Monday, April 27, 2009

A Light Problem: Another Cloud Study

I like this little painting (which in fact is just a slice of a larger painting), but it has to be said that compared with the original photograph of which it is an impression, it's like Mark Twain's analogy for the almost-right word compared with the right word: lightning bugs compared with lightning.

As I've said before, clouds are lit from within; they are luminous; they glow, they flame.  Watercolor is known for its luminosity.  But compared with nature, it just lies there.  Sing it does not.

I've talked about the problem of the rhetoric of painting in previous entries.  What I'm doing here is trying to do some of this "effecting," through the use of complementary colors (the orange over against the blue, the purple against yellow), and also with contrasts of tone.  I'm doing a poor job here with the latter - it's just so hard to get the paint dark enough!  

What it comes down to is this: if you use those techniques well, you might be able to create a painting that suggests the effects of light you're trying to capture.  But it's always going to be something of a trick for you to do that.  Now how do you feel about that?

For myself, I just think that clouds are endlessly interesting and also permanently frustrating to try to capture.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Longer Pose

Here's a picture of Stefanie painted over the course of a 3-hour session.  During that period I painted this painting, did a drawing or two in preparation, and made another small study, all from the same angle - the same pose, really.  This final version took about 2 hours, and it's a big painting for me: 18" by 12" or so.

Painting a long pose is an interesting thing to do.  I did several such poses last summer and hope to do more this summer (see here).  I tend to like the pattern in the Wednesday night class I attend, which asks the model to assume a variety of poses, beginning short (3 minutes) and going longer (up to 20 minutes).  As I've said before, the poetry of watching a model move in and out of poses is itself wonderful - like watching different faces of God present themselves to the light.  Add to that the fact that a 3-hour pose is hard for the model (even with breaks every 20 minutes).  Late in the session, Stefanie had to stretch and twist regularly even while sitting.  But I really enjoyed painting this picture.  It's not too bad a portrait, although I have not really "captured" Stefanie here.  Something in the shape of the face or the mouth is not quite right.  

If painting a variety of poses is like watching different faces of God (I guess I should say Goddess here) present themselves to the light, then a long pose allows for the careful study of one of those faces.  In painting this portrait, I spent a lot of time on Stefanie's hair, which, for the first time that I've seen (and as is clear from this blog, I have painted Stefanie on several occasions), she wore down.  Hair is hard to capture, and blond hair especially so.  What color is "blond"?  It can vary between almost pure white (the towhead variety) to russet or umberish.  It's not yellow - no one without help from a bottle has truly yellow hair.  Stefanie's hair is a pure whitish gold, and my palette does not contain a pure goldish color.  So what is "gold"?  Well, I'm here to say that it's a variety of brown.  So here my base for Stefanie's hair was actually a mix of burnt umber and ochre.  Now add in the challenges of painting the physical properties of hair.  A head of hair is a highly complex shape, or set of shapes, and light does very tricky things when it gets tangled up in a head of hair.  Comparatively, the shadow of the hair against a lovely cheek is a piece of cake.

So a 3-hour pose allows me to really understand how hair lives in the world.  It was gripping, and the 3 hours disappeared.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Here was a fun and surprisingly quick painting. I'm pretty fond of it. I was going for realism here, and indeed the cookies and plate look pretty real. This was from a photo.

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.