Before the Painting, Came the Sketch

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.

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Above is the reference, the mood brought me in but the sketch told me what I needed to do.

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– 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.

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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.

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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.

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Michael Carson Workshop

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.

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Michael Carson Demonstration

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.

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Michael Carson Demonstration

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.

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Michael Carson Demonstration

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.

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Michael Carson Demonstration

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.

Getting Away from Literal

After painting for many years, one day in a open studio session I realized something, something big. I didn’t have to paint what I was looking at. I had options.  I could leave something out, add something, make something smaller or bigger, change the colors. In short, get away from a literal representation of the subject.

Why would someone want to do that?

  • Very few subjects live or in a photo have all the qualities of a good painting. After all life, a photograph and a painting are three totally different things.
  • I have something personal to express about the subject, different from what you have, because you and I and the next person have a totally different set of experiences. This is when it really gets fun!

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Here is the original subject, in an open studio session. It was a nice scene but at this point I wasn’t sure what I felt about it.

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So at this point I liked some of the color relationships that were happening. I went on to spend about five hours on this pose, than I finally realized who she was . . .or rather who I wanted her to be.

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Pushing and pulling different areas brought out what I wanted to say about her. Getting away from literal is one of the greatest freedoms of painting.

What to do when your paints get taken away-

 

Wow, this happened to me in second grade, now it’s happened again.

Because of circumstances beyond our control John and I are in . . well. . . John would say “real estate hell”, I would call it an escrow holding pattern.

Living in an empty house with only a mattress in the living room is not an ideal situation. All of my art supplies from my easel to my paints are in storage containers in transit to Phoenix. The good news is that losing one’s self in art can be as simple as a pencil and pad of paper.

Wish it was this...
Wish it was this…
But it's like this
But it’s like this
During this journey I’ve discovered a website that has partially saved my sanity.
Russian artist, Stan Prokopenko, who is an instructor at the nationally known Jeffrey Watts Atelier has created an online course focused on anatomy for artists. It’s called Proko.com
What really strikes me about this site is;
From the outside in

I’ve always had a hard time with anatomical charts of front or back facing diagrams with color coded muscles to memorize. This “inside outward” approach seems so removed from what we are working with as artists. Stan’s approach starts with the outside surface, and works inward.

property of Proko.com
Stan’s outside in approach
The old muscle chart
The old muscle chart

When painting from a live model, have you ever had a situation where the lighting was so poor that minimal anatomical information was evident, leaving you to “make things up?”. That’s fine if you’re a landscape painter, pushing a tree over or adding a mountain, but if it’s a figure “things” can’t be randomly manipulated…unless you have a working knowledge of what’s happening under the surface. This opens up a world of possibilities to enhance the design, movement and expression in a painting.

Stan has lots of hands on lessons, just watching the videos will not give you the full benefit, picking up a pencil and doing “the work” that Stan lays out will make a huge difference in understanding anatomy for artists.
Stan has an off beat sense of humor that makes a dry subject more enjoyable to learn. Check it out, let me know what you think-

What not to do…when shipping a Painting

Boxing the remainder of my paintings for transit to Phoenix, takes me back to the first time I shipped an oil painting …

Vinn
Vinnie by Diane Eugster

Many years ago when my painting “Vinnie” was accepted into the Oil Painters of America Annual Show, hiring  a professional packaging company to box up my work seemed like the best choice.

After arriving home with the prepared, boxed, painting, a temptation to open it up set in. How had they protected the painting, what type of packaging materials did they use?

I finally gave in. Carefully cutting the tape, (didn’t want to destroy what I had just paid for), slipping it out onto my work table I saw several layers of bubble wrap. Unraveling the plastic sandwich revealed the surface of Vinnie’s face… pock-marked with bubble imprints! Panic set in.

John and I stood there silent, trying to take in what our eyes were seeing. When we could finally think straight, the deduction was that the varnish had reacted with the wrap. Maybe removing the layer of varnish on the painting would also erase the textured layer. Carefully messaging mineral spirits over the surface eventually removed the marks, restoring Vinnie to his former self.

My lesson… never use bubble wrap next to an oil painting, and…DIY in the future.

In the next post, I’ll share how I make custom bags to protect my paintings in transit…

Changes

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Our Las Vegas Home

For anyone who has been involved in a move (and that’s probably just about everybody), you know how all-encompassing it can be. John and I haven’t done this in 20 years.

We have sold our house in Las Vegas and purchased one in Phoenix. Though very exciting, the transition is a ton of work. Weeding through every single item in our home to decide if it’s worth keeping, selling, donating or trashing is mind numbing.

Our two day garage sale, 111degrees!
Our two day garage sale, 111degrees!

The only work I’ve been able to accomplish in my studio is to decided what to do with my painting archives. Many of my paintings didn’t survive the cut;

Is it something to send to a gallery?  if no-

Is it something I want to hang on my own walls? if no-

Take a photo for the record, remove it

A freeing moment is when I can appreciate a painting for what I learned from it and realize I have no obligation to hold on to it “just because”. No, don’t try fixing  it, if there where enough possibilities in the subject, paint it again, if not, I’m smarter now than I was then.

My painting studio before the move
My painting studio now, as a holding place for boxes

I’m looking forward to a new studio space with more room, an outdoor courtyard area and new inspiration around me. We should be in Phoenix by mid August. When will my work space be up and running? Soon I hope –

To Sum it Up …

We are nearing the end of our 6 month stay in Scottsdale. To recap, John and I decided to celebrate our 20th anniversary by temporarily living in an “art friendly” city, our choice was Scottsdale Arizona.

Why Scottsdale? I have enjoyed attended workshops at the Scottsdale Artists School over the last 15 years. Other art destinations are within easy driving distance, like Sedona and Tucson. The outlying desert regions have a multitude of hiking trail, biking trails (for John) and interesting locations to paint.

What we didn’t expect to happen after 3 months was moving here. So an extended vacation has turned into a life changing event as we have listed our home in Las Vegas for sale and put in a contingency offer for a house in Phoenix.

To sum up the last 6 months I decided a slide show of the work I have completed while here would say it best. Most of the paintings were done from life at the open studio sessions at Scottsdale Artists School.

Some days I experimented with different techniques, some days the paint just seemed to flow while others were a struggle. I learned a lot by painting a lot, and watching some very talented artists. So here are the images in a slide show, in the order they were painted…if you have trouble with the embedded file, try this link