My Paintings, trials and inspirations….
Have you ever been two thirds into a painting and find you don’t know how to finish it?
This usually happens when working from photo reference that was cropped too close, there’s more story out there, you just can’t see it, or you veered away from your reference material with an idea, but found yourself lost in the forest. “The Girl in a Gold Dress” was the first scenario.
I liked what was happening up to this point, but could sense things could fall apart if I didn’t pay more attention to the unity. So this is the time that I need to start asking myself some questions:
Things started to come around, less really is more.
The dress, though complex in it’s texture was fun to translate into staccato strokes of browns violets and golds.
After painting for awhile, we all have them. . . the stack of paintings, that won’t go away. There are small victories in certain areas, but the war was not won. They don’t warrant displaying, even in our own homes.
The best answer I’ve found to finally put them to rest, is making use of them, a repurpose paint-over. Here’s how I go about it:
In the lower third of this paint-over you can still make out the original portrait flipped upside down. I have massed in the large shapes, paying attention to the values as they relate to one another. An old painting is such a nice surface to work on, it is essentially an oil primed canvas.
There were some heavy paint areas in the original, resulting in some raised brush work, this serves as a challenge to paint even heavier so I can work them in.
The final image, notice I left some of the violet from the original painting. Allowing the old painting to show through can make the new work richer.
This image from a photo shoot several years ago kept surfacing. I loved the scene, although it was not dynamic enough to warrant a painting . . . until…..I approached it like a writer telling a story.
Where did this girl live, what was her day like up until this point, what would she be doing in a hour? Only after I “fleshed her out” did I start to understand what this could become.
After extrapolating this scenario it was time to rein it in, to its’ most basic core, two words that summed it up. “Dreamer” and “Earthy”. How could I, using this reference, translate these two thoughts into paint?
“Earthy”, push rough texture, use warm orange browns and greens.
“Dreamer”, exaggerate her expression and stance
Now I had something to work with! Since there were not many browns and oranges in the scene, putting a Burnt Sienna wash over the entire surface, than letting it show through as texture would be my approach.
At this point I checked back with my original plan…whoa, no violet in the interpretation I wanted, so I had the choice of pushing this area toward brown, orange or green, I chose a grey green. Sometimes being really rigid and sticking to an idea helps guide the painting toward more harmony, this was one of those cases.
I was happy with the outcome of using words to drive my paint application.
“Waiting”, can be seen at the Meyer Vogl Gallery, 122 Meeting St., Charleston, South Carolina in early October.
A sweeping staircase, a crystal lit foyer, open iron gates or a cobblestone walkway would be great, unfortunately many times we’re left standing on the curb with no path to the front door.
A painting can leave you with that same feeling, you want to get in but enthusiasm is lost trying to figure it out.
Here are some examples of welcoming entrances –
Usually the most effective way to enter a painting seems to be-
I’ve found taking a photo of the subject with my phone, than making a quick cropping makes it easier to visualize the best place to cut off the bottom for a good design lead in, especially helpful when working from life.
Here is a subject I recently painted, and how I decided to crop it.
I began blocking this in from the bottom up. It’s tempting to start with the area of most interest, the head, and work down from there, but too many times I have been left with awkward shapes at the bottom, spending way too much time trying to “make it work”.
Have you ever finished a painting you were happy with only to find that months, weeks or even days later there are some serious problem areas. Summer Breeze is such a painting.
This painting is a little larger than I usually work, 20″ x 30″, but after two weeks of planning and execution it was finished. There were many things that worked out well,
The gesture of the pose, the expression of her face, the sense of light, but as she sat on my fireplace mantle for several days I started to “feel” there were some areas that needed addressing. It was a “feeling” at first because I couldn’t pin it down enough to do something about it, and I will never go back to rework a painting unless I have a specific change in mind. Enough days had passed, it became crystal clear what was required.
At #1, the strongest shape in the scene. It is very strong because it’s surrounded by dark, is large and is pointing to the left, drawing way to much attention to an area that is secondary,
The shape at #2 is bothersome because it appears to be the same value as the top plane of the skirt, which is the way the photo appeared because of the tendency for photos to blow out the lights. In reality this area would be darker than the upper plane which is receiving more light.
At #3 and 4#, these light shapes take away from the solid anchoring effect of the dark shadow along the bottom and add more attention to an area that shouldn’t receive any.
At #5 I could add a little more information to follow the form of her body and make it more interesting.
All during the painting process I wrestled with that rectangle #6, behind her head. Should I keep it or not. Now I can see, not, it adds a visual weight to the top of her head, which throws her a little off balance.
At #7, stream line her shoulder a little here to soft her.
The lower shadow area #8, could be working harder to stabilize the balance. I want it to create a more solid base for the figure. Even though there was not a supporting leg on the bench in the photo, it was needed to alleviate the floating sensation in this area.
Last but not least, the color needed adjusting. More warmth in the background wall, as well as in her skirt.
I was happy with the changes and glad I made them. It’s never too late to go back and make things better!
Before beginning most paintings these days I like to do an exploratory sketch. Why?
It’s very relaxing, just me, a pencil, paper, what could be more simple than that. No easel, kind of a Zen thing, getting lost in the shapes and tones.
These sketches are for no other reason than for me to get to know my subject better. In the process many potential problems get solved, the link between the subject and the painting, resulting in a road map to the destination.
Above is the reference, the mood brought me in but the sketch told me what I needed to do.
– I can see the pattern on the rug does nothing to help the mood, also a soft graduation in the foreground would put more focus on her legs.
– Pushing her head slightly forward and down will exaggerate the pose.
– Using the idea of lights (seen to the right of her head), but larger, and more of them will guide the eye and add to the mood.
– Was wondering if I wanted to keep that drape on the far right, and yes, it’s a good anchor.
– Not sure what I want to do with the color yet, but the idea of black and white is appealing in many ways.
While actually painting I also stop and sketch areas that need more clarity, such as the simplified shapes in the hair, the light planes that fall on the face and how the head is sitting on the shoulders.
As I approached the end of the painting I relied on my initial sketch instead of the subject to remind me of what was important.
Living in Phoenix definitely has it’s perks. One of them is living near the Scottsdale Artists School, where 50 or more well known artists teach workshops throughout the year.
One particular class that appeared on the schedule caught my eye. Contemporary figurative painter Michael Carson was offering a class. I’d seen Carson’s work online and at the Bonner David Gallery in downtown Scottsdale. You can imagine my disappointment when the class filled up right away, which only left me with a spot on the waiting list.
Fortunately a second class was formed and I was in!
The workshop just wrapped up Saturday with a fabulous morning demo. Michael painted beautiful Dakota Acosta, the process is shown below.
Working on a resin surface which he created himself by pouring a two part mixture over a wooden panel, he roughed in the basic lines of her face hair and shirt with Warm Grey. Notice the darker bleeding of the oil around these lines, an interesting effect. The resin appears to have a matte finish because the surface has been sanded to relieve the slickness. Next the Warm grey was used to very carefully fill in the shadow shapes, followed by a massing in of the flesh areas with Yellow Grey.
Dimension started appearing as he used Brilliant yellow on top of the Yellow grey. Warm hints of Schevenings Purple Brown began to form the mouth.
Things really started to take shape as he worked into the eyes, carefully shaping the lighter areas, Next the underside of the nose and lips, all with very meticulous brush work.
In the last session he went into the shirt, massing in with Warm Grey, than stopped to decide if he wanted to add the bright blue in the lower left area. I said to myself “no Michael don’t do it, don’t do it” and then…. he did it….and it worked! Successfully breaking two rules of painting, never add a color at the end of a painting not used elsewhere, and, always put the brightest color next to the center of interest.
So why did it work? Because that face is rendered with such finesse and sensitivity that nothing else could possibly take away from it.