Showing posts from October, 2013

Commissioned painting #4

John Singer Sargent said that "A portrait is a painting with something wrong with the mouth" and this commission proved him right.  (He was probably always right about painting matters).

The reference photos for this were inspiring because they had such gorgeous, warm light.  I particularly loved the orange reflected light under the boy's jaw.  This painting is an amalgamation of 3 references: one for the face, one for the lunging torso area and one for the arm position.  The arm position was correct in a photo that had his hand clutching a rock.  It's not a problem to lose the rock, but the figure was backlit instead of front lit: the shadow and light were reversed, making his face dark and surrounding him with rim light. I liked the action of that pose, however, so I used the face from a more static image of the boy standing in the water.  Together, they made an image that caught my imagination.

Once the references had been sorted out in my mind, I kept all 3 of …

Analysing a simple painting with Photoshop

A couple of weeks ago I hired a model without another painter in the studio to share the cost - my usual practise.  Being able to ask for poses with no regard for anyone else's sight line or preferences was very freeing and I really learned a lot.

This is a pose that I've wanted to paint for some time and when my model showed up with an ultramarine blue dress and navy tights, it seemed perfect.  The continuation of colour through the body to the feet create a graceful, unbroken passage that's simple and descriptive with no need for further development to make that area make sense.

To see what I mean, have a look at this Photoshopped change.

I've brushed a similar colour to the arms over the leg area and I find that it makes the leg look much less finished than it did when it was the same colour as the dress.  I'd feel an obligation to at least suggest some toes or an ankle to help the viewer understand that now-prominent area.  Notice, too, how the graceful line …

Commission number 2

This was a challenge.  It's the second of the 4 commissioned paintings that I'm working on, all from the client's photos.

The photos were excellent, overall, but there are always things that I'd rather see.  The images of this young girl were varied: in some she was contemplative and elegant (like the young woman that she soon will be), standing in waist-high ocean and swirling her arms gently through the still water. The light in those photos was gorgeous: warm and glowing.

Then there were the photos that showed her splashing and vibrant like a boisterous girl.  The light in these shots was cool, shadowless and colourless.  It didn't enhance the subject matter at all.

But the decision had to go to the splash imagery because her grandmother described this girl as outgoing, dramatic and fearless.  The gentle swirling just didn't fit.

So I had to inject colour where I saw none and still keep a likeness.  I took the colour scheme from a copy of a Sorolla pain…

Change your palette and change your paintings

"Colour is my day-long obsession, joy and torment." Monet.
I've never met an artist who is content with the state of his or her work.  Like me, they're always tinkering, tweaking and trying new things in an effort to realize their vision for what their art should look like.  

Over the past couple of months, colour has been my focus.  I dropped ultramarine blue from my palette for a while feeling that it had control of me, not the other way around.  It's back on the palette now but in its absence I learned an appreciation for cerulean, a blue of lighter value that leans more towards yellow whereas ultramarine leans red. Cerulean is a natural for pairing with yellow ochre but is overwhelmed and made garish with the cad. yellows, so the loss of ultramarine ultimately led to yellow ochre becoming much more important in my work; proving once again that nothing happens in a vacuum and everything sets off a chain of events - many of which can't be predicted in advanc…


This is the first of 4 commissioned paintings that I'm doing for the same client.  She has 4 grandchildren that she wants to see depicted at their happiest: at the beach.

From a CD of images of all of the children and a written description of each, it's my job to create paintings that both look like the kids and also represent their personalities.  The client asked not for exact portraits, but more for a sense of who these children; the likenesses were to be left loose and unforced.

This little girl was easy.  Her grandmother said that she is very "girl": feminine and delicate, and that she loves the water.  There were some shots of her in a swimsuit, frolicking with her siblings, but there was a delicacy in the photo reference for this shot that seemed appropriate given the description of the 2 year old. As well, the intensity with which she was dabbing at her own reflection and the fascinating cool, grey light made that photo my immediate choice.

The painting is …

Portrait Workshop November 15 and 16

I'm looking forward to teaching another portraiture demo and workshop at the Calgary School of Art on November 15 and 16.

Mine will be one of the first Friday night, 3 hour demos held at the school and it should be fun to paint and mingle over the wine and cheese on offer during the breaks.  Kathy and the gang at the school always put on a great spread.  The demo is open to anyone who wants to attend, whether you're taking the Saturday workshop or not.

Because it's a long demo, I'll be able to show and explain my process for painting a portrait from start to finish: something that I can't do in just a one-day workshop.  I tried this format in the spring and it worked like a charm.  People who were in the workshop the next day came in with a clear understanding of the process involved and just needed some small refresher demos throughout the day.  We accomplished a lot that day.

If you're interested in registering for the demo and workshop or for the demo alon…