Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Traditional Indian Wedding

I just completed a painting for a couple married in a traditional Indian Hindu ceremony, right here in Asheville.  They were married at the Crowne Plaza, which is one of the few places in town able to accommodate the roughly 650 attendees, plus vendors like me and the staff.  This was the second time I've done a painting of such an event and, I gotta say, they know how to have a good time!  In Indian tradition, the groom travels in a big procession to the bride's village.  Well, we're not going between villages, not here, but we can still have a procession, with music, dancing, a couple hundred people, more music, and more dancing.  Yes, we can.  And did.  It took about an hour to go from one side of the building to the other.  You can walk it in three minutes, but hey, this wasn't about walking, it was about music and dancing! 

The ceremony itself started about 10 am ... well, maybe a bit later, because, y'know, music and dancing.  The groom came in and was welcomed by the bride's family.  Then the bride arrived.  "Beautiful" is not a good enough word ... "STUNNING" is more appropriate.  The young lady is quite beautiful in her own right and had a custom dress with peacocks embroidered on the front, and more jewelry than your average jewelry store (and more beautiful, too).  There's a lot of movement in these ceremonies: people getting up and down, moving around, coming in and going out, and I can't tell you what was going on since I don't know the language.  I focused on taking a ton of photos so I'd have sufficient visual resources to do whatever it was I was going to do with the painting.  Finally, after maybe an hour and a half, it was done, and there were more photos and lunch and mingling.  Then there was a break until the reception in the evening.  I went back to my studio, which was just a very few miles away, loaded the photos from the camera into the laptop and studio iMac, and began figuring out the new painting's composition.  Then I began blocking things in.  Later that afternoon, I went back to the Crowne Plaza, set up the easel, and really got to work.  I painted all through the reception.  There was a LOT of interest from the guests.  Many came over repeatedly to see things develop.  I had some really good conversations with quite a few of them.  Meanwhile, there was more music, dancing, eating, more music, and more dancing.  Did I say that this crowd knew how to party?  And have you ever heard Hindu hip-hop?  Yeah, it'll get you moving!  Everybody - young, old, grandparents, little kids, EVERYbody was moving.  And kept moving.  They were still going strong long after the advertised end time.  And, I suspect, they kept going after they finally had to leave the place.

The next day I worked on the painting in the studio to bring it from a crude sketch to something I could develop.  Here's how it looked (click on the image for a larger view):


The bride's family is on the left, groom's on the right.  Their stage setup had a big circle of flowers overhead and a red red red curtain for a backdrop.  I was afraid that the bright strong red was going to overpower everything else, and at this early stage, it was still a danger.  But that's what they had as their backdrop, so it needed to be there.  I gave a lot of thought to what the curtain should look like by the end, then reverse-engineered to figure out how to get there.  Another thing that had to change was the couple.  In this initial version, they're sitting side by side, looking straight out at the viewer.  That struck me as wrong.  The ceremony is about them, and their union, so they should be engaged with each other rather than us.  So I painted them out completely, let that part dry, and then repainted them in a much better arrangement.  Then it was a matter of going around and bringing each individual, and each part of the painting, up to my standards.  And here's how it turned out:


Yes, I'm very happy with the finished painting.  The red curtain is strong but does not overwhelm the people.  They're looking and smiling at each other, which is as it should be.  I managed to get good likenesses of all the people.  And there's a lot of life in the figures.  Most importantly, the couple LOVE the painting!

Going to a traditional Hindu wedding is an amazing experience.  I really hope to do it again sometime soon.  To this wonderful couple, I say thank you for this opportunity!

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Wedding Painting Updates

I've completed the wedding painting for Julianna and Andrew.  Julianna was probably the most excited client I've ever had.  During the reception, as I was busily getting the painting blocked in, several of her friends told me, independently of each other, that Julianna had been telling people "I'm getting married!" followed very quickly by "and I'm having a live wedding painter at the ceremony!"  She really wanted a good artwork of her wedding.  And she chose me.  Wow, no pressure there, huh?

Julianna and Andrew were married at the Vineyard Estate at the New Kent Winery, a bit east of Richmond, Virginia.  It's a really beautiful venue for an outdoor ceremony.  The couple decided that they wanted the painting to focus on their return walk down the aisle as a brand-new married couple.  So I coordinated with the photographers (Turtle & Hare Photography, a husband-wife team, very good, very professional) and took a ton of my own reference photos alongside them.  Then I loaded my photos into my laptop and got to work in the reception hall.


But getting a painting up to my standards of finish takes a lot more than just the couple of hours that the reception provides.  No, it takes two to four weeks.  And with a client like Julianna, for whom the painting is a Really Big Thing, it would probably be a four-weeker.  Which it was.

But I finished it last week, she approved it, and the painting is off to its new home.  And here's how it turned out (you can click on it for a larger image):


I'm working on another wedding painting right now and believe it'll be wrapped up in a few days.  Once it's approved, I'll post it here.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Road Trip

I just got back from a road trip for combined personal and business matters.  I enjoy being on the road, but it's also good to be home again.

Janis and I went up to northern Baltimore first to visit family.  I have a 97-year-old aunt up there, along with a cousin, her son, and his family.  We hadn't all been together in quite a few years, so it was good to see everybody again.

The big reason we went at this time was my aunt.  She's still in good physical condition and living in an assisted living facility.  She gets around really well with a walker, which she thinks she doesn't need.  She's definitely not bed-ridden.  And she can carry on a conversation with you all day long.  It may not always be fact-based, but she's a full participant.  For example, she told us about how the man in the apartment below hers didn't like it when she walked around in her room.  The problem is that she lives in a one-story building.  But if you just go with the flow, she's right there with you.  Kinda/sorta.  We took her out to lunch one day and dinner another and she had a great time. 

Catching up with the cousin and other family members was really good, too.  Spent lots of time talking, getting to know the two small kids, checking out modifications to the house, that sort of thing.  Janis and my cousin went to Nordstrom's one day, a treat for J since there aren't any within a couple hundred miles of home.

I went over to the Baltimore Museum of Art one day to get my art fix.  Spent all my time looking at their collection of paintings from old masters like Titian, Raphael, Rembrandt, and van Dyck, to Matisse and Picasso.  There's a painting by Rembrandt of his son that I really enjoyed.  It was in a room full of formal portraits that were all perfectly finished, so perfectly that there wasn't a whole lot of life in them.  Rembrandt's portrait of his son was very casual.  He was sitting in an awkward position with his head tilted and a slight smile on his face.  You could see where Rembrandt tried three different positions for his thumb, but never really resolved it.  As I was looking at the face, something was a bit off.  When heads are tilted, artists have a natural inclination to try to straighten things out.  I certainly do.  So when looking at a tilted head, we'll draw the head at an angle, but the eyes will be level with the canvas or paper.  Same the nose, only over a little bit.  The mouth, too: level with the canvas/paper, not with the tilt of the head.  I do it all the time and it drives me nuts when I realize what I'm doing.  So I'm looking at Rembrandt's painting, and see that he painted the nose straight up and down, not tilted like the head.  What a revelation: the greatest portrait painter of all time can screw up just like I do!  And here's the painting to show what I'm talking about.  Click on the image to see it larger.


At the end of our visit, Janis flew back to Asheville and I headed south.  I spent the night with old friends in Annapolis.  The next day, I drove down to Richmond, Virginia, to get ready to do a painting at a wedding.  That afternoon, I visited the Gaines Mill Battlefield Park.  One of my great-great-grandfathers fought there in the Civil War and I was able to find the area in which his unit operated.  He was a brave (and lucky) man to have gotten through that battle unscathed.  On Saturday morning, I visited the Petersburg National Battlefield.  A different great-great-grandfather participated in the defense of the city during the Union siege.  Nobody has a very clear understanding of where his unit was stationed, since they moved around a good bit, so I wasn't able to say "he fought here".  But I did get a much better understanding of what he endured.  It was hell.

The wedding went really well.  The bride was SUPER excited about having me create her wedding painting.  I had at least a dozen people tell me variations of "she told me she's getting married and she's having a wedding painter at the reception!"  Wow, no pressure there, huh?  But all went well.

So I'm back home and getting back in the swing of things.  Got the Alfa out of the garage again and it was happy.  Got the wedding painting going in the studio.  Got a lot of catch-up paperwork to do.  Life is good!





Thursday, August 01, 2019

Revisions

During my recent effort to inventory my artworks, I rediscovered a bunch of old charcoal drawings.  They had been stacked up years ago and left to get moved, smudged, and eventually ruined.  Some of them, I immediately tore up and threw away.  But some others weren't too bad.  I wondered if they could be reworked with pastel into "keepers".  So I gave it a shot.

And learned something interesting.  My way of working in charcoal and pastel lately has been to do a rough sketch in charcoal and then do most of the development with pastel.  It's an impatient method that assumes the black-and-white structure of the drawing is solid.  If it is, great.  If not, then making necessary changes is very difficult.  A lot of my works have gone into the trash because the architecture of the drawing and the accuracy of the likenesses weren't strong.  Adding color on top of that just gilded a pig.

By contrast, these old figure drawings were already fully-formed.  They're all done with vine charcoal with white highlights on toned Canson paper.  Vine charcoal is very easy to work with: it lays down a gray line or area and is very easy to erase and correct.  I had already worked out the composition, structure, and likenesses with all these drawings and they were good enough at one time for me to keep them.  So all they needed was some pastel to bring out the color.

Almost all of them came out well.  One was totally unsuccessful and is now in the trash can, but four look pretty good.  Here they are:





I took the lessons learned from this approach and applied them at our weekly life session last night.  Rather than dive into the pastel at an early stage, I worked for most of the session on the charcoal drawing, then only used the pastel during the last 45 minutes or so.  It looked pretty good when I left the studio last night.  Now I need to see it with fresh eyes before deciding whether it's a keeper or not.


Monday, July 22, 2019

Photographing Artworks

The subject of photographing artworks popped up this week in my discussions with other artists.  I thought it would be good to put down my procedures and see if anybody else was doing things in a similar manner, or had other ideas.

When I say "photographing artworks", I mean (for me) paintings, drawings, and charcoal/pastel works.  So, 2D stuff.  Good photos are important for documenting your work, entering shows, and approaching galleries.  Lots of professional artists take their completed artworks to professional photographers to get high-quality images.  Since I'm a cheapskate and more of a do-it-yourselfer, I do my own photography.  They may not be as high-quality as a pro will give you, but they do the job for me.

My equipment is fairly basic: a decent digital SLR camera (mine's a Canon T3i, several years old now but does fine), a photographer's gray card, an easel with a piece of white tape, and my trusty old (circa 2008) Apple iMac.  The software is the old iPhoto that came with the computer, and Photoshop Elements.  I use iPhoto as the storage manager for all my studio photos, and Photoshop Elements to do the minor tweaking needed to make the image files correct.

I shoot my photos outside, in the shade.  The light there is very even, so there are no hot spots on the artwork.  For works that are on paper, I tape them to a panel with artist tape, which is basically white drafting tape that is pH-neutral.  For works on panels or canvas, I put them on an easel that has a piece of that artist tape adjacent to the painting.  So what's with the white artist tape?  Well, it gives me a reference in adjusting the color and lighting.  More on that in a minute.

Now that the artwork is ready, it's time to set up the camera.  The better your setup, the better your camera's photo, and the better your camera's photo the better the ultimate result will be.  As mentioned, I use a digital SLR camera with all sorts of adjustments.  Yes, it has a lot of automatic features, too, but I've found that I can get consistently better results by carefully controlling the setup and exposure manually.

First, I set the white balance to "shade" or, if I'm lazy, to "automatic".  That will get the color balance close to correct.  Then I set the ISO, which is basically the speed at which the camera receives and processes light.  A slow ISO gives smoother grain and more detail.  A high ISO (like 1600) is really grainy, fuzzy, and with colors that only have a vague reference to reality.  Even a moderate ISO (like 400) is noticeably less sharp and color-correct.  Typically, I set my ISO at 100.

Next, I set the exposure, which means adjusting the f-stop and shutter speed.  I hold my photographic gray card in front of the artwork and take a reading through the lens of the camera.  Setting the f-stop and shutter speed is a trade-off as they directly affect each other.  Generally, I go for a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second, which allows me to hold the camera in my hands instead of using a tripod.  Then I set the f-stop to get the proper exposure.

Does all this fiddling with the camera sound like overkill?  Well, it's necessary.  Light from different sources can vary tremendously in color.  Human eyes automatically compensate, so we typically don't notice.  An incandescent bulb gives a yellow light, many old fluorescents give a greenish light, and LED's can provide a variety of colors (go to a Home Depot or Lowes and look at the examples in their lighting section).  Blue skies provide a blue color.  So by setting the white balance to "shade", I'm telling the camera to adjust for a bluish light.  In other words, dial back the blue, dude.

Regarding exposures, digital cameras look at the amount of light they see coming through the lens and then adjust their automatic settings so that the light averages out to a medium gray.  If my artwork is dark or light, that will throw the automatic settings off.  The light artworks will come out too dark and the dark ones too light.  So by using the photo gray card and manually adjusting the exposure, the camera will get an image that is closer to being correct.

Okay, now for the actual photo.  As indicated earlier, I don't like to use a tripod because it takes a long time to get it adjusted right.  I center the artwork in the camera's viewfinder and then adjust my body position up, down, left, and right so that the artwork's top, bottom, and sides are parallel to, and close to, the top, bottom, and sides of the viewfinder edges.  Snap!  Then I may make slight adjustments to my position, or to the exposure, and take a few more snaps.  There's no penalty with digital images.

Here's an example, shot in the parking lot at my studio.  Yes, the lot has a slant, which is why the bricks aren't level, but they're not important - the painting is.  You can see the tape just above the canvas, and you can see that the artwork needs to be rotated clockwise just slightly.


Great, now I have images in my camera.  Now to edit them so that they can be useful.

I plug the camera into my ancient iMac, open up iPhoto, and download the images.  A quick look will show which image seems best, so then I'll open up that image in Photoshop Elements.  The first step is to color-correct.  I point at the white artist tape and hit the "remove color cast" selection.  That tells the computer that the white tape is supposed to be white, so if it sees other colors (like blue from the sky), then dial back that color over the whole image until the tape reads as "white".  Then I adjust the exposure balance.  I adjust the highlights so that the white is white without being blown out, and the black is black without losing any detail.  It's easier than it sounds here.  And I adjust the midrange if necessary.

Now it's time to crop out all the non-art stuff: the bricks on the wall behind the easel, the artist tape, all that stuff around the edges.  To do this, I first rotate the image as needed.  If I did a decent job outside, then it may require 1/4 to 1/2 degree rotation left or right.  Then I use the crop tool to set the boundaries, hit the button, and there we are: one new art image.

Sounds ridiculously complicated, doesn't it?  It's not.  I can do the whole thing in less than five minutes, from walking out the door with the easel to looking at the finished image on the computer screen.  Basically:
- Set up the easel, artwork, and tape.
- Set the ISO, white balance, and manual exposure.
- Grab the photo gray and set the exposure.
- Take the photo.
- Take everything back to the studio.
- Plug the camera in and download the photos.
- Choose the best photo and make the adjustments to color and lighting, then rotate and crop it.
- Done.

One question that comes up more and more is, can you use your phone to take the photos instead of a DSLR?  Sure you can.  My iPhone takes pretty damn good pictures, including some of the artwork photos on my website.  The images won't be quite as sharp because the lens isn't nearly as good, the images will have fewer pixels, and they'll come out of the phone at a lower resolution.  But for websites, Facebook, and Instagram, they'll do just fine.

Okay, this turned out to be ridiculously long, much longer than I thought it would.  A 5-minute task takes a lotta words to describe, doesn't it?  I hope this helps some artists in taking your own photos and saving a few bucks.


Friday, July 12, 2019

Inventory

Inventory.  Boy, that sounds exciting, huh?  Yeah, baby, there's nothing like curling up with a good spreadsheet or database and checking things off to really make your day exciting!

So, yeah, I've been doing an inventory of what's in my studio.  I'm not really sure how or why it got started, but the next thing I knew, I had the inventory on my computer and was trying to match entries to the artworks stacked around the room.  And it wasn't going all that well.  Here's a painting on the list, but where is it?  And there's a painting against the wall, but is it even on the inventory?  Sheesh.

I've been keeping an inventory using a spreadsheet (Apple's Numbers, if you want to be precise) for years.  I add new works to it, or update entries, whenever it occurs to me.  But I haven't really gone through and matched entries to artworks in, well, forever.  Not a good thing to do if you're in business.  So I got serious and spent quite a bit of time over the past four or five days trying to get everything as accurate as possible.  That included making labels for all the artworks and getting them stuck on all the right works.  I'm reasonably sure that everything in my studio is now labeled correctly and that the list of artworks on the computer is pretty accurate.  But not 100% positive.

So what did I learn?  Well, I've felt confident enough to sign my name to about 400 artworks and consider them "keepers", either by me or someone else.  The earliest is from 1973 and the most recent was signed yesterday.  Of these, I've actually sold 49, or 12%.  I've destroyed or painted over 62 (15%) of them, so for whatever reason, I decided that they really weren't keepers.  Note that more of my paintings have died than have been sold.  And about 23 more have been given away or donated.  So I still have about 250 on the shelves and racks in the studio.

Oh, and that's only the paintings and charcoal/pastel works.  It doesn't include the etchings and photographs.  I've got a lot of those, too.

My spreadsheet has a lot of information, including the artwork's title, inventory number, medium, size, pricing information, status (in the studio, destroyed, etc), exhibitions (if any), and notes.  A gallery owner told me that I should have everything in a special database program for artists, rather than a spreadsheet.  The program allows images to be attached to each record, which makes it a helluva lot easier to match artwork with data.  I haven't gotten around to doing that yet.  A Google search for artist inventory software shows that there are some at the freebie level, some that want $10-$80 a month, all the way up to a one-time fee of nearly $2,000 for a permanent license.  I can tell you, most of those are definitely out.  I'm a dedicated cheapskate.  I may just build my own database in Microsoft Access.

If I ever get around to it, that is.

Friday, July 05, 2019

So How Did They Turn Out?

My last post about Works In Progress showed three wedding paintings that were in various stages of development, and mentioned a fourth that was nowhere near ready to be seen.  They're all done and shipped off to their new owners now.  Here's how they turned out:

John and Janie

Kate and Ben

Lyndsie and Michael

Meghan and Bill

Four very different weddings, four very different paintings.  Three focused on the first dance, but I can tell you, they didn't look that way!  In two of them, the dances actually took place inside, but I moved them outside.  One of those was moved because it was POURING rain, but that shouldn't happen on somebody's wedding, so I made it a sunny day.  None of the families and friends were really standing around like they appear.  I used a ton of photos to rearrange people and things so that they better reflected the experience of the events.  These four couples gave me plenty of artistic license to arrange things as I felt best.  They really trusted me, and that trust is a great thing for an artist to have.

I have a bit of a break before my next event in August.  I'll be working on several studio projects that have been hanging while these were on the easels.  You might see some of them in the coming weeks.  Or, if they don't work out, maybe not.