Friday, January 17, 2014

Learning How to Paint ... Again

Back in early December, I wrote about starting a new series of paintings about survivors.  This new series is kicking my butt.  As I mentioned then, at least some of the paintings require a very different way of painting than my normal style.  That style is kinda quiet and descriptive, and lets the subject matter carry the story.  That approach doesn't work here.  My survivors are people who've been through some really bad, often violent, situations.  You may not know it if you ran into them on the street - they're regular people doing regular things, but it underlies who they are today.  So painting them in a regular style completely misses the thing that they've survived.

I've been working on some oil studies: small-scale paintings of the compositions of the first two subjects in this series.  The point was to see what worked and what didn't.  My basic compositions worked well, with just some minor tweaks.  But how the paint was applied was all wrong.  It was tentative, careful, and way over-worked.  The paint itself gave no indication of the depth of the underlying story.

And while I was at it, I realized that my color-mixing, color-choosing, and basic painting skills seem to have gone downhill.  I've been too busy lately with my consulting business and it shows.

How to fix that?  Well, I've talked with other artists about their processes, particularly some who work in a manner that I think is more appropriate to these stories.  I've tried to get some idea of how they work, to see what can be applied to my series.  And I'm copying some other paintings, trying to get the flow of the paint, and feel it right down in my muscles and not just in my head.  Painting is something that you need to internalize to where it's almost automatic, so you can think about the important things and let the thoughts and feelings flow through your arm and through the paintbrush onto the canvas without interruption.

Last year, I got DVD of an alla prima portrait demonstration from Robert Liberace, an exceptionally talented artist.  I reviewed the DVD and wound up copying (more or less) his demo as a way to understand his color choices and to loosen up my own paint handling.  Here's what I came up with:

No, I'm not claiming this is great art, it's a copy of somebody else's work.  But this exercise was really useful as a learning tool.  There's another artist that I've been looking at and I'll copy one of his in the next day or two.  Meanwhile, tonight I went to an artist talk at UNCA and came away with some other ideas on what I can do to help get the effects needed.

I'm frustrated that I've been trying to get this series started for months now, and haven't even put a brush to the real canvas yet.  But there's no sense in doing that until I have a good idea as to how to proceed.  Patience, grasshopper, patience.

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