Friday, October 22, 2010

More Portraits

Here is a portrait that I am still working on--or will work on when I get a chance. Sigh. I'm in the middle of the term, and man.

I do like this painting. It's from a photograph, as usual, taken of my wife and son when Noah was about three months old, I think--half as old as he is now. Wow.

What needs to happen in the painting is a lot of growth in color intensity, deepening of shadows, increase of contrast. I am a wimp when it comes to putting paint on the damn page, and I think I am especially a wimp about that when I am painting skin. I sort of refuse to get it that even "white" skin is very far from white--it is closer to the darker end of the value end than to the light end. But then you have the next problem: what the hell color IS skin?

Usually I make skin tones with a mix of burnt umber, yellow ochre, and reds, either pale or crimson. These colors make good tones but never exactly the right tones. It's very, very hard to capture exactly the right skin tone. Darker skin, like my son's, is easier, I have to say. More umber, darkened with blue or lightened with ochre, does a pretty good job. A mixed "white" skin tone, by contrast, often seems to include many, many tones, and it's hard to find the dominant tone to form a base.

Anyway, I do like this piece, and I look forward to working on it more.

Friday, August 6, 2010

More Gold

Here's another painting that I am pretty darn happy with. The photo is another great bum view.

This one is sort of consciously a sister to the one I called the best painting I've ever done two posts ago--the other one with gold negative space. I like the shading on the back again, and the portrait, again, is pretty good. The ear is damn good, I think. The model looks a little startled here, and she doesn't look that way in the photo--might try to fix that.

But what's really great about it is the butt. Not really sure what else there is to say here. I just love beautiful bums with a passion which passeth understanding. They speak to me so profoundly of the fecundity of the universe: so generous and graceful. Praise be.

Painting Love

Here's a painting of my son and his mom bathed in afternoon light.

I had no idea there was so much love in the world until I met my son. He's with my wife and me through adoption--the incredible consolation to the heartbreak of infertility. We chose the path of infant open adoption, which means that Noah's birth mom is very much a part of our lives. We met her a month and a half before she gave birth, and we met Noah a half hour after he was born.

It's hard to explain what it's like to paint the two people I most love in the world. To say that the pressure was on would be an understatement. But I have gotten good enough, thankfully, at the painting game to be able simultaneously to hold the greater significance of any painting I'm doing while also concentrating on the problems of the painting. There were many in this one.

I'll record the most important technical triumph for me of this painting: it's in the background. That's a door back there. What we have here is nothing less than the most uniform flat wash I've ever painted. There were two reasons for the success of this wash: 1) I used good paint, having finally accepted the fact that the quality of the paint matters and having bitten the financial bullet; and 2) I masked out the figures with masking paper and masking tape, a strategy I've always grouchily thought too fussy.

Well, getting good at the technology or the rhetoric of painting can help you paint the love you feel, I guess. I am so happy that this little guy is in the world.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

New Private Modeling Paintings: Butts

Right here may be the single best painting I've ever made. IMHO.

I like so much about it: the sculpting and shading on the rump, most of all, but also the shaping of the muscles on the back and the gold background. I guess why I am particularly moved by this piece is that I have long wanted to do a really good butt study. Bums are much harder to paint than you might think. Even a gorgeous, shapely bum like my model's are built out of complex shapes that, as in the painting of faces, you need to get really just right, otherwise they wind up looking like caricatures of butts, not like real butts. I sort of think that our brains are hard-wired to look closely at butts, just as they are faces.

In this painting, I just got it right. It's from a gorgeous photograph. The S-curve sculpted by the back, pelvis, and legs just kills me.

This painting is not so hot. It does look a little caricaturish, which makes me sad, because it's from a pretty photo. I learned a lot painting this picture, though, about the use of violet for shadows (not effective here at all), about how to render interior scenes, about the importance of using saturated color judiciously even in unimportant details. It's not a half bad portrait of my model.

Here's a detail of the bum. It's not bad--I actually really like the hand. There's sort of something wrong with the stance (although the painting really is not far off from how the photo looks). There's one final lesson here: the paper is utter crap. I vow not to paint with crappy paper again.

Thank god and the goddess for beautiful women's beautiful bums.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Introducing Noah!

This is my son looking at light, as he loves to do.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Detail Work

As promised, here are some close-ups of some of the detail work. I do like the portrait of my model. The ear is rendered nicely, and I like the shadow work. As I've noted before, she has a lovely and sensuous mouth, and I always work hard to get that right in her portraits. It's easier when the portrait is larger (for obvious reasons--you can get the details and the proportions proportionally more accurate). This is a fairy small painting, only about 8 by 10 in total, so the face is barely an inch across. It took a lot of fussing with the No. 2 rigger.

I do like the hands and the lap quite a lot too. It's fun to render sharp shadows.


This piece was a serious challenge, and I don't feel entirely happy with it. The challenge was in rendering a splash of bright sun across my model's lap while also not entirely obscuring her face and body in shadow.

This is an important piece for me. It's part of a book project I'm working on called A Life-Artist's Year. The themes of the book are ones surrounding fertility. My wife and I, after discovering and enduring the grief of our infertility, have adopted a little boy, and the book tells the story, in words and paintings, of my coming back to joy and a sense of my own fertility-amid-infertility. This picture, showing so beautiful a young woman with a burst of sunshine illuminating her womb, speaks volumes to me. I love the picture, and I am modestly OK with my rendering of it.

One of the effects in w/c I most value is the effect of bright sunlight, as I've noted in the past. I love a painting in which the bright areas (made bright simply through having been left as unpainted white paper) are almost too bright to look at. The technical story here is one of the use of cold colors and intense contrasts.

The biggest weakness here, probably, is too soft a contrast. I could darken the shadowed areas a bit, and that would make the brightness pop even more.

It's a pretty good portrait of my model. In another post, I'll show some details.

Friday, June 11, 2010

More Private Modeling: A Satisfying Portrait

When my private model came over (twice), I took a lot of photographs, and I guess what I am coming to see is that I have a lot of work to do to learn how to use the camera well and set up beautiful poses. I like this pose--a lot. I love the hands and the side-ways-turned eyes. It's a pretty good portrait--the best portrait I've painted of the model. This does look like her, even though I note now, as I'm looking at the painting here in my blog, that I do not have her eye color right. Well, her eyes in the original photograph are very dark. Actual she has hazel eyes, as I've noted before.

The pose is what makes this an evocative portrait, of course. In our work, I asked the model to sit or stand in ways that she herself found comfortable and characteristic of her, and I think even when I took this photo I had a winner. She is a thoughtful, introspective person, and for me this pose captures that element of her personality.

Private Modeling Cont'd: Hair Challenges

I'm still working on my series of portraits and figures of my private model, and this is one of my favorite pieces thus far: a meditative study of a classical profile. By "classical" I mean classical: I could imagine seeing this profile in the Elgin Marbles.

The hair was the biggest challenge in this piece. Hair is complicated in any case. A head of hair is made up of many thousands of separate shapes coming together to create one general shape. The result is a mercurial, shape-shifting shape. Then add in the light-scattering properties of hair. Individual hairs are translucent--they can almost glow--and so the way light strikes and moves with hair is very complicated and very beautiful.

Here I do not feel that my efforts are all that great. I masked out some highlights here, of course, and that was the right thing to do, but I am having a lot of trouble learning to use masking fluid well. The biggest problem is that it goes bad before I have a chance to use it, and then when I want to use it, it doesn't behave fluidly. By "bad," I mean that it coagulates and thickens. When it does so, it's impossible to get it on the page right, especially when you're trying to highlight out superfine strands of hair.

Then there is the issue of my model's hair color. It's not brown and not blond. It's sort of a burnished bronze, with goldish highlights and lots of dark streaks as well. I have struggled in each of these portraits to get the hair color right, and I haven't yet succeeded in capturing it. It's not too far off here. The color is a mix of raw ocher, burnt ocher, and Payne's grey.

Finally, there is the shape of the hair itself. My model's hair is wavy--more straight than curly. It's also relatively fine--good Scandinavian hair. Capturing the waviness is a challenge, and I find that I succeed best by simply using my finest brush and putting in lots and lots (and lots) of long strokes that follow the folds and contours of the waves. I think the shape of the model's head of hair here is one of the best features of the painting.

Hair is hard. I still very much like this painting. It has a soft and thoughtful quality that, together with my model's classical beauty, make for a rich and evocative image for me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More Private Modeling

Here's a painting I greatly enjoyed working on. :-)

My model is very strong--check out those shoulders. She has great muscle definition, and that combined with her creamy skin make for a beautiful and challenging subject.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Private Session 2

Here's my second fruit of my private session with my private model, presented, as before, in a "making of" series.

In stage one, you can see the grid and the core of the drawing over the grid. I've worked on the lightest parts first. The order went like this: first the drawing; then a very pale wash of umber and burnt ocher to capture her basic skin tone; then the lovely pale nipples and areolae; then, with light underglazing, the basics of her facial features: lips, eyes, right nostril, eyebrows; and finally a base yellowish wash with some light red for the cheeks, chin, and brow.
Stage 2. Here I've obviously worked a lot harder on the model's mouth and begun to rough in the shadows on her face and the shadows that sculpt the shape of her breasts. I am working hard here on the mouth especially, erasing as much as adding color, as this model's herness especially involves her lovely sensuous mouth. Here I think I basically have it.

Stage 3, basically a completed painting. The most interesting thing about this stage for me was how pale I realized the model's face was as soon as I added the dark blue background. Once that background was done, I washed on a lot more of the shadow tones everywhere: ultramarine and violet. The shadows could still be darker in places, especially on the body. Perhaps I'll work on it some more.

This is sort of a technical blog entry.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Private Modeling 1

For the first time ever, I hired a private model to give me a combo painting / photography session. Here's the first fruit of that session: a portrait from one of the photos I took.

The model is a friend of mine who I met because she's a housemate of my yoga teacher. I painted her portrait once before, as depicted here.

The private modeling session was, simply, a religious experience for me: a communion with my spirit, my muse, and my friend all at once. we chatted and laughed all the way through the three-hour session, and I am very excited about other paintings I'm working on.

More to come.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Profile of Stan

I'm trying to write a book called A Life-Artist's Year. The book is meant to include lots of paintings, plus writing like I compose in this blog, only a bit less focused on the painting itself. I am in an interesting year, to put it mildly. In the wake of our discovery that we can't have children (or that we seem to be very unlikely to have children), we are trying to adopt a child. So this book is meant to be the journal of what should be an amazing year.

The themes of the book, of course, are themes of fertility primarily, and I am trying to spin out the idea of fertility very broadly. If fertility, as Gibran puts it, is "life's longing for itself," then a "life-artist" is someone who, I guess, tries to embody fertility in his or her creativity. In the book I'm trying to explore the full implications of this idea.

The term "life-artist," of course, I take from the activity of "life drawing," which is what I do a lot of and which produced this profile of Stan. I've always loved the term "life drawing": as I put it in a talk I gave at church, am I "drawing life" or am I "living by drawing"? "To draw" of course also means to evoke or pull out, and I'm, well, evoking that idea as well. To be an artist of life is all that I've been trying to do in my art and understand in this blog, I guess: to be someone who wants to know and love better the world as it is, including and especially people. But not only people.

It was nice to paint Stan again, a good model who offers me a vision of later-middle-age male strength, I guess. I'm headin' that way, so I am grateful for the modeling, in every sense.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Drawing Pains

So here are some figure-portraits I painted at yesterday's long pose with a great rookie model named Jessica. They're both weak, I think, in different ways, and I walked out feeling pretty frustrated. It's typical, really. I was very inspired by the model, a lovely, tall young woman with a really beautiful mouth and wide blue eyes. In some ways, the more inspired I am by the model, the less happy I am with the picture. I'd guess this is a pretty normal dynamic. And indeed, it's really nothing more than the old high-stakes-yields-anxious results thing.

The first picture is the large-scale portrait. The problem here is the drawing, which is weak, weak, weak. Portrait-Jessica's eyes are too far apart, her mouth is too small, and her entire facial structure is just wrong. Sigh.

I like this drawing a little better. It's smaller (about a quarter the size of the big portrait) and it's more accurate as a drawing as well. Still, it does NOT capture this lovely visage. Again, sigh.

In line with my post the other day about my quest to paint One Beautiful Picture, I think that I need to trust the process more and let go of outcomes. Let the lousy paintings pile up like snow drifts all around me. It's OK.

Funny, I am just as this moment culling through my snowdrifts to put together my portfolio. Why I need a portfolio, I have no idea (still determined, as I am, to remain amateur). But I have been enjoying the process of looking through all those images and re-seeing them, finding the ones that have special moments of grace. This process is of course leading me to attach even more heavily to (some of) my outcomes, and there are dangers there. In some platonic ideal, art should be made and then burned. The very idea of enshrining any particular image on a wall or in a book is, in some measure, a fatal idea. I certainly felt this way when I was in Europe this summer and saw the Mona Lisa: that little painting of that poor woman reposing behind glass and over the heads of a couple hundred gawkers.

But still, I am human, and I like some of my images better than others, and I would like to keep them and look at them again. And too, I want better to be able to feel OK about making lousy pictures and letting them pile up in drifts around my feet.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

One Beautiful Picture

I find myself in an interesting place as a painter. Once upon a time, I dreamed of getting good enough as a watercolorist to paint (wait for it) one beautiful picture. It was quite a burden. To this day I have in my possession a mess of pictures that I labored over, that I cherished. Each sparkling painting COULD have been the one; each stroke of paint on the page COULD have been THE stroke that captured the glory I sought. All the paintings are messes.

Well, I've put a lot of strokes on paper in the last couple of years.

I still have some of this more innocent impulse, I think. Sometimes when I'm in a life-drawing class, I'll watch the more veteran or more professional artists as they splash paint or scrape pastel over a whole big sheet of paper, tear it off, and go to work on a fresh sheet. The sheets pile up around their feet like drifts of snow. I find this accumulation vaguely appalling.

I guess what I want, or what part of me wants, is for art to not be simply a result of hard labor but rather to always be a sparkling stroke of genius.

Here's a picture I like from last Wednesday's evening's life drawing class. It was, very much, a product of hard work. But it was also a product of genius, if genius means that moment of grace when everything comes together right: yeah, skill; but also that keen, shocked recognition of beauty and grace. I guess that's what artists call that moment of inspiration.

You need skill; and you need grace. And you need to pile up a lot of crappy paintings to produce one good one.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Long-Pose Portraits: Michael

Here was a fun portrait session. Michael was a handsome young model in the Mediterranean mode. He had the great muscular definition you can see and also that long neck and high forehead. The portrait is pretty accurate, actually: for once I measured OK.

This was a three-hour pose, in the same vein as my previous portraits of Stefanie and Anna Maria. I attend two different life-drawing classes, one on Wednesday nights and the other on Monday afternoons. The latter I attend only as I can, which basically means only during term breaks. The Monday afternoon class is the long-pose class.

Long-pose painting is great meditation. You have a chance to sink deeply into your practice and become highly acquainted both with the model's features and with how your paint is behaving on the page. Just this past Monday, I was at a long-pose session with a (mostly) clothed model, and the sun, filtering through the draped windows, kept going into and out of clouds, which made the paint on my page wax and wane in intensity. I had my iPod plugged in, and the combination of music and light lulled my brainwaves.

I'm struggling right now with being stuck in certain color modes. Every time I see a shadow now, it looks either ultramarine blue (see Playalina and Rebecca's cat) or violet purple. Here's a purple study, of course. Violet yields good, almost too warm shadows; ultramarine yields good shadows that are often too cold. What is the happy medium? Perhaps sometime soon I'll play with some monochromes.

I do like this painting and think it's a pretty successful and interesting portrait. I had never painted a beard like Michael's, and that's where I struggled. In my portrait, the beard is fuller than it was in real life.