Painting Words

Have you ever had a subject you went back to time and time again, but just couldn’t figure out what to do with it?

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. 

Moving along, this was the point to refine her stance and expression.

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.

 

 

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Making an Entrance…

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 –

Sargentlr
Miss Helen Duinham, John Singer Sargent

 

 

Wulr
Breezy Day, Zhaoming Wu
Asarolr
John Asaro
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Home Fields, John Singer Sargent
Vanlr
Vincent Van Gogh
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Drying Out, Lori Putnam

Usually the most effective way to enter a painting seems to be-

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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.irenelr
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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”.

LatinInfluencelr
Latin Influence, Diane Eugster

Summer, Revisited

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, OldSummerBreeze-lr

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.

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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.

 

 

SummerBlog4

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.

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I was happy with the changes and glad I made them. It’s never too late to go back and make things better!

The Trouble with Heads

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.

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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.

example2

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.

example3

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

Excuse me You’re in my Picture”

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If I had come across this photo five years ago it would have been deleted. But working out the kinks with this kind of thing over and over has helped me to mine out the content and ignore the rest.

It all starts with the question…what about this image interests me enough to think it would make a painting?  The light falling on the girl with a rake and the fact that she makes a strong diagonal composition.

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A terrific eye path up the right side to her hat, down to the rake and over to the bottom right of her skirt and around and around. It’s important to examine all the elements in the photo and ask .. are they helping to make my point or taking away from it.

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I have numbered and circled some areas.

1. This couple didn’t mean to photo bomb my subject but they have to go.

2. This path leads out of the image on the left, conflicting with the triangle composition. It also has a strong contrast to everything else, drawing attention to itself …got to go.

3. There are a large assortment of shrubs of different textures tones and sizes. I feel it makes the area too complicated and does not enhance my motive, the girl.

4. The lone shrub in the front is just a blockade to the flow of the composition.

O.k., so if I remove these things, what do I replace them with? Going back to the original photo and using the basics of what’s there is the answer. The distant foliage can be greatly simplified into two colors of the same value against a large darker mass of green.

In place of the light path the dirt can go further back and the greenery can come forward until they meet. The dark shadows under the shrubs also disrupts the triangular flow of the composition so it’s eliminated.

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So what I end up with is the essence of what I wanted to say in “Summer Sun”.

The Portable Artist

During this last year I have found new opportunities to paint outside of the studio. Working outdoors or in classroom/open studio situations, can be an exciting way to supercharge your motivation. I’ve needed to think faster, with limited time, quick decisions need to be made in order to get it done.

Another part of being a “portable artist” is traveling light. It’s great when I can spread out in the studio, brushes in this drawer and that container, canvases leaning, stacked and on easels, but a condensed version of what’s needed had to be trimmed down.

One awkward situation is having one or more wet paintings to carry out, put in the car and get back to the studio without damage to the surface. On more than one occasion I’ve finished a 3 hour painting session outside only to drop my painting, face first, yes, into the dirt.

Wet panel carrier by John
Wet panel carrier by John

Several years ago John made a wet panel carrier for traveling on trips, for instance on an airplane.

This works great but what I was currently looking was something light weight, easy to carry that holds panels or stretched canvas in various sizes.

John came up with this great design which holds two canvases (up to 16″ x 20″) or a panel and canvas of different sizes or multiple panels. He has chronicled the building process at WoodworksbyJohn.com

John's new canvas/panel carrier
John’s new canvas/panel carrier

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John is going to reproduce several carriers. I’d like opinions on what you think would be a reasonable price point?

Getting in “The Zone”

Those of us who paint are familiar with “the zone”. That place where it’s easy to get  lost in the world of your painting, a place with a repetitive cadence; look, mix, apply, evaluate …and again. A place where hours melt by, while the world outside pulses with turmoil, your’s swirls with texture, color and emotion. It’s such a great place to be but it can be very hard to get there.

Sometimes stopping everyday tasks to go in and actually paint can be like walking on the stage of a Balanchine Ballet mid number and being in the flow, it’s  a hard transition.

Here are some things I do to ease myself into “the Zone”-

 

If I haven’t actually begun the painting yet, I’ll pull out my paper and pencil (always in the ready position), and do a drawing of the subject. There are fewer things to deal with in a drawing, no color, no paint to scrape off, just exploring with a pencil, taking my time, what’s the rush, this is part of my painting time. Soon something magic will happen and the subject has turned into art, a thing that’s one step closer to a painting. Taping it to the wall by my canvas helps me to see there are more possibilities than the obvious.

Lay the paints out on the palette…too many options….where do I start? Sometimes a one color block in gets the thing on the canvas, giving a sense of how it takes up space, the movement of it all. SteppingBloglr

Than the paint, I like to give myself suggestions, a sort of menu of what might look appetizing. With a knife I mix two colors on my palette, and another, what about those two? Getting ten to twelve colors in the same value range, usually the mid value range and things start to get exciting.

Just put something down. There is one of two things that will happen, you’ll hit the mark and have something to take off from or it’s the wrong thing, so now you know what the right thing is cause that wasn’t it! Forget about anyones expectations but your own and enjoy the process –

Stepping Out by Diane Eugster
Stepping Out by Diane Eugster