Friday, July 21, 2017

Not Every Swing is a Hit


When I don't have luck in landscape, I can still turn to portrait practice and feel like my time isn't a total loss.  Every head done is one baby step forward (though some seem like a slip back).  The above painting is done from a photo of Ian McKellen, the British actor (Lord of the Rings, X Men, etc.) who has a very expressive face and eyes.  I didn't spend any time on the clothing here, since I was just pushing for a resemblance.  Sometimes I begin with a sketch on the board, sometimes I just begin painting the large value shapes; sometimes I measure for accurate placement of major features and sometimes I just wing it.  But I am finding that no matter which approach I use, it takes about the same amount of time to arrive at the destination.  When I wing it, I will occassionally check back to measure and see how close I came to the reference, and it surprises me how very accurate my guesses have become.  I guess the number of heads behind me has done something after all!  


This one is less successful, and I probably spent less time on it because it didn't seem to have great promise once it was blocked in.  There might be something there if I continue with it, add some glazing, change some temperature here and there.  But it still counts as a head, a baby step, and every hour spent at the easel is time on the road to a destination unknown.  This morning was our weekly plein air get together, and Randall mentioned that he just didn't feel it happening for him today.  If someone as accomplished as he is can feel that, I can feel excused when it happens to me.  Sometimes the magic isn't working.  Sometimes the subject doesn't speak to you in a way you want to translate.  Even great natural beauty doesn't necessarily make for a good painting motif.  But when, for whatever reason, I catch a feeling in what I see, get excited to get to the easel and discover if I can get it out of me, if my idea works in paint, if my mind and my hands can work together for a change and share something my heart is experiencing, then it doesn't get any better than that.  That is worth the countless times when it just doesn't seem to be happening and the result is blah.  Every blank canvas holds the promise that this time might be a good one.  And I'm talking about a good that is relative; good compared to what I have done, or good compared to the disappointments.  I find that it requires a certain degree of optimism to step up to the easel, something not easy for a life-long pessimist.  Maybe that's what Art brings: Hope to the hopeless.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Elk Rock


Elk Rock plein air

Above is the result of today's outing with our plein air group at the Bishop's Close at Elk Rock in Dunthorpe.  I feel that I am edging closer to getting a finished painting out of these outdoor sessions.  It always seems to fall short, and this is no exception, but though this photo doesn't show it, I did manage to capture a bit of the lighting effect that declared glorious summer.  The temperature was perfect, the company of four additonal painters made the day enjoyable no matter the results, and we may return to this spot next week to work at getting closer to our individual goals.


Top of Oswego Creek, Algae Effect 12x16

This above piece is a study I have been working on this week, concurrently with a larger canvas of the same subject.  I thought that I might forge through each step on the smaller piece and then switch to the larger one while I still remembered what I was doing, but in the end it seemed not to be a very effective approach.  I might have done better to just complete the smaller one first.  The foreground is unresolved and the gunk floating on the water needs lots more work, everything needs more, but I am switching my focus to the larger canvas now.


Another portrait sketch.  I don't know why I like them so rough around the edges, so unrefined, but I guess my intent is to get to a likeness quickly and worry about making nice paintings later.  As soon as I feel I have captured the personality, I stop.  I understand this can't be the end game, but for now it seems to be a satisfying exercise.  This may be the downside of the self-taught: an instructor might nip this in the bud and smack my hands with a ruler.  



Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Photography for Blogging


Across the Canal 16x20 oil on board

Above is a photograph of a recent painting, previously posted.  This new photo was taken with my iPhone outdoors in full sun after the painting had fully dried.  Below is the photo previously shown, which was taken indoors while the paint was still wet, under incandescent light, with the same iPhone.  There is a world of difference.  In reality, the painting is neither of these, but something in between.  It has some of the saturation of the one above, but also some of the subtlety of the one below, especially in the background and in the water.


This presents me with a bit of a dilemna: do I invest all the time to discover a better way to photograph work to post here, or do I continue on as I have been, which is to take easy snapshots and slap them up, move along to the next project?  How much time should I take to put together a post when the purpose of my posting is just to encourage me to keep painting and learning?  I hate to do a disservice to anyone with the inclination to check in on my progress, but then, don't you get a decent idea from whatever photo I post?  And this doesn't even take into account not being able to use my DSLR because Apple no longer provides a driver for it on the latest upgrade.  Some of you who have followed this blog for a while will realize I will probably just take the easiest route at this point.  Though it's nice to have full sun for a change, so maybe some photos outside.  In the end, for me, it is more about just getting out and painting.

A couple more portrait sketches:




Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Speed Sketching


These are a recent few of the quick sketches I do while working out.  I set a goal to complete a portrait using the few minutes between sets with weight routines, and I try to limit the time spent at the easel, since it's really supposed to be a workout, not a painting session.  I lay in a few strokes, do a set, lay in a few more strokes...  It forces me to get away from drawing, beginning each portrait with a general shape of the head to get it on the page (all of these are done in a small sketchbook of watercolor paper that I have first gessoed).  It's easier when there are dark and light sides to the face, allowing for creation of volume and drama.


These aren't meant to be finished paintings by any means, and the only use I have for them will be to refer back to them in a year or two to see if I am making progress.


It amazes me how much variety there is in the human face, and how the slightest change in arrangement can make such a big change in resemblance.  Frizzy hair is hard!





It has not been easy to find solid blocks of time to paint lately, and so I have tried another approach on the painting below - working on a slightly larger scale (24" x 30") and adding a few strokes whenever I pass by.  Initially I did the underpainting in acrylic, just to get the darks and lights down quickly, and then I began building on that with oils.  It seemed to work out as well that way as any other, and I will probably try that again.  I learned that I was able to go back in and scrape out something I didn't like and paint over it, not something I normally try.  And adding passages over seven days or so allowed me to go over paint that had dried (Liquin was the medium once I switched to oils) and if I didn't like it, it wiped off easily.  This one is still not finished, but the bulk of it will remain.





Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Countless Springs

"The River lives by tributaries, but also by innumerable little careful springs."  William Stafford




At times it seems like progress comes quickly - floating down the river and passing a large tributary which changes the character of the water, muddies the color, adds to the volume and force of the current.  And then just as quickly it seems that the progress slips away or fades, and we are forced to rely on the "innumerable little careful springs".  I chip away at practice, searching for my process, and one of the practices I lean on is portraiture.  The above study is a smallish 8 x 8 in oil done with just vermillion, yellow ochre, white and black.  It was eye-opening for me to discover the range of color available from this limited palette, and the harmony of color was obvious.  I did several others using the same limitation, but the weakness seemed to be in the drawing, so I turned to charcoal for a little more practice there.  Abe Lincoln had such a distinctive face, especially ravaged after the years of civil war and the heavy burden that placed on his heart.  And yet as iconic as is his face, the least little discrepancy in placement of the features glares at me, reminding me that I have such a long road ahead, and giving me even greater respect for those artists who are able to so deftly capture likeness and soul.





Thursday, June 8, 2017

Plein Air, When Possible


The weather has finally been cooperative and I have been outdoors to paint several times recently.  I took the dog for a walk at Mary S. Young Park the other day and noticed the wonderful light patterns in the forest, so I quickly returned home and got my painting gear and returned for a quiet session by myself in the deep shade.  My intention was something along the lines of a John Carlson scene with impressive trees, but that isn't what I ended up with.  I spent about an hour on this, and wasn't able to paint back into some areas because it kept swallowing my color, so I called it quits.  It isn't often that I am very happy with the results of a plein air session, but this time I was pleased with the mood created by the blues in the shaded undergrowth; it seemed to capture something of what I was feeling, and I don't know exactly how it came about, since in that deep shade is was difficult to see the true color I was mixing.  I was enamored with the brilliant yellow greens of the light coming through the leaves, and while that didn't show up on the canvas, the overall effect almost feels as if it had.  It was only after I returned home that I could really see what I had done, and I realized I had committed the fatal error of splitting the composition in half with that horizon line, but somehow it doesn't seen to adversely effect the painting.  It may be that the strong vertical lines of the trees suture the composition together.


I think I must have realized how often I paint water in my work, so these latest few lack entirely in a water element.  Here I was trying to capture the feeling of the lush ferns and hush of the forest, with a dog portrait thrown in for good measure (she was waiting patiently for me to continue on the trail as I snapped this photo).  I didn't spend much time on the dog, just a few dabs and strokes, but it doesn't seem like it will be impossible to come up with a fair resemblance if I sit down to do a true pet portrait of her (Greta).


This plein air from the latest outing of LOPAS wasn't very successful, but it did catch some of the softness of the meadow and surrounding greenery.  Perhaps I was too distracted by the conversation this time.  Burt regaled us with tales of his youth, and in the photo below, you can see Randall turning to me, saying with astonishment, "I feel like I haven't lived!"








Friday, June 2, 2017

Working in a Series


Across the Canal
16 x 20

Continuing to work on inspiration from Bryant Woods, I tried lightening up the mood, but I was less than thrilled with all the individual marks on this piece, and it probably would have been better to cover some areas with broad, quiet color.  I have never really worked in a series before, and I see the benefit of being able to try various means of recreating a mood.  It is all, in the end, just a big experiment.

This next piece, a small 7 x 7, is from a walk along the creek which is still high from recent flooding, leaving small trees surrounded by waters that are now clearing, providing endless and subtle variations in the greens and blues, and interesting reflections.


My larger plein air attempt at the marsh with the yellow irises was a bust, and I think the subject was just so fractured - the thousands of leaves of the water plants, darker green, but with thousands of bright bluish white reflections  -  and difficult to paint.  And the light was shifting quickly, my eyes not adapting well from shade to bright sunlight.  At the end, I tried a quick 5 x 7 to try to get the overall tone of the place to better help me understand what it needed, but I'm not rushing back over there to work on it again soon.  For one thing, the climb down the heavily overgrown steep hillside is treacherous with a backpack.