My Paintings, trials and inspirations….
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.
After many years of experimenting with different media, pastel, watercolor, acrylic, etc. why have I decided oil paint is the best choice for me? Because it has the personality traits of many other painting media all rolled into one.
“Unknown”, the painting I just completed last week was a perfect vehicle to take advance of one of my favorite properties of oil paint, transparency. The finished scene would have a dominance of blue, so a transparent underpainting of warm orange reds, the opposite of blue, would be a good base to play those blues off of. I call this stage the “getting to know you, stage”. Moving around the image with washes helps to see what the flow is, how things move throughout the space.
Here’s an ode to watercolor, spattering the surface starts to liven things up, and give me something to work with, (or against), in the next layer. In order for the spatters to stay put and not run, the painting is placed flat on a table until dry.
This stage reminds me of working with pastels. With a chunky squared off brush, laying in passages, weaving the strokes into each other. The goal here is solidifying the image, letting some under layers peek through while building up some heavier passages.
Using Gamblin Alkyd medium makes the layer dry faster, not as fast as acrylic, but enough so that I can work on top of a dry paint layer the next day.
The last stage is to refine and correct. Always correcting, it’s never to late to fix an area that just isn’t right. Refining areas that are important, and ignoring the rest.
It has taken me eight months, since we moved to Phoenix, to get my studio in order.
It’s not s huge space as art studios go, but I have managed to divide the space into “zones” for easy work flow. An area to gesso and varnish, and area to work on my laptop and draw and the most important of all, the area to paint.
The last thing to tackle was my lighting. Up to this point I have been experimenting with different bulbs in the existing ceiling fan; too dull, not enough coverage, spot lights on tripods; too strong with excessive glare, and did I mention tripping over tripods?
I’ve finally came to the conclusion that I should steal John’s idea of using long LED lights in his wood shop.
These lights are available, special order from Rockler Woodworking, and they put out a wonderful stream of 5500 lumens of bright light with no shadowing.
John installed two, one on each side of the room. These lights are surface mount so John installed them as close as he could to the ceiling.
Because of previous remodels to this house, there was no way John could run any electrical inside the walls, so he tapped into an existing outlet, which the previous owner used for a wall mounted TV. Running the wires inside surface moulding, up to the ceiling than across to an electrical outlet he mounted on the ceiling.
Both light fixtures plugged into this outlet on the ceiling. Both lights can be turned on at the switch on the wall or turned on individually by the pull chains.
The whole project came in at under $250. (free labor), which was well worth it.
Have you ever been working on a painting, specifically the head part of a figure and it just won’t materialize the way you envisioned. I recently had this happen and thought I’d share my remedy to “the head that will not work“.
It’s good in the beginning to realize the reference head is a difficult one. What makes one head more of a challenge than another? I’ve brought out some of my older portrait studies to see.
The example above is a easier head because it has strong lighting which defines the planes, but more important it is straight on vertically and horizontally. Not the most interesting pose, but definitely the easiest.
This one is more difficult, although there are some good defining shadows the head is not only tilted to one side, but tilted upwards, Notice how the ears are going lower on the side of the face, this is always the tell tail sign of a head tilted up.
In many ways this head is more difficult than the one above because it is so slightly tipped to one side and tilted up (notice the under side of the chin being visible). This being a rounder, softer face makes it more challenging than one with sharp angles.
An extreme angle like this is hard because it’s a strain to come to terms with the fact that the nose can appear to touch the eye. This is when you have to trust what you see and not what you think you know.
After I’ve made a few attempts at a face from photo reference and it just isn’t working this is what I do:
Making sure the photo head is the same size as the painting head, I draw a square box around the head, placing the head at one side. Label the size of the box, than divide it into eighths if need be. In this photo the right side of the box was mostly her hair, a shape I could easily grasp so I only divided the left side of the box.
On the painting, draw the same size box where the head is. Using the divisions as guide lines, draw in the main elements in the correct locations. Sometimes I’ll do a dry run on a piece of scrap canvas.
Here is the box and pencil drawing on the canvas. Now I see it! The hair line was off, but I know have a good guide to move forward.
The real world and a painting are two totally different things.
You’re standing in front of the model, here lovely Marisa. Interesting costume, nice pose, that rug with the oriental design is great, what a wonderful group of objects by her feet, all shiny and shimmery…
You’ve been there before, you want to paint it all but….you are limited…..by your boundaries, the canvas. Those four edges restricting the world you can paint.
On a recent open studio session at SAS this is how I made those decisions.
I wanted to paint those silver vessels on the floor, I wanted to paint her shoes, but…
more importantly I based my composition on how small I was willing to make the head and where on the canvas boundary to place it comfortably, not too high, too low, too near the edge.
What I didn’t concern myself with yet was the actual color, bright green and magenta. Instead getting neutral value blocks in that filled the space well was what I was after.
Here I was thinking, how is the visual information going to enter my boundaries, how comfortable is it to explore the scene leading to her face? What I gave up was her legs and shoes, too much information where I don’t want you to look. The bright green and magenta just didn’t matter anymore.
Now that “things” are basically the way I want them, what is fighting my original intent? The dark edge next to her uplifted hand in the previous image was causing a tension, pushing against her, so it’s eliminated here. Also the dark shape in the lower area of her dress was distracting.
This is where it really gets fun, adding pattern, textures, refining her expression…and knowing when to stop!
Going through the online art supply site, making up my order for paints I’ve often wondered who buys those strange “off colors” like Dove Grey, Grey Green or Monotint?
One of the key reasons I signed up for Joseph’s class was to see how he achieves those rich but subtle color harmonies. Viewing one of his paintings is like discovering gems, little interactions of color everywhere.
The afternoon of the first day I was faced with uncorking these odd tubes of paint that were on our class supply list. Next, trying to figure out what to do with them. Ummm…Monochrome Tint Warm, kind of a khaki beige, maybe I’ll put it right here next to the Yellow Ochre on my palette. Green Grey, maybe next to Olive Green, Yellow Grey, a lot like Monochrome. These colors felt like total strangers to me.
It took me a full week with these colors on my palette to see the unique usefulness they offered.
Joseph talked a lot about suppressing white, holding the values close. The more I studied his paintings the more I saw the magic happened in those midrange tones.
The mid-range between values 4 and 7 also happen to be where most of these “off colors” live. Now I get it! These colors are just midtone greys, mixtures I would probably end up making on my palette eventually, but now I can could easily grab these to modify other tones. If I have a value 4 red that needs to be muted, I have a two-step process in front of me. First I need to add green, now it’s too dark, the value has slipped into 2 or 3, so I need white to bring it back to value 4, unless I use Holbein’s Green Grey which is already a value 4. Once I got the hang of these new colors they transformed from strangers to friends.
It’s always good to open up the possibilities of using new materials, seeing things a little differently. The painting below I did in open studio using some of these concepts, no white and only a small amount of Naples Yellow .