Friday, May 19, 2017

Mountain Music - The Painting

Mountain Music
Watercolor on paper
(Click on the image for a larger view)

In my last post, I wrote about the experience of drawing a group of North Carolina mountain musicians while they were playing together at a friend's birthday party.  Mountain music has very deep roots, and the act of playing it brings together people of all skill levels.  Some of the people at this party were world-class musicians while others are still taking classes.  Didn't matter: as long as your heart was in it, you were accepted.  The goal wasn't to show off individual skills, it was to work with everybody else to make something beautiful.

I did most of the drawing for this painting right there, sketching with my pencil, trying to capture the likenesses and capture the feeling.  Later, in the studio, I added some more people, refined the sketches, then brought in some ink, and then the watercolor.  This approached stressed liveliness, which matched the feeling I got from the musicians.  And here's how it turned out.  If you click on the picture, it'll bring up a larger version.

This is part of my series of artworks done live at weddings, birthdays, and other events.  It's really fun to do them, and very rewarding to make something that will be treasured for years.  More information about this line of work is on my Asheville Event Paintings website.  So what do you think - success, or no?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Mountain Music!

The father of my neighbor Patrick had a birthday yesterday.  He's lived here in Madison County pretty much his whole life.  And he's a musician.  Now, Madison County is home to a very old tradition of mountain music whose roots go back to Scotland and Ireland in the 1700's and beyond. The earliest settlers here brought their music over with them.  Over the centuries, it changed very slowly, since the mountain hollers were remote and somewhat isolated.  There was the introduction of the banjo, for instance, but otherwise the instruments were much the same as the early settlers.  And many of the songs sung now originated Back Then and Over There.

Don't confuse bluegrass with mountain music.  Bluegrass grew out of mountain music roughly after World War II, with Bill Monroe credited as its creator.  Bluegrass is generally a faster and flashier style, whereas mountain music has a different sound.

Anyway, Patrick's father is friends with all the mountain musicians here in Madison County.  He's been playing with them his whole life.  So when Patrick decided to throw a birthday party for his dad, it was natural that there was going to be a good bit of music being played.  And Patrick wanted to do one more thing to memorialize the event: he asked me to do an artwork at it.  He knew about my Asheville Event Paintings sideline and wanted to put it to good use.  I jumped at the chance - one, because he was my neighbor, and two, because it promised to be a helluva lot of fun.

I went over to Patrick's house around 6:30 last night.  I didn't set up immediately because I wanted to scope it out and see who was there and what was going on.  It was quite a crowd.  Everybody seemed to know everybody else very well.  I only knew a few people, but everybody made me feel perfectly at home.  If you're at Patrick's party, you're a friend of Patrick's, and therefore, you're a friend of mine.

Around about 8 pm, the guitars and banjos and fiddles started coming out.  I went back to the truck, grabbed my art stuff, and set up on the porch next to a one of several groups.  I decided to do this artwork in watercolor rather than my usual oils.  The reason was that mountain music is very lively, and people are always coming in and out of the group, and I wanted a way of working that was equally lively and very adaptable to changing circumstances.  Damn good thing I did it this way, too.  Daylight only lasted another half hour, with light coming from the overhead porch light after that, and everybody started packing up around 9 pm.  So there was much less working time available than I had hoped for.  Still, I got the basics of the drawing in place.  Today I did some refinement and additions in the studio, and here's how it looks on the easel right now:


There is still a ways to go.  Tomorrow I'm going to hit it with some ink to strengthen things up and follow with watercolor.  It's going to be fun.

Some people make fun of mountain music and the "hillbillies" who make it.  I'll confess, I had no appreciation of either the music or the culture when I was growing up and listening to Led Zeppelin.  But there's quite a lot to both.  You don't learn either by playing video games or reading books - you learn by interacting with other people.  When you're making music, you have to be attuned to what everybody else is doing and fit yourself in.  With this group, it's not about showing off your own special skills, it's about working as a team to make something beautiful.  And if you're honestly trying, you're going to be accepted.  Some on Patrick's porch are among the best in the world at this kind of music and others have barely gotten beyond basic lessons, but it didn't matter.  It was all about friendship, community, and making music together.  It was beautiful.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

On Families

I just got back from a trip up to Baltimore for a family event.  My Aunt Bobbi turned 95 this year and we had a big family get-together to celebrate. This was the first time in about 25 years that we had all been together in one spot, and it was pretty cool.

Aunt Bobbi is in amazing shape.  To look at her, you'd think she was 20 years younger.  She's very sharp with a strong sense of humor.  She still drives herself around Baltimore, takes trips to Florida, cooks, and takes care of herself.  She works at the Maryland State Fair every year and does smocking so well that she wins blue ribbons for her work pretty much every year.  Wheelchairs and nursing homes are NOT in her vocabulary.  But then, she has always been a go-getter, and that mindset (plus a good set of genes) is keeping her going.  I'm impressed.  I want to be like her when I grow up.

So the family that got together this past weekend included her three daughters, their husbands and kids, their kids' spouses, THEIR kids, myself, and another cousin.  Plus the parents of one of the spouses.  Seventeen people - quite a menagerie.

I was struck by some of the family resemblences.  The 2-year-old was a tiny version of her grandmother.  One of my cousins looked just like her father - no, I mean JUST LIKE her father, down to the facial expressions.  Another cousin looked nothing like her mother but had her mother's sharp and quick wit.  Once I started noticing some of these likenesses, I looked for them even more and just kept finding them.

Families are different than friends.  You can choose your friends, but your family is for life.  These people have been in my life for almost 64 years now.  We don't get together very often - as I said earlier, some of these I hadn't seen in 25 years - but we are still connected.  There is both a depth to the relationships that is surprisingly deep, and also a shallowness, since we see various members of the clan only rarely.  So we get together, catch up on news, pick up old jokes and stories right where we left off, meet the new spouses or kids, and share some of what we've been doing.  And we read between the lines to try to understand what led up to this or that event, or notice what was not said.  It's all part of trying to understand who your family is, which helps you understand your place in the group.

So here's to my Aunt Bobbi, a wonderful lady who will be going strong for many more years.  And here's to my family, all of 'em.  I'm glad you're in my life.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Looking at Artists: Constance Bosworth

I stumbled across an interesting artist tonight.  I spotted an article about an artist, Constance Bosworth, who does paintings about weddings.  This is a subject that is in my ballpark now.  However, she doesn't do live paintings of the ceremony or reception, like I do.  She paints portraits (which I do, too), but also the wedding cake, bouquets, the bride's dress, and other items related to the event.  That's pretty cool.  Most of that stuff means a lot to somebody for a very short period of time but is then forgotten.  Even when it's immortalized by the photographer, those photos usually wind up in a box, or in a folder on your computer, and rarely if ever seen.  A painting, though, is a different matter.  Paintings tend to get framed and hung on a wall.  Yes, they may become background noise after a while, but they're still being seen on a daily basis, and every once in a while, you stop and look.

Constance had some interesting things to say about what she does and why she does it.  Rather than repeat her comments, here's the link to the article.  Go read it for yourself.

The small images in the article were interesting, so I found her website and took a look.  And I was quite impressed.  Constance knows what she's doing.  She has some very sensitively-done portraits, some beautiful still lifes (and I don't typically care for still lifes), some paintings done as medieval icons, and some companion animal portraits.  That last category got me.  Normally, you say "pet portraits" and I gag.  These, though, are different.  The animals have character, personality, thoughtfulness, and individuality.  They're not just blown-up versions of somebody's snapshots, which is normally the case.  No, they're very carefully considered portraits of some very caring individuals that you would want to know.  They just happen to be hairy and have four legs.

While she's at it, she does some amazing things with little kids.  Now, young kids are hard, at least for me.  Their faces and body proportions are very different from adults.  You can't just shrink an adult and say it's a child because your eyeballs would tell you you're lying.  Constance not only gets them to be children, they're individual children, with their own personalities and identities.  Quite impressive.

Usually, when I do a "Looking at Artists" post, I'll grab an image from their website and post it here so you get an idea of what I'm talking about.  I'm not doing that this time.  Go look at her website, www.constancebosworth.com.  And let me know what you think.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Results from a Limited Palette

I have an open life drawing and painting session in my studio every Wednesday evening.  In the most recent session a couple of days ago, we had a lovely young lady as a portrait model.  I decided to try two things: one, use a very limited oil palette, and two, to try to approach the painting as much like my charcoal and pastel works as possible.  Long-time readers (all three of you) will know that I've been struggling with this second issue.  My charcoal and pastel works have been, I think, very successful, but I haven't been able to carry that feeling over into paint.  At least not yet.

So here was the result:


I think this was pretty much a success as a painting.  For one, it's a good likeness, and for another, there's a lot of fresh brushwork.  It doesn't have the same feel as the charcoal and pastel works, but as I was working on it, there was much more of the same kind of thought process than there has been in previous attempts.

One of the reasons was the limited palette.  I used:
   Terra Rosa (a muted, slightly cool red)
   Yellow Ochre (a muted yellow)
   Chromatic Black (a new Gamblin product)
   Burnt Umber (a dark brown)
   Flake White Replacement (a slightly warm white)

This choice of colors is similar to the famous Zorn palette of one red, one yellow, one blue, and white.  To this, I added a dark brown.  Where's the blue, you say?  It's the Chromatic Black.  Yes, if you add white, you'll see that it really is a muted dark blue.  And to make things really odd, Chromatic Black is actually made up of Quinacridone Red plus Phthlao Emerald, two colors that are on opposite sides of the color wheel.  And when you mix this red and that green, and add white, you'll see you have a blue.  Go figure.

So work on a figure is what I did.  I started by choosing a 16x12 panel with a slightly warm tone.  Then I blocked in the figure with a mixture of the black and burnt umber.  The umber knocked down the blueness, so it was even more neutral.  Then I refined it into a pretty-well-developed 2-value rendering.  Actually, it wasn't strictly two values; there were slight variations in the very lights and very darks, just enough to add some volume.  When I was satisfied with the black and white, I started applying color.  The skin tones were the terra rosa, yellow ochre, and white, all with a little variation in the mixtures to lean toward one color or another.  Her shirt was just the chromatic black, a bit of white, and a touch of the terra rosa.

And that was it.  The result, I think, came out pretty well.  The more I use limited palettes, the more I like them.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

New Works

I've continued to work on figurative works using charcoal and pastel over the past few weeks.  My spousal unit wanted a portrait done in that style.  That was a surprise to me.  She has refused to sit for me for quite a few years now because she says I make her look "old", and she gets bored after sitting still for more than 33 seconds.  So I had her come to the studio and we spent an hour shooting a bunch of photographs that I could then use for a portrait.

Doing the first portrait took quite a while.  There was a little pressure there ... okay, a LOT of pressure, knowing that if anything didn't quite measure up to her satisfaction, I'd hear about it for as long as the artwork existed.  And I wanted to get it right, anyway.  I started one, got pretty far along, and wiped it all out.  Then I started another on the same paper, got pretty far along, and wiped it out, too.  Then a third time.  Finally, on the fourth try, things started coming together.  Oddly enough, it owed a lot of its success to the three failures that had left their mark on the paper.  Here's how it turned out:


This one is definitely Janis.  I think I got her strength along with a really good likeness.  Yeah, I'm happy with it.

The three failures contributed to this by leaving something of their marks on the paper.  You can see that on the left and right sides, where there are dark areas with lighter streaks.  They hinted that I should leave those areas soft and roughly done.  I focused the color on her face and hair, with the highest value contrasts and sharpest edges right around her eyes and nose.  That kept the viewer's attention, while further away, the blacks transitioned to grays, sharp lines went soft, and those areas played a supporting role to the face.

Most importantly, she likes it and it's at the frame shop as I write.

I did another portrait of her after that.  This time, I based it on a very different photo, one of her laughing.  It was also difficult, but for different reasons. than the first  Laughing is something that is very hard to capture in an artwork.  Faces deform: the eyes scrunch up, mouths stretch, folds appear where normally there are no folds, muscles in the neck pop out, and the whole face basically goes out of whack.  It's hard enough to get a good likeness when they're normal - getting a good likeness when it's a dynamic situation and everything has changed is harder, and then making the figure look alive on top of that is really tough.  But I think it came out well.  I really like this portrait of her.

She hates it.

Oh, well.  One out of two isn't bad at all.  But for the sake of harmony at home, that image will not be shown.  Sorry!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Working from Life

I run a life drawing session in my studio every week.  This is a chance to get with a bunch of other artists, share a model's expenses, and try to learn something new about working from life.  It's a lot of fun.  It's also a challenge.  I try to push myself every week so that I'm not in a rut.  I'll work in oil for a couple of weeks, then switch to charcoal and pastel.  Sometimes I'll focus on a portrait, other times I'll see if I can get the whole figure in.  I don't post all that many of the works anywhere since about half of them wind up being destroyed or painted over.  But sometimes, things click pretty well and I'm happy with what's finally on the paper or canvas.

Last week, we had a lovely young lady working with us.  She is into yoga big-time and has very well-defined muscles.  No, she's not a bodybuilder by any means - just somebody who's muscle and bone structure are very much in harmony.  We started the session with our usual 1-minute poses.  We do this to warm up both the model and the artists and to find a pose that works for both.  One of the poses highlighted the curve and muscles of her back in a striking way.  So that was the pose I chose for the rest of the evening, and here's how it came out:


If this looks like it was an uncomfortable pose to hold, it was.  The poor girl's knees and legs took a beating and we had to take several extra breaks so she could get her circulation back!

I started this with soft vine charcoal on Canson Mi-Teintes light yellow paper.  The charcoal is easily manipulated and lets me block things in, smudge things to get an area of gray, and even erase it easily.  My focus was on her shoulders, upper back, and along the spine.  Once I had a good drawing in place, I hit some areas with compressed charcoal.  This stuff is very black and doesn't lift, so when you put it down, it stays.  The last stage was the pastel.  I kept the colors soft and subtle.  There were lots of interesting colors all over due to the lighting.  My overhead lights are daylight-balanced, so they're a bit blue, while the spotlight is a tungsten bulb and so it's a warm yellow.  Normally, our eyes automatically adjust for color and we usually don't see the effects of different colored lighting, but in the studio, it's very noticeable.  With this figure, the warm light was mostly on her shoulders and upper back, while her hips and legs were picking up a lot of the blue lighting.

So I think it turned out pretty well, particularly for a drawing from life.  I love it when that happens!