Thursday, March 10, 2016

A New Series

The experiments that I wrote about in my last post seem to be paying off.  I've hit on a way of working with the figure that results in fairly dramatic images.  They're getting really positive reviews from most everybody who sees them.  After so many efforts that completely fail, and others that result in maybe a comment like "oh, that's nice", it's good to hear somebody go "Wow!"

My last post had an image of Amy done in charcoal and white Conte crayon.  That didn't seem to be strong enough, though, so I got out the pastels and went to work.  The color added that extra bit of oomph that was missing.  Here's how it turned out:

Amy #1

What I'm doing here is upping the dramatic elements of the image.  The lights are lighter and the darks darker, and the mid-tones are greatly reduced.  The color is restricted, too: it goes primarily in the face, with some in the shoulders.  The dress is just a black 2-D shape.  There's no background at all to distract from the figure.

I've continued with these artworks and now have a total of seven done in charcoal and pastels and one in oil paint.  They all follow the same approach.  And they all work, to greater or lesser extents, and as a group, they really look good.

So here's one of the most recent pieces developed:

Stage 1: I sketched in the face and head with vine charcoal.  It was important to get the shape of the face and the shadows at the very beginning.

 Stage 2.  I've roughed in the outlines of the body.  This took quite a bit of work as the arms and hands didn't seem to be cooperating with me … in fact, the hand in this photo is still messed up.

Stage 3.  Here's where the compressed charcoal comes in.  Compressed charcoal is much darker than vine charcoal.  It gives a rich velvety black.  It's also very soft and tends to fall off the paper.  The dark areas are all tied together: the black under the arm, the shadow on her back, and the dark of her hair are all one shape.

Stage 4.  Now for the pastels.  I've started putting color in her face and shoulder.  This included a strong red on her cheek in an area that had been black before.  Reflected lights can be really beautiful.  Often, a shadowed area on a figure will have a really strong red from reflections off nearby lighted skin.  In this case, the light was coming from her shoulder.

Amy #7

And here's the final piece.  The face was reworked with pastel and charcoal quite a bit.  I used pastels to bring some color down her arm and into her chest and hands, but very sparingly.  It's really easy to have the color take over and go everywhere (trust me on this one).  By keeping the pastels to a minimum outside of the face, it focuses attention there.  Everything else plays a supporting role.  

So what's next?  Well, I'm going to do a lot more artworks like this in charcoal and pastel.  I'm getting to understand the subtleties of this way of working.  One subtlety is that all of these charcoal and pastel pieces are against a light background.  Trying to make the figure light against a dark background doesn't work, at least not when you're slamming charcoal onto a light-colored paper.  So I'm going to do some oil paintings of the figures against (or blended into) a dark background.  Once I get a grip on how that works, then I think I'll be able to use these new approaches on some paintings that have been in the back of my mind for a while.  They're stories about people, but my normal way of working would not have told the story very well.  This new way of working might.

No comments: