Friday, January 23, 2009

Another Cloud Study

Here's the latest in my Kaua'i cloud studies. I especially like this one. I'm getting better here at letting the paint be as dark as it needs to and the colors harmonize.

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.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Portraits 3

Here's a 20-minute sketch of Richard from last night's life-drawing class.  It's pretty accurate, although the hair in particular looks not right.  Richard's hair was very curly and salt-and-pepper, not quite so black.  He did have this pretty intense gaze.  One of my co-painters walked by and said, "yeah, that really looks like him!"

I want to write a little bit about technique today, I think.  This portrait was made using my usual techniques: glazing in particular, with some wet-in-wet.  When I showed the picture to my wife, she said that she liked the neck area best, and I understand why.  Here's where I worked hardest to get the shadows right, building up two or three glazes with a couple of different colors (bluish purple, brownish purple).  It took me a while to see that there were two tones of shadow on Richard's neck, one lighter, and the other, right under his chin and along his jawline, darker.  I added the neck lines last, and they are what make the neck come alive, I think.  

Here's a message I've learned several times: judicious use of tight detail does a lot to create that "click" into realism - that and the general accurate depiction of light and shade.  The eye works in an interplay between these two elements, I think.  It loves to see tightly and work out intricacies; and yet it needs to register a general tone to a scene as well.  On my wife's and my recent trip to Lake Tahoe, I brought along David Bellamy's book on landscape painting (a wonderful book), and in it Bellamy talks quite a lot about this interplay, although not in the terms I'm setting out.  He talks extensively about the need to simplify a scene: to leave out copious details in order to make a painting that really sings.  Look at a photograph of a scene and then Bellamy's watercolor of it: the vast majority of the trees, rocks, grass blades, clouds, buildings, bushes, boats, and people are missing from the art work.  What you have left is some sort of essence of the scene.  But what makes the "essence," and why is "real" nature not adequate?  We're back to my basic aquarellist question.

I think one of the fun elements of painting portraits is that you get to be a bit more inclusive.  But even here, as noted above, a good painting requires judicious editing of reality.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Ah . . . Chocolate . . . .

Here's a plate of See's truffles and some saltwater taffy that I painted over the Christmas holiday.  Yes, it was hard just to paint and not to gorge.

I did very little painting over my winter break.  I'm sorry for this, but there you go.  I have a curious little quirk - maybe it's just me or maybe not - that impels me either to work too much or to work too little.  Clearly the quirk is all one quirk, i.e., the impulses are related.  Probably if I worked appropriately, I would not crash, and if I did not crash I would work appropriately.

But crash I do.  And hard sometimes.  Being an academic, I have some luxury of crashing - i.e., summers and winter breaks do give one space.  I have changed my attitude over the years, however.  I used to plan to get tons of work done during every single break, and then when every single break arrived I would invariably crash and burn.  I have had many rotten days on empty campuses slogging my way into the office, trying to get some writing done, and then wandering dazedly around the library in a state of disgust with myself.

Over the years I have much more grown to respect and appreciate my indolent side.  Because here's what it's really all about: during a term, I really have to slice and dice myself down to one facet of myself: the professional self, all good nature, intelligence, kindness, diligence, and attentiveness.  I have learned over the years that, as soon as terms wind down, the other, more shadowy, part of me emerges.  This side is indolent and irritable and mean and a little sick, because he hasn't been getting proper nutrition.  Breaks come, and he comes roaring out, and I have learned over the years that I simply have to give him free reign for a week or a month.  He will take his week or month whether I am cooperative or not.  So I might as well let him go and not feel crappy about it.

Mr. Indolent eats a lot of chocolate, and it's hard for him to leave the chocolate on the plate while I'm painting it.