Friday, October 30, 2009

Artists' Models Online


Sometimes there's a pose that I want to paint but I don't have a model or one of my own reference photos to refer to.  If I want to know just how a leg would bend in a certain seated pose or how a torso twists and affects the shoulder alignment, I can go to a few websites to find out. 

http://www.poses4artists.com  shows computer generated figures in action sequence poses.  The figures are, unfortunately, under flat light so this isn't useful for discovering shadows but some of the poses are useful.  I like the dancer series.

http://www.posespace.com  shows real people - not all nude or perfectly toned, which is nice - in a huge variety of poses.  Also good is that the poses are photographed in rotation so that you can view them from all angles.  As well, some of the shots are done with more dramatic lighting so that the form is clearly modelled.  The drawback is that you have to pay $5.99 to download the images that you want.

http://www.posemaniacs.com/blog/pose is a very cool site that shows computer generated, flayed models.  Yes, no skin.  The idealized male and female models manage to project energy and attitude as they pose and show you their uncovered musculature and ligaments.  Somehow, it's not at all disturbing.  You can use your cursor to rotate the pose 360 degrees and there are even drawing exercises such as a timed 30 second drawing that you can do from randomly-generated poses. 

The Internet is a great resource for artists.  Let me know if there are any great artist-friendly sites that you follow and I'll check them out for the blog.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Vive la Difference!











I recently photographed the still life paintings produced by some of my students at the Calgary School of Art.  They were all working from one of two set ups of jars of jam and apples and that's where the similarity ends. 
As you can see, each artist brought a very personal style to the subject and made it her own.  Though everyone used the same limited palette - Cad. yellow pale/light, yellow ochre, alizarin crimson, vermillion hue, ultramarine blue and titanium white - and began in the same manner with a purplish grisaille, not one painting resembles another. 
Personal aesthetics take over pretty fast when you start a painting.  One artist likes pure, clear colours, another person prefers to gray down all but the focal point area in her painting; one artist uses a few large marks, another uses lots of small marks.  Both accomplish the same thing: they filter the reality of what they see through their own consciousness and give us a glimpse of they way that they see the world.  
Maybe this explains why so many of us are sensitive in critiques of our works: these works are an externalization of our inner feelings, views and aesthetics as well as being technical outcomes.  Putting your painting in front of an audience and asking for feedback is, I've always thought, like standing in a room full of people in your bathing suit and saying, "Well, what do you think?"  It takes guts!
I'm grateful to my students for allowing me to post their bathing suits.  I think they look pretty darn good

October 31 Workshop Fast and Focused Landscapes in Oil


I'm teaching a new workshop at the Calgary School of Art this Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm!  We'll be focusing on finding the essence of a landscape and distilling it to make a strong, dynamic painting.  Students will be bringing their own photo references to work from and I'll walk them through the steps from picture to painting.  Workshops are always high energy and lots of fun and I'm looking forward to this one.

There's still room for more students so please call Lisa at 403 287 -7448

STUFF TO BRING

A lunch!  Never paint hungry.
Also bring a variety of small and large (size 4 to 12) brushes, a sketchbook and pencil, and 4 landscape photos.  We'll provide the paint and a canvas.   In this class, you'll finish an 11 x 14 painting.  Speedy painters might do two!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"The First Quality that is Needed is Audacity"


I read an interview with Roz Savage, an amazing woman who has rowed(!) across the Atlantic Ocean and is set to row the Pacific in a few months.  She said that she had been living the good life in London - husband, big house, good job, sports car - but she was discontent.
One day she wrote 2 obituaries for herself: one that could be written if she continued to lead the life that she was living at the time, and another obit that reflected a totally different, exciting and ideal life.  She compared the two and realized how far from her ideal life she was.  In a move that not many could make, she left everything behind and pursued her ideal life.  Now, years later, she is happier than ever: a single,  homeless, jobless ocean-rowing soul.  Clearly, as my students pointed out, a childless woman.
However, reading this interview had a huge effect on me and it's still percolating.  One of the first things that I did after I read it was grab the painting that I thought I'd completed and slap some big, crude, dark shadows onto it.  Then I attacked it with bright, bold, impasto paint and remodelled the areas that I'd thought were "alright" into areas that made a statement.  It seemed crucial to not let a tepid painting stay in the world when it was possible to create a bold one instead.  Winston Churchill, an ardent painter among other roles, said that: "(t)he first quality that is needed is audacity."
I determined to use my brush bravely and with lots of paint on it and to fear only the timid mark.
I've started a new piece, a large figurative one, with this in mind.  Though it's only just at the underpainting stage, I'm keeping Roz in mind with every stab and swoop of the brush.  My obit. should not read: "she was a competent painter"; it should say that my paintings were filled with energy, passion and life.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Recycling a Failed Painting





Sometimes I paint over an unsuccessful (okay: failed) painting when I feel the urge to experiment. 
The canvas can't be wrecked anymore and somehow that takes the pressure off and frees me to paint in a relaxed and loose way.  The paintings don't always work out but when they do it's because of this playful and low-pressure approach.
This series shows the original canvas - a smeared-off still life of some jars of jam - and it's transformation into a floral. 
I find it's easier if you rotate the work from its original orientation so that there isn't an established top and bottom to the piece when you start.  It's not a blank slate but it's interesting tone and colour which allows you to paint over it in a surprisingly free way.
When you do this in acrylic, it's a simple matter of just applying fresh paint, but it's different in the world of oils.  You have to either paint over a very old, dry work (a year of more), or know the "leanness" of the work that's already on the canvas.  I don't do this if the failed work has a full range up to quite "fat" (thick and oily) paint on it.  Then I'd have to paint even fatter: in nothing but impasto paint, to follow the oil painting rule of fat over lean and avoid a painting that will crack as it dries. 
In the case of this still life, I had rubbed off the majority of the paint while it was still wet and so what was left was little more than a stain on the gesso.  I could safely start a new work over this though I didn't thin my paint with any solvent which would have made it too lean; I only thinned with walnut oil.  The original colours are still visible throughout the work and add interesting, lively midtones to the new work.  I think it's good recycling and fun to boot!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Art Visions 2009 Awards


I just got back from Kelowna, BC where I attended the FCA Art Visions 2009 Exhibition awards.  This is a juried show which is held in 3 local galleries: Gallery 421, Hambleton Art Gallery and Turtle Island Art Gallery.
85 works were juried in out of more than 200 submissions and my "Galiano Girl" got the gold medal and a prize of $2009.   She now hangs in Gallery 421, an elegant space in Kelowna's Rotary Arts Centre.
The evening opening was fun and exciting with an opening address by Mayor Sharon Shepherd and the presentation of awards followed by a chance to tour all three galleries, drink great Okanagan wine and chat with artists and art lovers alike.  I'm pictured receiving my award from presenter Jim Laing.
The entire exhibition is online at http://artvisions2008.blogspot.com/2009/08/art-gallery-2009.html and it's worth a look.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Speed Painting


I only had about 11/2 hours to paint today before I went to teach my course at the Calgary School of Art so I took the opportunity to try a fast and loose portrait.
Instead of working long and hard for the exact colour that I was after, I approximated it, focusing on getting a colour to the right temperature in comparison to the temperature of the colour next to it and also focusing on hitting the correct value.  For example, the cheeks are a warm colour and the chin and forehead are predominately cool: the eye socket area is darker and cooler than the nose; and the right side of the face is warmer than the left which had natural, cool light falling on it.
Like the portrait in the previous post, this one was done from a low-contrast photo.  The child's face was creamy and monotonously-pale against a warm, reddish wall and a dark blue scarf.  It could easily have become too flat and graphic so I exaggerated the few value changes that I observed in the face in order to create dimension.  And, to be honest, it's boring to paint a simple, creamy oval when you could, instead, paint complex value changes and layer colours over each other.  The whole act of painting is fun and I hate it when it ends too quickly!
I just finished in time to grab a quick sandwich and head to class.  With more time, I certainly would have refined areas but, as an exercise, this was useful.  It caught the essentials without belabouring the point.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Something Wrong with the Mouth




John Singer Sargent is reported to have said that, "a portrait is a painting in which there is something wrong with the mouth."
I recently finished a portrait of my son and found myself agreeing with John in a big way. One stroke of paint was enough to make my handsome son look smug or chubby or simple minded. I was worried about the state that he'd find it in when he got home from school. I didn't want to scar him for life.
This was my third attempt at the picture. I'd taken some photos of him which had nice colours but very flat, direct light so there were no shadows on his fair skin. He looked like a creamy oval with eyes, nostrils and mouth. Not much to work with there! I had to exaggerate the tiny value changes that I observed and play up the warm and cool parts of his face to create variety and modelling. Around his cheeks and up toward his eyes, his complexion is warm and rosy but around his mouth, chin and forehead, his skin is cooler and paler. The tricky part was to keep the overall delicacy of his face and convey the low contrast which attracted me to the image in the first place. I also wanted to keep the strokes from tightening up into a realistic portrait, preferring instead to keep it loose and impressionistic with visible individual brushstrokes.

I find it really tricky to stay loose while also capturing a likeness. I wonder if that's why Sargent's commissioned portraits show relatively tight work in the faces and loose, bravura marks on the bodies and backgrounds. I prefer his non-commissioned portraits -those done of hired models or just for fun - as they have a consistent, low degree of finish to all aspects of the portrait. They are less about the individual person and more about the light that fell on them, their expressions, or the mood that they convey. And, as always with Sargent, these portraits are about the marks. He was a master of the kind of broad, flamboyant brushwork that I aspire to.

I pulled it together in the end and it's a good likeness that didn't get too tight. The final version is colour corrected and fairly true to the painting. My son wasn't insulted so I'm calling it a success.