15 July 2013

A fundamental artistic decision...to work from life or from photos?

Amanda, 24x18", charcoal on newsprint; recent 2-hour sketch from life

At the moment I am enjoying a mentorship with Lea Colie Wight.  Lea is a talented artist and teaches at Studio Incamminati.  I set out with lots of goals for this partnership, but the unexpected lessons are what I appreciate most.

One example...thanks to Lea, I see that my recent drawings and paintings are suffering because I'm working too much from photos.  Without realizing it, I developed a photo dependency since leaving art school.  Don't get me wrong, photography has value. But I'm too dependent on it for reference, and it leads to images that look like paintings of photos.   Not good. 

Lea is showing me how to work from life to create larger studio pieces.  Photos are so convenient...that is their tyranny.  But if you commit to working primarily from life, there are plenty of techniques you can adopt to make it possible.

And I like the results.  The always-present time constraint when working from life in any genre, creates a sense of urgency that keeps the results fresh and exciting and intuitive.  Hard to achieve when working from a photo.  And, with few exceptions, photos are a poor substitute for the real thing.  There is just not enough high quality information captured in a photo.

So I have taken a pledge to control my photo habit. I will still use them, but in a more limited and deliberate way.

But where to find live subjects?  If you are a figurative artist like me, there are probably plenty of people around you willing to pose for a small fee or for the sketch you produce of them.  You don't need a pro.  I will be hiring my daughter, Amanda, to work with me for the next year or so.  You've met her before in this blog, here and here.  She holds a pose better than some pros I know.  Nude poses are out, of course...but I'm okay with that. 

01 July 2013

Learning about Skin Tones from John Singer Sargent

I have been studying the color of flesh a lot lately.  I am not satisfied with the skin tones in my paintings and I need to correct that.  Too warm and chromatic.

I'm testing some earth colors suggested by Sharon Sprung in her video "Understanding Values in Skin Tones".  The video is for beginners, but there are some good color pointers.  As a result...new colors on my palette: raw sienna, raw umber, red umber, and payne's gray.  I like muted colors.

I'm trying these new colors in some master copies.  I chose a range of reference portraits with a nice variety of flesh tones. You can't go wrong with master copying.

Today's post shows 3 copies after John Singer Sargent.  Let me say up front...my purpose was to evaluate flesh tones, not to produce an exact copy.

Head of a Capri Girl, 1878. Rich, dark skin tones and a good example of value gradation down the face. I used yellow ochre, terra rosa and paynes gray here.  I love how Sargent used the opaque terra rosa tint to cut in those shapes around the chin and neck.  Click here to see the original.


Head of a Neopolitan Boy, 1878.  An example of warm skin tones; the basic color mixture is yellow ochre, cad red, and alizarin.  Sargent painted this study when he was 22! The background is raw umber, a nice compliment to warm skin tones.  Click here to see the original.

Alice Shepard, 1888.  Cool, fair skin tones.  I used raw sienna, alizarin and raw umber here.  This front-lit portrait shows how deft Sargent was at modeling form with subtle shifts in temperature and value.  So difficult to do well.  Click here to see the original.

If you are looking for source material, the Athenaeum, Google Art Project and Art Renewal Center are good online image banks with lots of high resolution images to master copy.