Thursday, July 10, 2014

Three New Large-Scale Figures: Back Line

Here are three pieces that all are painted on the same sheet of paper, each next to the others.  It's not a triptych so much as an attempt to do three fairly full-body figures from the rear view and see what can be learned in painting the subject and in the specifics of watercolor for the purpose.

These are three models who all share the commonality of--to put it frankly--a great rear line.  So much of femininity is carried in the rear line, by which I mean not only the butt but the whole curve dropping from the nape, cutting in past the shoulder blades, swelling out in the roundness of the buttocks, and then cutting in underneath, dropping into the more gentle swells of the thighs and calves.  To paint this line well means, in a sense, to be painting femininity, at least as much as to paint the breasts, for instance.  So it is a classic, beautiful subject addressed by painters and artists since forever.

I am not ecstatic about any of these efforts, a fact which perhaps reflects the high pressure associated with the subject for me.  I would really, really love to paint the rear line well.  The top painting is OK, representing experiments primarily with violet for the shaded areas (I had attempted this painting once already with even less success using ultramarine primarily). 

The one above gave me fits.  I've tried to paint it twice, and both times I faced the same problem: finding myself tumbling into an intensity with the paint that's too "oily" rather than watercolor-y.  I went back and forth in my attitude toward the piece while painting it, and I still am undecided about whether it's strong or weak.  The photo from which it's taken is definitely this dark, or even more so, so the value is about right.  I elected to build the darkness through glazing, as per usual, using oranges mixed with quinacridone gold and crimson, then using ultramarine for shading.  The color of the body is not right, of that I'm certain.  It doesn't need to be (this is a painting, after all), but this particular color--what is it?  kind of a greenish-goldish-orangish-yellowish--doesn't feel right at all.  What's good is her wonderfully round butt highlighted well and a facial portrait that's not too bad.  The very best thing about it--alas--is the teal drape.  Now THERE is some awesome watercoloring.  But that shouldn't be what's best about the piece.

Finally, this one, meant to be a companion piece to one of the same model, with the same goldish background, that I posted earlier, is also just all right to my view.  As I think I mentioned when discussing the companion piece, the challenge here was the model's pale skin: one of the most beautiful skin tones but also the hardest skin tone to paint.  It's hard to sculpt a figure with, well, white.  The ultramarine is intense here, and I do like the complement with the gold of the background. 

You'd think that butts would be relatively easy to paint: they are, after all, fairly macro forms made of fairly full, straightforward curves.  In point of fact, they are quite hard to capture well.  Part of this difficulty might be due to some of the same challenges we face in capturing faces well.  I think our brains are pretty hard-wired to see and appreciate rear ends, and so our eyes see inaccuracies and flaws quickly.  More of the difficulty, however, arises simply from the fact of the straightforwardness of these large curves.  You can't mess up even the tiniest bit.  It's a long stretch to keep your brush steady.