark, black evil and is victorious over the battlefield.

Baranof Falls – Richard Schmid

The agility of the brush to design perfect shapes is on show here. As an artist sometimes we have some prejudges about the realism and its very conservative position. The brushstrokes here draw us in to the details.

BARANOF FALLS - richard schmid

As an artist, this piece influences my brushstroke decision making. If you study only this piece thinking superficially about the technique, you wouldn't understand why each stroke is placed, and more importantly, the intention behind each stroke may not be to represent something photorealistically. When one brushstroke can represent more than many, it's important to understand how to represent the essence of motive, painting, design and story.

Related links

Check out Alvaro's making of tutorial for "A game while waiting” using 3ds Max
Alvaro on ArtStation
Grab a copy of Beyond Art Fundamentals from the shop


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