Monday, January 25, 2010

Finding People to Paint

"The Baker"  8x10"
Lucien Freud takes months and even years to paint a large portrait and his model is in the studio for almost the entire painting time.  But Freud's work sells for millions of dollars and he can afford to pay the hourly model rates.  Most of us aren't so blessed.
So what's a painter to do if she's inspired by the human body but can't afford to hire a body to pose on a regular basis?
There are, of course, places where artists can go and draw or paint models in a group setting, usually one evening a week.  These groups are great for working on proportion and gesture but I find it impossible to get really inspired and absorbed in a room full of distractions. 
My recourse is to take photos of people: some that I know and some that I don't.
My children are a huge source of reference images for me as they play and explore their world.  The nice thing about photographing them is that they have grown used to having my camera trained on them and are very unselfconscious.  They carry on swinging, wading and playing as if I'm not there and that makes for some wonderfully natural pictures. 
I also take pictures of people in public places.  This is a varied, if unreliable source of material and you have to take a lot of shots to get one good reference.  American painter, Karin Jurick takes many thousands of photos every year to gather the images for her lively paintings of people going about their daily lives.
My camera is small and unobtrusive and I never point it in an obvious way, just aim it in the general direction of crowds in markets or at outdoor events.  Later I can zoom in here and there and see if there's someone of interest.  In most cases there isn't, but occasionally I find someone who has an arresting gesture, expression or light pattern.  Sometimes, as a student of mine found out in one of her reference photos, the arresting gesture is a rude one as someone in the crowd noticed what she was doing. 
The image above is of a serene, young baker that I was lucky enough to photograph in a New York bakery.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Painting from Life Workshop




On the weekend, I taught a workshop figure-painting workshop at the Calgary School of Art.   It was a fantastic day.  The students were enthusiastic and our model was still and lovely. 
In all, the students painted 5 works that day:  4 short 15 minute poses and one pose that was over 2 hours long. 
Doing so many paintings in one day worked out really well because it allowed everyone to learn the techniques that I presented and practise them several times in succession.  With each new painting, I could see improvement and an increased understanding of the process and the medium.
By the final, long pose, everyone was warmed up and ready to dive right in and they each went home with a strong painting. 
What everyone remarked on was the enormous diversity of the paintings considering that each student had received the same instruction and had the same model.  I enjoyed watching their individual styles and aesthetics assert themselves on the canvases.  I don't think that anyone applies paint exactly like another person and it's this fact that makes each painter's work unique.
I've posted a few of the works so that you can see for yourself.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Painter's Panic

I have a moment of pure panic at some point during almost every painting that I paint.
I'll look at the work and it will seem lifeless, disjointed and hopeless and I'll wonder why I ever thought that I could paint.  In the past, when I hit this stage, I'd grab a small brush and start fiddling with details as if I could save a whole painting by fussing over a shadow on a cheek or the shine in some hair.  Brutal results eventually convinced me that details never save a painting, bold, big changes do.
Now, when panic strikes,  I crank up the Cuban music that I always paint to and grab my big #16 brush.  I load it up with a clean, strong colour and dash on some decisive marks with confidence.  That it's false confidence doesn't matter.  I fake it till I make it.
After those powerful marks are on the canvas, the panic subsides and I'm able to carry on.  I resist the little brush and try to finish with courage.  Usually I'm lucky and it works out well.
The painting above got the #16 treatment when I'd come to an indecisive standstill and was mucking about repetitively with a # 6 filbert in one part of the back.
I swooped in the strong salmon colour in the background around the woman's right arm and this opened the way for more of the same all over the figure and its setting.
With these huge marks, the painting was finished in no time and the marks of timidity were erased.  And it was fun!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Playing God



"Painting precise locations is irrelevant; simply keep the character"
Joseph Zbukvic, the excellent Australian watercolourist, has this posted on his website under an atmospheric watercolour of a wide, glare-filled street.  European?  Australian?  Imagined?  It doesn't matter.  The character is there.
This is a difficult mindset to get into at first.  Essentially, he's saying that you don't have to paint exactly what exists; you can change it up.  Just keep the flavour, the essence of the place. 
For students, this liberating idea can be intimidating.  They want to render every mountain peak and the reproduce the location of each stand of trees.  It's an impulse toward honesty that struggles with the impulse toward artistic interpretation.  When they do embrace the power that they have to edit the world to suit the needs of their paintings, there's a huge sense of relief.  They stop saying," but there actually was a tree right there" and start to say, "there was a tree right there but I moved it to make a better composition" or "I moved it to emphasize its isolation."  This is the moment when they start to focus on the character of the scene and not the literal scene itself. 
For me, this is also when their paintings go from depictions to pieces of art.
Happy New Year to you all and Happy Painting!