Saturday, October 30, 2010

Speed Painting a Model

24 x 36

I recently hired a model to come into my studio and Alice Helwig and I painted her. We had her for 3 hours, which seems like lots, but is nowhere near enough time. 

The good thing about the time constraint, however, is that I didn't have time to think, tweak, or fuss.  I had a big, ambitious canvas in front of me and, if I wanted to make the session worthwhile, I had to fill it with enough information to be able to finish the painting after the model left.  It was speed painting!

The first thing that I did was quickly draw the basics of the pose with a thin, brownish colour.  Then I switched to a big brush (size 12) and roughly slapped on all of the darks in the composition: shadows on her skin, dark drapery, hair, lips, eye sockets, everything.  

Right about then I was cursing myself for not toning the canvas first; it would have reduced friction on the brush and would also have meant less painting for me in the long run because there wouldn't be any pesky white canvas to cover.  But it was too late to backtrack and so I sped on, using big bristle brushes to cover the canvas in a hurry, and without the commitment of the definite marks that synthetic brushes make.  I love the quote by John Singer Sargent: "Start with a whisk and end with a broom."  It sums up the rough, sketchy work that happens under the dashing, dramatic marks that finish a painting.  

Next I blocked in some basic warm skin colours for her body and draped a cool, greenish tone over most of the shadows and the places where her form was turning away from the warm light.  I kept the shapes big and loose, ignoring any small variations like the little hit of orange light at her clavicle and her facial features.  

Then I blocked in a background to kill the white and got down to the business of painting with creamier, more distinctively-applied paint.  My favorite part!

The light in the studio wasn't this dramatic as there is no direct sunlight coming into the space, but I had a warm light on the model, and I exaggerated its effect on her body.

When the 3 hours were up, I had enough on canvas to finish the painting later.  Her body was done and the face was roughed in.  The eyes were closed, but I found her face too blank that way, so I repainted them open later.

This was great fun to paint.  I'll do it again, though I might go for a less ambitious size of canvas, or hire the model for a longer stretch.  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fabulous Flowers!

Autumn Bouquet  24 x 20"

My next workshop is something new for me: florals. Lately, and ironically, given the time of year, I've really started to enjoy painting flowers. A big bouquet allows me to paint for much longer than any other subject that I've found so far, and that's what makes it so fun. I often overwork landscapes because they seem to be done much too quickly. Just when I'm warming up and getting a handle on the subject, I've pretty much filled up the canvas and painted everything of importance. Then I get into the unimportant stuff, then I tweak a bit, and then it's sunk.

Not so with florals. I can roam over the canvas endlessly, adding bits and flourishes. It's very satisfying!  

My workshop is on November 6 at the Calgary School of Art.  If you're in Calgary, I hope you'll sign up.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Make a Painter of Yourself

This week I had an email from a former workshop student asking for my help.  She no longer lives in Calgary, but hoped that I could still be of some help as an instructor for her.  That was incredibly flattering, but I finally had to conclude that I couldn't do long-distance art teaching.  So much of teaching well is being able to accurately judge paint consistency on a student's palette, or make a mark on someone's painting to illustrate a point.  Technology will never be able to cope with these needs.  

Instead, I suggested a few things that she could do in her new town: I told her to look for local, reputable organizations for artists; in Calgary it is the Federation of Canadian Artists, the Alberta Society of Artists, the Sketch Club, and several others.  Organizations like these are a good place to look for workshops. I also advised her to scour her town for artists.  She might happen across a painter whose work touches her, and who would be willing to teach her.

As well - and this is how I learned - I advised her to get out every book about painting that her local library has.  When those run out, find books online and have the library bring them in on inter-library loans.  I used the "how to" books to learn the basic rules of oil paint, and then moved on to looking at specific painters or art movements like Impressionism.  The more art that a student sees, the more she will be able to figure out what kind of painter she would like to be.  Finding an aesthetic is half the battle. 

Along with this I spend time looking at gallery sites online.  By doing this, I've learned which painters I like (or not) and then I've checked out the other galleries that they are in.  In these other galleries, I might find more painters that I enjoy, and follow the links to their other galleries.  Pretty soon, I have a long bookmarked list of galleries to look at regularly for inspiration and insight.  Studying other people's work has helped me to narrow down what attracts me in a painting: whether it's subject, colour, use of line or types of edges, or degree of finish, and this knowledge has helped me paint with real direction. 

Most importantly, I told her to paint as often as she could; to try for every day, but to take anything that was available.  Like learning a musical instrument, you have to put in the hours of practise.   

And that explains the images shown above.  They represent one week's work from two of my students.  A mother and son, they paint together on weekends, exploring and extending the lessons that we've done in class that week.  They argue about technique, look at painters online, email images of paintings in progress to me, and manage to fit art into full-time working lives.  I'm a help, but they have taken the responsibility for their learning and are putting in the time.  I have no doubt that they will become the painters that they want to be, and I know that my former workshop student can be successful too.  It all comes down to focus, passion, and time spent with a brush in hand. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Developing a Sketch

Bare Shoulders Study 12 x 9"

Bare Shoulders 20 x 16"

This painting was done from a 45 minute oil sketch that I did at the Zhaoming Wu workshop in the Spring.  The day was nearly done and I wanted to get in one more painting before the whole wonderful experience ended.

This is the first time that I have taken a rough oil painting, and used it as a reference for a finished piece.  I know it's common practice for artists to do this, but I've never felt it was right for me.  My style is a loose and spontaneous response to a subject and I've always felt that repeating it would make it stiff and lifeless.   I'm also someone who tends to prefer plein air pieces to studio work; I'm not about polish. 

But this sketch continued to hold interest for me so I thought I'd give it a go.  Mostly, I wanted to see if I could do something that was less monotonous to her shoulder and back area, and I wanted to tone down the palette.  The model had red hair and I had started the whole painting in such a brightly-coloured key that by the time I was doing the hair, I was practically using the paint straight from the tube in order to compete with everything else.  It felt pretty out of control. 

The biggest help on the revised version, was placing some lavender in her back.  This created the coolness that I needed and also acted to visually gray the figure because it acted as a near compliment to her peach-toned skin.  The power of using gray is something that is slowly making sense to me.  I've read about the importance of it for years, but it's only now appearing in my work.  I'm consciously trying to use it more.

From a more muted start, this painting went much better.  I could imply red hair with less pigment and her white top became more believable with gray-blue shadows rather than the strong blue I'd used before. 

This was so much fun that I think I'll revisit some plein air work and see if I can do a larger version and still keep the spontaneity.  It's nice to suddenly have a bounty of new projects to begin.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Gold Award at Art Visions 2010!

My mom accepting the Art Visions Gold award
"Digging" 30 x 30"

Yesterday was a very happy day!  I was once again awarded the Founding Patron's Gold Award at the FCA  Art Visions 2010 exhibition.  "Digging" did me proud.

Because I couldn't get a last minute flight out to Kelowna, BC, my parents accepted the prize for me, and toured the exhibition.  This year the show has grown to include a fourth gallery: Evans Fischer Gallery, along with Turtle Island Gallery, Gallery 421, and Hambleton, which is showing my piece.  The FCA even had a shuttle bus to get you from one venue to the other; a very nice feature.

My mom noticed a man examining my painting from a semi-crouched position, and peering upward.  It made her laugh because I had once told her that's how I toured the Metropolitan Museum in NY.  I'd look at a painting head on and then crouch to see the profile of the paint.  There's nothing so instructive as seeing where the paint is thick and where it is just a thin layer.  It's nice to know that someone wanted to learn about my paint application too. 

But what's really nice is belonging to an organization that promotes and rewards artists for their hard work.  I'm grateful to the FCA Central Okanagan Chapter for this honour and for the enormous amount of work that they did to make such a great show.