Thursday, July 20, 2006
The summer's been dreadful for painting. The main studio area is still a shambles from remodelling; the walls aren't finished nor is the ceiling and there is dust everywhere.
I've been working sporadically, mostly on a portrait commission that's due in September, but even that work has been difficult to manage with workmen in and out and nowhere else to go to set up. If I had known how long this was going to take, I might have rented space elsewhere, but now it's probably too late. Live and learn I suppose.
We did a couple of outdoor festivals these past few weeks, one here in Iowa and another in Virginia, and those went quite well--well enough that we're considering a couple more this fall and in the spring. Festivals are a mixed bag, in my experience. It is important to choose carefully, for one thing. If you do a show, be sure of the emphasis. Some outdoor shows seem to emphasize crafts rather than fine art; that often means, in turn, that based on past experience the folks who arrive for the show aren't there for paintings. One of our outdoor shows was mostly crafts; we won't do that one again. The other was about evenly divided between the two and looks like it will develop into a good venue.
I'm posting a pic of our booth at the Virginia show.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
There are a also quite lot of works in progress, but those won't be ready to show for a while, except the nearly completed portrait "Lily," which was posted at my online gallery, Heartland Studio.
More work later. Thanks for looking in.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
And here is my own painting at the end of Day 5.
The photo is not only out of focus but there's glare on the top of the head. Still, this is close to the colors and values of the original.
I know you've read the postings here, so thank you, Bill, for such a great week.
And here is the demonstration portrait of Alexandra at the end of the workshop. Although the chest, blouse and arms aren't quite complete, the face is nearly so. Notice the use of warms and cools. The white patch on the background has been painted into with a lovely blue, giving interest and liveliness.
Here is the demonstration portrait on Day 4.
You can see how Bill used a painting knife to add white to the background. In order to make lively backgrounds he often uses a black glaze or a patch of white into which he paints color. Notice that the edges are cleaner and more detail has been worked in. The patches of mosaic color are now more fused and blended.
Day 4 of the workshop. We begin as always with a continuation of Bill's demonstration painting of Alexandra.
In part because so many demonstrations seem to show how to begin but do not show how to finish, he continues this through the entire week. You can go as far as you like, he says, finding and correcting detail after detail. If you're the kind of painter who enjoys a more highly polished work, this is invaluable assistance.
Today he spent extra time on the background and also on edges. Making some edges harder and others much softer by painting background colors closer and closer helps. At this point, working on the facial details requires using smaller brushes, especially sables. With the background, he advocated using a black glaze to push it farther away then working paint back into the wet glaze to create a more lively effect.
As he did each day, Bill spoke while painting. A few things he suggested that we remember:
- Always set up a "home position" for observing and painting.
- Work standing. There is no better way. It is vital that you move.
- Never stop correcting the form.
- Use the lightest touch possible with your brush. You can layer wet into wet that way.
- If you make a mark, you have something to correct.
Today, small details are starting to come into focus on the painting.
Here is an intermediate step in my profile portrait. Although it's not obvious, there are now spots of brighter color (alongside the nose, on the cheekbone, the back of the neck) worked into the painting. Much of the subtlety of color is lost in digital photos, unfortunately. I've also corrected the drawing in a number of places. In addition, the pose is changed by dropping the model's shoulder and therefore giving her a more erect and graceful posture. The ear remains unfinished; there is much to do on the eyes and hair.
Monday, May 01, 2006
Today the painting became much more coherent and whole. The painting day began again with scraping of the painting to remove ridges and imperfections of strokes. Incidentally, by using Maroger medium, the paint is dry to touch by the day after. Some artists in the workshop used Graham walnut-alkyd medium, which also dries quickly. I brought along my personal stash of Studio Products two-part Maroger. Bill mixes his medium into his main colors--white, gray, flesh, asphaltum, transparent red oxide, and raw umber. I mixed mine only into the white.
During the demonstration and the painting day, he continued to repeat:
- Use a light touch.
- Violate your edges.
- Go slowly.
- Correct often.
- Always look for ways to improve the work.
- The only work that counts is your very very best.
And of course there were a lot of others.
In the first photo above, you can see Bill's painting as it stood at the end of today's demonstration.
Although it appears that I've painted the blouse, what paint you see is still underpainting. The colors are really more gray and less green. Again I spent a lot of time correcting the drawing.
This image should give you a good idea of the lighting and progress on the portrait. Here you can see that more color has been added to the background. You can also see the mosaic-like paint application. Adding color means putting in patches to match the value, chroma, and hue of each particular part of the subject. Later, these patches are joined by adding areas of intermediate hues and values.
This photo shows how ivory black has been glazed over the shadows. Note that the darks have been painted into with color. Bill kept the hair quite vague and indefinite through this stage, but as in every step he worked very hard to correct the drawing. He's fond of repeating "we all draw poorly--that's why we have to practice and work hard at it."
On day 2, the workshop began with a continuation of the demonstration painting of Alexandra. Bill usually starts each painting session by carefully scraping off any ridges in the paint. Today he started by oiling out using Maroger medium. This procedure unifies the painting surface, lubricates it, and brings up "sunken" darks. Today he glazed over the shadow area on the jawline with ivory black mixed with a touch of raw umber. He made this a transparent area of darks and then painted into the glaze and pulled some of it into the lighter surrounding areas.
During the demonstration he talked constantly, relating again some of his most repeated lessons:
- Violate your edges
- Paint across the form (it gives more solidity).
- Use the lightest touch possible.
- Set up a "home position" and stay there to observe and paint.
- Have your brightest colors swim in a sea of gray.
- With color, start strong; you can always weaken the chroma as you go but it's harder to punch up.
Working this way, he painted about two hours or so every morning and we painted the remainder of the day. Bill spent a lot of time simply watching, seeing how each participating artist went about the work, suggesting techniques, corrections, and exercises in looking at the subject.
Perhaps the most useful exercise he suggested was to spend a lot of time looking at the model but without looking at one's painting. He suggested that we simply look at the model, experience her, and not think about anything. Just look; absorb the person's appearance. Get to know the landscape of the face. In fact, he advocates that one not think too much during the painting process. Bill says that he makes 2 to 5 sketches of each of his sitters, trying very hard to get to know their features, coloring, and structure. He paints from life almost every day.
(By the way, our model is Alexandra, the daughter of Chris Saper. Chris is a fine portrait painter with whom I've worked in the past. Chris was participating in the workshop as well.)
Monday, April 24, 2006
Here is my own effort with Alexandra, the same model as in Bill's demonstration below. This is painted on a toned support (I used turkey umber/ultramarine blue, thinned and scrubbed onto the surface with a rag. This is after about three and a half hours today.
This is the way Bill Whitaker begins his portraits--usually on a toned support, using burnt umber or Gamblin's asphaltum. He strongly advocates getting the drawing right the first time but knowing that you really can't, he stresses continuous correction and an unrelenting critical eye.
Bill has been painting for more than 40 years and has been teaching for almost as long, so he has enormous experience and expertise to share. It's a real privilege to work with him; this is my third Whitaker workshop. I learn more every time. He's a strong advocate of painting from life and doing so in natural light. His opinion is that working from life is "the hardest challenge there is" in art. He believes that to understand form and light one must paint from life--people, fruit, bread, old shoes, objects from Goodwill, whatever--in order to see properly and to paint well. Bill says flatly that while photographs are a useful tool for the painter, working from photos has made painting decadent because photos not only distort form, they distort color too. Instead of copying photographs, he advocates painting from life every day, and he's as good as his word. Bill paints study after study of heads and figures, and says that he destroys perhaps one in three.
There are several maxims that Bill repeats over and over to the students in his workshops:
"In painting, 90% is the drawing."
"When in doubt, use a bigger brush."
"Violate your edges."
"All I ask is perfection." (of everyone, including himself)
Today Bill started a portrait and spent two hours demonstrating his methods. He uses a palette of flake white, ivory black, raw umber, transparent red oxide, asphaltum (not the 19th century color but a modern convenience mix from Gamblin), yellow ochre, cadmium red light, sap green, and ultramarine blue. Bill advocates using an arm palette because it allows closer comparison of color with the subject and the work and allows the painter to cut glare on the paint. Bill begins with a rough drawing, generally using the "sight-size" method. Using burnt umber or asphaltum plus a lot of medium he sketches the outlines of the head and masses in the darks. You can see how he starts in the first photo in the next entry. In the second photo above, he's added more detail, always correcting the drawing. Bill pays close attention to angles and proportions, working very very hard to perfect the drawing before he begins laying in color. Eventually, using the palette mentioned, he begins to place patches of color in the appropriate spots in a sort of mosaic of color, as depicted in the third image above.
So check back over the next few days. I'll try to keep a daily journal of the workshop, complete with pictures.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
Most of my equipment is either in boxes or other useless places owing to remodelling of the studio. About the only thing anyone can do is continue to produce whatever work one can in the midst of chaos. I know that some painters--Francis Bacon comes to mind--had studios that resembled a trash heap instead of a work space, but not me. My studio is often cluttered, but like so many people I know where everything is in the midst of the detritus and so having it all boxed up and in adjoining rooms or in unusual locations is a significant trial for me.
The builders have added two more windows (and two more to come) and an exterior door to the studio. Coming next is demolition of the wall between the studio and an adjoining bedroom plus a new wall between the studio and a sitting room. That wall will have shelving on each side with a pocket door between them to close the studio off completely. The added space plus new paint (probably "Leffel green") and a new floor surface promises to make the remodelling very much worth it.
Now if it was just finished, I'd be a happy painter.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
The visit to the bonobos went very well. I was actually given two hours with them and enjoyed it more than I can say. The man who took me into the facility told me they were in the "greenhouse," the place where they can sun themselves and laze, but added that he was going to go and tell them they had a visitor. To my surprise, the whole group (troupe?) came into the area where I was. They came, looked me over, spent a few minutes more, and most went back to their sun. A couple stayed, rather dreamily leaning against the wall nearby, pretending not to notice me while staring outside.
There were several handheld color charts nearby showing symbols that the researchers and bonobos use to communicate. There is a specific symbol for commonly used words and expressions like Hello, Goodbye, etc, etc. There are several hundred printed on these charts, front and back. The bonobos have them inside their quarters, too. Same charts. I picked up one of the charts, found "Hello," and showed them where I was pointing. One looked at me and immediately pointed to the symbol for "Tickle," basically asking me to play. But of course I'm old and couldn't anyway, so the one who wanted to play (Nathan I think) immediately began roughhousing with one of the other young ones, just the way our kids do. It was a lot of fun to see.
I took a huge number of digital photos, but a lot didn't come out because I had to take them through thick glass against the exterior light (and a fill flash wouldn't have helped since the glass was pretty reflective) so it was tough to find decent ones to keep. I also made a bunch of gesture drawings of them as they sat, walked, played, and so on. Great fun.
And I presented the portrait below to the woman who is the main researcher. She was delighted, and immediately took me into their meeting room with the portrait, to show the others. They were delighted, too. Upshot is, I can go back whenever, they're happy to have me. So I've got some fun coming up, I think...
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Monday, February 20, 2006
I first visited the Prado in the early 1970s. I was in Madrid temporarily owing to military duty and had been reading Michener's massive nonfiction work, "Iberia," so I decided to visit the museum. The nucleus of the museum is the royal collections of paintings amassed by several Spanish kings, including Felipe II and Felipe IV (who was Velazquez' patron).
The museum was and is located near the old city on a pleasant boulevard of sycamores. In those days you entered on the end of the long axis, rather than in the middle of the long side (the way one does at say, the Met in NYC). Ascending the stone staircase, I turned right, into one of the side galleries, and there it was: "The Descent from the Cross" by Rogier van der Weyden. I was stupefied. I knew this painting! Unlike people who grow up in metropolitan and cosmopolitan places, I had never seen this caliber of work, until that moment. And even more fascinating was that I had studied this painting as an undergraduate. Here it was, larger than I had expected, brighter in color, too. Here was van der Weyden's clever and emotional composition, with the dreadfully sorrowful, fainting Virgin echoing the posture of her dead son as his body is being brought down from the cross and the awkwardly but perfectly posed mourning woman on the far right echoing both of them. I stood there, truly stunned, for a long long while. It still amazes me how something produced so long ago can speak to me across the gulf of centuries. That communication, that connection, is one of the essential experiences in art. And it happened to me that day. Long I stood and marvelled.
When I finally went farther into the museum, I found Heironymus Bosch's famous triptych "The Garden of Earthly Delights," painted in the 16th century and a bit farther on the pair "Adam" and "Eve" by Albrecht Durer. All in the space of perhaps two galleries or three at most. Not far from the two figures was the penetrating self-portrait by Durer as well; all three were painted around the same time as the Bosch. Five masterpieces in only a few minutes, and I hadn't even seen a Goya or Velazquez yet! And make no mistake, I was there for Velazquez.
The Prado has Velazquez' works in profusion, of course, from early pieces like the "Forge of Vulcan" to his late masterpiece, "Las Meninas." I spent a lot of time with that Baroque master during my first visit, as I have every visit since. The best of Velazquez is here: portraits of kings, queens, royal children, nobles and commoners, studies of dwarves, wonderful genre works. Works like "Las Hilanderas" (The Spinners) and "Los Borrachos" (The Drunks or The Topers), and "Las Lanzas," which is also known as "The Surrender at Breda," show us Velazquez as the acute observer of humanity and history. These three and several others of similar type hang still in the same large gallery. The first time one enters a gallery of that size in a museum like this one is magical, but to see only paintings by Velazquez crowding all four walls was stupendous. One could spend the entire day in that single room. Velazquez was quite simply a genius and a true master.
But even in the profusion of masterworks in the Prado, one Velazquez that deserves special mention: "Las Meninas." Long regarded as Velazquez' crowning achievement, it was at that time I first saw it hanging in a small, separate gallery just off the main axis of the museum, facing a mirror of the same size. In those days, before the crush of tourists descended on Madrid (Franco was still in power), the museum was much less crowded. Today "Las Meninas" is mobbed and has been moved into one of the main galleries. Back then I had this luscious work all to myself.
"Las Meninas" has had other names. It was once called “La familia del Señor Rey Felipe Quarto” but after it came to the Prado it was catalogued as “Las Meninas”, which is actually a Portuguese word meaning Maids of Honour. But it's not really about portraiture. "Las Meninas" is a very large painting, perhaps ten feet vertically. As you stand looking into the painting you see Velazquez himself at the easel, facing you, working on a very big painting. To the right are little girls, one of whom is the Infanta (the princess daughter of the King and Queen), plus a couple of dwarves (Felipe had a number of them in his court; Velazquez painted several), and a dog drowsing at their feet. Behind is a nun and another courtier and behind those people a very large room falls away into dimness. Deeper in the huge room we make out very large paintings on the walls, peering out of the semi-gloom, hanging as high as the high ceilings. Even farther away is a light-filled doorway leading to a stair. A male courtier is just departing but has turned to look back at us. Next to the doorway, there is the faint reflection of the subjects who are posing for the painting that Velazquez is working on. And at that moment you realize his genius: the subjects are the King and Queen themselves, and we are standing in their place. The sudden recognition that we are the King and Queen, having our portraits painted, was a delightful shock that added much to the charm of the picture when I first saw it.
Turning to look at the work in the mirror just across the small room, I could see the perfection of Velazquez's draftsmanship and technique. The work is utterly flawless, the perspective and sense of space as awe-inspiring in reflection as on canvas.
Over the years, I have visited that one painting more often than any other I have seen, even in this most sublime of museums. Since then I've learned much, much more about the Prado and about art history, but my memory of those paintings I first saw there is indelible.
If people enjoy reading these, I'll post about other museums, some time in the future. And if you'd like to see "Las Meninas" and read more about Velazquez, follow this link: http://museoprado.mcu.es/imeni.html
Saturday, February 18, 2006
I've been working only sporadically the past few days. I'm going to post two or three small still life pictures this weekend. Today I'll spend on a full-size portrait of a little girl and work to photograph some more paintings for the website. I may get to a couple of new studies I have in mind, but time will tell since I also have to begin winnowing through the studio for packing and moving. The remodellers will be working outside for a few more weeks, but soon I'll have to move the studio so they can knock out walls and remake floors and windows. The only saving grace for all of that is that the studio will have more useable space. And there's no way to remodel around me. It simply wouldn't work.
I'm also posting a few still life sketches today. These aren't part of the diner paintings but simply works that I've explored for one reason or another these past few weeks.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Luckily, it was warm in the studio today. I spent a lot of time on a portrait of a six year-old girl. It's intended as a sample of a child portrait. I plan on doing another of a boy and then work on samples of young men and women to populate a new portfolio. The current one I'm painting by using color notes from life as well as references. Ideally, portraits are painted from life. Unfortunately, in the real world, photos are critical for completion. Thank goodness for digital photography and manipulation. It makes references much easier to use. I've been taking progress photos of the current work; maybe I'll post them somewhere.
I'm also going to look hard at putting together some larger paintings of the island of Santorini or perhaps Mykonos. I've a large file of photo references and sketches I made a few years ago while we were there. More to sort through and process before I can start, though.
Soon comes studio inventory, packing, and moving. Blech.
(Note: You may have noticed some small ad links here--these links are not for my work but instead will connect you to other artist and art-related sites. If you want to purchase or commission something from me, follow the link in the sidebar to my online art gallery.)
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Priority for today is to photograph as much art as I can. There will be some photos posted by Monday evening, I hope. Most will be part of the Diner series I've painted off and on for the past year or so.
Studio remodelling rapidly approaches, which means that I'll be considerably busy moving out and cleaning so the workmen can come in. After that I'll be very limited in terms of space--no studio, no place else to set up an easel--so I suspect my output will be reduced for a month or so. That's likely to cut into inventory for the summer season unless I can set up elsewhere.
Only a few weeks until I travel to Phoenix for a workshop with my friend William Whitaker. Stay tuned for more detail.
Monday, January 30, 2006
The weekend was very productive. Several works are nearing completion including a painting of Lilly in the surf, a still life, and two or three small sketches of Santorini, the Greek island.
Unfortunately, I still haven't taken time to photograph the new stuff (or some of the old) but this week promises to provide me with enough time to get some digital shots and post them here.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
Today is going to be a day for cleaning the studio, rearranging and packing things that need to be moved before remodelling indoors commences in earnest in a week or two, and if time permits a bit of painting.
I worked on two small landscape studies yesterday--one is a view of a church dome and tower on Santorini and the other a small study of a house on the same island. I also worked just a trifle more on the view of Grays Lake that I started last week. I'll take a look at them today and decide what comes next.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Progress on the studio remodelling continues, albeit slowly. I'll post a pic or two when there's something to see.
Painting is slow. I did a 6x8 sketch of Gray's Lake yesterday--very loose, very juicy paint without much detail--that I think ain't bad. Beyond that, I'm only in the planning/sketching stage of anything larger. I've done a few sketches of Greek Island subjects and a few still life sketches, but no portraiture. I'm trying to let that bit go for a while.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Monday, January 23, 2006
Sunday, January 22, 2006
I finally figured out how to post links in the sidebar column. HTML is not my forte, obviously. I put in a link to my web gallery, the Cennini forum, the Online Artists Guild, and a couple of others. For anybody interested in the technical aspects of painting, Cennini is a great place to learn. The Online Artists is an artist-owned site that markets members' works, including mine. Stop in an take a look.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
"1/04/04" oil on panel, 16"x12"
"12/28/04" oil on panel, 16"x12"
"12/27/04" oil on panel, 16"x12"
"12/26/04" oil on panel, 16x12"
"12/25/04" oil on panel, 16"x12"
"Alone," an 8"x6" still life is an example of a series I've been working through. This one began as an attempt to see a common, everyday object very simply. I wanted to see it clearly and paint it by putting down single strokes of color using a significantly limited palette.
$75 plus shipping. (sold)
This site will serve as an occasional place for rumination, thoughts on traditional art, and whatever else pops into my mind. You can buy anything posted here, if you've a mind to, by sending me an email. The smallest works are $75 (6"x8" on panel) and the larger will be priced accordingly. When no price is posted, the work is probably not for sale. But send me a note anyway and I may agree to either sell the painting you see or even make you one like it.