Friday, June 19, 2009

Portraits from Photographs 1

I have been working hard recently on portraits from photographs.  Here's one of my oldest and dearest friends, Sandee, from a photograph I took of her in her hotel room at a conference we recently attended.  This was sort of a commission: she loves pictures of women reading (has calendars of different such paintings, etc.) and wanted a picture for her study.  I think it came out quite well.

Here's an occupational hazard of being a painter: you see so many people you want to paint, and there is no graceful way to ask, "would you model for me?"  There are so many unstated truths behind that question: "Would you model for me? (because I really want to see you naked.)"  "Would you model for me? (because I've been looking at you very intimately for a long time.)"   "Would you model for me? (because you're beautiful.)"  See what I mean?  I would be the first to say that there is something deeply intimate and deeply transgressive about painting people.

It so happens that my friend Sandee and I were indeed intimate once upon a time, and we have remained friends, and my feelings for her are warm and loving.  It was a fraught time in both of our lives, and we emerged bearing quite a lot of pain that we have (mostly) been able to move past, forging a special comradeship, is how I guess I would put it.  She may well think otherwise.

Painting Sandee - or, to put it another way, her letting me paint her, was a huge gift to me.  I am (in general) a person who keeps a little room in my heart with a fire burning in it for everyone I have ever been with intimately.  Painting Sandee allowed me to go back into that room and decorate the wall a little bit.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

3 Sketches

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

Cayman 3

Here's my least favorite of the three Cayman beach paintings.  This one was painted at a resort called Rum Point, just up the way from the Sand Cay painting.  I do like the clouds in this one.  It's the boats that mess it up.  Boats for some reason are very difficult to paint.  I love boats; in fact, I have taken sailing lessons.  Somehow I can never capture them.  Here they just look like shapeless blobs.

There is wonderful snorkeling out beyond the pier at this place.  My sister-in-law and I saw many beautiful angel fish, butterfly fish, wrasses, etc. and followed an octopus for quite a while, watching as it changed colors.

This was the middle painting of the three that I did on beaches on that trip.  I'm not exactly sure why they came out so well - my very best plein air paintings ever.  Some explanation lies in the coloring.  The sky in Cayman is the purest cerulean, and the inshore water is a lovely veridian.  The clouds pile up and over one another, and with care you can capture them OK.  And it's fun making divot marks on hot white sand.

Thank you, Grand Cayman.

Monday, June 8, 2009

More on Beauty

One of my favorite songs is by Bjork; it's called "Venus as a Boy."  The song is a kind of warmly appreciative ode to a boy who strongly embodies the Lover archetype.  I'm that sort of guy.  Here are the lyrics in full.

His wicked
of humour
exciting sex!

His fingers
they focus on her
he's venus as a boy

He believes in beauty
He's venus as a boy

He's exploring
the taste of her
so accurate

He sets off
the beauty in her
he's venus
venus as a boy

He believes in beauty
He's venus as a boy

These words are overtly sexual, even dirty, obviously, and I think that's right.  Lovers love beauty in all its forms and everywhere it occurs.  They love good food and drink, they love natural landscapes, they love human grace in dance, music, and art, and they love and see beauty in all those earthy and earthly glories to which we are heir: everything about our wonderful bodies and how they commingle.  Lovers love play and love to live in the moment through play.  Ultimately, they love life, and ultimately, I think that is what beauty is: not an external thing but an inside experience: the sudden, miraculous, transformative realization and reminder that life is wonderful and worth living; the delight and wonder in being embodied.

I really like this 20-minute sketch of a lovely new model, Alexandria.  And I loved painting this beautiful and, yes, somewhat erotic pose.  I was struggling that day, as I have been struggling, and then Alexandria took this X-shaped pose, and I remembered why I was there: to see the model's beauty and honor it through my work, to "set off the beauty in her."  I thought, I can do that.  Nothing like the original, but I'll try.

It's a pretty accurate painting, and I like the shadow work and the blue negative space.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

More of Grand Cayman

These are some of my very best cloud studies, I think - all 3 of these plein-air paintings from Cayman.  It was wonderful to paint them.  This one was painted on one of the last days of our trip, on the beach at a part of the island called Sand Cay, which is across the sound from Georgetown (the country's capital).  I sat under a palm tree on the sand.  There is a shallow lagoon where the water is this magnificent green color, abruptly shading over into the cobalt blue of the deeper water.  As you can see here, across the lagoon was a spit of sand, and then in the middle distance there was a peninsula with houses, etc.  You can see some of the buildings of Georgetown in the far distance.

Lately in my painting I have been learning the lesson that this painting tried to teach me: in aquarelle, less is more.  Here "less" means less glazing, i.e., purer paint on the paper.  The water in the foreground is mostly one clear wash, mussed up with a little scumbling to put in some reflected cloud shapes.  All the rest of this painting is relatively "easy" too.  The only tricky thing here was getting the shadows in the clouds right, and strictly speaking I did not "get them right."  What I did was manage to put some paint on the page that gives some of the illusion of towering cumulus shapes.

But the less is more thing is important.  What people love about watercolor - and I am no exception - is what is often referred to as its luminosity.  The paint glows from within.  Lately I have been working on portraits from photographs, beautiful photographs in which the subjects' faces are technically in shadow but still full of light.  I tried to capture the quality of this skin tone with my usual glazing methods but abandoned them for a much purer wash approach.  It worked, just like it's working here in my rendering of the lagoon.

I do like this painting a lot.  It seems very serene to me, which is how I was feeling when I painted it.  The beach at Sand Cay is a serenity-making place.