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From Still Life Session IV '23: Lesson on "Form Painting" from Kiri

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Ted Jacobs, our teacher, called the activity and philosophy of painting that he taught, "Form Painting." It is a backbone, one among many, upon which to hang a personal style. As a result of studying with Ted, students gained a language of expression and an understanding of the fundamental science of perception. Ted stated that he was teaching something deeper than style: the realization of the optical characteristics of our visual experience. It was, he said, a way of seeing that had been known for centuries. For this reason his teaching was not so much about how to do things as it was about what we see with our eyes: light configured through its interaction with the forms and substances of the things around us.


"Still Life with Mandarins," 10x12, Oil on Panel, Kiri Hardy, 2023 ©


Nevertheless, Ted practiced a highly refined method of painting that he shared in his demo's. It is an involved process. He spent months at work in his studio on his projects. The demo's were brief flashes, momentary insights into Ted's mind and technique. His practice was based, on the one hand, on the depth of his understanding of form and light, and on the other hand, on an historical approach known as "painting from dark to light."


"Still Life with Mandarins," "Poster," 3x4, Oil on Panel, Kiri Hardy, 2023 ©


He taught us to begin with a "poster study," a small (2"x3" - 5"x7"), broadly painted, tonal (hue/value/chroma) analysis of the pictorial field: the subject of our painting. The essence of the poster study is the mathematically perfect and proportionate organization of the light in the space before us. For at each point, following the laws of physics, there shines exactly the right amount (value) and color (hue, chromatic intensity) of light. The effect of all the points of light taken together is the "Poster." It possesses "Integritas," (oneness), "Harmonia," (harmony), and "Claritas," (brilliance, clarity). According to Aristotle these, along with rhythm, are the fundamental attributes of beauty.


"Still Life with Mandarins," Drawing, 10x12, Oil on Panel, Kiri Hardy, 2023 ©


After the poster, Ted switched to the canvas or panel on which he painted the finished piece. Here he did a drawing of the subject. In his studio, for the purposes of his intricately designed compositions, he did his drawings in vine charcoal on an untoned surface. They would take many concentrated hours of work. They were for the most part line drawings with a hint of shading here and there. For his three-hour demo's he worked on a lightly, transparently toned ground of a relatively neutral, brownish ochre cast. He drew with a brush for about the first twenty minutes in a slightly darker version of the same color.


"Still Life with Mandarins," "Form Painting, I" 10x12, Oil on Panel, Kiri Hardy, 2023 ©


Then followed painting from dark to light. This entailed the application of two layers, a somewhat darkened "base," and the "lights." These latter were dragged into the base before it dried, on account of which this process is also known as "painting wet into wet." Ted painted the base in a progression. He began at the edge of the shadow, the "terminator," where the rounded form turns into the light. At the terminator, where light and shadow meet, it is virtually as dark as the shadow. From there, the form gradually turns up into the light. It becomes lighter and lighter until it reaches the point where it faces the light most directly. In this place are found the lightest-lights and the high-light. From the terminator to the lightest-light and high-light, Ted applied a succession of brush strokes from dark to light.


"Still Life with Mandarins," "Form Painting, II" 10x12, Oil on Panel, Kiri Hardy, 2023 ©


"Still Life with Mandarins," "Form Painting, III" 10x12, Oil on Panel, Kiri Hardy, 2023 ©


Ted painted the base just a step or two "under" (darker than) the anticipated value of the finished product. Then he worked up the lights with lighter, differently colored mixtures, deftly layering them on top of the base, with smaller brush strokes, allowing the base to show through in places. Ted said that oil paint works best this way. He performed this systematic mode of working, discretely, form by form, beginning and completing each one as he proceeded across the canvas. This gives rise to an effect resembling the gradual opening of a window shade, revealing the finished painting one section at a time. Consequently, form painting is sometimes described as a "window shade technique."


"Still Life with Mandarins," "Form Painting, IV" 10x12, Oil on Panel, Kiri Hardy, 2023 ©

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