Sunday, February 28, 2021

Development of a New Work

 I finished up a new painting yesterday and already have another underway on the easel.  Thought I'd share the development process here.  Loyal readers of this blog (all two of you) know that I've been doing a lot of experimentation during the 'ronavirus lockdown of the past year.  I've done multi-figure compositions, single-figures, loose painting styles, tight styles, approaches modeled after various artists, and lots of other stuff.  Most wound up in the trash can.  Some of it seemed to work.  

One thing that seems to work best with me is a single-figure composition.  I seem to be at my best, both in the creative process and the finished artwork, when I focus on trying to get the inner character of one individual.   Once there are two or more people, the artwork isn't about them as individuals, it's about the relationships between them.  And when there are a lot of people, it isn't about the relationships (there are too many), it's about some bigger story.  And I just don't seem to be able to create a compelling "bigger story", at least in my own estimation.

Recently, I've tried some different approaches based on observations of other artists' work.  One thing that resonated with me was "simplify".  Simplify the composition, simplify the subject, simplify everything.  Get back to my roots, something like the charcoal and pastel figures I've been doing for the past few years.  So that was the goal in this piece.  Troy (oil on canvas, 24x18).  

First was a simple line block-in to place the figure on the canvas.

Now to check out the large light and dark masses.  I already had the idea that the figure would be darkest at the shoulders and lighter and less detailed further down.

Put in the first layer of the background.  Used a very light neutral warm color.  And had the first round of getting the face to look light it might be human ...

More refinement of the face, body, and arms.  All of this was done in one day.  Now it needs to sit for a week or so to dry.  Anything sooner will lift this first level of paint off the canvas.

So a week later, I went back and worked the background.  It's still a light neutral warm, but it's got more colors in it, and there's a very slight gradation top to bottom.  Next, I brought the face and arm up to a finished level.  Came back the next day and scumbled Van Dyke Brown (which is really Ivory Black plus a bit of Burnt Sienna) over the T-shirt and body, then worked all the edges to get them the way they should be.  A few other tweaks, and I'm calling it done.

Monday, February 22, 2021

... And Still More Experimentation

 After finishing up my last post about the Undertakers II painting, I discovered another interesting artist.  I listen to three different podcasts where artists are interviewed, and one of them talked with Jennifer Anderson.  Her approach sounded remarkably like what I try to do, so I looked up her work.  And it was a "wow".  Very strong technically, compositionally, and emotionally.  She was doing in oil paint something very similar to what I had been doing in charcoal and pastel over the past few years, and what I had tried and failed to do in oil.  These are single figures or faces that carry so much of the sitter's character.  Here's a sample, titled Fragile

Here we have a single figure, extremely well painted.  The chair she's sitting on has been reduced to just a few lines, and her environment has been reduced to a barely-modulated flat surface.  This helps focus attention on the figure.  The background has a very slight gradation, enough to tell you that it wasn't ignored.  And the figure has been pushed over to one side.  The fact that it runs off the canvas to the top, left, and bottom results in those edges being fully engaged in the composition.  The large flat gray space to the right becomes important in its own right, and there is a strong diagonal running from upper right to lower left that gives it a dynamic tension.  All together, this composition speaks to me of the young woman's inner thoughts: probably not idyllic, somewhat unsettled, but being seriously considered.

 Here's a comparable piece of my charcoal/pastel series, Astrid #1:


This was done in one of our weekly life sessions.  Single female figure, flat background, deliberately not "finished".  It has some of the same characteristics of Jennifer's work, but not all.  The figure is pushed to the side to create some room in front of her face, but not to the extent of Jennifer's work.  In most of my artworks in this series, though, the figure is centered on the page.  I discovered that this positioning doesn't really engage the rest of the surrounding space.  It's just ... space.  In Astrid #1, the empty space is more important conceptually.  It's not something I ever thought about, it just was.  Now I know to think about it.  Another issue is that the background here is flat and untouched.  In many works in the series, it comes across as unfinished or unaddressed.  This was something I wrestled with and never really came to a satisfactory conclusion.

So after looking at Anne Magill's work (see my last post) and Jennifer Anderson's figures, I tried some lessons learned in new paintings.  My intentions: simplify, engage the whole space, simplify, single figure, pay attention to edges, some areas developed while others are flat, and simplify.  Here's the first effort, Natalie:

And the second, Emma

So ... success?  I think I'm onto something that I can really sink my teeth into.  What do you think?