The Trouble with Hats and Beards

Here’s Nick, who posed for open studio at SAS. A great subject to paint, I especially like the strong black and white contrasts. So what makes this challenging?

Hats. The trouble with hats is;

* We have a preconceived idea that a hat sits “on top” of a head, but it really sits over the head, with the head sinking into it. It’s important to remember that there’s a head inside that hat.

* We think of a hat as being secondary to the face, but in most cases it takes up a lot of space and may be equal to or larger than the face.

* Here, I’m looking up at the head which causes the hat to receive in space. The angle is unexpected, my mind tells me no, but my eye says yes, (listen to your eye).

Beards. The trouble with breads is;

* They don’t have a solid structure, kind of like a cloud, they are puffy and soft.

* It can be challenging to give them dimension, but they do have a light side and shadow side. Look at the light falling on the face for clues as to how the light is hitting the beard.

I use standard proportion when first mapping out a face. Like the center of the eye socket is usually the half way point between the top of the head and the chin.

This subject has both the top of the head and the chin obscured, so the logical thing to do is use what I can see. The height of the hat compared with the face, compared with the beard.

It turns out that the hat and beard take up about the same space vertically while the face takes up about 3/4 of this measure. This gives me a great place to start.

I never rush my base drawing. Taking my time on this step pays off big in the painting phase. I like to use vine charcoal which is easily erased and won’t leave the trace lines that pencil will.

Here I’ve blocked in the darkest darks first. The next most important area is the background, many times I see a student paint the background last, the is the opposite of what I do. The background will influence everything else. An extreme example of this is someone in a white shirt next to an orange wall. The color in the orange wall will bounce all over the white shirt. A subtle background like this one will also infuse into the subject.

I’m working from dark to light, from easy colors to judge to hard ones. You’ll notice I’m leaving the flesh tone until last. Flesh is such a muted tone which can change with each person and even situation, saving it for last will make it easier.

The final pass is adding texture to the hair, beard and face.

Having a Point of View

This is a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, especially during this time of COVID-19. Not having all the options in my day has forced me to be more focused.

Why do I spend 80% of every day painting, thinking about what I am painting or what I’m going to paint next?

Because it’s very important to express my feelings about my subjects, I just have to get it out. But am I really, getting “it” out? Are they reflecting what is inside me or just a piece of canvas with paint on it representing three dimension on a two dimensional surface.

For many years that is just what was happening…looks like the subject….yeah, good work, repeat. At some point this was very boring, wasn’t I more interesting than that, come on, can’t I make it more about me and less about the subject. This sounds a bit selfish, but I think that is exactly what good painting is about, your personal point of view.

Below is a recent painting I just complete, “Help Wanted”, and the versions that were necessary steps to help me arrive at my authentic point of view.

blog

The original photo. What I don’t like about it; the overall yellowish tone, Too much red in the lower section. This could take a nose dive into cuteness or sentiment. These things are fairly easy to overcome. Shift the color balance cooler and crop in the lower section. The sentimentality is going to be a conscious effort to not fall into what I’ve seen before.

Now for the really important stuff… what do I like, or why would I want to paint this, what’s my point of view? Looks like this you girl is waiting to be interviewed for a job. There is tension in her hands as she grips her purse, ( at least in one hand, I’ll have to re-gesture the other one) . Her face is tense and listless at once. Her blouse is a little too big maybe borrowed from someone, the hat sits at an awkward angle. Obviously not something she has worn much.

I’ve been there! Wearing uncomfortable “dress-up” clothes,trying to get a job, feeling in a trance because the Manager was too busy with important stuff to give me the time of day. An uneasy situation for sure.dan111

Above, exploring my options. I could give her a dark jacket and gloves, add something dark to the left. Taking the color out of it, turning it to pure value can help with design decisions. How am I going to fill the space in an interesting way?

ver3

At this point I reconnected with my purpose and it was not working, why? The attitude of the hands and expression in the face were lost. The ground and her skirt were more interesting, not my intention. What do I do now?

Could put it in the failed paintings pile and move on to something else…or….really learn something and figure out how to turn it around.

She needs to be bigger in the story, crop in closer to really see her face and hands, Back to the light blouse and hands with no gloves, just attack it and make it behave!

IMG_3977

The beginning of the “right” thing over the “wrong” thing”. It’s a little confusing to just paint over something else, but makes you realize, this is about you, you can do anything you want to, that’s freeing!

helpwanted-lr

This is what I wanted to say, my point of view. There could be hundreds of others, but this one is mine.

 

What makes the “right” frame?

Several years ago I went to an unusual event. Models were hired by a local photography studio, and all those who had a digital SLR camera could take pictures for a price.

Ten or so of us stood in line for our turn at five minutes with the model. This meant directing her while using the props and strobe lights that were available in the space.

blog1frame

This young woman stood out with her pink dreadlocks/shaved head hair style, heavy makeup and cartoon tattoos . I sensed that under all the distractions there was a whole other girl, so that’s the girl that I painted.

goldframe

For a long time this was the frame on the painting. When I took it out the other day it was clear this was not a good choice. Why?

These are the things I look at now when choosing a frame;

-What is the dominant temperature? Warm, which the gold frame is . . however

-What is the largest area of color (or dominant color), medium size color, accent color? Dark brown, orange and gold, some blues (in order). This is the problem

By putting a gold frame on this, it is adding way more gold to the overall image, making gold no longer an accent in the piece, and throwing the balance in the painting off.

Also the bright gold next to the dark background makes it hard to see the subtle darks, the eye just can’t get past the jarring move from light gold frame to dark background.

IMG_2641

My husband John made this frame for her that is so much better. This ebonized Red Oak, dark wood frame enhances the colors in the background, while the nail head trim matches the edginess of the subject.

The next time you choose a frame, ask yourself if it continues with the balance you’ve developed, being a supporting cast member, or is it screaming for attention over your subject.

 

 

What Now?

Have you ever been two thirds into a painting and find you don’t know how to finish it?

This usually happens when working from photo reference that was cropped too close, there’s more story out there, you just can’t see it, or you veered away from your reference material with an idea, but found yourself lost in the forest. “The Girl in a Gold Dress” was the first scenario.

blog1

I liked what was happening up to this point, but could sense things could fall apart if I didn’t pay more attention to the unity. So this is the time that I need to start asking myself some questions:

  • If I saw this painting (painted by someone else), and really liked it, what would it look like? It would be strong, and simply rendered.
  • What would make it stronger? Simplify the color, nothing weakens a painting like patches of unrelated color. Too much color can fracture an image and that’s what was starting to happen here. Get rid of the red, blue and orange. Concentrate on the main golds and violets.

blog2.jpg

Things started to come around, less really is more.

The dress, though complex in it’s texture was fun to translate into staccato strokes of browns violets and golds.

Repurposed Paintings

After painting for awhile, we all have them. . . the stack of paintings, that won’t go away. There are small victories in certain areas, but the war was not won. They don’t warrant displaying, even in our own homes.

The best answer I’ve found to finally put them to rest, is making use of them, a repurpose paint-over. Here’s how I go about it:

  1. It’s easiest to select an old painting that is dominantly light to midtown in value. Darker paintings can be more difficult but intersting because initial lines don’t show up, using a grey mix of Ivory Black and White will work.
  2. Flip the painting upside down, which throws the original subject into abstraction, making it less distracting as the new painting takes form.
  3. Get some initial lay-in lines down, the general placement of things, too many lines promote confusion.
  4. Begin blocking in the large masses with paint and turpentine using large brushes. Blog-repurpose1

In the lower third of this paint-over you can still make out the original portrait flipped upside down. I have massed in the large shapes, paying attention to the values as they relate to one another. An old painting is such a nice surface to work on, it is essentially an oil primed canvas. blog-repurpose2

There were some heavy paint areas in the original, resulting in some raised brush work, this serves as a challenge to paint even heavier so I can work them in.Blog-final-large

The final image, notice I left some of the violet from the original painting. Allowing the old painting to show through can make the new work richer.

 

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

home-fieldslr
Home Fields, John Singer Sargent

Vanlr
Vincent Van Gogh

LoriPutnamDryingOutlr
Drying Out, Lori Putnam

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

illus1

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
IMG_3081

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

Respecting Your Boundaries

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.

IMG_2489

I wanted to paint those silver vessels on the floor, I wanted to paint her shoes, but…Reclinelr1

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.reclinglr2

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.reclinelr3

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.relinlrfinal

This is where it really gets fun, adding pattern, textures, refining her expression…and knowing when to stop!

Only in Scottsdale

The other day in open studio I heard talk of a painting demonstration at the new Scottsdale Museum of the West. I was taken back when I found out who the artist was. This was a stroke of luck, one of my favorite painters, Scott Burdick was to be the featured artist, in town because his wife, Sue Lyon was giving a workshop at the school.

Scott Burdick
Scott Burdick

We arrived early enough to grab a seat in the second row of the auditorium. Scott was there in his usual ball cap and jeans, so unassuming for the master painter that he is. After introductions he began his painting of a dramatic black model.

Scott and his Model at the Western Heritage Museum Demonstration
Scott and his Model at the Western Heritage Museum Demonstration

He began drawing with burnt sienna on a white canvas, stressing how important it was, even at this stage, to be accurate with placement. Next he blocked in all the darks with one tone of burnt sienna. Instead of mixing a violet on his palette, for the head scarf, he layed in a red tone than a blue on top of this, mixing them together on the canvas which created a lively effect.

demo10
Scott Burdick demonstration

His next goal was to cover all the white canvas as he painted carefully  around the edge of her face with the background blue.

Building up to a thicker and thicker paint layer, it was amazing to watch him massage the heavy paint in order to get interesting edges as all the elements registered more and more dimensional.

Scott Burdick Demo
Scott Burdick Demo

In the above image the painting was 80% completed, I wish I had a photo of the finish painting, but the crowd rushed down and enveloped Scott and his painting. Many patrons wanted to get their names in the hat to purchase it for $1,200., a great discount for one of his paintings.

demo1111

Bur-Demo9
Scott Burdick painting

He also sold two others he had brought, again, more buyers than paintings, so they drew names.

It was a great afternoon of watching a master work and listening to his entertaining stories.