Thursday, December 06, 2018

Apryl #3

Apryl #3
Charcoal and pastel on toned paper

Here's my newest piece in the charcoal and pastel series that I've been doing for a couple of years now.  I'm pretty happy with it.  Apryl is a very lively young woman, very animated and a great life model.  I've done two previous artworks of her.  Both times, she took interesting poses and held them like a rock.  That's great for figure studies, but there's one drawback.  No model can hold a true facial expression for more than a moment, no matter how good they are.

Want to test it?  Great!  Get a mirror and give yourself a big smile.  No, no, a REAL smile, one that you mean.  Nope, try again.  Okay, getting better.  Got it yet?  Okay, now hold that for 20 minutes.  Don't move, now!

Yeah, right.  Many people don't even like to smile for the camera, and that's just for a second or two.

The issue with facial expressions is that they are reflections of our inner state of mind, which is constantly changing.  When you're posing for an artist, you can hold your body in a position for quite a while, but your mind is going off somewhere else.  As one guy who sat for the painter Lucien Freud said, posing is a cross between zen meditation and a trip to the barber.  I've found that models' faces will settle in to a neutral or blank expression, one that will naturally hold itself over a long period of time.  Sometimes you can see flickers of expression cross their faces as some train of thought is amusing, frustrating, or whatever, but mostly it's just blank.

So how do I do expressions?  Photography.  I'll have a camera out as I talk with the model and will shoot a lot of photos.  Then I'll use the photos as references to build the artwork.  I don't copy the photo, though, but will use the images to see the details of how somebody's face shows expression.

This image came from my last life session with Apryl.  Her expression during the pose was, as all are, pretty blank.  But she's certainly not blank, she's smart, funny, and very expressive.  So during a break, I got out my camera and took a bunch of photos as we talked.  Then we went back to the pose. Now, several weeks later, I was able to go back, look at the photos, and start something new based on them.

Originally, this was a full-figure image of her sitting cross-legged.  I had a rough block-in and decided that it wasn't good enough.  For me, the attraction was in her face, and the small paper didn't allow a full-figure with sufficient room to develop her face.  So I rubbed out the figure, although you can still see a few traces of it.  I started over, looking at just the head and upper body.  The first stage was a rough block-in with vine charcoal.  Then I wiped down most of the vine and hit it with willow charcoal.  Why wipe down the vine?  It seems to fill the pores in the paper with slick particles and the heavier charcoals and pastels don't want to stick.  So I wipe a lot of the vine off, leaving enough to guide me along.

My next stage with Apryl was to use the willow charcoal to develop the features.  But I developed the features too much: there was so much detail in the face that the image lost some of the magic.  I got frustrated and hit it with a kneaded eraser.  That took a lot of over-development out and what was left was streaky.  But the streakiness was cool, so I re-developed the face, but only lightly and not nearly with as much detail.  Then came a light application of pastels to add color, first to the lighted areas, and later to some (not all) of the shadows.  Usually, I focus on the eyes, but this time, I focused on her smile, which was the important element in her expression.  There was a lot of experimentation, lots of rub-outs and erasures, and some happy accidents.  Finally, there was the image.

So, yes, I'm very happy with this one. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Last Wedding Painting of 2018

I completed the last wedding painting of the year just a couple of days ago.  The next day, Klaire and Drew came by the studio to pick it up, and I had one of those moments that swells your heart.  The first time a couple sees their painting in real life is magic.  In this case it was a high-pitched "OHHHmygaaawwwwdddd", complete with eyes wide and hands to face.  Yep, I think I nailed it.

The last time they had seen their painting was at their reception.  I was packing up and they were about to head out the door for the sparkler run, but they came over to get one last look at it.  They already loved it, even though I told them it was just a rough block-in.  Here's how it looked then:

As a block-in, this is barely satisfactory.  It establishes the basic composition and the couple's pose, but that's about it.  The pose is roughed-in, the wedding party is just hinted at, and the crowd is nonexistent at this point.  Time to get to work in the studio.

Over the next few weeks, I reworked every square inch of the canvas multiple times.  Drew and Klaire were developed, the crowd added and changed, the wedding party developed, both sets of parents were included, the forest and arbor behind them were brought up to spec, and the two ferns on pedestals developed.  And here's how it turned out:

Quite a change, isn't it?  I feel pretty good about the end result.  Apparently, so do they!

My next booking isn't until well into spring, so now I have a bit of a hiatus from wedding paintings.  There are a lot of other works that I've had in mind for a long time, but haven't been able to get to them, so over the next few months they'll be tackled, one at a time.

If you'd like to know more about my wedding paintings and the whole process, check out the Asheville Event Paintings site.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Hell in Paradise

Our son, Rick, and his family (wife Julie and son Jackson, aka Jax) live in Paradise, California.  That is, they did until last Thursday.  Their home was one of the thousands that was destroyed in the fire that also destroyed about 90% of the town.

They're lucky: they're safe and they have a nice place to stay for the time being.  A growing number of people didn't make it out at all (76 as I write this, with over 1,000 still missing).  Many of the survivors are living in tents or shelters.  It's a brutal situation.

So what happened with them?  Well, they had been watching the fire for a few days.  It was on the other side of a ridge, so it needed to be watched, but wasn't an imminent threat.  On Thursday morning, there was smoke in the air, but no sense of danger.  Jax went to school and Rick and Julie went their respective ways to work.

A couple of hours later, Jax called Rick at work.  Fire was approaching the school.  It was in the trees nearby and the kids were being evacuated, and Rick needed to come NOW to get him out.  Rick hightailed it over there and retrieved Jax.  They tried to get up to their house to get their dog, Sugar Ray, and whatever else they could.  The way was blocked: police wouldn't let them get anywhere near the area as the fire was already up there and moving way too fast.  They drove to Chico, about 15 miles away, where Julie had been working.  Her boss has a big house and they invited Rick and the family to stay with them.

The next day, Rick and Julie were able to get into their neighborhood, using a little subterfuge since only emergency workers were allowed in.  Their house was gone; in fact, it was still burning underfoot. The only thing standing was the chimney.  Worse, their dog Sugar Ray died in the fire.  Julie's mother lived on the other side of town.  She and Julie's sister had made it out as well, so they were safe, but Rick and Julie went to check on their house.  It was gone, too.  So was almost all of Paradise.

Since then, it's been a matter of regrouping, finding out what they have to do and what their options are, and discussing what they're going to do in the future.  Right now, there's not much they can do.  Rick still has a job of managing operations for Waste Management - a job that will be very important in the near future, I think.  The fire is still burning and people are not yet allowed back to their houses ... or at least, where their houses once stood.  Jax needs to be in school.  Julie's job is still safe since the fire hasn't gotten to Chico.  So they're figuring out what needs to be done first, then they'll work on the long-term plan.

In the meantime, Rick and Julie have been overwhelmed by the support from friends and strangers alike.  Here's what Rick had to say about it on Facebook:

Woke up this morning with an incredibly full heart, here’s why… Since this tragic fire, we have more people in our lives than prior. We have completely new friends. And while our relationship LITERALLY rose from the ashes… They are happy/healthy relationships that will continue to develop for the rest of my days. To be quite honest; if it weren’t for this fire, I would not have these people in my life. 
I have “new” old friends. These people have always been there. We go through life and tend to drift away every now and again. The term “Life sometimes gets in the way.“ describes this group of friends for me. Here’s what I can tell you about this group… They have been nothing short of spectacular. And while my little family is doing well, make no mistake, we are starting to run with our new lives a little bit more each day. It is comforting to know these people are running with us. Often times; they are leading the way! 

If you know anything about me, you know I pride myself on doing and being more for my friends. For me, it is all about relationships. I fear, I could never be more than my friends have been for my family over the last week. I WILL TRY!

This kinda tells me that they're going to be all right.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

An iMac and the Mojave Update

"What did you do to the computer?"  That question from my wife was the first indication that we had a problem.

We have an iMac that's two years old and had been running well.  The previous day, we had a notification from Apple that we should update to the new OS, called Mojave.  Earlier updates hadn't been much of a problem, so that evening, I started the update.  Several hours later, when we were calling it a night, I checked and the progress bar showed about 75%.  Slow, but these updates were slow sometimes, so no problem.

The next morning, though, it was still at 75%.  No progress at all over 10 or so hours.  I did a bit of research on my old Dell and there were recommendations on restarting the process.  So I shut the iMac down and restarted it.  And discovered major, major issues.  Boot time was about 15 minutes.  Once booted, it didn't recognize the keyboard and mouse for a long time.  When it finally did, the response time to a mouse click or keyboard entry could be 30 seconds or more.  I rebooted and it was the same.  So I started looking at how to dump the Mojave update and revert to the previous operating system and quickly discovered that it was going to be beyond my skill level.  I shut the computer down, unplugged it, and hauled it off to Charlotte Street Computers.  This is Asheville's best Mac store and repair shop and we've had super service out of them before.

Even our technician at Charlotte Street had problems with our computer.  First, he verified that our hardware was all working correctly.  Then he tried the usual assortment of tricks and fixes, but nothing worked.  The next step was to duplicate all our data, wipe the drive, reformat, and do a fresh install of either High Sierra (the previous OS) or Mojave.  I decided on Mojave, since it'll have to be done sooner or later, anyway, so why not have a pro do it?  Except this fresh install of Mojave didn't work, either.  It was still incredibly slow and acted up.  More research by the tech indicated that Mojave seems to have been designed for computers with solid-state drives instead of hard drives.  Hard drives are spinning discs and, while they operate extremely fast, they can only do one thing at a time.  Mojave wants to the processors to access the drive multiple times simultaneously.  No problem for a solid-state drive, but impossible for hard drives.

So I decided to upgrade to a solid-state drive.  Our tech did the installation, ran some tests that showed it was running as designed, then migrated all our data back onto the new drive.  While he was at it, he took our old drive and mounted it in an external case to use as our backup drive.  Great!

The only remaining issue seemed to be that all our passwords were gone.  I'd have to re-set our computer and application passwords, and we'd have to re-set all our internet passwords when we visited various sites.  A bit of an annoyance, but not a problem.

So I took the computer home and, over the course of a couple of hours, discovered that there were till two problems.  One was that my mail application didn't want to work at all.  It did for Janis's account and for the tech's, but not mine.  The other was that the computer didn't see the ethernet port anymore.  Wifi worked, but not the ethernet.  Back to Charlotte Street.  Our now-harried tech fixed the mail problem (a known issue with Mac upgrades), but couldn't for the life of him figure out why the ethernet port wasn't working.  So he gave us a Thunderbolt-to-ethernet connection (Thunderbolt is another port on Macs, apparently; I have no idea what it's all about).  I picked up the computer again yesterday and set it up again at home.  Knock on wood, everything seems to be just fine now.

According to our tech, this Mojave update has been fraught with problems.  It was really bad when first released a couple of months ago and has gradually gotten better, but it is still problematic, as we just proved.  This was NOT a well-designed Apple update.  They released it too early and didn't think some things through.  The hard drive issue, for example.  Apple's poor development work wound up costing me about $350, five days, and a lot of heartburn.  So for all the Mac users out there, think twice before jumping on the Mojave update.  Wait several more months before trying it, and be prepared to take your computer to a pro if it crashes.  So far, I haven't seen anything that jumps out at me as a major step forward from the older OS, so I can't say this was all worth it.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

More Wedding Paintings

Wow, it's been almost two months since my last post.  That's not good!  I've had a lot of stuff happening and wanted to write about it, but just didn't.  No excuses, that's just what happened.  So it's time to do some catch-up here on a lot of topics.  For today's post, we'll talk about three completed wedding paintings and one that's in progress.

I was happy to be chosen to create the wedding paintings for four couples in late summer and fall.  The first of these was for Nil and Aveni, a wonderful couple from the Durham area.  They had a wedding based on traditional Hindu customs, but modified a bit for America.  For one thing, it was only one afternoon - I understand that Hindu wedding ceremonies can go for days.  In Indian tradition, the groom travels in a procession from his village to his bride's.  That doesn't work so well in an American urban setting, so instead, the procession went around the large building where the wedding took place.  It was led by Batala Durham, a Brazilian samba reggae drum band (that's part of the Hindu tradition, right?), and to say they were lively is an understatement.  They had entire procession of several hundred participants (and me) dancing all the way around the building.  However, they didn't have somebody in the nearby residential area dancing and the cops showed up.  Any time you have the cops called on your celebration for making too much noise, you know you're doing it right!  The wedding itself was beautiful.  I painted a moment at the very end of the ceremony that, I thought, perfectly captured their feelings for each other - and it was a huge hit for them both.

Nil and Aveni

The next painting was an outdoor ceremony on a ridge outside of Hendersonville, North Carolina.  It was held shortly before sunset with beautiful colors in the sky.  Taylor and John are very close with their families and wanted the painting to show that.  So we decided to include all of the immediate families: their parents and brothers and sisters.  Getting good likenesses, with lots of life in them, for so many people, is quite a challenge.  Taylor and John, though, loved the way it turned out.

Taylor and John

The third painting wasn't a wedding, it was a vow renewal.  Juli (the owner of Wedding Inspirations Bridal Boutique in Asheville) and Jeff had been married for 32 years.  The ceremony was held at Jeff's surprise birthday party, and to top it off, it was a surprise vow renewal.  I won't go into the story of how you can have a surprise vow renewal here, but it's enough to say that, as told by Juli, it was both hilarious and deeply touching.  I had free rein in choosing the moment to paint, and to heighten the feeling of love between the two, the painting only included them.  And here's how it turned out:

Juli and Jeff

Yesterday, I started a new painting for Klaire and Drew.  Klaire had a very definite idea that she wanted the painting to focus on a moment at the end of the ceremony when they were showered with roses.  That sounded great, but as the couple was coming down the aisle at the end of the ceremony, they stopped a couple of times for impromptu kisses.  I changed the painting's focus right then and there.  Fortunately, once they saw how it was developing, both Klaire and Drew loved the concept.  This painting is still at the very early block-in stage.  It's going to take 2-4 more weeks to get it up to the standards that you see in the other paintings.  But it WILL get there and I will post it here when done.  So here's the painting, still at the ugly stage:

Drew and Klaire (rough block-in)

So that's what's been happening with the wedding painting side of my studio operations.  The painting of Drew and Klaire is the last on my list until April, so over the winter, you'll see more of my charcoal and pastel figures, along with some small oils and maybe even one or two large artworks.  And I hope to be a little better at keeping this blog up to date.

More information on wedding paintings:
Asheville Event Paintings
Asheville Event Paintings Facebook page

Monday, August 27, 2018

A New Job

I just started a new part-time position as the director of Weizenblatt Gallery for Mars Hill University. MHU is a private college right here in the town I live in, about 15 miles or so north of Asheville.  The gallery hosts about ten shows a year.  Last week, I spent a lot of time hanging my first show there: the biennial Faculty Show.  It took way too long, of course, because I'm still learning the ropes, where the tools are, what they expect to see in the gallery, what to do with the student work-study people, who to talk to about publicity, and so on.  Tomorrow, I have to put together the plan for the reception on Wednesday.  Once the reception is over, I gotta do the planning for the next show so that thing go smoother.

Some people wonder why I agreed to do this.  After all, in addition to my studio activities, I still work  as a proposal writer for small firms trying to get federal contracts.  And I'm on the board of a small Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) focused on the Kurdish region of Iraq.  And I've been working with the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), which is a volunteer organization that mentors small businesses that are trying to get started, or grow, or whatever.  At the same time, I have a lot of "life" stuff to do: chores, walk the dog, mow the yard, fix this or that, you know the drill - lots of things that just eat up time.  I needed one more activity like I needed a hole in the head.

But this gives me an opportunity to work with the Art Department students.  I really enjoy working with the young ones just starting out: build their capabilities some, give them confidence that they can do it, show that there's a helluva lot more to art than they can comprehend right now, and help them learn how to find their voice.  I love seeing the flash of sudden insight, especially when it's something that I know will stay with them and not be forgotten in two weeks.

So to make time for the gallery, I'm cutting back on my SCORE functions and one of the tasks associated with proposal writing.  My focus is going to be more on art and art-related functions going forward.  I'm still figuring out what that means.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Living with an Old Dog

My little Soozzee turned 15 years old last month.  She's been with us since she was a tiny pup.  To say that she owns my heart is both accurate and an understatement.  She's the sweetest little dog that was ever born.  Yes, I know, yours is too, but I'm absolutely certain that Soozzee is the queen.

But she's getting old and I'm acutely aware that her time with us is limited.  Over the past year, especially, her age is dragging her down.  Her walks are a bit shorter these days and much slower than they were a year ago.  Her hearing is pretty much gone.  She's totally blind in one eye and almost blind in the other.  She bumps into things around the house.  Her hair has gone from thick and honey-colored to thin and white.  She has old-dog skin bumps, bad skin flakes, and dry eye in both eyes.  Often when she stands in one place, one or more of her legs shake.  The dog formerly known as "Piglet" has to be hand-fed.  She's gone from a hefty 20 pounds to a thinner 16.8 and may not be done yet.  She used to chase The Light (a laser pointer) around the house every single evening.  Now, I'm not sure she can see it anymore, and she only does about a half lap around the house anyway.  She has always been a world-class nap-taker, but her nap times have increased to where she's only awake maybe two or three hours a day, spread over a 12-hour period.

Still, Soozzee is hanging in there.  She still has control of her bowels, thank God, so unlike some other older dogs, she doesn't need diapers.  When she hits her favorite field on her afternoon walk, she still likes to run.  True, what once was one long run is now a series of short and slow runs broken up with rest stops, but she runs.  She likes to go for her daily ride in the car.  She still pounces on The Light when she can see it.  She can rattle the windows with her snoring.  Occasionally we'll get a good tail wag, and every once in a while, the dog that rarely gave us slurps during her whole life will give us one.

I was an emotional wreck when we had to put her sister Indy down shortly after Christmas.  I know I'm going to be an even worse wreck when Soozzee goes.  It may not be that much longer.  But I'm going to treasure every moment I have with this little dog.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Struggling With a Painting

I recently completed another wedding painting and sent it to the client.  That statement sounds routine, but getting to that point was anything but.  This painting was a fight from almost the very first brushstroke to very close to the end.

About halfway through, I sent an in-progress photo to the client and talked a little about the process, especially since it was VERY different from the last time he'd seen it.  I told him that starting a new painting is like starting a conversation with somebody you've never met.  Sometimes you hit it off like you've known each other your whole lives, and other times you struggle to find a connection.  This time, the painting had a very different mindset than I did, and trying to get on the same wavelength was a never-ending process.

So here's how the painting looked at the very beginning, when I was just starting to position things on the canvas:

The couple wanted a painting of the first dance.  The room was long and somewhat narrow, with glass walls that opened to a lot of trees outside.  The ceiling was very dark brown-stained wooden rafters, the dance floor was the yellow of oak, and there were peach-colored draperies around the room.  As in most first-dance paintings, I wanted to get both the couple and the room a bit off-center.  I also wanted to use the perspective of the room to help guide the eye to the couple.  Getting the perspective to support the couple took some thinking, but here's what I came up with.  And, as you'll see, this structure held true throughout the painting's progress.

Here's how the painting looked at the end of the reception:

I'd taken several dozen photos of the first dance.  My initial thought was to go with one that showed them in a fairly dynamic position and this seemed to be the liveliest choice.  The ceiling has a very thin coat of burnt umber since I didn't want to go too dark too early.  Darks tend to go dead if the paint is applied too thickly and you can't really recover from that.  The dance floor is roughed in and the background is beginning to be populated with the crowd.  Outside the windows, I just put in some washes of green to indicate the lighting and color outside the glass.  It doesn't look like it here, but deciding how to handle the glass walls involved a lot of choices.  The reason is that I arrived early and took a bunch of reference photos of the room, including the windows, but that was in the afternoon.  By the time they actually got to the first dance, they were running a bit late and the light was very dim.  So: go light on the outside, or go dark?  I went with light for now, for the same reason as the ceiling: you can always go darker, but making it lighter can be hard.

Here's the painting after some development.  My wife took one look at the post-reception version and declared that no bride is going to want a painting of her butt, so I had to change their position.  She's right, of course.  I didn't have any decent "lively" shots of them dancing where you could clearly see both of their faces, so I went with one that had them in profile and showed some tenderness.

What you don't see here is the version where it was dark outside the windows.  I blocked in the dark of early evening outside, but it was too gloomy and eliminated a lot of the event's color.  So I repainted the outside in afternoon sun, resulting in lots of greens and other cheerful colors.

The architecture of the place was important and I spent a lot of time working and re-working it.  I had to get something to indicate the rafters in the darkness overhead, and also block in three chandeliers.  The peach-colored curtains , the various verticals and horizontals of the supporting beams and outside railings, the dark wood floor, the architecture of the adjacent building, and some idea of the plantings around the outside, all had to be worked up.  All of this meant painting over bits and pieces of the crowd, resulting in odd things like the decapitated lady just to the right of the dance floor!

By the time I got to this stage, though, the creative decisions and directions had been made.  Most everything after this was refinement and bringing everything up to spec.  The painting and I were more or less on the same page and communicating fairly well.  It still threw me some curve balls every once in a while, though.

And here's the finished version.  The crowd has been added in and turned into specific people.  Both sets of parents are at the table on the left, while the tables in the center and on the right have the bridesmaids and groom's men.  The decapitated lady was hauled off to the morgue.  I worked on the floors to get the right level of reflected lights.  The venue is the LionCrest pavilion at the Biltmore Estate.  They have a unique crest that the client wanted me to include.  Its real location is between the curtains at the far end of the room.  However, when I tried to put it in there, it looked like something was growing out of the bride's head!  So I moved the crest over to the window just to the curtain's left.  (Point of fact: that corner is where I set up my easel at the reception!).  I had to get the little lights that were all over the beams and roof, and also finished the chandeliers.  And there it is - done.

After all that, I think it turned out pretty well.  There are a lot of things I really like about it.  The bride and groom, for example, are really good likenesses, and they show a true connection to each other.  The other figures have pretty good likenesses.  I don't try for perfection in these figures because doing so would pull attention away from the bride and groom.  The architecture turned out well, especially the floors with their reflected lights and colors.  The outside colors provide good lighting and cheerfulness.  All in all, I think it works.  Most importantly: the bride and groom approve!

Monday, July 02, 2018

Painting Composition

I've been following the Norwegian artist Nick Alm for a couple of years now.  Nick is a young guy who is a phenomenal figure painter.  There's a lot to look at in his paintings: his compositions, his use of light and dark, the way he paints the figure, his skin tones, the way he paints (or doesn't paint) backgrounds, the expressions of his people, and on and on.  This time, I'm going to take a look at a painting he just posted called "Cafe Scene".

Quick notes on terminology: "warm" colors are those in the red to yellow range; "cools" are blues and greens.  Not only that, but warm and cool are really only warmer or cooler than the colors around them.  "Value" refers to the lightness or darkness of a color.  A high-value area is one that's light, a low-value area is one that's dark.

Cafe Scene, oil on canvas, 47"x43"
Nick Alm

Click on the image for a larger view - please, it's worth it.

This painting is fairly large at 47"x43".  There are a lot of figures (12), all of them exceptionally well-rendered.  Now, the subject matter of a bunch of people sitting around drinking wine, and not having a particularly good time of it, doesn't float my boat.  Doesn't matter: look at how beautifully this thing is put together.  Squint and you'll see that the lower left is basically one large dark cool area, the top third is a cool mid-value gray, and the figures form a warm, light arch going from the lower right towards the upper left.  It's a very dynamic composition of light/dark and warm/cool even without recognizable figures and objects.

The arc formed by the figures is reinforced by the three tables.  Here again is a warm/cool balance: the warm figures against the cool tables.  The tables are all horizontal while the figures are vertical, except for maybe the girl at the peak who's apparently about to jump out of the guy's arms.  And each of the tables has a horizontal dish on it, with the tables and dishes in the upper left and lower right going off their respective edges.

Now look at the light, mid-value, and dark areas.  If this was a real cafe, everybody's clothes would be all different colors and values.  Alm tied the colors and values together so that they guide the eye.  The people in the dark area of the canvas are all wearing clothes that are pretty much the same color, a dark muted blue.  The mens' jackets are the same color, while the woman with her back to us is wearing a dress of essentially the same color, only lighter and bluer.  Her dress's specific color is echoed in the ties of the two men on the left side of the canvas.  The woman in the middle of the composition is wearing a dress of, again, the same basic color, only lighter and more muted.  The woman in the lower right is wearing a dress that is also the same basic color, only still lighter and more muted, but it transitions toward her shoulders toward a warmer color.  Then the outfits of the two women, the standing man, and woman are all warm tones, very similar in color.  They're all set against a background that is a neutral gray that is based on the very same colors used in the dark area.  

Over the past few years, I've become more of a proponent of using a limited palette of colors.  Alm's use of a very limited palette here shows how it can be used to help hold a painting together.

You can see how even the skin tones help guide the eye.  The skin tones are all warm against a cooler background, but he uses darker and paler tones to focus attention.  Look at the guy on the far left: he's darker and the skin colors are muted.  The gentleman next to him is also dark, but his color is a bit stronger, with a bit more variation between the lightest and darkest areas.  The angle of his head picks up the angle on the young lady's dress as it goes over her shoulder.  Her skin tones are very light on her shoulder and neck, but look at how dark her elbow is.  Most painters I know (including me) would not have made that strong a value contrast, but it's the right call here.  The woman next to her, with the light brown hair, also has light skin, but Alm covers up her shoulders so that they don't pull attention away from the other young woman.  Plus, her light brown hair does not present a strong value contrast against her skin, while the woman with her back to us has almost black hair against very pale skin.  The woman on the far right is not one of the focal points in the composition, so even though she's the closest person to the viewer, her skin colors are not as strong as others in the painting, and the light/dark range is smaller.  The woman whose head is sharply turned actually has the strongest coloring of all in the painting.  Her cheeks and lips have more red than anybody else's, which helps draw the eye to her.  

Another detail that Alm uses to guide the eye is, well, detail.  Alm uses details only in the figures that are most important: the man at the table, the girl in the blue dress, the woman with light brown hair, the woman whose head is sharply turned, the man who is holding up the celebrating girl, and of course the girl raising the glass.  And those figures are only detailed in the places where the details contribute to the story.  Look at the woman whose head is turned, for example: her face is detailed and the light/dark contrast of her eye tells us to look the way she's looking.  The man in the light suit is slightly detailed around the face and hair, but also the arm of the coat, just enough to show he's lifting her.  By contrast, look at his left shoulder: his jacket just bleeds off into the background.  The woman in the lower right?  She's closest to us, but the details aren't as apparent here because Alm doesn't want you spending much time on her.  Yes, her face is developed, but the paint strokes have generally softer edges, and her eyes are almost closed, so we don't look there.  

Speaking of detail, look at the background.  You get the idea that these people are in a room with a column on the left and a mural on the right.  But look at the wall: it's really just paint slammed onto the canvas with thick, juicy brush strokes.  The "column" is just a couple of vertical lines.  The "mural" is a slight bit of yellow and maybe burnt umber, slammed in at the same time the wall was done.  The looseness of the paint handling here tells your eye that (a) it's a wall and (b) nothing to see here, move along.  

I could go on.  Look at the wine glasses: all three that are being held are tilted at almost the same angle.  Look at how the edges of shapes are very sharp in some areas (where they're important) and almost non-existent in others (where they're not).  Look at where the colors are strong and where they're muted.  Look at how the direction of the light is consistent throughout the painting.  Alm had to have used photo references to put this together, since all the figures are anatomically perfect, but he had to have carefully staged each individual to get the photos he needed.

Bottom line: this painting is brilliantly put together.  The specific storyline means little to me, but I don't care: I could study this painting for a long, long time and still see something new in it.  I've done some paintings that are complex enough to require a lot of time spent on studies and putting lots of bits together.  But, in those, I see now that I was painting each item as a separate "thing".  I wasn't tying them together into broader shapes, or using detail to guide the eye, or even paying much attention to edges.  So now I want to put together a more complex painting using some of these techniques and see what happens.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Wedding Painting Progress

I recently had four wedding paintings on successive Saturdays.  Sounds great, right?  Well, yes, it is, but I'm a slow painter.  I don't complete the paintings at the event, I take 'em back to the studio to bring them up to my standards.  Since my paintings are advertised as being completed 2-4 weeks after the event, they kinda piled up on me.  However, that backlog is over.  One painting (a watercolor) was delivered a couple of weeks ago.  Another painting was delivered today.  A third will go out as soon as the notecards come back from the printer so I can include them in the box.  And the fourth painting is nearing completion.  Whew!

I thought it would be interesting to show the difference between the way a painting looks at the end of the reception and the way it looks when it is finally sent to the bride and groom.  Here's the "end of reception" one for Sara and Brenton:

Really, this is just a rough block-in.  I've got the composition determined, poses suggested, and enough indicated to get going in the studio.  None of the figures have faces - most are just a quick stroke of paint to mark the approximate location and size.  It needed a lot of work.  And here's how it looks now:

Quite a difference, huh?  The fundamentals didn't change: the composition, color scheme, and positions of the people.  But now the bride and groom, both sets of parents, the officiant, bridesmaids and groomsmen, all are recognizable.  There was a good bit of back-and-forth with the bride and her mom to get some of the details right, but that's great, because it resulted in a better and more meaningful painting.  They're happy, I'm happy that they're happy, and this one will be on it's way to its new home in a day or so.

Let's look at the one for Cindy and Bill.  Here's how it looked at the end of the first evening:

Again, it's just a rough block-in.  Cindy and Bill are in good positions but there's no detail: nothing in the faces, and the clothes and hands are just quick strokes of paint. The gazebo is barely indicated.  The crowd is only roughly indicated and, in fact, only one of them survived.  Yep, I killed all the others and replaced them with figures better suited to the situation, as you can see:

In the final version, I kept the positions of the bride and groom and developed their faces, clothing, and postures.  The bridal bouquet is now more than just a few blobs of paint and the dress has folds and texture.  I paid a good bit of attention to the environment: the trees in the background needed that early-spring green, for example, but I deleted some plants because they detracted from the people.  And I developed the gazebo into a real 3-D building.  The biggest changes were the people in the crowd.  Bill's parents and brother are in the back right (they weren't in the first version).  Cindy's parents are in the back left.  They are both deceased, but since they were there in spirit (Cindy had chairs set aside for them), I added them in.  Then I had to create additional people to fill in the chairs and throw the petals, but not to block the families.  All in all, I think it worked out pretty well.  This painting was delivered today.  Yay!

And there's still one wedding painting on my easel right now.  This one was more complicated than both of the two above, so maybe I'll make a blog post about its development when it's done.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Wedding Landscape

In my last post, I mentioned that I was going to do a small watercolor at a wedding near Cashiers, NC.  That turned into an interesting experience.  Cashiers is in a spectacularly beautiful region high in the mountains of southeast North Carolina.  The area is filled with golf courses, vacation homes, and seasonal businesses.  The couple getting married had asked me to do a small watercolor of the setting for their wedding.  It wasn't to include the bride, groom, or other wedding participants.  I told them that I could do a plein air landscape and have it matted for them during the reception.

Once I arrived at the site, I saw why they wanted the location.  It's a place called Lonesome Valley, which I learned is the largest box canyon east of the Mississippi.  The valley floor was lush with the early-spring light greens of the trees, while the canyon walls to the northeast were sheer granite walls hundreds of feet high.  Wow!  I set up in a place where the wedding guests could come by to see what I was doing, while still giving me a clear view of the valley and the granite walls.  When I started, it was a beautiful day.

That changed.  The wedding was scheduled for 5 pm, but at 4:30 some thick clouds rolled in.  I checked the weather radar and, of course, there was a single cell of rain coming right towards us.  Just before 5, it opened up.

I took down my easel and quickly relocated to the shelter of the reception hall to finish up the artwork.  The rain eased up and the ceremony went off a half hour late.  Not too bad, considering.  The bride, groom, and guests all seemed to love the artwork ... at least, I had lots of questions and compliments on it.  So here's the finished work:

The good people at Lonesome Valley said that they welcome artists to come paint the valley.  I'm not a landscape artist, but this is definitely a place I'd like to go back to and paint!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Wedding Season

The spring wedding season is on us and I've been busy.  On Saturday, April 21st, I went to Cary, NC (outside Raleigh) to do a live wedding painting for a wonderful young couple.  A week later, I was in Pilot Mountain, NC (north of Winston-Salem) to do another live wedding painting, this time for the owner of the venue.  The next weekend, I was at the Biltmore, here in Asheville, to do a live painting of the first dance at the reception for another young couple.  This coming Saturday, I'll be doing a small watercolor at a reception near Cashiers, in southwest North Carolina.

That's a lot of painting!

So, are the first three done yet?  No.  The first one is very near completion.  I'm making small changes to bring the overall finish up to where I'm comfortable with signing it.  Two or three days of work and I think it'll be done.  The second painting is about midway there, but it has a long way to go.  The third is still at the starting line: it has a rough block-in done at the reception, but that's it.

Every painting is different.  It has its own personality, it has its own things it wants to say, and it comes together in its own unique way.  The first of these paintings has been very cooperative from the get-go.  It has a very formal structure and things naturally fell into place.  It seems like my job has been to make sure all the details are executed properly.  The second painting is a bit more exuberant and lively.  I feel like it needs some guidance and creative suggestions to bring out the best in it, but it really wants to come to life.  The third?  It's been fighting me since the first marks on paper, even before the paint.  Everything has been a struggle: the composition, perspective, placement of the bride and groom, the lighting, the selection of photos to use for their poses, color, everything.  However, by the end of the reception, the painting started to come together, and I have a plan for how I want it to develop.  But since paintings are living things, and this one seems to have a rather independent mind, it may go in an entirely different way.  We'll see.

And NO, you can't see any progress photos.  Sometimes making a painting is like making sausage: the process is ugly but the end result is delicious.

So I'm off to the studio to sling some paint.  I'll post photos of the completed paintings when they're done.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Back in Court ... as an Artist, NOT Defendant!

I got to do another courtroom artist gig with WLOS on Friday.  Wanda Greene is the former County Manager for Buncombe County, NC.  She and her son Michael have been under investigation by the FBI for misappropriation of county funds, and on Friday, they were arraigned in federal court.  The case is a Big Deal in these parts and a great many people have been following it closely.

WLOS called me early in the week to ask if I was available.  Courtroom sessions are fun, so I made myself available, and hooked up with the reporters (Aaron Adelson and Lauren Brigman) and cameramen outside the building Friday morning.  They professionally ambushed the two defendants as they arrived with their attorneys.  A bit later, we went into the building to get situated in the courtroom.

When I arrived, another case was wrapping up.  Seating was almost non-existent, so I stood for a few minutes trying to decide what to do.  Then the judge basically told me to sit down, and the only place available was right next to Wanda Greene.  Her attorney came in a couple of minutes later and sat on the other side of me.  So there I was, drawing materials in my lap, sitting right between the defendant and her attorney!  Awwwkkwaaaaarddd!

Then the first case was over and we all repositioned ourselves.  I wound up in one of the seats in the jury box.  It was great for getting drawings of Wanda, her attorney, and the judge, but Michael was on the far side of them and all I could see was the top of his head.  Time to get to work!

As it turned out, I had more than enough time to get the drawings done.  The judge is a very methodical guy and is known for reading every bit of an indictment.  This time, reading every bit meant reading every item that Wanda and Michael (allegedly) purchased with county funds.  Every item.  Every item on a list 38 pages long.




It took an hour and 45 minutes.

Wanda and Michael (allegedly) didn't spend the money on big-ticket items.  It read like anybody's shopping lists for a period of many years: pizza, a Far Side book, paper towels, lingerie from Walmart, a couple of iPhones, some thumb drives, and so on.  You'd think that if somebody was going to risk their careers by embezzling, they'd go for the gold: Cartier wristwatches, Mercedes cars, trips to Monte Carlo, things like that.  Nope.  Walmart stuff.

So here are the drawings that I produced for WLOS:

The Judge

Wanda Greene and her attorney

Michael Greene

 In Court

Don't know if I'll be called back when the trial actually begins.  We'll see.  The saga continues ...

Sunday, April 08, 2018


Artists, do you ever go back and revise an earlier artwork?  I will, on occasion.  I just did it today, which is what brings it to mind.  Sometimes it results in a better work.  More often, though, the revision totally fails and it winds up in the trash can.  Today, I think it worked.

One of my charcoal and pastel figure drawings was bugging me.  We had Amy model for one of our Wednesday night life sessions back in December, and my scribbles that night seemed to be kinda/sorta working.  The next day, I did some touchup and called it complete.  It's been tacked to the studio wall since then, alongside other works that I liked.

Except it kept bugging me.  Here's how it looked:

The shoulders were too square, the torso too long, and the color pretty weak, and I didn't like the way the color faded out.  But I had other things on my plate and they took priority.

So, today, I had time to work on it.  A couple of years ago, Amy and I did a photo shoot in the studio. I found a couple of photos from that session that could, with some changes, be used as references to possibly fix this work.  Or ruin it altogether.  Either way, I considered it to be substandard, so it needed to change or be tossed.  I worked on it a couple of hours and here's how it looks now:

This revision works much better.  The shoulders feel more natural, the color is richer, the torso is shorter, and it just feels stronger all the way around.  I'm much happier with it.  What do you think?

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Completing a Wedding Painting

In a previous post, I wrote about the start of the wedding painting for Jason and Sarah.  I had a lot of fun that day, both at the ceremony and then at the reception.  The interaction with the couple and their guests was great, the ceremony and location were beautiful, and the reception was PARTAYYY!!  So here's how the painting looked at the end of the reception (click on it for a larger image):

Not too bad for just a few hours worth of work.  But notice: Jason's head is too big, the bride's mother on the left is turned away from us so that we only see the back of her head, and the rest of the people in the painting are only roughly defined.  This needs a lot of work before I would put my signature on it.

To answer your question, yes, I work from photographs.  This couple wanted a painting of the moment they started back down the aisle at the end of the ceremony.  (I have since learned that the proper term for that is the "recessional").  But that doesn't mean that I take one or two quick snaps and that's it.  No, I took a bunch before the guests started arriving, getting in the mountains in the distance, the flowers, the petals on the ground, the guests as they were arriving, then many of each of the party as they entered, including the bride and groom.  I took a bunch of the overall crowd as they were standing and sitting.  I took some wide shots and some closeups from both sides of the setup.  As the key moment approached, the wedding photographer and I positioned ourselves at the end of the aisle and shot almost non-stop as Jason and Sarah turned and walked down the aisle.  In all, I shot over 220 photos.  Then I headed down to the reception venue to get started on the painting.

Over the next three weeks, I used over 20 of those photos to develop the painting.  I used four different ones for Sarah, two for Jason, one or two each for the bride's and groom's mothers, one or two each for each of the bridesmaids and grooms' men, two for the flowers, two for the petals, and a couple for the distant mountains.  And a few more, here and there, for specific details.  Those photos came from everywhere in the collection.  That's why I take a lot of reference photos: you never know which ones will be important when you're in front of the easel.

So here's how the painting turned out:

It came a long way from the first night, didn't it?  Just about every square inch has been re-painted, sometimes multiple times.  Jason came in pretty quickly.  Sarah gave me fits.  I didn't like that Jason was looking at her while she was looking out at the viewer, so I turned her head towards him.  The first try didn't work, so I scrubbed it out and tried a different angle.  That one worked better, but it took a while to get it from "some anonymous blonde woman" to "Sarah".  I turned Sarah's mom ninety degrees so we could get her face and expression and brought Jason's mom up to a good level of finish.  Normally, I don't worry too much about getting likenesses for the rest of the people, but this time, all the figures became recognizable pretty quickly.  Then it was a matter of going around, tightening up the details, correcting colors and values, all while trying to keep the lively brushwork and avoid over-working it.  When it was close, I sent Sarah and Jason a photo and asked for input.  They recommended some changes to make it look more like Sarah, and when I sent them the second proof photo, they said I nailed it.

So right now, the painting is in the studio.  I've been letting it dry for a few days.  It'll head out to Jason and Sarah early next week.  And then it's on to the next challenge ...

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Crowdsourcing Titles

I'll be the first to tell you that I am terrible at coming up with titles for artworks.  Just look at my current series of charcoal and pastel works.  They have titles like "Amy #14", "Troy #3", and "Jennifer #6".  Almost as bad are my landscape paintings: "French Broad River Rapids".  Not much there to inspire your curiosity, is there?  I have, on occasion, come up with some pretty good titles, but by and large, I don't.  Most titles are a descriptive word or two, and that's it.

Recently, I completed a new painting and could not come up with a decent title to save my soul.  Calling it "Astrid #1" just seemed wrong.  So I decided to ask the world for recommendations.  And the world responded.  Here's the painting:

So what would YOU title it?

I got lots of suggestions.  Most of them were about as bad as my own ideas. "Weary Woman", "Lost in Thought", "The Striped Chair", "Contemplating the Dreams".  None of them came close to the idea of the young woman that I had in my head while this painting was in progress.

After this had been going a while, somebody piped in with the question, "what did you decide?"  I thought about that for a while and finally decided that was the painting's title.  "What Did You Decide?"  It's perfect.  This young lady is looking directly at the viewer, so there's some kind of interaction ongoing.  From the pose, she's at ease: no woman would adopt such an unselfconscious position with somebody she didn't know.  And the question could go either way: she could be asking it of the viewer (you), or you could be asking it of her.  Whichever version you prefer, it reinforces the direct communication with her that is apparent from the pose and gaze.  Perfect.

Actually, many of the best titles for my paintings have come from other people.


This painting is an update, of sorts, of Michelangelo's Pieta.  I was stuck on that title until I asked the owner of the gallery where it was exhibited, and without a second's hesitation, she said "Lament".

Saddle Up

My initial thought was to title this one with the man's name.  Real original, huh?  But I asked him what he thought and he immediately said "Saddle Up".  That was what the Marine sergeants in Viet Nam said when it was time for the squad to move out.  "Saddle up, ladies!".


I had finished this satirical painting and was casting about for a name.  An artist friend took one look and suggested "Pleasantville".  Perfect match.

Okay, now for one of the very few examples of a title that I came up with, all by myself, that I think is pretty good:

You Don't Understand

That's part of the theme of the painting, obviously, but a descriptive title wouldn't cut it.  Speaking from personal experience here, the deployed guy doesn't understand everything that the wife/girlfriend has to deal with while he's gone, and she has no clue as to what he has to see and do every day.  And you, the viewer, don't understand what they're going through, either.

So, artists: how do you title your artworks?  Have you tried crowdsourcing ideas for titles, and if you have, how did it turn out?

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Jason & Sarah Wedding Painting: It's A Start

On Saturday, I started another wedding painting.  This was for Jason and Sarah, a wonderful couple who wanted a painting of their ceremony.  More specifically, Sarah wanted a painting of the moment they started back down the aisle as a newly married couple.  This young lady had a very clear idea about the artwork that she plans on keeping for her entire life!

The wedding was held at The Ridge, which is an outdoor venue in Madison County, northwest of Asheville.  This is a spectacular location in the North Carolina mountains.  I gotta say, I was skeptical of the choice.  I mean, early March in this area is still winter.  But we were lucky: clear skies, slight wind, and temperatures in the low 50's - chilly but not cold.  I went out for a reconnaissance mission a couple of weeks in advance so I'd know where it was and to start thinking about how to compose the painting.  I also ran a recon mission to The Venue in downtown Asheville, where the reception would be.  The managers and staff there were great to work with and we quickly determined where I would set up and paint during the reception.

On the Big Day, I loaded up all my stuff at the studio and headed down to The Venue to set up.  Then it was back to the studio for a quick change to wedding-appropriate clothes before driving out to The Ridge.  I hooked up with the other staff and event people and got ready for the ceremony.  I had my camera with me to take a ton of reference photos to paint from later.  The ceremony itself went fairly quickly (fortunately so, since the temperature was starting to drop) and was quite beautiful.  So how many reference photos do I need to make one painting?  In this case, 228.  You can never have too many references.

The moment the ceremony was over, I hightailed it back to The Venue to get started.  The first thing to do was to go through the photos and identify the ones I wanted to use.  I found one primary and a couple of alternates for Sarah, and one primary and a couple of alternates for Jason.  The primaries were the ones that had the figures in the most expressive positions, while the alternates had specific details that I wanted to use.  Sarah and Jason's primary photos were different, but they were taken only a second or so apart - things change fast when the subjects are moving!  In addition to these reference photos, I wound up using quite a few others for various elements: the sky, distant ridge lines, flowers, bridesmaids, grooms' men, and so on.

So once the reference photos were selected, it was a matter of putting something together on canvas.  I approached this in pretty much the same way that I approach any alla prima painting: find the focus, go for the big shapes, and get some feeling or expression in it from the beginning.  Leave the details alone.  The difference between a studio painting and a live wedding painting, though, is that I'm doing all this with 150 people coming by to see how it's progressing!  That may sound stressful, but it's actually a lot of fun.  This was a very lively crowd and they had great responses and inputs.  And, as I heard later, I was all over SnapChat, with everybody snapping photos and posting them.

I painted all throughout the reception until it ended and everybody was shoo'd out the door.  Then it was time to pack up and take everything back to the studio.  I went in to the studio on Sunday to put everything away and get a clear look at the painting.  Actually, I think it was a good start.  So here 'tis:

If you click on the image, you'll see a larger version of it.

Now I have two to four weeks of work ahead of me.  I'll refine Sarah and Jason quite a bit.  Jason's head needs to shrink, for example.  The trick is going to be in developing the painting while not losing the liveliness of the brushstrokes and getting bogged down in detail.

I want to give some credit to some amazing professionals.  Mary of Mary Bell Events was the wedding planner.  This young lady was ORGANIZED.  As an old Navy guy, I really appreciate good organization, especially for something as complex and important as making sure a wedding and reception are successful.  Mary made sure this one went off like clockwork.  Trust me, that doesn't always happen.  I can't recommend Mary highly enough.  

The Ridge and The Venue, both owned and operated by Marta Santamaria, also did a great job.  They were very easy to work with and very professional in everything they did.  And they seemed to enjoy the wedding and reception almost as much as the guests.

Rachael of Rachael McIntosh Photography did a great job photographing everybody and everything while remaining low-key.  She and two other photographers were everywhere.  They knew how to work with the subject to draw out their unique personalities, while ensuring they, themselves, were never themselves a center of interest.  Take a look at Rachael's website - they take some beautiful pictures.  I'm really looking forward to seeing the ones from this wedding!

The band that played at the reception Cashmere, was amazing.  They played from 7 - 11 pm straight.  No breaks, and they were ROCKING the whole time.  I was bouncing along to them and I wasn't even in the same room!  They are definitely a high-energy band that knows how to get people off their chairs and onto their feet.

So, yes, I had a great time this past weekend.  And I'm going to be spending a lotta time in the studio over the next few weeks to get this painting done.  Stay tuned for updates and images!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Painting from Photographs

For many painters, working from photos is a touchy subject.  There are many purists who totally reject the idea of using photos at all.  For them, working directly from life is the only way to paint and using photos is cheating.  At the other extreme are those who copy photos directly.  Those artists are either photorealists, whose work is painstakingly detailed, or they're inexperienced artists who just copy what's in front of them.  The inexperienced artists have good intentions but don't have the knowledge of what works and what doesn't in a painting.

I'm in the middle.  I use photos as reference tools and find them useful, but they can't provide everything I need to make a good artwork.  I love working from life, but there are things that working from life just can't provide, either.

So let's look at what a photo is.  A photograph is a moment in time, as seen through a single lens and recorded on film or pixels.  It's a mechanical image.  A person can adjust what the camera sees and how it sees it.  The camera then records what comes through the lens.  The camera has no thought, no selectivity, no judgement.  To it, a pixel is a pixel is a pixel.  A good photographer, however, can make those pixels speak volumes.  I have a nephew who can do amazing things with cameras, and his photos are true works of art.

Most photos aren't.  Most are snapshots or other visual notes.  I use my cameras to take a lot of visual notes for future use.  Clouds, fields, tree lines, horses, people floating down the river on inner tubes, rock walls, old wooden floors - these are things that nobody would ever want to frame and hang on their wall, or even put into a Facebook photo album.  But I have found in creating paintings that sometimes I need to know what a particular type of cloud might look like at a particular time of day.  Or I need to know what a rock wall might look like.  Stopping the painting and running around trying to find the right rock wall is not an option.  So I'm always watching for things that might be useful in a painting someday.  When I find something, I snap a photo, or maybe a bunch of them, and then those photos go into a reference file.

By now, you've probably noticed that the vast majority of my artworks are about people.  For years, I thought the only way to draw and paint people was to work from life.  To some extent, that's still true.  Most of my artworks are not just about people, they're about specific people.  I generally don't use figures to tell my own story, I see other people and want to capture something of their story.  I like to get something of an individual's personality and character on paper or canvas.  To do that, I have to work directly with the individual.  It's by sitting with them, talking, and seeing how they carry themselves, how they speak, how they listen, and even just how they sit, that I can pick up something of who they are.  And that's what I try to carry into an artwork.

But working from life has some drawbacks.  For one, drawing and painting can take a long time.  I can usually work on a drawing or painting a heck of a lot longer than the subject can sit still.  And I have to respect that their time is just as valuable as mine.  So the time factor has to be considered.

Another consideration is that when you're working from life, the subject is always moving.  Sometimes a lot, sometimes just a little, but nobody can sit perfectly still.  And when a model takes a break, they never get back in exactly the same position.  It's always a little different, and fabric never ever ever comes close to the same position.  So when you work from life, you're creating an image of the subject's average position.

I've found that working from photographs and working from life are complementary.  Each has strengths and weaknesses.  When working from life, I get a sense of the person.  I can create an image that may have feeling but is often technically flawed.  When working from photos, there's an emotional distance that makes it easier to see things as two-dimensional shapes, values, and colors.  I can be a bit more clinically analytical about shapes and values in a photo than I can when faced with the real person.  This also gives me a bit of freedom to change things around, add things, or eliminate things, if it will make a better painting.  Sometimes there's the "tyranny of what's there" in real life that just doesn't work in paint.

For the past couple of years, I've been working with models to create this long series of charcoal and pastel figurative artworks.  One approach that has proven useful is to have the subjects come to the studio where we'll shoot a ton of photos.  When I say "ton", I mean 400-1,000 in an hour.  Later, I'll identify specific photos that have strong potential as an artwork.  And then I'll work from the photo.  The difference between this approach and working from somebody else's snapshot is that now I know the person, I controlled the lighting, and with all the other photos just before and after the one selected, I have a lot of reference material to work with.  I can select what to include and exclude.  The whole time, I've still got my impression of the subject in my head, so it's not just a photo that I'm working with, but also my impression of Amy, Emma, Troy, James, or whoever.  And that almost always comes through.  I don't know how, it just does.

And in photos, I'll see things that I might've missed in real life.  Things like the specific way the shadow falls across the neck, or a reflected light hits a jawline.  The next time I work with a model (any model), I will look for those things.  So the impression of a person that I get when working from life carries over into the times when I work from photos.  And the details I notice when working from photos feeds back into what I look at when I'm working from life.

So, yes, working from life and working from photos are complementary approaches.  I use them both.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

30 in 30, Day 4

Claire's Pakistani Dress

My friend Claire went to a wedding in Pakistan a while back.  Her friends there gave her this outfit to wear - much more appropriate than western garb!  She wore this to our modeling session.  Lots of fun getting the colors!

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Leslie Saeta's 30 in 30 Challenge

I recently signed up for Leslie Saeta's 30 in 30 challenge.  Leslie is a California-based artist who runs the Artists Helping Artists podcast, a really great resource at any stage of your career.  They talk about marketing, interview artists, and discuss a wide range of topics dealing with being a professional-level artist.  Leslie started a "30 in 30" challenge a few years ago with the goal of getting people into the studio, making work, experimenting, and sharing.  The goal is to make 30 artworks in 30 days.  They don't have to be big, nor fully realized, nor much of anything else - even if it's 30 quick oil sketches, they're good.  I'd heard about the challenge in years past but not participated.  This year, I decided to jump in.

So here's my first entry into the Challenge: "Mary Lou" charcoal and pastel on Canson toned paper, 25"x19".  This was done in a 2-hour life session.  Actually, the first hour saw me wipe out three or four false starts.  I'd get going, but it wouldn't feel right, or it would look like crap (or both), and I'd wipe it out and start over.  Things finally started happening during the last hour.  And here it is.  I even signed it!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Wedding Photos

No, I'm not posting MY wedding photos.  There aren't any.  Instead, I'm giving you a link to the photographer for the wedding that I recently painted.  Capture Me Candid is a professional wedding photographer in Charlotte, owned and operated by a wonderful lady named Lori.  She did a fantastic job - her photos really captured the incredible spirit and energy of the evening.  They even got a couple of shots of me, making a mess over in the corner!  Go take a look at the photos, they're really marvelous:

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Color Testing and the New Painting

In my last post, I talked about a new painting on my easel.  One of the things I want to work on is color mixing.  The impetus came from researching Jeremy Lipking's process.  I had noticed that his colors were beautifully muted without going into mud.  That's not an easy thing to do.  Several people who have taken workshops with him have made blog posts about his processes.  As it turns out, his palette is pretty basic with almost no unusual colors.  One notable difference is that he does not use earth colors (the umbers, siennas, and yellow ochre) because, he says, they go to mud very quickly.  That being said, he apparently does use burnt Sienna on occasion, plus a couple of reds that could be considered earth tones, depending on how they're prepared by the paint maker.

So with this painting, I thought I'd use a very limited palette and use them to mix a range of grays and muted colors.  Today, in the studio, I put that plan into action.  I put some ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow medium, cadmium red light, and Flemish white (a lead white) on the palette.  Then I mixed up a range of cool and warm grays, then some cooler and warmer skin tones.  Here's how the process looked:

There were more sheets, but you get the idea.  I'm seeing a nice range of cool and warm grays, nice muted greens, and some good skin tones.  Some of the mixtures gave a dark brown and I was even able to come up with one that was close to burnt Sienna.  No blacks, though.  Ultramarine blue and cad red will give a very dark muted purple, but as soon as you add a bit of yellow to the mixture, it gets lighter.

The next step was to apply some of these colors to the new painting.  I started on the face, since that's the focus, and laid in what will probably be the first of several layers.  Here's a detail of how it looks right now:

This is a fun challenge.  I'm excited to see what happens with it next.  I'll let you in on a secret: I have no idea how it'll turn out!