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.