Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Working on a Painting

I've been working on a new painting lately.  One of my favorite models has a clothing design business.  I thought it might be fun to do a painting of her creating an outfit.  She thought so, too, when I asked her, so we set a date for the studio.  She brought over a bunch of her own stuff, including a manikin and a sewing machine, and we set stuff up, moved it around, did a lot of sketching, tried a lot of poses, took a lot of photos, and gradually something started coming together.

Some artists like to create stuff as it comes out of their heads.  I don't.  I like to work with my subjects and get their ideas about what to include or leave out, how they should dress, and how they should pose.  My artworks are usually about specific people, so they have to tell me, and show me, what's important.  For me, it's very much a process of discovery.  They will constantly surprise me with things I'd never have thought of.  This even goes to life drawing sessions.  You'd think that there wouldn't be too many surprises when the subject is literally stripped down to bare skin, but not so.  I generally let my models find their own poses and have found that their personalities are always there in the pose.  Anytime I get too specific with direction, the result is always - always - blah.  I don't have to worry about that with this model - she's a firecracker, full of energy, and always coming up with something interesting.  Which is why I asked her to work with me on this project.  She came through in spades.

She showed up in a funky outfit of black and muted colors with a leather carpenter's toolbelt filled with sewing stuff, including a Sponge Bob pincushion.  She played around with some various bits of cloth I had lying around, and the next thing I knew, a raggedy old scarf was well on its way to becoming a classy evening gown.  She set up her antique sewing machine and had it looking like it was hard at work.  Sewing samples, sketches, and magazine ads went up on the wall behind her.  And in the middle of it all was this ball of fire who created a believable dressmaker's studio in an area the size of a closet.

After the session was over, we left everything set up.  I did some more drawings over the next few days and tried a lot of different combinations of poses, compositions, adding and subtracting stuff, until I had something to work with.  Then I refined it into one rather detailed drawing.  Today I transferred the drawing to a panel and began an oil study.  At each step, I'm learning what works, what doesn't, and getting a better understanding of how to put it all together.  This approach seems really slow, doesn't it?  Well, it is.  I'm following the advice of the painter Jerome Witkin, with whom I studied once, and who told me to draw and draw and draw before ever putting paint to canvas.  The reason is to work out as many basic issues as possible beforehand, so you have a good understanding of how the painting wants to come together.  Jumping into the painting too early is like doing a play without rehearsing.

So here's the drawing, as it sits right now, next to my easel:

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