April 27, 2010

Project Fayway

Party Dress
8 x 16, oil on canvas

Sometimes you just can't predict where your next inspiration will come from. That is certainly true for this painting. After stepping into a restaurant powder room and seeing fabulous fashion illustration posters, I was so inspired to sketch out a design of my own. Now, normally I only paint what I can study, that is, what is actually in front of me-- so nothing could have been more foreign that stepping up to the easel with no plan and no reference. But it didn't take long before I got totally lost in the process, and "forgot" that it was out of my comfort zone. Because oil paint is so forgiving, I easily gave my "model" a purse, a boa, sleeves, a necklace, a hat, and ten other hairstyles...only to scrape them all off, design and re-design until I settled on this dress in one of my favorite colors. I don't expect Project Runway to call anytime soon, but this was tons of fun.  Can't wait to try another pose...maybe a ballgown next time, or perhaps a....
"Today must not be a souvenir of yesterday, and so the struggle is everlasting. 
Who am I today? What do I see today? 
How shall I use what I know, and how shall I avoid being a victim of what I know?
 Life is not repetition....
If you work from memory, you are most likely to put in your real feeling"
...Robert Henri
(Isn't that just the best quote? Henri must have been the ultimate art instructor.)

April 20, 2010


10 x 20, oil on canvas

This is a departure in style for me; a commission where my "assignment" was all about color and emotion.  And did I mention fun? 
"Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls"
...Joseph Campbell

April 11, 2010

skin tones...

I received a few questions about the last post and thought the answers would be of interest to others...if you don't paint, however, this will be boring, so I apologize in advance...

The mid-tone grey paper palette I mentioned is called Grey Matters and is sold at Amazon as well as many art stores.

As for questions about skin tone-- The shadow color was made from burnt sienna, (with just a touch of ultramarine blue and white). The clean peachy color in the last portrait was a Stephen Early suggestion, using cadmium green pale + scarlett cadmium + white. Some other great skin tone combos to try are Carolyn Anderson's use of "a purple" (like dioxazine) + yellow ochre and white.  Another is viridian green and cad orange, plus a tiny amount of cadmium red light and white.
Also, Kim English sometimes uses purple and orange to make a beautiful rich brown that can be tweaked warmer or cooler for a great skin tone in shadow or light (with white). And then it is also fun to experiment with any combination of reds and yellows + white; warm and cool reds (like cad red light and alizarin) plus warm and cool yellows (like cad yellow med., cad yellow pale or lemon yellow)--And sometimes a pinker version is best, so I go with permanent rose or quinacridone, plus a yellow. And in all these examples, you can always add in a little modifier like green if the color is too warm...And there are lots of others, plus you can get lovely skin tones using a simple limited palette of red, yellow and blue. The key is to observe the model and paint what you see, but sometimes trying new combinations like the ones above make it easier to "find" what you see. At least that is true in my case...But, having said all that, seeing and capturing the overall skin tone is One Thing--then there is the ability to capture the nuances of color within the lights and shadows-- now THAT is truly something I know very little about, but am thrilled to learn. The absolute best example of what I am talking about is Robin Frey's figures and portraits--take a look at this stunning portrait to see what I mean-(as well as the  other extraordinary examples on his website). 
Now THAT is the best kind of chi! 
"Colors are brighter when the mind is open"...Adriana Alarcon

April 10, 2010

figure workshop

I recently had the honor of  participating in a 5-day figure-painting class with Studio Incamminati instructor Stephen Early. As you can see in my studies below, the workshop began as our model assumed quick poses. The object was to quickly capture the gesture before she moved onto the next pose.
We completed dozens of these, wiped them down, and kept going. Gradually we were given slightly longer poses, but still our focus was in seeing the form as outlined by shadow and light, avoiding detail. This is such a fun exercise, and just never gets old as each pose presents all new challenges in observing and drawing. 
Next we moved onto portraits using the same principals. Notice we toned our canvases with a cool medium grey background that works so well against the warmer tone of the burnt sienna paint. The medium tone is a tremendous help in determining the relative value of lights and darks, but (in my opinion) only if your palette is toned the same medium grey as your canvas. Otherwise, if you use a white palette or a very dark wooden one, you will find that you are constantly adjusting the values on your canvas because they will be darker or lighter than they appeared on your palette (which is very frustrating)! I usually use the grey palette that came with my Soltek easel, but if you are looking for a larger mixing surface, the wooden palettes from Turtlewood are pretty awesome. I bought the one Dawn Whitelaw uses that is toned in the middle grey (a slightly greenish grey that beautifully compliments skin tones). And for anyone who prefers paper palettes, they now come in medium grey as well--who knew? 
And finally we moved to color, working with bright backgrounds so we could study how those brights affect skin tones.  Notice, in the bottom painting how much blue is in the shadow on her neck and on her forehead. It was interesting to see that more often than not, the colors in the model's skin appeared complimentary to those in the background. For instance, when we used a purple background, her skin appeared more yellow (sorry I have no photo to show this but I wiped that one down). Anyway, in this study, I could have gone with even more intense color in the shadows, but I'm still learning. Fun stuff, that is for sure. I do not feel it is okay to post other artist's work without their permission--but if you want to see much better examples of what I am trying to explain here, take a look at the studies posted on the school's website, as well as Stephen's work by clicking on the links at the top of the page.

"If you find yourself with a weakness, attack it... 
don't develop a technique that avoids your weaknesses"
...Nelson Shanks, founder of Studio Incamminati 

April 3, 2010

Edgar Degas

"Dancers, after Degas"
18 x 24, oil on canvas
"Sketching with Degas"
8 x 10, oil on canvas

"Dancers II, after Degas"
16 x 20, oil on canvas
If you have studied Degas or seen his work in museums, you already know that he was not a particularly affable sort of fellow, (and it really pains me to write this) but, in fact, most of the time, he was regarded as downright rude, crude, insensitive, sarcastic, and often intentionally unkind...and those were his "good days" when other artists still tolerated him! In 1874, he sometimes went to the Cafe' Guerbois to meet with Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, Renoir and Cezanne; all of whom banned together to create the first Impressionist exhibit...except it wasn't okay to actually call Degas an Impressionist. Still a studio painter, he chided the others for painting in plein air, "If I were in the government I would have a brigade of policemen assigned to keeping an eye on people who paint landscapes outdoors. Oh, I wouldn't want anyone killed. I'd be satisfied with just a little buckshot to begin with." Ouch.  And even though he is said to have had a special bond and friendship with artist Mary Cassatt, he revealed another side when he said "I don't admit that a woman draws that well!"...It may come as no surprise that he chose to never marry and by the time he died at age 83, he had successfully alienated himself from most everyone he had ever met. He began losing his eyesight years before he lost his will to work and eventually became completely blind in one eye; a time when he sought solace in creating sculpture. Degas was known for verbalizing  his disdain for art critics and dealers, and scared away many would-be clients with his temper, often slamming the door in their faces. By the time he died, only a very small percentage of his work had been sold, while the vast majority had been hoarded away in his dusty studio. "I frequently lock myself in my studio. I do not often see the people I love and in the end I shall suffer for it--painting is one's private life...the moods of sadness that come over anyone who takes up art...these dismal moods have very little compensation."
While most artists in the 1880s depicted the affluent Parisians in a posed, decorous manner, Degas was drawn to ordinary moments or activities where the viewer feels she is "looking through a keyhole." He found it far more interesting to study the gestures of dancers when they were relaxed, stretching, or waiting to go onstage; moments that for him, revealed a more honest look at who they were.  Because most were "scrawny girls" from poor backgrounds who more often than not, joined the ballet only because their families pushed them into it, he often referred to them as "street rats". And because he was not thrilled to be known as "the painter of dancers", he was quick to point out that his real interest was in depicting the drapery and backgrounds, as opposed to the dancers themselves. As for his bathers-series, he was not always kind to his models and remarked that he sometimes painted them in ugly, contorted positions because after all, "women are ugly"...(Doesn't that sound like someone who is tired of answering questions and knows that if he shocks you with his answer, you will go away and leave him be?) What I like most about the bathers is that he transforms them into interesting shapes on the canvas, often juxtaposing them with an abstract background of color; and because their faces are often not revealed, they retain a certain mystery...to me, they are simply beautiful, peaceful images. It is interesting to note that whether his work was praised or ridiculed, he found both equally stressful, and often said he preferred having nothing written about his work at all. He worked in oil, watercolor, pastel, pencil, photography and etching.
 When I study (really study) his work I can see no rats, and certainly not an ugly woman in sight--each one is more beautiful than the next. Perhaps he put all the love, kindness and good humor he had into his work and simply had none left over. I'm no shrink, but I think it is possible that he feared attention as much as he wanted it. And if you think about it, artists who exhibit their work or simply choose to paint in public locations automatically open themselves up to all sorts of bizarre comments.  What other vocation can you name where total strangers feel compelled to offer opinions and criticisms? Can you imagine looking over your dentist's shoulder and critiquing how she fills a tooth, or walking up to construction workers and questioning how they are pouring the concrete?  It is a weird and wacky thing being an artist, and perhaps Degas was more sensitive to it than most of us.

So what were his influences, and what inspired him most?
 I can tell you first and foremost that he loved drawing from a very early age and became a superb draftsman, "Drawing is the artist's most direct and spontaneous expression, a species of writing: it reveals, better than does painting, his true personality." 
He adored Japanese Prints, an art form that introduced him to the idea of cropping figures in a bold new way, as well as painting from an all new perspective (as you see in my studies of his work above). This was a discovery that allowed him to choose daring compositions where the viewer is positioned above, below or right in the middle of a group of figures--he exhausted all possibilities, and it is this willingness to go against the grain and discover a whole new language in art that I love most about his work. Another influence from the Japanese prints involved incorporating a zigzag compositional pattern (as seen in the Absinthe Drinker). He also experimented with the effects of different light sources; analyzing the effects of artificial light as no one had done before. This is evident in the bather series where he boldly layered pastel colors in the background--and looking at them, I can't help but feel his discoveries must have been a never ending source of delight for him, " Work a great deal with evening effects, a lamp, a candle, etc. The tantalizing thing is not always to who the source of light, but the effect of light."
Photography also proved to be a source of inspiration, and he often experimented with using the camera as a means to study cropping for his canvases. And while many artists worked their compositions around three figures, he is known for his innovative works involving two-figure compositions.
And then there was Italy. He was charmed from the first time he visited at age 20, and continued to be awed by the art he discovered there in his many subsequent trips, " The air we see in paintings of the old masters is never the air we breathe....The secret is to follow the advice the masters give you in their works while doing something different from them."
I think the same could be said of Degas, the master, as he inspires us all to see with new eyes, and always be open to trying new things.
"I felt so insufficiently equipped, so unprepared, so weak, and at the same time it seemed to me that my reflections on art were correct. I quarreled with all the world and with myself"...Edgar Degas