Composition is King

How the painting is put together, the design, the composition will always be the most important element of painting to me.

That’s why I have a list of images in queue ready to be started but waiting for a solution to design problems. This is one of those images. Even though it had a lot going for it, the colors were washed out and the photo was flat, no real contrast. Having no distinguishable dark areas and light makes it hard to compose a painting, so I decided to really push the values where I needed them in order to make a good break up of the space.Ticket-draw

An exploratory sketch, my way to flesh out the idea, confirmed that this could work. Of course you never really know until some paint is on the canvas, but it seemed the odds were good for success!ticket-draw2

Starting with the darks, the framework, the anchor, I used Burnt Sienna to get a warm glow underneath the build up of paint I was planning to do. I wanted to keep the darks moving through the picture. I remember once someone said you should be able to walk across the darks in your paintings.

Ticket to Ride by Diane Eugster
Ticket to Ride by Diane Eugster

I used Gamblin’s oil priming on the canvas for this painting, it creates a slick surface but provides a ground where a lot of textural effects can be used, which was great for this subject with old wood surfaces.

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Choosing a Direction

Friday in open studio at Scottsdale Artists School I was presented with a young woman in a long wool coat. Just painting what was before me could have produced something lackluster. Yes, the model was attractive and the coat interesting but that’s not enough. Thinking about how I wanted to portray this young woman with a long wool coat, was the key to a successful painting.

She could be a Russian spy……or

A homeless teen with an oversized coat……or

A New Yorker, in the 50’s….or

A Vogue model…..yes, this is the one I like best

Having an idea of the elements to exaggerate in the scene helped me make decisions working through it. The long graceful lines in her coat screamed grace and fashion, one hand  in a pocket, the other at her side gave her some attitude, her hair an isometrical wave. Picking out these things and exaggerating them  provided  a strong direction to take. wool1

I wanted to get the coat shape in right away, since it was the largest, most important thing in the image.

wool2lr

Working on a toned surface saved a lot of time. The mid-tones are already there, making it easy to judge the lights against. The light source was cool, so her flesh tones had alizarin, lemon yellow and white in them. Working now to quickly get the background in so I can see all the pieces and how they work together.wool3

At this point everything is blocked in and I like the value (dark and light), patterns, my job from here on out is to develop more interest in each area while keeping the values close. The face gets some shadows, but all fairly light to keep the face together and not fracture it with dark tones.WoolCoatlr

I debated on using the stripes in the background and decided they would make an interesting contrast to the fluid lines in the coat. Since taking David Shevlino’s workshop I have been reaching for my 1″ flat synthetic brushes all the time, they enable a long stroke with sharp or soft edges depending on how it’s angled.

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Lessons from Mary Cassatt

While demonstrating how to make a form show dimension using color temperature instead of value, artist Jerry Salinas suggested we take a closer look at the work of impressionist artist Mary Cassatt.

Girl Arranging Her Hair, 1880, Mary Cassatt
Girl Arranging Her Hair, 1880, Mary Cassatt

She was a master of controlling the space in her paintings by using big shapes of dark against big shapes of light. In Girl Arranging her hair she has grouped the girl and the sink top together by using close values in the light range. We know that there is porcelain, glass, a stiff white fabric and soft flesh without the use of dark to light modeling, just subtle color temperature  shifts and very few dark calligraphic lines.

detail of Girl Arranging Her Hair
detail of Girl Arranging Her Hair

In this close up of her arm you can see how many subtle colors are in the flesh and how effective it is at making that arm read as warm soft and round.

Girl in a Blue Chair, 1880, Mary Cassatt
Little Girl in a Blue Chair, 1880, Mary Cassatt

This painting, Little Girl in a Blue Chair really amazed me when I changed it to grey scale. I was so sure the girl would stand out as a light shape against the chair she is sitting in.

Grey Scale, Little Girl in a blue Chair
Grey Scale, Little Girl in a blue Chair

The truth is, she is very close in value to the chair seat, but totally across the color chart with her orange skin tones. I love the masterful placement of those few dark lines to give her volume as well as the shape of the large sash defining her roundness as well as the left sock explaining the curve of her leg as it comes forward.

Having the opportunity to work from life, I am going to be more conscious of looking for those color temperature changes. This is one of those skills that can be infused into paintings done from photographs in order to make them more vibrant and life-like.

When the Painting is Fueled by the Model

It was Saturday morning, I left one hour early for the 9am open studio session, even though our apartment is only five minutes away from the art school, I’ve learned over the last few weeks that if you are not one of the first six people who make it in the doors when they open in the morning, you will be left holding a palette, paint box and canvas, trying to find the best position in the second row of easels, or worse.

Anyway, I was the first one in the parking lot and the first one in the door. Set up my palette, walked around the school a little, waited….and waited…..The model was late, this was unusual as they usually arrived a half hour early so that the lights could be set up etc. Five after nine, a wispy figure raced in to the room…. that must be the model.

por1

She flung off her glasses and coat and launched into the model’s chair. This was going to be a full on, front face view from my spot in the room. Why was she late? What was she thinking? There was an expression on her face that couldn’t be explained, only painted.

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At this point the solid structure of her face was established, it’s amazing how unsymmetrical the human face really is. I slowed down to check my angles like David Shevlino suggested, comparing  things like; the angle of the end of the eye to the edge of her mouth, the angle of the widest part of her jaw to the inner corner of her eyes.

port-last

This is the finished sketch, I feel that I captured the aura surrounding her.

I had another experience like this only when an elderly cowboy model, “Vinnie” had a hard time finding the art studio, arrived late, and announced to the class that he liked horses more than people. His pensive expression fueled my painting for the rest of the day.