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!