Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Landscapes

As mentioned in one of my previous posts, I've been doing a lot of small landscape paintings lately.  They're quite different from my usual narrative figurative paintings.  Those are usually developed over a period of several weeks, with lots of thought given to what's depicted, how it's depicted, and what's left out.  Things may get repainted several times.  I've been known to repaint everything in order to change the direction of the light.  Little or nothing is spontaneous.  I probably over-think them.

These small landscapes, though, are very different.  I started doing them because they were something that worked well with my schedule.  I could jump in, do a painting in the time available, and drop it when my time wasn't available any more.  I've found that this approach has its own demands, charms, and rewards, and I'm getting a kick out of it for its own sake.

These small landscapes are much more about the activity of painting.  When you don't have much time, you go for the important things and try to get them as right as possible as fast as possible.  They're kinda like gesture drawings: you're going for the essence, not the details.  The result is generally a liveliness that isn't in my larger paintings.

Late Afternoon Rest
Oil on paper, 7.5"x10.5"

This one shows something of what I'm talking about.  I did a quick pencil sketch to understand the values and composition, then went to work on gessoed paper that had been toned with a slightly warm brownish-gray tone.  You can see it along the bottom of the image.  There were actually two cows in the field, but in the spirit of keeping things simple, I just painted one.  The head and neck were blocked in first with burnt umber, then the shadow of the body.  Then I slammed in the green hill behind the cow, keeping it light to make the cow stand out, and throwing in a lot of cad yellow to show the late afternoon light hitting the field.  The tree line is largely just vigorous strokes of different dark greens and umbers.

Autumn Blossom
Oil on panel, 12"x9"

Here's another example.  This pink weed caught my eye.  It was the only spot of strong color in a bunch of dead weeds.  Basically, I laid in a bunch of vertical, light yellow ochre to provide a background for the dark stem, and laid in a dark muted green to provide a background for the pink blossom.  I wasn't sure how to do that blossom, but in playing around with it, I did a quick stroke and it worked.  So I did a bunch more, touched it up with a few darker reds around the center and bottom, and there it was.

So what's the point of these landscapes?  Well, what's the point of figure sketches?  It's all about seeing, and about getting the hand and eye to work together, and at the same time trying to get the essence of the thing captured in paint.  I've learned a lot about paint handling and decision-making from these little works.  And had a helluva lot of fun.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Eve

It's Thanksgiving evening.  We're at home, safe and warm, with our dogs for company and things to do.  Janis has been wrapping Christmas presents.  I did some work for one of my clients, ran some errands, and got frustrated with the company that hosts my web site.  It was a pretty quiet and routine day.

This evening, I watched the documentary movie "Korengal".  It's a follow-up to the movie "Restrepo", about a platoon of soldiers in the Korengal valley in Afghanistan.  Where "Restrepo" showed what life was like on a mountaintop outpost under constant attack, "Korengal" delves much deeper into the soldiers' minds.  It is a timeless film.  The way combat affects an American soldier or Marine now is not really different from the way combat affected them in wars past.  There is the adrenaline, the excitement of combat, the bonding among those whose survival depends on each other, the earth-shattering grief of losing a brother, the horror of some of the things that have to be done, and the almost wistfulness of veterans who miss the intensity of the experience once it's over.  "Korengal", far more than any other war movie I've ever seen, brings an understanding of the experience of combat, and an understanding of those who live through it.

It may seem to be an odd choice of a movie right before the Thanksgiving holiday.  Actually, it's the reverse.  "Korengal" brings a fresh appreciation for the quiet, normal life we have.  Janis and I are able to wrap Christmas presents, do some work for clients, get in the car and drive around to do minor errands, pound on a computer, and eat Thanksgiving turkey until we burst, because of men like these soldiers in Korengal.  They are the same as those warriors of all services who were in the jungles of Viet Nam, in the snows of Korea, on the beach at Normandy, in Belleau Wood, and all previous wars.  And they're just like the ones who are out there right now.

So this Thanksgiving, I'm giving thanks to them.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Exhibition in Ohio

As mentioned in a previous post, my "Faces of Afghanistan" drawings were shown at two branches of Ohio University.  I took the drawings up to OU Zanesville in mid-October, installed them, and gave an artist talk.  The exhibition was up for almost three weeks.  The curator then took the drawings down and installed them at OU Eastern.  The drawings were there for another three weeks.  I went up last week, gave an artist presentation, and talked to a lot of people at the closing reception afterward.  The next morning, I took the drawings down, loaded 'em into the truck, and drove home.


It's always great to get my work out of the studio and up on somebody else's wall.  Getting this series of drawings into colleges and universities is really good.  The drawings provide an insight into a world far different than the one the college students are living in.  I've had some interesting discussions with people as a result.  It seems like the initial questions are pretty basic, but quickly move into more complex territory.  Very stimulating.

I don't have any other exhibitions scheduled right now.  There are a few proposals out and I'm working on one or two more, so I'm optimistic that something interesting will pop up over the next few months.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Different Figure Drawing Styles

Since my last post, I've been to a number of life drawing sessions and, in between, have been painting the fall colors.  These are two very different subjects that can't be tackled in the same post.  So I'll talk about figure drawings today and talk about fall landscapes next time.

The Asheville area is fortunate to have a lot of life drawing sessions going on every week.  On Monday evenings, David Lawter has a two-hour session that is entirely short poses.  He starts with 1-minutes and ends with a 5-minute.  That's quick.  Because of that, it's lots of fun: you have to have to keep moving because the next pose isn't going to wait.  My drawings usually have a lot of life to them because of that.  On Wednesday evenings, Frank Lombardo runs a 3-hour, single-pose session in Marshall.  This is the polar opposite of David's session and is great for painting.  On Thursday evenings, David has a two-hour session that is mostly 20-minute poses - great for drawings that have some development to them.  Yes, that means David runs two sessions a week.  The guy is dedicated.  If you're interested in either Frank's or David's sessions, contact me and I'll put you in touch with them.

I'm constantly trying to improve my skills, so going back and forth between the different sessions is good.  It doesn't let me get into a rut.  I'm also constantly looking at other artists and seeing what I can learn from them.  One I'm looking at pretty hard now is Steve Huston.  Steve lives/works out west and is associated with the New Masters Academy in Huntington Beach, in the Los Angeles area.   I took an online workshop with him early this year (here's the post).  He's done a number of videos about his technique, some of which are on YouTube and others on the New Masters website.  I watched a video and decided to try out some of the ideas at the 3-hour life drawing session.  Here's what resulted:


This didn't come out at all like I intended and looks nothing like a Huston drawing.  However, it was an interesting exercise.  I did a rough line block-in of the figure in vine charcoal on a pale toned paper, then smudged charcoal all over the place,  Then, in addition to laying in the darks with more charcoal, I drew just as much with the kneaded eraser to pull out the lights.  The result has a lot of heft and volume.  It's more like a traditional style of drawing, I think - slow and deliberate.  Yes, it's probably overworked, and some parts need more development (which they've gotten since this photo was taken).  Still, I got to try some new ways of working, and added some new tools to my drawing tool chest.

After this, I went back to Huston's work to figure out where we were different.  I saw that Huston is very concerned with the form, and builds it up with fluid, flowing, gestural lines (like what I do with the very short poses).  He then focuses on three lines: the two outside edges of the figure, and the intermediate shadow in between.  The "intermediate shadow" is the one at the boundary between the lighted and shadowed area.  Getting this one right is really critical to getting the feel for volume in the figure.  You have to pay close attention to where it is wide and narrow, where it has soft edges and sharp, and how light or dark it is.  Huston also works with a small range of light values and a small range of darks, not a full spectrum of values like I did in the drawing above.

So I went to a session with shorter, 20-minute poses, and here's one of the results:


This one started with more gestural strokes and then was gradually developed using both the vine charcoal and kneaded eraser.  I tried to keep both tools working quickly and not get bogged down in detail.  I also tried to limit the values to a small range of lights and a small range of darks.  Most importantly, I paid close attention to the outside lines of the form as well as the intermediate shadows.  You'll see that some of the outside lines are pretty heavy.  A heavy, dark line accentuates the light volume of the form next to it.  Mostly, though, it's the intermediate shadows that define the volumes of the form.  Follow the intermediate shadows down from the shoulders, through the hips, and down the legs, and you'll see how their movement back and forth shows how she's standing and twisting.

Finally, here's a detail from a sheet of figure drawings from Monday's short-pose session.  I used the same principles here as in the drawing above.  Quick gestural lines establish the figure, while hatched areas indicate the shadowed areas and create the figure's volume.  This was done with a mechanical pencil on a Strathmore sketchbook.


This is actually a pretty similar approach to the one I talked about in a post last month, in which I used a Sharpie pen during the 20-minute poses.  As a refresher, here's one of those drawings:


This is quick and gestural, but it doesn't have the same focus on the intermediate shadow.  It's still a pretty decent drawing.  Different tools and different approaches are needed for different drawings.  I feel like I've expanded my capabilities a bit over the past month or so.  Cool stuff.

By the way (crass commercialism alert), several of these drawings are available on my Etsy gallery at ridiculously reasonable prices.  Just sayin'.



Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Faces of Afghanistan" at Ohio University Zanesville

I just got back from a road trip.  Ohio University Zanesville offered to exhibit my "Faces of Afghanistan" drawings.  So I drove 'em up, installed them, gave an artist talk, and got back yesterday.

Except it wasn't quite that simple.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to show the drawings up in Ohio and jumped at the chance.  Zanesville, though, is 435 miles from here.  So rather than get up at 0-dark-thirty and have all the pressure of a deadline to meet, I split the trip into two days.  That allowed me to take highways instead of the interstate, something I much prefer doing whenever possible.  Weather kinda/sorta cooperated and it was a beautiful trip through the mountains of Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.  I stayed overnight in Marietta, Ohio, and finished the drive Monday morning, again on the highways.

OU Zanesville is a nice campus with great people.  We had some issues with the hanging system, in that it wasn't geared for as many artworks as I brought, but everybody had a "we'll make this work" attitude and we got it done.  I had barely enough time to do a quick change of clothes before we started the artist talk.  It went really well, too - lots of interaction with the audience and lots of good questions.  I really enjoy those events.  Afterward, there was a reception and more talk for an hour and a half.  Had a really good discussion with a Desert Storm vet who is still carrying some pretty deep physical and mental scars over 23 years later.

I planned to come home the next morning, Tuesday, but a monster storm was set to pound the whole route, so I decided to stay put in Zanesville.  The weather there wasn't bad at all, just a bit cloudy, and Ohio was in the peak of leaf season, so I grabbed my camera and went exploring.  Had a great time and got some beautiful photos.

Wednesday was travel day.  I hit the road about 9 am and did the interstates all the way back.  And it turned into a beautiful drive.  The clouds gradually cleared, there was some blue sky, and it was peak leaf season almost all the way down.  Phenomenal!  I got home just before 5 pm, right when Janis was taking the dogs out for their evening walk.  Trips are great, but it's always good to get home.

The good folks at Ohio University are going to take this show down in three weeks and move it over to Ohio University Eastern.  It'll be on exhibit there for another three weeks.  Then I'll go up, do an artist talk in the evening, and then take down the show and drive home the next day.  Neither drive will be as nice as this one was.  It'll be later in November and all the color in the trees will be gone.  Oh, well, the things you gotta do to get your art exhibited!

I really want to give high marks to the professors and staff at Ohio University Zanesville.  They really went above and beyond to get this show up.  It's always a pleasure to work with people like that.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Life Drawing Again

Now that we're back from our St. Augustine vacation, I was able to go to a life drawing session last night.  I wound up drawing the figure with a Sharpie pen and had some interesting discussions about the process with the other artists.

Claire #8

I decided to use pen and ink in a deliberate effort to force myself to loosen up.  That sounds counter-intuitive, doesn't it?  It's not.  A Sharpie is a harsh instrument to draw with.  Everything is either very black or very white, with sharp edges and little variation in line width.  It looks very mechanical, even industrial.  And it seems to demand that you get it right the first time, since it can't be corrected.  The human figure is the opposite, particularly when the figure is a female: it's soft and rounded, with infinite variation in color, shade, shadows, and shapes.

My approach is to let the pen fly.  One line rarely defines a shape.  Maybe, occasionally, one line will suffice along an edge, but usually, it's multiple lines that suggest the shape curving away.  Shadows can be suggested by hatching and cross-hatching.  The closer they are, the darker the shadow.  In the detail below, check out the shadows of her ribs compared to those under her arm.


Pen and ink initially makes you think that you have to get it right, which tightens artists up so much that they're afraid to make a mark.  I go in the opposite direction: it is not, and never will be, "right".  The model didn't really have a series of hash marks across her chest.  Those are just marks of something that is not really there.  But when those marks are combined with the white spaces of the paper in between, then the viewer's eye reads it as a light shadow.  So something that's "wrong" actually reads like it's "right".

For me, this approach works best when I work fast.  That keeps me from obsessing over details and adds a vitality and energy to the drawing.  Your eye picks up on the details, even if your conscious brain doesn't.  Notice the shadow marks in the ribs: you'll see the hook marks as one line ends and the pen moves over to the next line, or you'll see the rapid back-and-forth without lifting.  Some lines will just be wrong no matter what.  There's a couple of vertical lines in the shoulder that I put in during the initial blocking.  It would've been better if they were angled lines, like the ones I put in later, but they weren't.  No matter.  Stuff happens when you work fast.

When I'm drawing with a Sharpie, even more so than when I'm drawing with a pencil, my hand tends to dance over the paper.  That's the best description I can think of.  Keep the pen moving, bouncing from one thing to the next.  Keep your eyes on the subject.  Look at the shape of the form, the shape of the shadows, and let your hand (and pen) follow your eyes.  Don't try to make your drawing match the subject because it won't.

Another metaphor just popped into my head.  If you've ever been snow skiing, you know the difference between slowly and laboriously creeping down a slope, and flying down a slope with your skis and poles barely in contact with the snow.  One is painful to do and watch, the other is a glorious rush.  That's the same thing with drawing.  Obsess over every individual detail and you'll miss the excitement.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

St. Augustine Beach

We just got back from a week in a beach cottage near St. Augustine, Florida.  It's something we've talked about doing for years.  We finally got tired of talking and just did it.  Janis went on VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals By Owner) and found a lovely 3-bedroom cottage a block off the beach, in a neighborhood called Butler Beach, which is a bit south of St. Augustine on Anastasia Island.  It was a wonderful place: quiet, peaceful, very wide beaches, and very few people.  Our next door neighbors joined us for a few days and we celebrated three birthdays and an anniversary while finding some really great (and some not so great) restaurants.  The weather wasn't so great as it rained almost every day.  On the other hand, the rain kept it cool (and MUGGY), and the rain rarely lasted very long, so it didn't really stop us from doing anything.  And Janis and I got to visit with a couple that we last saw 18 years ago.  Fabulous time!

I took my easel and painting stuff down.  My intent was to paint every day, but between the weather and Required Social Engagements, it didn't happen.  I did get four paintings done, though.  All are oil on 9"x12" linen panels.

Beach 1

This was at our beach access.

 Beach 2

Same spot, only turned around looking the other way.


Rain over the Matanzas River

I went over to the river side of the island one day, under some pretty threatening clouds, and painted this little study.

Palm and Phone Pole

Finally, a bit of clear(er) weather gave me a chance to play with some brighter colors!

These aren't earth-shattering paintings, but they were lots of fun to do, and I was happy to see that my landscapes are gradually getting better.  The compositions are stronger, I'm seeing colors better, I'm mixing colors better, and I'm painting better.  Progress is a good thing, no?