18 November 2015

Landscape Master Copies

I've been starting to paint landscapes the last few months, a diversion from painting people.  I have very little experience with the landscape so I'm taking a 4-pronged approach to learning.  I'm going out and painting en plein air weekly, I'm doing lots of reading (mostly Carlson, Albala, MacPherson and Handell), I'm planning to take some workshops in 2016, and I'm doing master copies of sketches I like.

Master copying is a great learning tool if you're paying attention.  I have used this tool often in the past.  I've copied Sargent, Schmid, Rembrandt and Zorn for painting and Bouguereau, Repin and various inking masters for drawing.  Whoa, didn't realize I'd done so many.  Time well spent.

Today I'm posting master copies of some plein air sketches by contemporary painters.  Of course, the artists have done all the work here, interpreting nature with their own unique visions. Copying allowed me to better understand their approaches.  It's like taking a quick class from each artist.

All copies are 6x6" or 6x8", painted on Claussens #16 linen taped to foam core.  Each took about 2-3 hours to complete.  I wasn't going for an exact copy.  I was trying to reproduce the effects of light and depth that each painting achieved.  I learned a huge amount.

After Brian Blood

After Barbara Jaenicke, original in pastel.

After Ray Roberts

After Richard Oversmith

After Brian Belfield

05 November 2015

Exploring Color Temperature

I've been wanting to use more color temperature contrasts in my work, so today I'm exploring this tool in another portrait of my daughter, Amanda.  I'm following the "rule" of cool light/warm shadows here, but temperature contrasts can be used anywhere in a painting to add energy and interest.  Variety in temperature is as important as variety in edge, color, texture, or shape. 

I like Stapleton Kearn's and Dan Gerhartz's comments on temperature.  In Alla Prima, Richard Schmid says "mud" results from inappropriate temperature choices.  Bottom line: temperature matters.

Amanda Looking Back, 12x16", Oil on linen

I used a simple color scheme here, just burnt umber (warm), ultramarine blue (cool) and titanium white.  Burnt umber and ultramarine combine to make a nice chromatic black.  The ground for this painting is a thoroughly dried, mid-value burnt umber.

I blocked in the head with vine charcoal (upper left panel, below), my preferred way to start.  Once I was happy with the drawing, I gave it a light fixative spray.  

Next I worked up the half-tones (upper right).  This involved finding the plane changes separating the front and side of the face.  Most of the key temperature shifts occur in those half-tones, signalling the big plane changes that define facial shape and likeness. I worked up these areas with ultramarine blue, trying to change temperature without changing value.  Important point.  Capisce?  I also added the hair and body indications.

Working out from those cool halftones into the light, I added the large cool shapes to describe the lit side of the face, and started the features (lower left panel).  Finally (lower right) I finished the features, added highlights and warm dark accents, and adjusted the drawing some more.  I didn't want to overwork it, trying to "leave well enough alone".  My painting mantra.

Amanda Looking Back, detail

My inspiration for this study was Brandon Soloff's portrait of "David Peters".  I first saw this image a few years ago, and it has stayed with me.  At first glance, I thought it was chalk and charcoal on toned paper, but on closer inspection realized it was a sort of oil grisaille.  Look at all those temperature shifts!  Beautiful!  Nice drawing, too.

21 October 2015

Fresh Paint: Portrait of an Infant

Back to painting faces this week.  This painting is based on a drawing I posted recently of little Valor, my one-year-old neighbor.  I promised his parents a portrait about 9 months ago, but I couldn't do it until the moment was right.  That's how I work.  Sometimes I mull over an idea for several years.  I need a spark to light the flame that will carry me through the work.  No spark, no work.  I'm not sitting on my hands, though.  Plenty of other art things going on in the meantime.

Portrait of Valor Michael Hsiao, 11x14", oil on linen

Below is the progression.  I'm showing this so you can see the ugly phase, which all my paintings go through.  Perhaps as I develop artistically, my early phases won't be so hard to look at.  The important thing is to work through this phase.  I know I can't give up.  Persistence is rewarded with new knowledge, and maybe even a decent painting at the end.

I started with a loose raw umber lay-in on a Gessobord panel.  I refined the underpainting (middle) then added the first layer of color (right).  I keep my paintings in a freezer between sessions so I can work wet-into-wet.

More color and big shape refinement (left).  I continued to work from large to small, adding more details and refining the smaller forms (middle).  On the final pass, I added dark accents, highlights, details (necklace, reflected light on right cheek, clothing details) and the background.  The finished painting took 12 hours, split over 4 sessions.

Framed and ready to go out into the world...