Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Working from Life

I run a life drawing session in my studio every week.  This is a chance to get with a bunch of other artists, share a model's expenses, and try to learn something new about working from life.  It's a lot of fun.  It's also a challenge.  I try to push myself every week so that I'm not in a rut.  I'll work in oil for a couple of weeks, then switch to charcoal and pastel.  Sometimes I'll focus on a portrait, other times I'll see if I can get the whole figure in.  I don't post all that many of the works anywhere since about half of them wind up being destroyed or painted over.  But sometimes, things click pretty well and I'm happy with what's finally on the paper or canvas.

Last week, we had a lovely young lady working with us.  She is into yoga big-time and has very well-defined muscles.  No, she's not a bodybuilder by any means - just somebody who's muscle and bone structure are very much in harmony.  We started the session with our usual 1-minute poses.  We do this to warm up both the model and the artists and to find a pose that works for both.  One of the poses highlighted the curve and muscles of her back in a striking way.  So that was the pose I chose for the rest of the evening, and here's how it came out:

If this looks like it was an uncomfortable pose to hold, it was.  The poor girl's knees and legs took a beating and we had to take several extra breaks so she could get her circulation back!

I started this with soft vine charcoal on Canson Mi-Teintes light yellow paper.  The charcoal is easily manipulated and lets me block things in, smudge things to get an area of gray, and even erase it easily.  My focus was on her shoulders, upper back, and along the spine.  Once I had a good drawing in place, I hit some areas with compressed charcoal.  This stuff is very black and doesn't lift, so when you put it down, it stays.  The last stage was the pastel.  I kept the colors soft and subtle.  There were lots of interesting colors all over due to the lighting.  My overhead lights are daylight-balanced, so they're a bit blue, while the spotlight is a tungsten bulb and so it's a warm yellow.  Normally, our eyes automatically adjust for color and we usually don't see the effects of different colored lighting, but in the studio, it's very noticeable.  With this figure, the warm light was mostly on her shoulders and upper back, while her hips and legs were picking up a lot of the blue lighting.

So I think it turned out pretty well, particularly for a drawing from life.  I love it when that happens!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Two Paintings and a Workshop

Two paintings and a workshop walk into a bar ...

No, that's not how it goes.  Since the last update here, there have been several things going on in the studio.  And yes, I have pictures this time!

In the last post, I mentioned that I was working on a new sample painting for the live event painting side of the house.  That one is now done, and here it is:

Rick and Julie
Oil on canvas, 24"x30"

This was fun to do, and a bit of a challenge, but in the end I think it came out very well.  It has certainly gotten lots of good words from people who have seen it.

I completed another painting several days after this one.  Long-time readers will know that I've been wrestling with some new (for me) concepts in figure painting.  Mostly, they revolve around the concept of completeness, meaning how complete to make the painting.  I've been working on a series of charcoal and pastel figurative works over the past year that dealt with that concept and those seem to be working pretty well.  Not so with the paintings.  Almost all the paintings in which I've tried that concept have been painted over or otherwise destroyed.  I just have not been able to translate the feeling of the charcoal and pastel works into paint.  My most recent attempt is a bit more successful and I don't mind showing this one:

Amy D #1
Oil on canvas, 24"x18"

It is definitely not where I want to be, but it's further along the path than I've been so far.  What I'm focusing on here is finer brushwork around the face, with increasingly looser brushwork the further you move away.  I'm also very conscious of edges.  The only sharp edge is along the side of the temple and cheekbone, with a slightly softer edge around the shoulder, and considerably softer edges everywhere else ... in some cases, no edges at all.  And I'm looking at value contrasts to help guide the eye.  Here the highest value contrast is in the same place: along the temple and cheekbone.  So the brushwork, edges, and value contrasts are working together to put the focus on her face.  Color isn't playing along, though.  The strongest color is the blue clothing, which draws attention away.  The background is a muted red, but it's still a bit too strong and does nothing to guide the eye.  And, finally the color in the face is the same as the color on her side.  Again, nothing to indicate what's important and what's not.  So I guess I'll have to try another painting and see if I can figure it out.

In addition to doing a couple of artworks, I ran a portrait drawing workshop a week ago.  Had a good turnout for it and they were all a lot of fun.  My focus in this workshop is less on the drawing and much more on seeing.  So we spent the first day talking about shapes of the head and different features, and drawing each other, and then talking about what we were seeing.  The second day, each of the students took a turn as a model while the others drew.  After each, we talked about what features made each individual unique, and how the different drawings were successful (or not) in capturing that.  It was really cool to see everybody develop very rapidly over such a short time.

Coming up, I've got a workshop scheduled for Saturday, March 4, to talk about a logical, easy-to-use approach to mixing color.  Lots of schools don't really teach it.  In my early days, they just wanted me to remember what all the colors would do with each other.  Right.  I have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast, and you want me to remember an infinite number of color combinations?  Finally, when I was taking classes at Maryland Institute College of Art, I learned an approach that worked for me.  That's what I'll be teaching at this workshop.  Interested?  You can sign up on my website: