24 December 2012

merry christmas 
and peace in 2013

something about the long, dark nights 
and short, cold days 
of winter
heighten my appreciation 
for family and friends.

This walnut Santa was a gift 
from my 6-year-old sister 
...some years ago
it's just a walnut with some cotton glued on...
but, it's my favorite tree ornament.

i am grateful for a 2012 well-spent
...and hopeful for 2013

best wishes

13 December 2012

Tips for Drawing Portraits with Graphite

I am putting together a portfolio of portraits, which will include this graphite piece...drawn from a reference photo in 30 hours.  Graphite is a slow medium, requiring patience, especially for larger pieces.  If you want a faster drawing, use charcoal.

I started this drawing with a freehand lay-in on Strathmore vellum bristol board, series 300...a nice surface that accepts graphite well, and can be easily erased.  I always start with hard lead, which is easy to erase, then slowly work up from there...2H, then HB, 2B, 4B, and finally 6B for a few dark accents.  Don't use too much 6B, it's greasy and reflective. 

Amanda at Two, 14x11", graphite on bristol board

A few tips I thought of while drawing this piece:
  • Draw standing up so you can step back frequently to check values. Squint often at your reference. 
  • I map out the key values with a value finder before I start a piece, exaggerating some values for a more effective result.  I refer to this map often during drawing.
  • Mask negative spaces with tracing paper to keep them clean.  I lay a piece of tracing paper over the entire lay-in, trace around the face, then cut that area out for a quick mask.
  • Hold your pencil at arms length like a piece of charcoal as often as possible.  It produces strokes with more interest and energy.
  • I constantly correct my drawing, right down to the point where I sign it.  I make most judgments by eye, but for precise fixes, I use a cool little measuring tool called an Accurasee proportional divider.  Precision is often required for a likeness.

A detailed view...

31 October 2012

Landscape Painting is Hard

Seems like I only paint figures and faces, but I love a good landscape painting or drawing.  While my current focus is portrait and figure, I plan someday to include landscapes in my repertoire.  Here are some pieces I tried recently for fun.  These gave me profound respect for artists who can do a nice pen-and-ink or a good landscape.  I painted them from photo reference collected on road trips in Zion National Park in Utah and the Eastern Sierras of California.  I know I can't expect much without lots of time in the field...painting from life.  I'm looking to try plein air in the coming year.

Ancient Bristlecone, 10x7", pen and ink wash on paper

I love looking at well-done pen-and-ink drawings with masterful washes.  There are so many talented inkers out there.  Just google "sketcher blogs".  Urban Sketchers is a good site to follow, many contributors.  An individual artist I especially like is Erik Tiemens of Virtual Gouache Land.  I see his work and I want to pick up a pen and start inking.

The subject here is a bristlecone pine, which lives in a forest somewhere around 10,000 ft up in the White Mountains of eastern California.  There's a tree in this forest which is almost 5000 years old, the oldest known living individual organism on the planet.  They call that tree "Methuselah" and keep its location secret to protect it.  I like that.

Zion Hoodoo, 16x20", oil on linen
My second piece is an attempt at a landscape painting.  I like the notan here.  I think the big pieces fit together well.  I know it needs something, but just don't have the experience to finish it.  I will probably go back to this painting and finish it once I have more experience with the genre.

The subject is a large pile of weathered rocks in Zion National Park...so-called hoodoos.  This formation was about 30 feet tall. 

It's easy to loose the trail out in the desert.  Thoughtful hikers set up mini-hoodoos, usually 12-20" high, to mark the way.  These mini-hoodoos can stand for decades before falling over.  It's comforting, when you hike out in the middle of nowhere, to come across a trailside hoodoo.  Confirmation...you're on the right path.  Thank you, hoodoo builder.

18 September 2012

Portrait of "Drew in Blue"...and Giovanni Moroni

Today's post is a portrait of Drew, an 8-year-old boy who lives nearby.   I'm building a portfolio and Drew serves as my "male child" type.  I experimented a lot on this portrait, which is why it required 50 hours to complete.  I made some key mistakes.  I summarize them briefly below for my benefit and for yours.

Drew in Blue 14x11", Oil on linen

I started with a preliminary oil sketch to plan colors, values and composition.  Very helpful.  I lived with it for a few days to be sure I would like the resulting portrait.

Oil study for "Drew in Blue", 8x6" on linen board

Below is a 6-step progression for the painting.  Click to enlarge.  I followed a procedure described previously here and here.  The basis of the fleshtones is transparent red oxide, which makes a nice warm pink when lightened with titanium white.

My first mistake...using 2 reference photos, one for the body and another for the head.  Not a good idea.  I had to invent the neck which required a lot of adjusting.  Always start with good reference photos.

Next, I let the values drift during painting.  I started by premixing pools of paint for the light side, the core shadow and halftone area of the right cheek.  That was good, saved some time.  However, as I proceeded the values shifted. After 30 hours, I had to go back in and re-paint everything but the light side.  Wasted time.  Keep a close watch for value shifts, especially towards the dark end of the scale. 

Finally, the body perspective was wrong.  I thought I was done, but then got a few viewer comments that the body looked "off".  I agreed, but I couldn't see the problem until I laid a tracing of the photo over the painting.  Overall Drew's body was the right width, but the perspective turned it too much towards the viewer.  Not enough foreshortening. I repainted the body, with more overlap between the arm/torso/arm, which made the body and head appear proportional. That was hard to see. 

Adjustment to the perspective of the body...before (left) and after (right)

So...here again is the final portrait, painted from 2 photos in 50 hours...

Drew in Blue 14x11", Oil on linen

Frame it and call it done...


Regarding artistic inspiration...

My inspiration while working on Drew was a painting I saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC a few months ago by the 16th century Italian portraitist, Giovanni Battista Moroni (Portrait of Bartolommeo Bonghi, below).  I was struck by how skillfully Moroni modeled form in this piece, and how fresh and familiar his style appeared to my 21st century eyes.  Incredible drawing skills.  Below are a few examples of his beautiful work.  Click for more images of his paintings.

Portrait of Bartolommeo Bonghi, painted around 1553

Portrait of Don Gabriel de la Cueva, 1560

The Tailor, 1570

Portrait of Prospero Alessandri, 1560

Thank you for reading this far...Best, Candace.


31 July 2012

Portrait of Kelly

Portrait of Kelly 2012, 16 x 12", Oil on linen

Today's post is a portrait of my friend, Kelly.  I posted a portrait of Kelly's husband, Nick (here) in a recent entry.  I started Nick's portrait with a charcoal study.  The problem with that approach...I'm better at drawing then at handling color, and had to re-paint some of the colors in his portrait.  Time-consuming.

For the present portrait, an initial small oil study allowed me to work through those color issues before starting the big piece.  I also refined the composition based on the study, zooming out a bit in the final portrait, to include more shoulders/chest.

Portrait of Kelly (color study) 8 x 6", oil on board

I'm probably breaking some rule with that red background.  The classic approach is to push the background back with muted, atmospheric colors.  The red in this background comes forward a bit, flattening the depth of field.  But I'm in a red phase right now, and I like how it looks.

Here is the progression for your information.  This image was painted from a photo in about 25 hours...

I draw in the subject with transparent maroon, then block in the big shapes in averaged hues.  I also get the darkest darks and lightest lights in early to key the rest of the values.  Once I have those big shapes, I do a first pass on the features, starting with the eyes.  I moved the mouth and nose around quite a bit here, but her likeness finally began to emerge. Very frustrating to get an awesome mouth, then realize it's too low. Fortunately, it's much easier to paint the second time.

At this point, I take inventory of the big stuff I still need to do, and decide how to approach it.  I'm painting wet-into-wet here, so I need to have a strategy.  With a decent first pass on the face, I go from hair to neck to chest/clothes to background and back to hair, working all the edges together as I go.  I prefer to be painterly, and leave as many brushstrokes showing as possible (see detail below), but things do tighten up visually when you step back.  This is an ongoing issue for me, however, I'm okay with the level of painterly realism I achieved here.

I think most paintings look better in a complimentary frame. The final touch here is a gold-leaf frame, which rounds out the yellow-blue-red color scheme. 

Portrait of Kelly, detail

12 July 2012

How to Crop or Re-Size a Finished Oil Painting

Have you ever wanted to crop a finished painting to adjust the composition?  Maybe move the focal point or decrease the negative space?  I do all the time, even after careful planning.  A post by Robert Genn inspired me to experiment with the portrait of Nick from my last post.  I thought there was too much negative space in the composition.  I'm happier with the cropped "after" version below.  Nicer shapes, I think.

Portrait of Nick (after cropping) 16x12", oil on linen board

Portrait of Nick (before cropping) 20x16", oil on linen

This resizing method works for paintings on stretched canvas, not canvas board.   Here's how I did it...
  1. This painting was on stretched linen which I wanted to crop from 20x16" down to 16x12".  The painting was dry to the touch.  I laid it face down on a piece of clean sketch pad newsprint.  (Don't use plastic or wax-coated papers. They may burnish the finish and create shiny spots on the painting.)  
  2. I cut the painting from the stretcher bars with a sharp knife, then laid it face up and moved a 16x12" frame above it until I got the composition I wanted.  
  3. I poked holes in each corner of the framed image with a tack, then connected the tack holes on the back of the painting with pencil marks to create placement guides.
  4. After researching adhesives, I chose gesso (PVC glue sounds too messy).  Gesso creates a secure bond, cleans up easy, it's readily available, and it's archival.  I used Liquitex liquid gesso.  Nothing fancy.  I did a test run with some old canvas.
  5. I coated the entire back of the cropped painting with a slather of gesso, then laid a 16x12" board on top.  I flipped the painting over (board-side down), and with a piece of newsprint for protection, gently rubbed the painting from the center out to the edges with a big wad of cloth to eliminate air pockets.  I put another board on top of the burnished painting, added a heavy weight and let it sit overnight.
  6. To finish I cut an extra 1" margin around the mounted canvas, then folded that over and glued it to the board back with more gesso.  Finally I covered the raw edges on the back with a nice piece of paper, just a bit smaller than the board.  It looks good.  For a simpler finish, cut the painting with a razor along the board edge. Skip the fold-over.  
Aside from re-sizing, I made other changes to the background and to the portrait itself.  The finishing touch is the gold-leafed frame, which adds the yellow to the basic red/blue/yellow color scheme.  It is done.

31 May 2012

Portrait of Nick and Praise for iPads

I'm back today with an oil portrait of Nick, husband of my friend, Kelly.  (I spent Christmas 2010 in Greece with Nick and Kelly and his wonderful family.  Trip of a lifetime.)  This portrait is more refined than my previous vignettes, though I tried to stay loose around the edges to focus on the face. It took about 24 hours to paint from a photo. Also, I used a new tool for this painting...an Apple iPad.

Portrait of Nick, 20 x 16", oil on linen

iPads are becoming a standard tool for the visual arts.  With the improved iPad3 display, screen images are sharper and more colorful than print versions.  It's a great reader for online magazines like Artists-on-Art and American Art Collector, and for art e-books, where visual content is key.  Nice for viewing art collections remotely (eg. Google Art Project, Metropolitan Museum of Art), and for transporting and showing an artist's portfolio. Not to mention all the apps for creating and modifying art.  I just use WiFi, no 4G connection.

For painting, I attach it to my easel to display reference photos during painting sessions.  Much better than the photos I used to print out.  And there is no shift in brightness with viewing angle, a major fault with laptops.  The reference can be re-sized by touch, to zoom in on details.  Yes, I like it, and recommend it.  Here is a picture of my easel set-up.

Back to today's painting...

Before starting this painting, I did a charcoal sketch on newsprint to study the value and edge relationships.  After doing this drawing, the painting lay-in went quickly since it was my second time around the image.

Click on the image to enlarge

A few notes on the painting process...I started with a burnt umber underpainting (panel 1 above).  Burnt umber is a nice neutral which dries quickly.  After establishing the lightest light and darkest dark, I laid in the big color tiles on the light and shadow sides, following the values of my underpainting (panels 2 and 3).  The subject was illuminated by indirect daylight, so I pushed the warmth in the shadows and the cool flesh tones in the light. 

Click on the image to enlarge.

 After refining the features and planes of the face (panel 1 above), I worked up the hair and clothing (panel 2).  I moved around the subject so that I was always painting wet-into-wet.  My personal focus in classes at Watts this term, is edge work, so I was giving that lots of attention here.  Trying to direct the viewer and create depth with my edge treatments.  That requires invention when working from a photo.  Can't copy what you see.

Towards the end of the painting I realized the face was too narrow. Darn. Between panels 2 and 3 above, I widened the face and moved the ear over on the shadow side.  Because I used clove oil, it was easy to remove the paint with a Q-tip and make the adjustments. I also laid in the highlights at this point.

Total time to completion was around 24 hours.  I plan to modify the background after the painting sits for a while.  I think I will skip the underpainting next time...start with a small color comp (as shown previously) and proceed with a linear lay-in.  I'm more confident in my drawing skills than in my color sense, so the color comp is probably a better way for me to start.

Portrait of Nick, 20 x 16", oil on linen
 Portrait of Nick (detail)

21 May 2012

Regarding Ilya Repin and Valentin Serov

First, I've changed my blog format to gray letters on a light field to improve readability.  I found the previous black format difficult to view on mobile devices, like my iPad.  I like the light ground better anyway, although it still needs tweaking.


I recently added 2 books to my library, The Best of Ilya Repin and Valentin Serov.  I especially like the soulful portraits created by these great Russian realists...contemporaries of Sargent, Sorolla, and Zorn.  As with Sargent, Serov's portraits were in high demand by artists, politicians, and Russian high society during the Silver Age of Russia, prior to the revolution.  My original interest here was to do master studies from each book.  The drawing below is after Repin, a pale shadow of the original, but I learned a lot, as I always do with master copies.  Such a good learning tool.

Alexandra Botkina after Repin, Charcoal and chalk on paper

Back to Repin and Serov...In his early 20's, Serov was a student of Repin's for several years and that influence is clear in his work.  As I looked through each book, I recognized a similar portrait which must have been painted by them as they sat side-by-side (see below).  It's clear from her gaze that the model was deferring to Repin.  Models always pose for the master, not the students.  Interesting to see how each artist interpreted the shapes and colors before him...Repin more literally and with more saturated color, Serov more impressionistically and tonally.  I like the Repin, but if I had a choice it would be the Serov.  I'd take Serov over Sargent.  Something subtle and psychological in Serov's portraits.

Portrait of Sophia Dragomirova, 1889 by Ilya Repin

Portrait of Sophia Dragomirova, 1889 by Valentin Serov

I've included a few more of my favorite Serov's below for your enjoyment.  Information on him is widely available on the web.  Here's the Google Image search.  The book I mention above, Valentin Serov, is a bargain under $80.  I wouldn't purchase the book on Repin at it's current price of $150-$200...too expensive for what it is.

Portrait of Henrietta Girshman, 1907

Girl with Peaches, Portrait of Vera Mamontova, 1887

File:Portrait of Ivan Morozov2.jpg
Portrait of Ivan Morozov, 1910

File:Portrait of Princess Zinaida Yusupova.jpg
Portrait of Zinaida Yusupova, 1900-02

25 April 2012

Little Pearl

 Today's post is a portrait of my young niece, all dressed up for a holiday celebration this last winter.  Unlike the loose vignettes I've posted recently (here, here, and here), this painting is tighter and more formal...reflecting the subject.  It was also more time consuming... painted from a photo in 20 hours. 

It's taken a while to post because I'm not happy with the quality of the photos of this painting.  I'm adding a few detail images here to let you "step up" to the canvas for a closer look.  I am still trying to figure out how to paint images that look good both near and far.

Little Pearl, 16 x 12", Oil on linen

The progression for "Little Pearl":

Hours 1 through 6:   I start with a simple linear lay-in using thinned transparent maroon and ultramarine blue.  The head is about 7" high.  Next comes the loose block-in of the big shapes in average colors and values, as described here.  Finally, I work up the features.  At this stage the portrait starts to look back.

I like painting wet-into-wet, so I added 2 drops of clove oil to each fresh paint snake.  No need to mix.  This extends drying time to about 2 weeks.

Hours 7 -20:  Finishing the features and a first pass on the hair required 3 more hours.  At hour 10 (after finishing the first panel), I drew up a plan for how I would get to the finish. I listed the major areas in sequence so I could work all the edges and shapes into each other.  (I think it went [hair---neck and pearls---dress---chair---background---hair].)  It helped me stay focused and simplified the process. If your a beginner, try it.  If you're experienced, this sort of planning is probably subconscious.

I finished the background by adding a cast shadow on the left and a floral design to keep the eye moving and echo the shapes in the chair and dress.  The last hour was spent on small refinements...trying to make each shape and edge interesting.


Before closing, I want to recommend a new online magazine "Artists on Art".  High density of information and images, and no ads.  The first issue includes 8 essays by featured artists, describing their ideas and processes.  Accompanying each article are abundant, large jpegs of the artists' works. Close-ups speak volumes.  A very high quality publication for cheap...$18 for online + pdf.

20 March 2012

3-Hour Portraits in Oil

For figurative artists, painting portraits and figures from life is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.  If you can paint (or draw) a portrait from life in a 3-hour class environment, you can probably do it much better in the quiet, unhurried serenity of your studio.  And these timed sessions teach you to see form, edge, temperature, and color much more clearly, too.  Very valuable, fundamental classes. 

The paintings below are from life classes at the Watts Atelier.  I'm gearing up to start again in April.  It's seat-of-the-pants painting...very fun.  Highly recommended.

Sabrina, 12 x 9" Oil on linen

E and his portrait.  E is a student at Watts who substituted for an absent model. I didn't get a good shot of the painting, but you get the idea.  Thank you, E.  12 x 9" Oil on linen

JJ, 12 x 9" Oil on linen

Brianna, 9 x 12" Oil on linen

Male model in orange and blue, 12 x 9" Oil on linen

Iggy, 12 x 9", Oil on linen

Added Note:  My painting "King of the Road" was voted into the final round of Brain Neher's online contest, You Be The Judge.  Thanks to everyone who voted for The King and I.  I'll be asking for more votes when the final round comes up in a few weeks.  Don't let me down.