Thursday, December 31, 2009
Things I like about it: the subtle brown highlights in the hair; the shadows sculpted of warm lavenders and cool purples; the matching cold-purple negative space; the pretty good profile-portrait.
The profile is actually one of the easiest angles to capture accurately. The hardest angle is dead-on straight. In the latter case, there are too many variables you can screw up: getting the eye-line straight, the distance between the eyes accurate, the position of the mouth underneath the nose, which in turn is underneath and between the eyes. You have to measure with great accuracy, and I have not really learned that skill yet. So profiles are relatively easy; quarter views are next easiest; and straight on is a bugger.
(It's also the case that straight on faces lose some of their distinctiveness; features wash out and "normalize" a bit. The quarter view is still really the best portrait view if you're going for distinctiveness and accuracy.)
That's really all I want to say about this nice picture.
Here is stage 2, and you can see the gist of stage 1 in this scan also. I've created the drawing using my usual grid system, after getting a decent color printout of the photo. The pencil lines are clearly there to see, and you can see some of the grid lines as well here and there.
I note here that the first task in painting for me was to rough in the major lines: eyefolds, the curve of the lips, the dark fish-shape of her nostril, the arch of her eyebrows. Here I've also roughed in the major shadows, on the side of her nose and cheek and also the very dark trapezoidal shapes of her side-ways-turned irises and pupils. I've also already masked out some stray hairs that are gleaming in the light streaming in from the window by which she's posing.
Stage 3. Here I've roughed in the darker hair shapes and also already established the dark background behind her head. The eyes are clarifying, the blue sweater is emerging, and I'm slowly building more shape and color in the face.
At this point I was starting to get a little worried. Compared with the dark background, made with a very cold mix of ultramarine and burnt ochre (or maybe it was payne's grey), my friend's face was looking really pale and washed out: much less vibrant and pretty than she is in real life. I was seriously afraid I'd already blown it.
But it's all about learning, right? I did enjoy seeing the model's head "pop" in front of the darkness.
Stage 4: close to done. Obviously I've done a lot of work here on her face mostly. The shape of the face is much clearer, with the cheekbone and downward curve of her "smile lines" highlighted.
Her mouth gave me the biggest trouble here. She has a beautiful, sensual mouth with a very distinct lip-line that has more to do than anything else with what makes her face as beautiful as it is--with what makes her her. So the mouth and lips were always going to be the focus of the painting for me. Well, I struggled a bit, and I don't feel like I have the definitive portrait.
My friend's other special feature are her greenish-hazel eyes. I worked on those pretty hard too.
I'm still feeling like she's too pale.
Done. Or at least as good as it's going to be.
In the last stages I painted in the curtains, which were a lot of fun (I'm growing to love painting fabrics). I also continued to work on the mouth and continued to try to soften her paleness that I had set in motion through the use of too-cold colors. I've lifted the masking fluid and continued to deepen the colors in her tresses. Finally, I pulled out shadows here and there to render some details more distinctly (e.g., her fingers).
For me this painting is a modest success. It's not a bad portrait of my friend--by which I mean that it mostly looks like her. And I am pretty happy with most of the detail and color work.
And yet painting always leaves me in a state of frustration and longing. Yes, the painting is beautiful to me in and of itself. But it does not capture--indeed, it only hints at--the real or ultimate beauty that I long for and catch fleeting glimpses of, the beauty that my friend embodies much more profoundly and deeply than I can "capture." Such is my lot as a mortal.
Thank you, dear friend.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Drawing is a scientific discipline. Really, it always has been. Scientists down the centuries have learned about the structures of living things, of geologic forms, of atmospheric conditions, of the whole universe by drawing. Of course, the drawing we're talking about here is realistic drawing: that particular mode of drawing where you are looking, so intensely, at some piece of creation, that you can't not see it for exactly what is there.
It is the most peculiar thing: that experience of really seeing, of having the world resolve in front of you while you're engaged in the drawing. At first, you see the green leaf, its forms and the way shadow sculpts it; you see the lemon, and you know it's yellow. You put in some lines on your paper, and then you look back at the object, and you see that your lines are wrong. You erase and fix. Then you begin to color, and you realize the yellow lemon actually is pretty orange in some spots; and you realize that the green leaf is so pale in parts as to be almost white and so dark in others as to be almost black. Slowly, you come to see the leaf and the lemon to be as complex as a symphony--shapes, lines, colors all working together to mold a piece of reality into something we so summarily refer to as "leaf" and "lemon."
Our words for the things of the world are so paltry and weak.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
There were some good learning moments here: managing the little polka dots (with masking fluid) was a bit of a bear, and the seashells took a lot of patience with the no. 2 rigger.
What a great, great pose, eh? I just love the scissoring of her legs and the arch in her back.
I spent quite a bit of time on beaches recently myself. My wife had a meeting in Honolulu, and while she was staring at conference room walls, I was outside on Waikiki Beach. It was hell. I would stake out a spot on the beach; then I would go for a lovely hour-long snorkel (Waikiki has not-half-bad snorkeling: I saw lots of gorgeous reef fish, several different varieties of moray, barracuda, a sea turtle, and one poor lonely sea horse). Then I would lie on the beach and try not to make a nuisance of myself watching the people as intently as I watched the fish. By "people" of course I mostly mean babes. I'm a little sorry for and sheepish about my male-gazing, but I just really like to watch people on beaches, all people.
On beaches there is a rare opportunity to see people in a setting that's simultaneously intimate and public. Let's face it: we're all wearing less than most of us wear when we go to bed. We "stake out our space" with towels, umbrellas, folding chairs, etc. We "bathe," in front of God & everybody. We lie back, we rub lotion on each other's backs, we sleep, we read, and we look at other people doing all the same things. We even dress and undress, in sometimes daredevilishly choreographed ballets involving magical sleight of hand with various garments or towels. One late afternoon, I watched a lovely girl put on a skimpy halter top over her bikini top, then untie the bikini top and slip it off from underneath the skimpy halter. Now where, I ask you, is there a better show than that?
Well, what can I say? Artists gaze.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
I'm pretty darn happy with this, so I'll just rest in my pleasure and gratitude for a bit. Sorry if this sounds boastful. But here are some of the things that I've learned about painting that went into this piece:
- I've learned a lot about drawing and especially about transferring a photo image to watercolor paper with the use of a grid.
- I've learned a lot about rendering shadow with the use of pure, cool color rather than with just black or grey or whatever. Kitty Lip is a cream-colored kitty. Who'd have thought that aquamarine was the right color for her shadowed fur?
- I've learned a lot about brushwork. This painting involved every brush from a no. 2 rigger up to a no. 12 wash brush.
- I've learned a lot about color-mixing. Kitty Lip has traces of a goldish brown--on her ears, face, and paws. I got the right color with a mix of raw and burnt ochre.
- I've learned a lot about the use of masking fluid. The whiskers and stray hairs here and there were a bear to mask out, as thin as they are. The answer is fresh masking fluid and a thin brush you don't mind wasting.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Friday, June 19, 2009
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
It's good to work rapidly sometimes. My wife really liked these three quick studies of Demetra, and I do too. As I have discussed continually, I am a fussy, fussy painter, one who tends to get so focused on capturing details accurately that he sacrifices life for accuracy - and that is the choice I gladly make. But these are nice, lively studies, and I enjoyed painting them.
Demetra wore a brilliant purple wig for the first half of the session.
One thing that contributes to the liveliness of these sketches, I think, is the fact that it was a warm, humid evening when Demetra posed for us. My paint wouldn't dry quickly. And so in these rapid poses, I was forced to do more wet-in-wet than I often do. In places you can see that it was a bit too wet-in-wet - you get backruns and blooms and so on. But I have learned largely how to deal with those issues.
Here's a good example. The colors on Demetra's torso here, I think, are a wet-in-wet mix of aquamarine, crimson, burnt umber, and maybe some ochre. When the ultramarine went on, the crimson and umber underneath were far from dry - so I got a bloom. But it sorta works here, don't you think?
And here's my favorite of the three. Same colors, with a little more raw ochre. I love the interplay of the crimson, ochre, and blue on the back and the way Demetra's (quite lovely) round rump is set off by the blue shadow. It was a great pose.
The moral of this story, once again, is to not give in to fear. Part of my fussiness is a good thing: that honest and earnest attempt to capture the world As It Is, thereby learning about the world as it is. But some of my fussiness arises from my fear of being bad, of revealing my lack of skill. But what do I learn when I am bad, when I do a poor job, when I screw up? And how little do I learn when I get the painting exactly right? Lord, help me to learn the wisdom of the mess and the failure.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Monday, June 8, 2009
sense of humour
they focus on her
he's venus as a boy
He believes in beauty
He's venus as a boy
the taste of her
He sets off
the beauty in her
venus as a boy
He believes in beauty
He's venus as a boy
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Here's a painting of Stan, a model I've worked with twice before. He's a great model, and I really enjoyed painting him. He looks to be in his late fifties, with salt-and-pepper hair, craggy face, and bushy white mustache. He's a musician of the aging folkie variety.
I'm at a place in my life (46 now) when I am looking up: toward older guys who can show me what it might mean to be really old or later middle-aged and still be - well, beautiful. Stan has a dignity and strength and grace that define the healthy mature man to me. I suppose it doesn't hurt that he's still pretty buff and sculpted. (Here's hoping my yoga practice will keep me in trim.)
There are many different kinds of beauty, and I find that one of the highest forms is the form that comes along with the power of calm and assured experience. As I get older, I get happier and less anxious about how I look than I felt when I was young - not the reverse. This is beauty to me, and it is a very, very potent form.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
(I lie - I do have a few other framed watercolors, now that I think about it: one a portrait of my wife and one a scene of Tomales Bay. I also have a portrait of my cat (RIP) on my desk at work.)
What an incredibly beautiful day it was when I painted this. I had been in snorkeling, gawking at lobsters and angelfish and squid and sergeant majors, and had had a lovely lunch on the sand. My wife was snoozing away, as is her wont, and I just grabbed the travel painting kit and went to town. The paint dried fast! It was a hot, hot, hot day on the beach.
Seven-Mile Beach curves way around, as you see here: a big crescent. The translucent green-then-blue water licks the sand lightly all the way. There are nice coral heads a couple of hundred yards off the beach.
I'm not sure why I've framed so few of my paintings. Well, I partly know why. I paint a lot of pictures of naked people, and, like lots of artists who paint figures, I'm at a loss as to what to do with them. I have some figures that I think represent some of my best work. I admit that it feels funny to put them on the wall. I suppose there are lots of "tasteful" ones I could put up, and maybe I will someday. Here's one of my main reasons for writing this blog: the opportunity to do something with all those figures.
Anyway, life is good when you're painting a nice beach scene at Grand Cayman.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
I don't know why my relationship to my own art waxes and wanes so much. For much of this spring, I have felt very happy and proud of my work - very powerful as an artist, I would say. Looking back at the paintings I made during that time, I cannot say in fact that those paintings were any better or worse than what I did the other day. So why the glum feelings?
I wish I knew the answer to this question. I guess it's a variation on the question that all artists have about their own work: how do I know whether it's good or bad, and how does the transitory state of my feelings about it matter in the larger scheme of things? I come back to my central principle: painting for me is about practice, not product. My job is to show up, brushes in hand, whatever the state of my feelings.
My art matters to me: that is the salient fact. If it didn't matter, I wouldn't have these waves to ride. I'll take the waves.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Thursday, April 2, 2009
I make excellent chocolate chip cookies. My recipe is the basic Toll House recipe; then it really helps to add a lot of crushed pecans. And then don't bake them too long - really underbake them. Yum.
I have life-drawing to thank for most of my skills at capturing shape, color, and shade with watercolor. Have I said that before? I always wondered what artists saw in life drawing (apart from the obvious pleasure of gazing at naked human bodies) and now I know: nothing teaches you better about those basic elements of visual literacy: color, shape, and form.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009
This is another painting from a photograph, this one taken from the pier in Hanalei Bay. People who've been to Kaua'i will know that Hanalei is one of the loveliest spots on the island. The town of Hanalei is impossibly cute, with a couple of good restaurants - Postcards Cafe was the one we liked best. The evening we went there was the culmination of a magical day. We spent the morning snorkeling and beach-lying at Tunnels Beach, and then we got massages at a nearby spa. (Great massages!) Then we drove back to Hanalei and shopped a bit. I bought a ukelele. Then, while we waited for our reservation at Postcards, we strolled along the beach, me trying to figure out how to play my uke, and then found the long pier that juts into the bay. We walked out and sat at its end for an hour, chatting with locals and tourists and watching a guy fishing and some kids jumping off the roof of the pier into the water. The sun set spectacularly. I swore I saw the green flash. I took a lot of sun-on-clouds shots.
This painting is postcard-size, about 4 by 6. I like to work in small formats. I'm not exactly sure why. I've always liked dinky things - model trains, miniature portraits. Beyond that, I will say that a big mass of white paper really intimidates me. I confess that I have not learned to use my bigger brushes, the ones bigger than a size 10 or 12 round. I know that a painting teacher would force me to put a big flat or wedge in my hand and make a huge mess, or bunch of messes. But what can I say? I like the little riggers and 1s and 2s. They feel good in my hand, and they let me really play with detail. My biggest challenge occurs when I try to use masking fluid, as I did for the two sailboats. Masking fluid is a bugger to use in any case, and when your task is to put in a fine white line, it's just really hard not to make a mess, like I did here.
So what. It's a study, right? I like the clouds.