Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Making Progress

Things are slowly coming together for me in the studio.  The day after my last post, I went to a life drawing session at my friend Frank Lombardo's studio in Marshall.  The model was a lovely young lady with a very regal profile.  I did several charcoal studies of her, and here are two:
Bobbi 1
Charcoal on toned paper, 15"x11"

Bobbi 2
Charcoal on toned paper, 15"x11"

Both of these are pretty much up to spec with the figure drawings I've been making for the past 13 years in terms of quality, finish, approach, and composition.  I've got a bunch of these drawings tacked to my studio wall, and these two fit right in.  You can't really tell which ones were done in 2000, 2006, or now.  So I think my drawing skills are back up to snuff.

Last weekend, Janis and I headed up to Boone and Blowing Rock, NC.  It's not too far, about a 90 minute trip.  We do this occasionally and generally hit the outlet mall, our favorite British-pub restaurant, and Cheap Joe's Art Stuff.  I'm a kid in a candy store when I go into a good art supply place like Cheap Joe's.  Came out with several tubes of new paint, some new brushes, some Gamsol solvent (more on that in a minute), and the Big One: a new easel.

It's about time I got a new easel.  The one I've been using is the original Ugly Easel.  I built it out of scrap wood in 1984.  And some of the scrap wood came from (get this) a plant shelf that I built for our temporary home in 1980!  Quality wood and quality woodworking is NOT my specialty: all the holes were drilled with a handheld drill, and if you tighten down all the screws and bolts, it warps all out of shape.  But it's heavy and works and doesn't move around, and I'm a cheapskate, and so 29 years later I'm still using the Ugliest Easel in the World.  Until now.  Now I've got a really nice, well-made professional artist easel.

So here's my painting arrangement in the studio.  The new easel is in the center, my Sears rolling tool chest turned taboret on the right, and a catch-all table to the left.  In the background against the wall you can (sorta) see Ol' Ugly.

I mentioned Gamsol.  It's a special solvent for oil paints.  I've been using regular odorless mineral spirits (OMS) that you can get at any hardware store.  Very cheap and readily available.  In my old studio, which was about as air-tight as a sieve, it wasn't a problem.  My new studio, though, doesn't have good ventilation, and I quickly discovered that the OMS made me woozy.  Gamsol is advertised as a better and healthier alternative for artists, as it's based on the same petroleum distillates used in cosmetics.  So I got some, and the difference is huge.  I kept a clear head with no wooziness.  Okay, so I'm sorta woozy all the time, but this was no more than normal.

I was back in the studio today to try out Robert Liberace's approach to painting.  I pulled out one of my pastels from Afghanistan to work from, taped one of the gessoed and toned papers onto a board, and started painting.  First was a grisaille drawing in burnt umber.  I roughed it in quickly, then refined it about as far as it needed to go.  Then I started applying flesh tones in the lighter areas - again, roughly at first, then refined with color, value, and brushwork.  I brushed in a pale yellow over the background. Then I went around the whole thing for a while, gradually refining it until it was done.  At one point, I was about to wipe the whole thing out, but reconsidered it, made some changes, and it actually came alive after that.  Sometimes the best paintings are the ones that I want to destroy about halfway through.  This isn't one of the best, but it's certainly better than others I've done recently.  Of course, I didn't take a picture, so you can't see it.  So while my charcoal drawing skills seem to be about up to speed, my painting skills are still improving.

I started another painting after that.  It's an experiment with Odd Nerdrum's approach: a really dark grisaille underpainting in a cool dark blue (phthalo mixed with burnt umber to tone it down).  In a couple of weeks, once it's fully dry, I'll come back to it and build layers of lighter flesh tones over it.  It'll be interesting to see how it develops.

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