Thursday, December 29, 2016

Asheville Event Paintings

Logan and Jen

I'm offering a new service: live paintings of special events, like weddings, mitzvahs, quinceaneras, and other important milestones in life.  I'm a people painter, and I like to see my artworks go to people who will most appreciate them.  Generally, this means going to the people who are actually depicted in the image.  This new service will do that.

It all started last summer.  I got a call from somebody who asked if I could paint her sister's wedding.  I said "sure, of course!" and then scrambled to find out exactly what that entailed.  Turns out, having a live wedding painter is A Big Thing nowadays.  It's been trending for the past five or six years.  Do a google search on "wedding paintings" and see what pops up.  Since I don't go to very many weddings these days, I had no idea.  As it turned out, this particular gig didn't come through, but the seed was planted.

I wondered if I'd really be interested in doing something like this, so I dug out some of my photos from my cousin's wedding a few years ago and did a trial painting.  "Logan and Jen", above, is the result.  I gave it to them and it's now framed and hanging in their bedroom.  They love it.  That really made my day.

So I put together a plan on how to do this in a professional manner.  The idea is that I will do live painting at the ceremony, reception, or whatever, during the event.  I'll take it back to the studio afterward to smooth it up and ensure the figures are a good likeness and that they have a lot of life.  Then I'll deliver it to the client.  There are other options, too: portraits, giclees, and so on.  All this eventually resulted in the Asheville Event Paintings website that I just launched yesterday.  Go take a look and let me know what you think.  I'm really interested in your feedback!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Putting the New Colors to Work

In my last post, I talked about two new colors for my limited-paletted experiments.  They were Gamblin's Chromatic Black and Naples Yellow Hue.  I suggested that there would be future blog post about using them for caucasian skin tones.  Well, this is that post.

I've been looking at the work of Nick Alm a lot lately.  Nick is a young Swedish figurative painter.  His figures are light-skinned, and getting those light skin tones has driven me bananas.  You can't just add a lot of white to your basic mixtures of cad red, cad yellow, and a touch of a blue, and expect to get a skin tone that doesn't look like chalk.  But if you go easy on the white, you get a darker and stronger color.  What's an artist to do?

Try different colors, for one thing.  And copy Alm's work to try to reverse-engineer his methods.  Same thing you'd do when you're trying to understand any artist's work.

Here's one of Alm's portrait sketches:

Beautiful, isn't it?  I greatly enlarged it on the computer screen so I could get a better idea of some of the colors, strokes, and structure.  I discovered that the black is a very cool color and that there's more green in the skin tones than were immediately apparent.  The figure seemed to be built up from a muted warm green underpainting, with pink lighted areas on top.  The greens remain in some shadowed or darker areas, such as on the neck, around the mouth, and on the forehead.  Nick uses very high value contrasts in his paintings, so most of the colors here are extremely dark or very light, with not much in the way of mid-values.  This helps increase the drama in the picture.

Here's my copy of it:

As you can see, I still didn't come close to his skin tones.  Mine have much more yellow and white.  I used Chromatic Black and Naples Yellow, as mentioned above, and Terra Rosa for my red.  Chromatic Black is actually a dark blue, Naples Yellow is a very muted yellow, and Terra Rosa is a slightly cool muted red.  So I had the ingredients for a good copy but missed it.

I toned the surface (gessoed paper) with a green, like Alm did, but then didn't let that green show through in the final image.  The black worked out very well.  I mixed in a bit of burnt umber in order to try to tie it in with the warmer colors of the face, but in retrospect that wasn't necessary, and Alm sure didn't do it.   I drew the face to place all the features, then did a grisaille (black and white rendition) on top of the green, then laid in the warm skin tones using Flake White, Naples Yellow, and Terra Rosa.  I could see that Alm used little or no yellow, but I just couldn't go that far and my results show it.  

That being said, these skin tones are still pretty good compared to what I have been doing.  I think I need to do another copy to pay more attention to the underpainting and dragging the lighter warms across the cooler darker ground.  

Saturday, December 17, 2016

New Colors on the Palette

I don't do a lot of experimentation with new colors.  I have enough trouble trying to understand the ones that are already there and being used.  Recently, though, I tried two new (for me) tubes from Gamblin.  I've been converted: these two add a lot of capability.

The first one is Chromatic Black.  For years, I have rarely used blacks from a tube.  They are color-killers: they're often muddy and they create a dead hole wherever they're heavily used.  Instead, I've mixed my own blacks out of Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber.  Now Burnt Umber is really a very dark, muted yellow, so mixing it with Ultramarine Blue produces a dark dull green, but by varying the mixtures, it can go from bluish to brownish, so it's been pretty useful.  One of the problems is that it dries to a lighter and flatter finish and requires a coat of varnish to bring out the depth of the color.

Over the past couple of years, I've been experimenting with limited palettes.  One notable palette was used by Anders Zorn, a Swedish painter, and consisted of ivory black, white, yellow ochre, and cadmium red medium.  Occasionally he added other colors, but those four were his mainstays.  This worked because he had one yellow (yellow ochre), one red (cadmium red medium), one blue (ivory black), and white.  Yes, most blacks are really dark blues - if you don't think so, then mix them with yellow.  You'll get green, almost every time.

The problem with ivory black, though, is that it's made of a carbon base of ground and burned bone.  This is what makes it muddy, and that muddiness is why I rarely used it.

Gamblin has brought out a new color: Chromatic Black.  Rather than using some sort of carbon base, it's made from blending two dark colors that are on opposite sides of the color wheel.  Since they're almost exactly opposite, they largely cancel each other's color tendencies out and leave a very dark and muted "black".  The two colors are Phthalo Emerald and Quinacridone Red.  Both are synthetic colors and have a purity to them that earth and carbon colors don't.  The result is a black that doesn't suck the life out of the painting.

What's really interesting is that it is actually a dark blue.  Yes, red and green can sometimes make blue.  Mixing white with the Chromatic Black gives a clear but muted blue, quite different from the muddy blue you get from mixing white with ivory black.

So.  Chromatic Black is a pretty cool color.

The other new one is Gamblin's Naples Yellow Hue.  Naples Yellow is an old color dating back to the 1600's, but is rarely used now because it's lead-based and very toxic.  It's been replaced by a variety of other mixtures and varies greatly between manufacturers.  I'd always considered it just a convenience mixture of white plus cadmium yellow, and since I already had both, why buy a tube?  But in a recent life painting session, one of the other artists had Naples Yellow on her palette and I was intrigued.  So I got a tube and tried it out.

Turns out, it's working very well for me in the skin tones.  Gamblin's version is made with zinc white and cadmium yellow.  So it's a muted yellow with a rich texture and surprising depth.  It has given me some beautiful muted greens that are clear, quiet, and useful, with no muddiness.  Mixing the Naples Yellow with Chromatic Black gives a particularly nice green.  It's also good for pale caucasian skin tones.  I'll go into that in another post soon.

Some of you may have been using Chromatic Black and/or Naples Yellow for years and know this stuff already.  Bear with me: I'm still learning, and these two colors are going to be affecting how I paint figures from here on out.