Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mining a vein

The Bedroom 1
10 x 8
The Bedroom 2
14 x 11
These 2 paintings were an exploration of a back lit figure done from some photos that I took of my son.  He's over 6' tall and not at all feminine, but I changed his gender for these paintings while keeping the lighting and the grace of his gesture.  In the source photo below, you can see the similarities and also where the paintings diverge.  I was particularly excited by the cool, high key shadows in the white quilt and the expanse of light falling across its top plane.

Always fascinating is the amount of both warm and cool colour that makes up a shadow. Depending on reflected wall colour, local flesh colour, and the temperature of the light outside, there are multiple different hues that can be layered into a shadow.  These colours energize the shadow and make it descriptive of both the figure and its surroundings.  It's important, though, to keep the shadow application flat; any texture in the paint will make that area catch light and jump out of its recessive place.  I save my textural paint for the lights and somewhat in the mids.

At some point, I'll use this image again for a larger painting in which my goal will be to capture the blur of his movement.  I'll even allow him to keep his gender.
If it works, I'll show you.

Happy painting!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The problem with dark passages

Morning Glow
12 x 12
It's easy to build the lights in a painting: thick, luscious, white-laden paint; and it's somewhat easy to develop mid tones: warm and cool, colour changes without big value changes; but it's very hard to figure out what to do with shadows.  It's the darks that stymie me in a lot of my paintings.

Many painters start with an earth toned underpainting in which they knock in all of the shadows and darks in a monochromatic grisaille (the current favourite is transparent red oxide, though traditionally I believe it was umber).  Then, as they build the painting, they leave the TRO to show through, often creating the shadows in the finished piece.  I used to do a lot of that.

But I've been using progressively thicker paint over the past year and those thin passages don't integrate as they used to; they look raw and unfinished in my eyes and I'm forced to deal with them.

Sargent said once that you should paint the shadows with as much paint as the lights, you just have to make the shadows look transparent.  Well, he would say that. So I spend a great deal of time figuring out how to create shadows that don't feel heavy and unpleasant, but have more paint than that first fresh layer.

This painting is a case in point.  The figure came together relatively quickly, but the shadow on the left had a lot of work done to it before I felt it integrated and lost its rawness.  Left as an initial, transparent dark underpainting, it seemed to weigh the painting down.  The figure didn't glow and her environment seemed menacing and harsh.  So I kept adding layers of paint, progressively lightening while keeping it cool.  I was very surprised by how light I had to go before the sensation of the painting lifted into something inviting.  It still reads as a dark, but nowhere near as dark as the small shape under the woman's chin, which was the initial value that I used.

There's something wonderful about the time spent figuring out problems like this in the studio.  It's rational and also intuitive; I try something because there's nothing to lose since I'm not satisfied with the painting anyway, and, when a painting suddenly works, I feel like I've made a huge discovery.  It wouldn't be nearly so much fun if everything worked right away.

Happy painting!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Rejuvenate and refresh

Halter Dress
18 x 14 
I spent 3 days last weekend at River Rock Studio not far from Calgary.  It was just 4 painters and, for one of the days, our model, Brenda, and it was amazing.

Unlike all the people who work with others, artists often spend days on end without talking to another person, let alone a peer.  We can become uncertain, mannered, and squirrelly; not good for the creation of art.  So working and talking with professional artists for 3 days was a balm and a rejuvenation.  There was wine, good food and shop talk.  We applauded exciting passages and colour mixtures and commiserated with wipe offs.  But, since we've all had plenty of those, they weren't a big deal; just part of the process.

And that was the thing that this retreat most reminded me of: the fact that making art is about process, not product.  Wonderful if something works and you can pop it in a frame, but also wonderful if you've taken some risks with the paint, but it didn't turn into a keeper.  That's beside the point.  The point is to work with integrity and honesty and to be fully engrossed while you're doing it.

This painting came from our model day.  We worked both in and outdoors with Brenda, trying to capture her calm beauty (and sunburnt, landscaper's arms) and were enthralled the whole time.  The day just flew and the process was never anything but enthralling.

Happy painting!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Cold wax medium

Red Sarong
11.6 x 12
Every oil medium gives a different look to brushwork and, of course, to the final painting.  I've been exploring those unique qualities quite a bit lately.

While my old stand by medium is 50/50 oil and OMS, I have taken frequent forays into the world of alkyds in the form of Liquin, Neo Megilp and Galkyd.  This painting, however, used a modern version of an ancient medium: wax.

I used Dorland's cold wax medium throughout the painting as my reading suggested that it should not just be used in one part of the piece.  As well, I painted on a rigid support to avoid cracking from the thicker, harder paint body.  This is on linen mounted on birch.

While the original wax medium in old master's paintings would have been beeswax, Dorland's is,  a mixture of beeswax, several other waxes, and resin.  It's quick dry, thanks to the resin, but, unlike most resin products, it doesn't smell.  As always, it's probably adding some to my indoor pollution, but I didn't have any tell-tale dizziness after using it, so that's a plus!

My jar of Dorland's is pretty old (5+years) and I'm sure it must have undergone some changes along the way.  Still, it's not discoloured and moves pretty well, so I'm thinking it's similar to when I bought it.  But unlike the soft and somewhat creamy movement that Gamblin cold wax gives to paint (very much like a lead-free version of Old Master's Italian Wax), Dorland's gives a stiff, short mark.  Even with just a tiny bit added into my paint mixtures, it seems to stop the stroke dead when it touches the board.  It's a very interesting phenomenon.  Over the span of a larger painting, I know I'd get tired of this slow accretion of paint, and would liberally use a palette knife, but it was a lot of fun on such a small piece.  It gave me texture without imparting a crusty look that I truly dislike in oil paintings. There's a nice sense of atmosphere in the figure's environment that I can't imagine getting from such a thick application of paint with other mediums.

Wax paintings are naturally matte and, to my knowledge, you can't varnish them.  They have an almost fresco-like quality that's different and quite appealing.  I think they'd be superb for landscapes as a way to suggest depth and air.   I'll try that next.

Happy painting!