Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Group Exhibition, Calgary, AB

Swinton's Collection Exhibition

These are some of the 10 pieces in the "Swinton's Collection" exhibition currently showing at Art on 9th in Inglewood, Calgary.  The show features work by many of the instructors at Swinton's studios, and it's a diverse and rich display. 

I hope you'll go and check out the work and see what we've all been up to in our studios.

Happy painting!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Workshops: composition and portraiture - Kelowna, BC, Feb 24, 25, 26

Creating Dynamic Compositions
February 24
Kelowna, BC

Painting the Alla Prima Portrait
Feb. 25/26
Kelowna, BC

A well-composed painting is one in which the eye moves easily and fluidly, pausing and exploring,  finding the intended focal area, but never slamming to a halt or - perish the thought - drifting out of the picture altogether along some unintended shape.  And maybe 1 in 1000 photos are strong enough to need no redesigning to make them into good painting references.  So, for the other 999 photos that you'd like to paint, I'm offering a 1-day composition workshop through the Federation of Canadian Artists in Kelowna, BC in February. 

This will be a rigorous and fun workshop that is open to any medium, and that uses your own photos as the starting point for exploring successful composition. 

I'll follow this with a 2-day alla prima portrait workshop which will be done from life.  Working from a model, oil and acrylic painters will learn a logical, shape-based approach to painting a portrait.  We'll address proportion, mixing skin colours,  and layering wet-in-wet.  This is a stand-alone workshop, but there's a lot to be gained by taking the composition workshop first. 

I hope you'll join me.  These workshops are designed to give you a lot to think about and apply to your own painting practise, no matter what your usual subject matter. 

To register, please contact the Federation of Canadian Artists Central Okanangan Chapter

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The difference between student and professional paints

Waiting for Waves
12 x 9
I taught a couple of still life workshops in the Vancouver area recently, and, as always, they were open to both oil and acrylic painters.  I bring - and demo in - oils, but, during the workshop, I make a point of working on someone's acrylic painting as well, to show how my method can translate to that medium.  The other acrylic painters watch the demo, and, frequently, they comment that it was invaluable to see how I get the richness and luxurious handling of oils.

Sounds so successful, doesn't it?  I wish!  Sometimes, I start to work on a painter's piece - whether oil or acrylic - and discover that I can't make the paint do what I want it to at all.  I can't achieve strong colour or robust paint surfaces and coverage, and, in the case of acrylics, I can't work wet-in-wet, as the paint is drying the moment my brush hits the canvas.  Invariably, it turns out that the paint on the palette is student grade rather than professional.  And, often, the painter didn't know that they had purchased student grade, as paint companies don't like to label it that way on their displays - choosing instead to call it "economical".  But it's not! 

Student grade paint may use the same pigments as professional (so an ultramarine blue in student is often the same pigment as in professional), but the amount of pigment is considerably - noticeably - smaller.  As well, there are a lot more fillers put into the tube to bulk it up and extend it.  These fillers are like a diet rich in potato chips.  They fill you up, but don't make you healthy - quite the reverse (rats!)  In paints, fillers take up a lot of space, but often result in weak colour, colour shifts, and poor paint films.  And some of the layering and edge effects that I take for granted with professional paints, can't be achieved at all with student grade.  What that means in practical terms is that the workshopper who has these paints, is handicapped by them, and that's frustrating.

So here's my case for professional quality paint:  though it's more expensive to buy, it's the more economical choice overall, because you'll use a lot less of it to make great colour.  I can use a tiny bit of cad yellow light and cad red light to make a rich, high-chroma, opaque orange.  In student grade, I've piled on many times more of both colours and never obtained an orange that was as bright, or had the same level of coverage.  There simply isn't as much pigment by volume, and all the fillers act to mute and distort the colours.  Everything ends up grey.

I always talk about paint in food terms, comparing its rich consistency to frosting, butter, and mayonnaise (the real stuff, mind),  and, with student grade, the comparisons are more like skim milk, tofunaise, and egg replacements.  Some of us may eat those things, but a painting made up of them would definitely feel less luxurious than one made with the full on fat stuff, and we'd have to make all sorts of accommodations for their weird working properties in a recipe. 

For the painters who aren't aware that what they have isn't professional grade, it's a simple matter to read the tubes and choose ones that say "artist's quality" or "professional quality".  But, for others, there's a psychological barrier that they have to overcome. 

I've come across a lot of painters who say that they're just learning, or aren't selling, and can't justify the expense.  In my experience, professional paint wouldn't actually break their bank accounts, and, I think, if they delved deeper, it's not about their accounts at all.  It's about recognizing that they're worth the expense - that their art is meaningful to them, and they have the right to spend more money to give their paintings a chance at success.  They need to stand up to their inner accountants, and say, "yes, it costs more, but I'm worth it!"  Because we all are worth it, and our art is worth the expenditure.  In non-food terms -not my comfort zone, but here goes - if we yearn for a silk scarf, will we really be fooled or satisfied by a polyester imitator?  Neither one is a necessity, but, if we're spending on non essentials, I figure we should get what really lifts our soul.  And, in truth, the price difference isn't that dramatic. 

So, take up some space, ditch the cheap stuff (and that includes those flimsy, absorbent, Michael's canvases, BTW!) and claim the right to good quality materials.  I can guarantee that you'll start loving the process -and the results - as soon as you make the switch.  Refer your miserly accountants to me.

I wish you happy painting!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

2 new, back-to-back workshops in Kelowna, BC

One Day Composition workshop
Feb. 24
Kelowna, BC

I'm excited to be invited back to Kelowna, BC in February to teach 2 workshops over 3 days.  This is a new format for me, and one that I think will be really effective as the second workshop, though it's a stand alone, is enhanced by having taken the first. 

I'll be starting with a 1-day compostion workshop which is open to painters working in any medium and which will be done from photo references that each painter brings along. 

Yes: photo references!  I know I've gone on about the lying, cheating nature of photos, but I also know that this is what most of us use when we work in our studios.  So this workshop is to help artists to interpret and maximize their photos to create good paintings.  Our job is not to copy, but to arrange, alter, and filter those photos through our own, personal aesthetics.  It's this filtering and editing that makes a work of art both personal and illuminating for the viewer.  It shows the audience how that painter sees the world; what matters to him or her, and what the artist finds fascinating and wants to show to the people who look at that work. 

Our approach to composition will be playful and varied, based on the creation of dynamic shapes -even where the photo has few- and gesture.  Artists will learn to avoid excessive detail, and design abstractly for maximum effect.

If you work from photos, and don't think you're clearly transmitting an idea or aesthetic in your work, this intensive 1-day will help you to identify and communicate your vision. 

2-day Alla Prima Portrait Workshop
Feb. 25 - 26
Kelowna, BC

Following this workshop, will be a 2-day alla prima portraiture workshop.  A limited number of painters will have the pleasure of working directly from a model, exploring both the subject of portrait painting, and the techniques for working wet-in-wet.  Participants will learn how to create loose, yet accurate portraits while tackling the complexity of skin tones, colour temperature,  and brushwork. 

I hope you'll join me for one or both of these workshops.  For more information and registration, please contact the Federation of Canadian Artists Central Okanagan Chapter.

Happy painting!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Texture and Obfuscation

Oil with cold wax
Oil on textured board

Oil on multi-colour, toned linen
My favourite paintings are the ones that hide parts of themselves, forcing viewers to finish ambiguous areas with their imaginations.  I also love rugged textural surfaces that allow underpainting to show through in surprising glimpses.  Vuillard was a master at this way of painting as was the recently departed Bernard Dunstan.  But oil paints are manufactured to be smooth and buttery which means that it's pretty much impossible to create the type of surface that I long for without trickery and additives.

These 3 pieces come close to achieving my aims (no painting is ever what I'd hoped it would be) and they all do it a bit differently.

In the first piece, I mixed a bit of Gamblin's Cold Wax into the paint and applied it with both brush and knife, making sure to work dryly.  It's fine to add some more fluid medium to the wax and paint, but I find that it defeats the purpose of the wax - at least for me.  Wax allows a complex building of layers as well as giving the opportunity for beautiful, smoky, soft effects when it's flattened gently with a palette knife.  You can see that atmospheric blurring in the bottom of the shawl and in the background.

The second piece has a lot in common with the surface of the first, but I did it without any wax.  The key to this one was using the paint without any medium at all, and working on a board that had some texture to it.  In this case, the texture was a simulated weave effect that I achieved by brushing on acrylic gesso in one direction, letting it dry, and then brushing on another coat with the strokes crossing the first.  I like to put on about 4 coats and, by using a stiff, house painting brush, I can get some significant texture on the support.  This is what grabs the paint in a broken fashion, both from the brush, and the knife.  If the paint were fluid, it wouldn't work; it would flow into the dips in the gesso, filling them up, rather than sitting on the peaks.  This broken layering is especially clear in the area beside the elbow on the left.  Light blue paint was spread over top of dark blue while both were wet, but the dark was applied with a more solid, scrubby application, and the light with a swipe from a loaded knife.  Because I didn't force the paint down into the dips, and because it wasn't fluid at all, I could preserve those little windows of dark blue, and get a real sense of depth.  It was a happy accident.

The final painting is a larger one, done on portrait grade linen.  That's a smooth, rather slick surface and easily gets clogged with paint, especially in alla prima work.  In this case, I did add a bit of 50/50 stand oil and OMS to the paint, but not much, and I kept the paint application generally thin and broken, using hog bristle brushes.  The underpainting was very colourful but completely dry when I started so there was no risk of new colour blending into a ghastly mess with all that chroma.  Working on dry toning, also helped me to create a sense of depth as the underpainting clearly sits behind the figure, not on the same level.  The challenge with this piece is to cover enough, but not too much colour, and to build a robust paint body but not a monotonously thick one.  I'm still tweaking this one, so it'll change in the future when I figure out what to do next.

Rembrandt used ground glass to add both texture and sparkle; marble dust is a common additive, and there are lots of impasto mediums to choose from which will help in overriding the homogenous buttery nature of modern paints.  My choice is always to keep it simple and predictable, so, while I do try most mediums, I tend to drop them after a while because they make me nervous.  I wonder, when picking up a dry piece to continue working it, if I've added this medium, or that one - if I've worked with a lean or a fat additive.  By sticking to a couple of simple and intuitive mediums, I can usually figure out where I was in the painting process and carry on to create a painting that will age well.

Happy painting!