Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Working the Rust Out

I've been focused a lot on artwork ever since finishing the training session in Indiana last week.  I started by pulling the book "Portrait Painting Atelier" off my shelf and reviewing it.  The book has a lot of great technical information in it and, after my recent experience of trying to paint in the studio, I needed a refresher.  And that's where I found out about Robert Liberace, a young artist with a beautiful way of putting a painting together.  In my last post, I mentioned all that, along with links to some YouTube videos of his.  Right after that, I bought his "Alla Prima Portrait" DVD.  This is a 3-hour demo of an alla prima portrait, and he maintains a running commentary on what he's doing the whole time.  It's not cheap, but it's a seminar in which you can stop, replay, and take over and over again.  I've gone through maybe half of it and have taken a ton of notes.  Especially now that I've started pushing paint around again, I've got recent experience that relates to what he's talking about.

Every artist has his/her own quirks and I'm no exception.  I tend to make hands a bit too large, for one thing.  I also tend to start with the head and, as I work my way down the body, make the body bigger and bigger, so that when I stand back, I've got a small head on this oversize figure.  Been doing this forever, and since I know about it, I can watch for it and correct it as it happens.  Another quirk is when the model's head is tilted to one side.  I'll draw the head tilted, but then the eyes, nose, and mouth will all be level.  Very frustrating.  And while watching the Liberace video, I saw him doing the exact same thing!  It was quite amusing to see that I'm not the only one who falls into that trap.

Yesterday I went to the studio and banged around a bit.  I took a sketch from Afghanistan and did a portrait study in oil from it.  There were lots of issues, of course, but I played with it for a couple of hours and it actually started turning into something decent.  The moment that I started thinking about keeping it, though, I took a rag and wiped it out.  This is "spring training" for me, a time to get back into the rhythm, get the juices flowing, and nothing I do here is going to be a keeper.

Today, I was in the studio again, prepping some gessoed sheets of paper for use in studies and color swatches.  I also did a charcoal self-portrait.  Here's the way it looks on paper:

I'm a pretty good model for myself: I know the pose needed, and I can hold it as long as necessary, and getting back into just the right position is easy.  None of which would apply if I was modeling for somebody else.  This image looked about right to me, but then, it's a mirror image (what I see in a mirror) which is not what others see.  So here's a mirror image of the mirror image:

The wife thought it was "okay ...", which isn't exactly a rousing endorsement.  Not sure if the image missed the mark or if I made myself too stern or what.  No matter, I needed to make something today and this was it.

Tomorrow: back to the drawing board.  Literally.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"No Bad Wine" Day

May 25th is my own personal Memorial Day.  I wrote about why that is so in this blog post.  Terry and Maged, you are not forgotten.  So tonight, my wife and I are going out to dinner, and I will have a glass of fine wine and a glass of iced tap water in honor and memory of you two.

Cheers, my friends!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Looking at Artists: Robert Liberace

Since my last time in the studio, I've been re-reading my journals and painting books in order to get myself back up to speed on the painting process.  I brought along one of my prime reference books on this trip.  It's "Portrait Painting Atelier" by Suzanne Booker.  It is packed with a lot of technical information on painting in general and figures and portraits in particular, from preparing a canvas, to choosing brands and colors, to learning how colors work (hint: color charts are a good thing), to drawing and painting.  It includes portraits from a variety of artists and has several step-by-step examples at the end.  In all, a good reference book.

If you're familiar with me and my style of painting, you know that I like works that are loosely done, that clearly show the strokes and process, and that are done from direct observation rather than photographs.  Unfortunately for me, the examples in the book were all done from photographs, and were slowly built up through many layers.  Not exactly how I like to work.  One of the artists in the book, though, had a number of portraits that caught my eye.  He was Robert Liberace, and here's a sample from his website:

Oil on board, 12"x9"
© Robert Liberace

The image in the book more clearly showed the brushwork and beautiful color usage.  There were several more works of similar quality that really impressed me.  So I googled him and looked at loads of images, all of which were beautifully done.  And I found his website.  The more I looked, the more I was blown away.  This guy can paint a figure and a portrait.

Robert Liberace is a young guy who apparently lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, DC, and regularly teaches at the Art League in Alexandria.  He also does workshops around the country several times a year.  He's represented by several galleries, all of which you can find off his website.

What was really cool was finding videos of a figure painting demonstration on YouTube.  In a 3-part series recorded at the Art League, he painted a model in a Civil War outfit.  Robert started with a really loose application of paint, roughly blocked in the figure, and then gradually refined it.  Watching it develop from a mess of burnt umber to a strong image of a soldier was fascinating.  Here are the three parts:

Many years ago, when I was my late teens, I met an artist in Memphis, Tennessee.  He would set up on a sidewalk in a busy nightclub area on Friday and Saturday evenings and do portraits.  His style was visually somewhat similar to Robert's: he would put a bold slash of watercolor onto the paper, then work in pastels from the large shapes and gradually refine it into a really beautiful image.  When I say "really beautiful", I mean this guy was good.  Working the sidewalks was a way of having fun, meeting people, making a few bucks, and gathering clients.  Watching Robert's videos reminded me of those nights in Memphis, watching that guy work.  

I like finding artists who know how to paint.  Robert Liberace is my newest find.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Drive to Indiana

I'm in Indiana again to train another batch of people heading to Afghanistan.  Our presence there is shrinking fast and I don't know how many more of these training sessions we'll do.  Pretty soon, there will be no US government civilians outside the Embassy and a few of the main bases.  All we know right now is that things are changing fast.

As with last time, I chose to drive up here rather than fly.  The total time in transit is about the same, but driving is, for me, so much more enjoyable.  Passengers on airlines these days are just cattle in a cattle car.  Airlines don't give a hoot about you, your bags, or anything else besides how many bodies they can shoe-horn into a Boeing.  Since the company I'm with was happy for me to rent a car (it's cheaper than a plane ticket), I made a reservation with Avis.

And I hit the jackpot.  This time, through the luck of the draw, I wound up with a Volvo S60 T5.  This is a small sedan with outstanding handling, lots of power thanks to a turbocharged engine, a 6-speed automatic transmission, great handling, leather seats, taut but smooth ride, bluetooth, great handling, sun/moonroof, and lots of other features.  And it had great handling.  We have a Volvo and so we like the brand already, but this S60 is a sweet bit of machinery.  You should never buy a used car from a rental agency, but I'd buy this particular Volvo in a heartbeat.

I put it to good use during my drive north.  Rather than hop on the interstate and do a roundabout loop to the south, west, and then north, I headed straight northwest on 2-lane roads through the Appalachian mountains.  The Volvo was the perfect car for the trip.  We romped up and down the valleys, along rivers lined with fisherman and parked pickups, snaked through mountain passes, and generally had a great time.  We went through Cumberland Gap, which a spectacular area.  The mountains there are like a vertical wall between Tennessee and Virginia to the south and Kentucky to the north.  Then the Gap is a narrow slice through the wall.  Easy to see why it was such a strategically important spot during the Civil War and why it changed hands several times.  I finally hit I75 in Corbin and headed north.

In Lexington, I ran right into a nasty rainstorm.  Great place to do it, huh?  Heavy traffic and heavy rain, which forced everybody to slow way down because we just couldn't see anything.  The heavy rain lasted for about an hour while I headed west to Louisville.  Definitely not fun.  But it finally cleared when I got north of Louisville - still gray and occasionally drizzly, but not the dangerous drenching from earlier.

So now I'm at Camp Atterbury, which is a pretty large training base a bit south of Indianapolis.  We've done our preparations and are now just waiting for our new crop of students to be finished with their check-in.  Then we'll have at it for the rest of this week.  It's going to be fun!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Making Artworks Again

When you haven't done much artwork in two years, you really get rusty, y'know?  That concept was pounded home to me this week.  I went to a life-drawing group early in the week and made some charcoal drawings.  Yesterday, I had a model come to my studio so I could work with oil paint.  Results both times were less than spectacular, which is about what I figured would happen.

Our model in the life drawing session was a lovely young woman.  This pose had a good bit of drama to it, with strong lights and darks, the V formed by her arms (V's are unstable visual elements, so they bring a dynamic quality), and the serious pensive look on her face.  My drawing is a bit off, and now I see a number of things that I would do differently, but I think the drama came through.  Maybe I'll go back into it and correct a few things ... famous last words, as any artist will tell you!

A later pose was much quieter.  We still have the strong V shape, formed by her arm, but this time it's in a horizontal format, and part of a longer zig-zag formed by her hip, back, arm, and blanket.  Altogether, not too bad ... the drawing doesn't jump out at me, but it's not so bad it goes into the trash right away, either.  It'll wind up in my every-growing collection of figure drawings that sit in a box for years.

Then on Thursday, I had one of my favorite models come to my studio.  I wanted to play with oil paint again.  We started with a bunch of short 30-second poses to loosen us both up, and I drew quick gestures with the paint.  You can't see any of those gesture drawings because I wiped them out as fast as they were done. Later, we did a few longer poses.  This one was nice because of the flowing lines from her dress, the tightly-contained yet relaxed pose, and the light/dark contrasts between her skin, the dress, the chair, and the wall.  Painting this was an exercise in remembering my painting instincts.  It wasn't just the color mixing, it was the color selection, creating shapes with areas of color rather than lines, getting my eyes to see what was really there (versus what I thought was there, which is something different), getting my hand to follow my eye, nailing the proportions, when to clean the brush, which brush to use for which areas, whether to use painting medium or straight paint, right down to how to hold the rag in my left hand.  Most of these decisions are things I shouldn't have to think about, they should be automatic, but they aren't.  Not yet, anyway.  I need more sessions in the studio.

We finished the session, I photographed the sketch, and then wiped it out.  This painting isn't a keeper.  I probably won't have any keepers for a while.  This to me was like spring training for an athlete - a much-needed session to get warmed up and back on track.

Whitney was the model for my last painting, "Impertinence", completed two years ago.  She hadn't seen the finished painting, though, and I hadn't realized until now that the painted image was bigger than she is!

So it's great to be painting again, even as rough as it is right now.  More to come.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Myrtle Beach

Last week, I celebrated a rather big birthday milestone.  It's one that ends in "0" and no, I won't tell you what the first digit is.  Janis and I celebrated by jumping in the truck and heading to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  We had never been to Myrtle Beach, but we needed to get some sand between our toes, and we thought that hitting it in late April and early May would be just the ticket.  It's late enough in the spring so that the weather should be fairly warm, but not so late that all the kids get out of school and go to the beach, with or without their folks.

Janis found us a small 1-BR rental just a couple blocks off the ocean that takes pets.  Turned out to be a nice little place, certainly better than the last rental we experienced (where the only thing stopping us from falling through the rotten floor was the linoleum).  It's in a quiet residential area in North Myrtle Beach, which is far removed from the boardwalk, bars, and T-shirt shops just to the south.

We had heard that this area is cheesy and tacky.  I gotta say, those reports are accurate.  Most of this area seems to be geared towards cheap food, cheap entertainment, and cheap stuff.  I suppose it works for families with hyper-energetic kids, or college students still learning how much beer they can drink before passing out, or those who might be looking for as much as possible as cheap as possible.  But if you're looking for, say, quality food, you have to really look for it.

But (speaking of quality food), we did find some gems.  In this area, we found it at P.F. Chang's, Tommy Bahama's, and (gasp) Olive Garden.  Seems like some of the chain restaurants are more careful about their cleanliness and quality standards than most of the independents in this area.  All three of these gave us really well-prepared and well-presented meals along with first-rate service.

We did a bit of exploring and discovered that the area to the south, particularly Pawley's Island and Georgetown, were more to our liking.  There were more independent businesses, shops, and restaurants, and they generally carried more interesting, and higher-quality, stuff.  There were fewer people and everybody was moving at a slower pace.  We even found some interesting art and are heading home with a new sculpture piece.  A far cry from the "Show Us Your Hooters" attitude around here!

I don't think we'll ever come back to Myrtle Beach.  Just not our cup of tea.  But we will come back to the coast, and when we do, it'll probably be to Pawley's Island or Georgetown.