Sunday, April 14, 2019

Studio Projects

I've got a whole bunch of projects going on in the studio right now.  They keep lining up in the queue and piling up faster than I can get 'em done.  It's frustrating in that there's so much that I want to do, but it's also exciting, in that I already have enough to keep me busy full-time for months.  And that's without new projects that are going to crop up.  So here's a look at what I've got going.

First off, I have a double-portrait commission.  A wonderful couple from Greensboro recently got married and wanted an artwork to commemorate the occasion.  What we decided on was a charcoal and pastel portrait of the two of them together.  I got with them for a photo session, figured out which photos told the story the best, and got started.  Double portraits are usually tricky.  The first figure usually goes in without too much trouble, but the second will kick my butt.  That's because I have to match the size, lighting, and technique to the first figure.  So in addition to getting a good likeness and bringing life to the image, there are these other issues that have to be considered.  It can be frustrating, but it's also fun.

I'm doing a series of portraits of a wedding planner.  Mary Bell is one of the very best wedding planners I've worked with.  She's on top of every detail about any event, keeping vendors like me in line, and making sure everything goes off like clockwork, all while making it easy and stressless for the couples and guests.  I had Mary in the studio recently for a photo session.  Two charcoal and pastel artworks are now done.  The first image is in line with my series of figurative works: high-contrast lights and darks, very dramatic.  The second is more like a portrait, with the value contrasts dialed back and better lighting on her face.  Here are the two images for comparison.  You can click on the images to see larger versions.

Mary #1

Mary #2

Another new figure series is in the queue.  Jazmin, one of the regular models for my Wednesday night life sessions, came to the studio for a photo session a while back.  Jazmin is a lively young lady, very spirited, a bit of a show-off (in a good way), and a natural in front of a camera.  There are a lot of images that are just screaming to get caught on paper or canvas.  I haven't done one from these photos yet, but here's one from one of her life sessions last year.

Jazmin #4

Meanwhile, as I've noted in previous posts, I've been looking at the artwork of Nick Alm for quite some time.  The way he puts multi-figure compositions together is pretty incredible.  They are based on a strong abstract composition that underlies the whole canvas, and the figures are placed so that they comprise the structure and tell the story.  Here's one example:

Nick Alm: "Bacchanal"

Here you can see that the figures in white form an upside-down triangle.  The figures on the right merge into one large dark shape, while on the left, the wall, chair, man's trousers, and shadows all blend into another single dark shape.  The girl in the center is set off by her long dark hair and the detail in her face and figure.  This is only one example - Google "Nick Alm" and you'll see dozens of examples.

I wanted to try to put some of his approach into practice and see how it works for me.  I have several thousand photos of weddings and receptions, so I raided my stash for reference images and am putting together a test painting.  Here's what it looked like a week ago:

This was okay, but there were some serious issues.  One, I used Alm's muted palette of largely black, white, and grays.  That works in paintings of a bunch of people sitting around cafes getting drunk, but doesn't work in a celebratory situation like a wedding.  It needed to feel lighter and happier - it needed bright colors.  Two, although the three bridesmaids were facing the viewer, none of the men were.  In fact, three had their backs to us.  In a painting that's meant to memorialize an event, you want to memorialize the people who were there, so you need to see their faces.  So I made some changes.  Here's how it looks now:

Obviously, I blew up the reception hall and moved everybody outside.  Were they really outside?  Who cares?  It's a much more cheerful picture.  I reversed the guy on the right, changed the guy he was talking to into a grandmother, and revised the figures on the left.  Much better.  Now I need to add some more figures: at least one, maybe two, around the guy sitting on the left, and another sitting on the right.  But what I've learned is that I can take Alm's approach of creating a large abstract composition, featuring large areas of light and color, make them into people, and the painting will work.

This still has a VERY long way to go, but it's been an interesting trip so far.  I've been learning a lot about composition and tying things together - all lessons that I can carry into this year's crop of wedding paintings.

In addition to all this, I've been keeping my Wednesday night life group going.  It's not always successful for me.  I had a string of three weeks in a row where my works were not just substandard, they were pretty bad:

And we had a beautiful model that night.  Sheesh.  Since then, though, things have been going better.

So that's what's going on in the studio right now.  Lots of stuff to do and I'm excited about digging into all of it even more over the next few months!

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Losing a Dog

Our little Soozzee has left us.  As I've described in several recent posts, she was suffering from a variety of ailments: deaf, blind in one eye and almost blind in the other, Addison's disease, arthritis, bladder stones, a thyroid condition, a skin condition, and worst of all, dementia.  Since my post last month, the dementia took more and more of a toll.  She got lost in the house pretty much all the time. She used to bark when she wanted us to get her down from the bed, but she stopped doing that.  We think she probably just forgot about barking.  Her inner GPS (the primary subject of my last post) got significantly worse.  She just seemed lost all the time.  She had often had trouble standing up and would stumble more on her walks.

Soozzee still had her happy moments, though.  She enjoyed parts of her walk: she'd stop and sniff at anything, even if she didn't know which way to go.  If we got out "the light" in the evening (a laser light that she has chased around the house since she was a little pup), she'd still pounce on it, but only for a minute and then she'd forget it was there.  And she liked to have some reassuring pettings.

But it was clear that she wasn't going to last long.  And on Saturday, April 6, that day came.  We did the morning walk and she kept going off the wrong way.  After getting back in the house, she wandered around lost, and while walking down the hall, she pooped without breaking stride.  The poor girl would never, ever, have pooped in her own house if she was at all aware.  The fact that she didn't know enough to control her own body was our signal that she was, to all intents and purposes, gone.

We called our vet, the Animal Hospital at Reems Creek, and made an appointment.  The people there have taken wonderful care of our dogs for almost 15 years and were almost as torn up about it as we were.  So just after noon last Saturday, they gave little Soozzee the injection and she passed away in my arms.

Good God, I wanted to die.

We're trying now to adjust to life post-dogs and, damn, it's hard.  For years, our lives have been largely structured around Soozzee and her sister Indy, who passed away a bit over a year ago.  At 9 am, it was time to wake up the dogs (yes, you read that right) and take 'em on their morning walk, then give 'em their meds.  Around noon, it was a ride in the car to take care of errands.  Around 4-5 pm, it was their evening walk and then dinner.  At about 7 pm, it was play time, usually with "the light".  Around 11 pm, one last time outside to do their business, take their evening meds, and off to bed.

Now, I'll be thinking "oh, it's 4 pm, gotta take Soozzee on her walk .... uh, damn ..."  It's a great big emptiness where Soozzee and her sister used to be.  Janis and I don't quite know how to fill it.  We'll get there, but it's going to take a while.  I still tear up over Indy's passing and that was well over a year ago, so it'll probably take at least another year or so to get over Soozzee.

I've been asked several times if we're going to get another dog.  No, we won't.  For one, it's unfair to any dog to be asked to fill in the hole left by another.  For another, there are things that we want to do, mainly travel, that were difficult or impossible with two dogs that were special needs.  And we just need to figure out life as empty-nesters.

Ever since I started writing this blog, there have been occasional posts about our two sweet Shih Tzus.  This is probably the final one.

Goodbye, little Soozzee.  You have my heart forever.