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.

Oil Painting, the best of both worlds

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. walking1-lrThe 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.

walking2-lrHere’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.

walking3-lrThis 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.

UnknownFinalImagelrThe 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.

Taking it Further

Many times when painting a subject from life there just isn’t enough time to finish, or quality control starts to diminish when “artist fatigue” sets in.

The next day, back in the studio, armed with some photos, one taken a little overexposed to see what’s happening in the shadows and one underexposed to see what’s happening in the lightest areas, it’s time to take a hard look. This is one of the greatest ways to develop a keener eye.

So, how do I take it further? Writing down what I like so far;

  • The strong sense of light on her face, an almost stark quality
  • The composition

Now, what could elevate this, if I saw a more advanced version of this painting at an art show, what is it that would make me stop and look?

  • Correct any drawing/value problems that would take away from the whole
  • Work the edges to lead the eye around the painting and not distract
  • Play up the textures1920rough-lrI began in the studio at this point-

1920-final-lr

After taking it further with the changes below-

Drawing problems;

  • her left hand and right hands- needed reshaping and softening
  • her left arm, take the value lighter and reshape
  • her knee, not in the right place
  • chin, a little more pointed

Opportunities for texture

  • highlight on her headband
  • shine on her dress
  • fur and sparkles on coat, right side
  • background needs a little more chroma
  • work items on table for more interest

In the beginning when trying to “taking it further” it may seem hard to spot what you need to do, but keep looking with a critical eye and you will soon develop a knack for seeing which direction to take.

 

Making it More

Friday at SAS we had a lovely model with a complex setup. Her outfit was shocking orange and bright white, silver sequins, ruffles, three large hoops woven in and out of her arms.

A wonderful costume for her performance on stage but how can it transfer to a painting?  I begin by asking the question

How do I create harmony ?

Minimize the colors, minimize the shapes, this means zooming in on a selected area which will create fewer shapes.

O.K. now I have a direction to take. Since there was a lot of orange in the scene I chose burnt sienna, this will give me a large range of values. Cadmium orange will be good for a strong shot of color in the midtone range. Cadmium red seemed a good choice for the duller mid to dark values (when mixed with white, it will actually appear grayish compared to the oranges.)
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Feeling that there is more energy in the head and torso area, this is where I will focus.acrobat2lr

As I took this further some things were gained, others lost.

Back in the studio, minus the model, plus a reference photo I have more questions, which usually start with…

If I saw a better version of this painting what would it look like?

It would have more interplay between the background and foreground, there is too much separation in this image. It would also have a livelier mood, more expressive brushwork. More texture, shine v/s dull, smooth v/s rough. And last but not least check the drawing for proportion errors.

The Acrobat, by Diane Eugster
The Acrobat, by Diane Eugster

In short how can I make this more of what I want, push it without breaking it!

 

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…

Being your own Best Critic

Training your critical eye is one of the best tools to improve painting skills. After all who can you depend on to be available anytime, who knows and understands what you’re trying to do……you.

Here are three ways that have helped me to become my best art critic;

Attend open studio sessions, while there, walk around the room and really look at what others are doing. Find several people who are more experienced, see how they have handled areas that you are struggling with. Take pictures of their work (if they give you permission), and study it later. What things are they doing that could elevate your work, more varied edges, more subtle colors, using warm passages against cool etc.

Before you try the next suggestion you might say “what’s the point, just go on to something else”. I’ve found to take my work to the next level I need to dig deeper, take an unbiased look at my paintings, remove myself from it’s creation and ask these questions;

If I saw another version of this painting in a gallery and really liked it, how would it be different from my version? I did this with my painting below.pinkdressOriglr

The big things;

The shape of her skirt would be more interesting, as it is, one half is a mirror image of the other. It could also have more form, there must be a top plane, front planes and side planes, but where are they? More variety in color, even though it’s not totally a flat color, the surface suffers from sameness. More movement, the diagonal at the bottom of the skirt  has the potential for a more interesting edge.

The background could be cooler. The main character should call the shots on the painting temperature. She is built with very cool tones, I don’t believe her world would have that much orange in it.

The small things;

The girl’s posture is a little stiff, so is her expression. Before I rework her head I better make sure it’s in the right place, (which it wasn’t).

Can I make this more than a girl in a big skirt?PinkDresslr

Going through several days of revisions, I think it’s finally a better version of it’s former self! I definitely learned some things on this one!

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