Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sept 20 Painting the Figure from Life workshop

I"ll be teaching a 1-day, figurative workshop at the Calgary School of Art on Saturday, September 20 and I hope you'll join me.  Here's what it's all about:

To the painters who have told me they "can't even draw a stick man", this workshop is for you.
To the artists whose figures look wooden, this workshop is for you.
To the landscape painters who have always wanted to try painting people, this workshop is for you.
To the figurative painters who want to loosen up, this workshop is for you.

Join me for a thrilling and engrossing day of life painting that holds something for every painter.  We'll work from a clothed model and tackle several poses so you'll get lots of practise in turning paint on canvas into a graceful, believable figure. 

-I'll teach you how to achieve proper proportion without preliminary drawing and how to suggest the hands and face without becoming precious. 

-You'll learn to capture a gesture with boldness and confidence, and how to integrate a figure into its environment. 

-And you'll feel the joy and challenges of working from life.

Suitable for oil and acrylic painters with some experience.  Demonstrations will be in oil.

**you can register through the Calgary School of Art website.  I hope to see you there!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

International Artist Magazine article

It doesn't get any cooler than this!  At least for me.
I'm on the cover of the August/Sept. edition of International Artist and there's an article and step-by-step inside that details how I created a still life painting.

The article is warts and all: the stuff that worked and the time that I had to go back and do some major repainting.  Those step-by-steps that show a painting progressing smoothly and logically from the first mark to the last make me suspicious.  Who really does that?  And is that even desirable?

If you can exactly predict the outcome of a painting when you begin, is there any thrill of discovery?Have you taken risks and stretched your abilities to see if something new and exciting would come of it?  I haven't; I know that.  So I do frequent major repaints.

The magazine is for sale in Chapters and other major outlets if you'd like a copy.

Happy painting!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Experiments in colour and surface

Mallow Flowers
5.75 x 5.75
Oil on aluminum
Garden Pansies
6 x 8
Oil on linen on board

Sometimes a small painting can teach me so much more than a large one.  These little paintings are life studies of some flowers from my garden, and each was done as an experiment with a very clear aim.

The pansies were an exploration of colour.  I wanted to create the illusion that the flowers were brilliant and luminous.  This is something that nature does effortlessly in even the smallest form like a leaf or an insect, but artists can labour lifetimes to imitate. There are no pigments that actually glow or are as richly coloured as a pansy (or a dandelion for that matter); my paints are just ground minerals, metals, and organic matter mixed with oil.  They are, essentially, mud.  So I had to rely on all of the artists' tricks that I knew.

Though the flowers were very warm in temperature, I couldn't create that warmth without introducing cools into them, creating a vibration and enhancing the illusion of brilliance.  I chose to use complimentary greenish colours into both the shadow and the light of the flowers.  In fact, most of the flower surface isn't orange; it's brownish, greenish, earthy red, ochre, and other secondary and tertiary mixtures.  That subdued colour background means that a swatch of relatively pure colour in the focal flower seems very rich and lively by comparison.  That little swatch also tells the viewers that they're looking at an orange object, not a red or green one.  The glow was enhanced by allowing orange to mingle into the background, suggesting that they are so brilliant that they influence their environment with their colour.

To further enhance the orange colour, I added blue to the background, choosing a blue that would create a complimentary vibration with the most brilliant orange in the focal colour (this takes a bit of trial and error).

The mallow flower study was done with a different purpose.  I'm experimenting, as always, with painting surfaces, and this is on an aluminum architectural panel that I had prepared by degreasing with rubbing alcohol.  I wanted to see what I thought of the cool tone, the mark making and the absence of texture.

The jury's still out.

I liked the cool environment as it enhances warm colour without being an obvious colour itself, but I found that I couldn't make much use of my hogs' bristle brushes on this surface.  They are too coarse to leave paint behind and created lots of scratchy marks as they scraped over the smoothness of the metal.  I resorted to the few soft brushes that I own along with palette knives to build up the paint surface.  And yet there's something of interest in the metal surface and I'll do more experiments on it and see where they lead.  It may just mean that I don't work alla prima when I use aluminum.  If I get those first scratchy marks on and let them dry, the second layer should look richer and more lush.  I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime: happy painting! 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

To varnish or not to varnish

Floral Suit
40 x 30
This is one of 4 paintings going to Tutt Art Gallery in Kelowna, BC next week and it caused me no end of doubts and concerns; not in the painting, but in the finishing.

I varnished the pieces, as I always do, in preparation for shipping and then realized that they no longer appealed to me.  The colours had darkened and the background had flattened to the same plane as the figure, losing all sense of atmosphere.  It looked dull and dim.  But, hey, at least it was shiny.

I took the paintings to the framer who wraps and ships my work, but ended up picking them all up again before she could pack them up.  I just couldn't live with the change and no longer felt good about the paintings.

Luckily, the varnish that I use, Gamvar, is removable, so I could strip them all back to their original, luminous state with some odourless mineral spirits and clean rags.  I can't tell you how much better I felt, though a bit transgressive as well.  Who doesn't varnish?  It felt like I was committing a sin of omission.

Actually, according to the excellent book "Painting Methods of the Impressionists" by Bernard Dunstan, I was following in the footsteps of the Impressionists; they didn't always varnish either. Some went so far as to write notes on the backs of their paintings asking that the buyers of the work not varnish them.  They knew that the atmosphere and glow that their high key colours achieved would be instantly lost under that glassy layer.  While many Impressionist paintings were eventually varnished by their buyers, the few that remain in their intended bare state are, apparently, far more beautiful, and have a sense of depth and airiness.

So, I think I'll be more selective about varnishing from now on.  If a painting is high key, I probably won't do it, but if there are lots of darker areas, I will.   For these new, high-key beach pieces, I've decided to skip the varnish and be as daring as the artists of the 19th Century.

Happy painting!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Federation of Canadian Artists portrait workshop

Tanned Man
18 x 14
Sometimes demos need a little tweaking and this painting is no exception.  I painted it in Kelowna last week for a workshop hosted by the Federation of Canadian Artists Central Okanagan Chapter.

I found the model challenging because, unlike the pale faces that I get in Calgary models, he had an even tan.  There were no obvious cool colours in the usual places and his skin was a darker value than I'm used to in a Caucasian. Luckily, the man's beard and mustache area could read as cool so I bumped them into an obvious green to act as foils for the generally warm composition.

I think the painting was successful given the time constraints of a demo, but, when I got home, I felt that the jaw on the right looked puffy and the ear too large. As well, the background - a black drape that I'd swathed across the shelving behind him - was too light in value, stopping the face from popping as it should.  Darkening the drape acted to lighten and enhance the face and to emphasize the models dark eyes.

The day after the demo, the class painted this same model.  We'd requested a higher chroma shirt for day 2 and there were some amazing portraits done on "tanned man in burnt orange shirt".  It was a great class.

Happy painting!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Plein air two ways

Palette knife demo
6 x 8

8 x 10
Recently, my students and I spent our final class day in a nearby wetland area, enjoying the sound of the birds and the sparkle on the water.

The day started ominously, and I was wondering if we could endure the cold wind and brooding skies for the full day, but this is Calgary, and weather changes.  By lunch, we'd peeled off our jackets and were basking in the sunshine.

The first painting that I did was a palette knife painting demo using a 4" triangular knife (why use a little tool when you can use a large one?)  The painting has some brushwork because there's no sense in being dogmatic about things, but most of it is knife work.

I toned the panel with red to start, hoping it would inject some much-needed warmth into the grey scene as well as modify all of the blues and greens towards greyer hues.  I'd intended to cover most of this underpainting, but found that I loved the broken marks that the knife made as I spread local colour over it, so I left a bunch of it behind.

The key to using the knife is to use it in a variety of ways.  Too many palette knife paintings feel monotonous because the tool was only used in one way.  This demo has the knife used to scrape, burnish, drizzle, and slather paint on.  Knives have the advantage of allowing you to get lots of paint on quickly and cleanly: a huge help when the light is changing by the minute.  And it's really fun.

The second painting is more typical of my style, but it had the benefit of being done over an old painting. I'd scraped off any impasto and knew that the painting was generally thin by the depth of the weave visible under the paint, so I could gauge how thickly I needed to work to respect the fat over lean rule.  My medium was pure oil, helping to ensure that no lean layers went down.

The nice thing about painting over a painting is that you're in the thick of things very quickly.  I find that I mix generous piles of paint from the start, knowing that I have to obliterate most of the underpainting.  There's also no sense of preciousness at any point; the painting I'm covering is a dud, so why worry?  The resulting free brushwork and dense colour made me happy.

It was a great way to mark the end of the course and we all went home tired, but content, and with plenty of good paintings.  I'm glad we hung in there.

Happy painting!