29 December 2014

Portrait in Oil of My Mother

Well Done 10x16", Oil on board

A new painting titled "Well Done"...a portrait of my mother.  It is a 2014 Mother's Day present I am finally delivering.  I painted her once before in 2012 from a photo taken in 2006.  The difference between these is a change of palette and a couple years of painting experience. And she's 8 years older.

Nancy L. Moore 2006, 12 x 16", Oil on linen

I tried something new here, painting the color study on drafting vellum instead of canvas.  Drafting vellum (mylar) has been around a while, but it's new to me.  It has a nice matte surface, creamy  and non-absorbent.  Easy to store in a notebook or flat file. And inexpensive.   Linda Tracey Brandon posted on using it for oil sketches.  Katherine Stone posted on using it for quick color studies.

Following Katherine's procedure, the preparatory study is photo-reduced then placed under the transparent vellum.  The color study is painted over the reduced photocopy, which eliminates futzing around with the drawing during the oil study.  Saves a lot of time. 

Color study on drafting vellum, 5"x8"

Here is my preliminary drawing (charcoal and white chalk on colored paper, 8x12").  She's not as stern-looking as I've drawn her here.  But the big shapes are correct, so the drawing is good enough.  To transfer to the gessoed board, I photocopied this to the final head size I wanted (7"), then traced it over an interleave of graphite-coated paper.  I re-stated the graphite tracing in India ink.  

Here's the progression of the actual painting...

After tracing my drawing, I did a raw umber underpainting to map general values.  I didn't need to do this step, but I like having some underpainting show through in the final piece.

I loosely covered the underpainting with thin layers of color.  No details yet.  I just needed something to paint into.  The background and foreground are completed at this point.

Time to work on the important parts...the first pass of the features and neckline/necklace. Adding the smaller planes of the face and trying not to overwork it, which is my tendency. 

A second pass on the important parts and the painting is done.  Hope she likes it.

12 December 2014

Cannon Art Gallery 2014 Juried Biennial

If you're in the San Diego area this weekend, and you're looking for a good gallery experience, consider visiting the William D Cannon Art Gallery 2014 Biennial.  The opening reception is this coming Saturday, from 5 to 8 pm.  The exhibit is on view through February 7, 2015.  Here is more information on the show location and content.

From the gallery's website...
While each Juried Biennial has its own emphasis, due to the change of jurors from exhibition to exhibition, what remains constant is the chance for gallery attendees to see what is taking place in San Diego County’s visual arts community. From young, emerging artists to veterans of gallery and museum exhibitions, and with works in painting, lithography, photography, ceramic, metal, wood mixed media and fiber, this exhibition is a snapshot of art in San Diego County today.
My painting "Best Friend" (aka "Portrait of Young Man, Cat and Coffee") is one of the pieces on display.  Hope to see you at the opening.

Best Friend  18 x 24", oil on linen

11 December 2014

Double Portrait Commission

I just finished this portrait of a husband and wife, B and K.  I posted the color study a while back.  Arranging 2 people in a composition is hard, I think.  The challenge of the double portrait is to find a pleasing composition of 2 bodies that avoids the predictable.  I thought about encouraging them to go with 2 single portraits, but a double is what they wanted.  In the end, the commission was a good learning experience, and the clients were happy with the result.

Portrait of B and K, 24 x 30", oil on linen

I always have a painting or 2 on display for inspiration.  For this portrait it was the painting below, by the English portrait artist Alastair Adams, of Tom and Dominie Newton Dunn.  Love that intertwining pose. So fresh and intimate. I wanted some of that in B and K's portrait.

"Young Couple" by Alastair Adams PPRP

Some technical notes on the double portrait of B and K:
I started with a burnt umber underpainting.  Once dry, I covered the entire canvas with a loose thinned layer of paint, approximating the colors of the big shapes.  Half the painting was left in this loose, single-layer state, with underpainting showing through extensively.  You can see it clearly on his pants, the sofa cushions and background.  
 The clothes, arms and hands were modeled more carefully with a second layer of paint.

Finally, I went all out on the faces, which were painted in 5 or 6 layers, hoping the contrast between the rendered faces and the loose surroundings would make those faces stand out.

The set-up involved 2 light sources, a warm overhead light coming from behind, and a cooler dimmer light from the right.  I pushed the color temperatures slightly to emphasize that lighting scheme. You can see this most clearly on his shirt.  The shoulders are brightest and warmed with yellow ochre, the chest is less bright and cooled with cerulean blue, and the shadows are warm purple. 

04 November 2014

New Art Studio Lighting System

For the last few years my easel has been lit by 2 19W BlueMax CFL bulbs.  I liked the quality of the light, but there were two problems with this set up.  First, the spot lights created glare and hot spots on the canvas.  Second, they weren't bright enough on their own, I needed some daylight, too.  That meant I could only paint at certain times of the day.  Very frustrating.

My old easel lighting...2 spots with 19W Blue Max cfl's.

Last week I finally solved my studio lighting problems by replacing the spots with 2 ceiling-mounted T8 fluorescent fixtures, pictured below.  This is more than enough light for my 11'x16' studio.  I'm using 4 Phillips 20905 T8 32W bulbs per fixture.  The bulbs have a light temperature of 5000K, which is a crisp white, with a CRI of 98.

Even though the fixtures include diffusers, it was important to mount the lights on the ceiling in the right spot to avoid any canvas glare.  Mine are mounted directly above and slightly behind my head when I'm standing at the easel.  The light hits the canvas at about a 10 degree angle, which produces no glare at eye level.

My new studio lighting system...2 4-tube T8 fluorescent fixtures

I can paint exclusively under these lights, so no need for additional daylight, which means I can paint at night.  Added bonus...I can photograph my work on the easel with good results.  I just set my camera custom AWB to 5000K and colors are accurate.

Cost for the system was around $300 USD.  That's a good deal considering how essential good lighting is in the artist's studio.  

20 August 2014

Color Study for a Portrait Painting Commission

A portrait commission is a collaboration between artist and client.  People want input during the design process, and they want to know what their finished portrait will look like.  Small oil color studies serve these needs.  Framed and viewed from a distance, a color study is a good approximation of the final painting.

Portrait of B and K (color study), 8x10", oil on linen

As the artist, I also want to know the final painting will succeed.  And I like working through color choices and composition on a smaller scale.  I'm not comfortable starting out cold on the big canvas.  I refer to the color study often during the painting process, and if I want to make changes towards the end, I try them out on the study.

Here's how I paint color studies...

I start with a pencil drawing, spray with fixative, then paint over with a fast drying pigment (burnt umber here, but it could be any pigment...experiment).  Using a pick-out technique, I work up the value relationships at this stage.

I use Rublev Oleogel medium to thin the burnt umber.  It gives paint a creamy flow and transparency, and doesn't slow drying time.  Better than just thinning with turp, and probably healthier.

Next, I add colors in big strokes...experimenting with color choices.

After the colors are in, I work up edges and add a few key details...not too many. 

This is ready for client approval, then I can move on to the big painting.

More information on color studies...

Here is a collection of color studies by students from Studio Incamminati, known for it's color emphasis, and carrying on the traditions of Henry Hensche.

A good book on learning to see color through color studies is How to See Color and Paint It by Arthur Stern.  A classic, full of great studies.

Here's a cool little color study by Anthony Ryder, from Underpaintings, via David Gray's blog.  And another link to a color study demo on Ryder's website.

07 August 2014

Another Slow Alla Prima Portrait Painting...and the Joaquin Sorolla Exhibition in San Diego

Here's another "slow" alla prima portrait of Tammy, the model you met in my last post, from a different angle.  I discussed the concept of slow alla prima painting in that post.

Tammy (vignette), 9x11", oil on linen
This is a vignette, a simple head study on an abstract background, a style of portraiture I offer my clients.  Painted in 5 hours...3 with the live model, and 2 back in the studio to finish things up.  If you'd like to learn more about the types of portraits I offer, please visit my website.


About the Joaquin Sorolla Exhibition (San Diego Museum of Art through 26-August-2014)...

Last Friday, for the second time, I saw the Joaquin Sorolla exhibition here in San Diego. If you admire his work, see this show...a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The selection of works is outstanding.  Some of his most important pieces are here ("Sad Inheritance", "Another Marguerite", well-known portraits of self and Clotilde).  Several pieces are accompanied by preliminary sketches, showing his working methods.  There is a nice mix of earlier and later works, and of paintings, drawings and pochade sketches.  Many portraits, beach scenes and landscapes.  He was a painter of motion and light, and a skilled draftsman.  I found it as impressive as the Anders Zorn exhibition at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco earlier this year.

Don't be tempted to order the exhibition catalog for the images.  The reproduction quality is poor. 

To close, a few images from the show...enjoy.

26 July 2014

Slow Painting Alla Prima

Alla prima portrait painting is challenging because of the time constraint...usually less than 3 hours.  It's high energy...no time to waste.  I learned this approach in art school, watching instructors slap down the paint during demonstrations.  As I develop my own skills, I realize that fast is okay if you're already a skilled painter, but for students, slow makes for more sense for effective learning.

Tammy, 9x12", oil on linen

Recently, I came across a blog post by Paul Foxton of Learning-To-See that mentioned a book called "The Practicing Mind".  It's a simple little book on learning to love the practice required to master any skill. One point especially resonated with me, that by slowing down we can accomplish more.  This excerpt makes the point...
Incorporating slowness into your process is a paradox. What I mean by slow is that you work at a pace that allows you to pay attention to what you are doing. This pace will differ according to your personality and the task in which you are involved. If you are washing the car, you move the sponge in your hand at a pace slow enough to allow you to observe your actions in detail. This will differ from, say, the slow pace at which you learn a new computer program. If you are aware of what you are doing, then you are probably working at the appropriate pace. The paradox of slowness is that you will find you accomplish the task more quickly and with less effort because you are not wasting energy. Try it and you will see.
Following this advice, I slowed way down in a recent alla prima session.  I didn't focus on the finish, as I usually do.  I didn't dart around the painting trying to figure out what to do next.  I didn't get amp'ed up when I realized the mouth was in the wrong place.  Using the process  I described in an earlier post as guidance, I simply focused on each task until I felt it was completed, then moved on.  Slow and deliberate.

I painted "Tammy" (above) during this slow session.  To my eye, the results are better brushwork and a more complete painting.  I learned more during the session because I was more present and aware. I spent less time correcting errors.  And I was more relaxed at the end of the 3-hour session.  All good. 

Adam 9x12", oil on linen

A few weeks earlier, I painted "Adam" using my usual fast alla prima method.  A decent portrait, but a simpler handling of the paint and not as complete as "Tammy".  I was too rushed.

Slowing down is a simple idea, but it is a breakthrough for me.  The kind of simple idea that may get me to the next level in my art more efficiently.  It might help you, too.

20 July 2014

Drawings of Hands

Hands are so critical to a good portrait...almost as expressive as the face.  These are from photos I collect while photographing Matt, the subject of the my last post.  I like his hands. 

When I drew them, I was looking for a finger hierarchy, picking a focal finger to push the "pose" a bit.  That's usually the pointer, thumb or pinky.  The 2 mid fingers tend to act together as supporting players.

Proof that practice helps: I drew the hands on the second sheet first.  You may notice they look simpler, not as well drawn.  By the time I got to the top sheet above, I was warmed up.

Drawn with willow charcoal and Wolff's 4B carbon pencil on smooth newsprint (18x24").

26 June 2014

Portrait of a Young Man...and What Martha Graham Said About It

A new portrait commission fresh off the easel..."Young Man with Cat and Coffee".  The subject is a young man of 21...the cat and coffee are his favorite things.

Young Man with Cat and Coffee 18x24" oil on linen

I don't track how long a piece takes to complete anymore, but this one took a while...at least 60 hours.  As with every painting I undertake, I learned a huge amount in the process, which makes the time spent worth it.

I like parts of this painting, but, the overall reality does not live up to my original vision.  Slight disappointment there.  That is often my response immediately after finishing a painting, when I'm still drained from the experience.  Once I recharge and get away from the painting for a while, I usually feel kinder towards it.  I'm okay with those feelings of disappointment, though.  They strengthen my resolve on the next piece. 

I had dinner with an artist friend last night.  During the conversation she mentioned a quote by Martha Graham which frames this state of frustration we artists often feel about our work...
"No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."
 So true.

...I like the kitty...

And here is the final portrait...unified and improved by a nice frame. 

30 May 2014

Portrait Sketches in Charcoal

Today I'm posting a few charcoal sketches, drawn from life in 2-3 hours.  Drawing is nice...forget color...just focus on shape, edge and value.  

For these sketches, I used both vine charcoal and Wolffs carbon pencil.  Vine charcoal produces a delicate mark, easily erased with a chamois or finger.  It's nice for the lay-in of a drawing or painting where correction is often required.  With a vine charcoal lay-in you can make major changes without leaving dark lines behind.

Once the lay-in is working, I finish my drawings with Wolffs carbon pencils.  This was the drawing medium of choice when I studied at Watts Atelier.  Carbon pencils produce a finer, more permanent mark, in contrast to the coarser, fragile mark of vine charcoal...an effective combination of drawing materials.

Rachel 18x12" Wolffs carbon pencil on newsprint

Sabrina 18x12" Wolffs carbon pencil on newsprint

This final drawing was executed entirely in vine charcoal.  A very different result from carbon pencil.  If you like this more expressive medium, carry fixative.  Use it occasionally during drawing to stabilize the layers and restore tooth.

Rosa 14x14", Vine charcoal on Strathmore 400 paper

30 April 2014

Developing a Procedure for Alla Prima Portrait Painting

Sabrina, 12x9" oil on linen, painted in 3 hours from life

Painting from life is the ultimate artistic learning experience.  Interpreting all the subtle colors and values on a live model is very different from copying a photo, and the time constraint keeps things fresh.  The anxiety I feel at some point during an alla prima session is motivating, too.  Forces me calm down and focus on what's important.  And I always have a sense of accomplishment at the end of the session...I like that.

Tory, 12x9" oil on linen, painted in 3 hours from life

It's important to have a strategy for alla prima portrait painting.  If you don't, you'll end up with a raging mess for all that effort.  Below is my procedure...borrowed from many sources. It's a work in progress.  Each bullet represents about 20 minutes of effort.  If I'm half-way through a 3-hour session and haven't gotten to the features yet, I know I need to speed things up.
  • Compose the image; block in the big shapes
  • Premix paint piles for average skin tones in light and shadow.  Add the darkest dark and lightest light for reference.
  • Loosely paint the big shapes, including background, hair and clothes
  • Second pass on big shapes; adjust colors and correct drawing errors
  • First pass on features and details
  • Third pass on the overall painting; refine shapes, temperatures, brushwork
  • Second pass on features
  • Highlights and dark accent...all done.

Yoni, 12x9" oil on linen, painted in 3 hours from life

Here are a few solid references on alla prima (portrait) painting:

Lee, 8x6" oil on linen, painted in 1 hour from life

11 March 2014

Dreaming in an Open Place...and Andrew Wyeth's Process

Dreaming in an Open Place, 2014, 24x16", Charcoal on paper

Today's post is a drawing of my muse and daughter, Amanda.  Inspired by the art of Andrew Wyeth.  I stumbled on a book titled "Andrew Wyeth: The Helga Pictures" at a friend's house about a year ago.  The book showed Wyeth's picture-making process for 35 different paintings of his muse, Helga Testorf...from concept sketches to finished work.  Interesting to see his preliminary ideas...how he flushed out the final compositions.  Wyeth's painting "Seated by a Tree", shown in that book, inspired the present drawing.

Wyeth's comment about this painting..."I think anything like that---which is contemplative, silent, shows a person alone---people always feel is sad.  Is it because we've lost the art of being alone?"  I think the alone-ness in Wyeth's image is what appealed to me.  Artists know about being alone.  It's part of the creative process.  I view it as a positive, and hope that comes across in "Dreaming".
Seated by a Tree by Andrew Wyeth

Another strong influence for my piece...Julio Reyes' beautiful drawing "Stars Above".  Julio is a skilled and imaginative draftsman, painter and sculptor.  A large number of his drawings were included in his first solo show at Arcadia Gallery.  An encouraging trend for us artists who love to draw.

Regarding how I made "Dreaming in an Open Place"...

I used willow charcoal sticks on 90 lb. Stonehenge paper.  Willow makes a darker mark than vine charcoal. Fine details were laid in with Wolff's Carbon pencils. 

In between layers, I fixed the drawing with Lascaux Spray Fixative.  Doesn't say so on the can, but it is a very workable fixative.  Using a fixative like this stabilizes the very delicate charcoal layers and restores some tooth to the paper, allowing for those final dark accents. 

As I built up the layers, I masked areas of the drawing I wasn't working on with tracing paper to protect the surface.

The original graphite thumbnail.  
This is about 1/5th the size of the final piece. 

After roughing in the composition on the 24x16" Stonehenge paper, I used a cool little device called an Accurasee proportional divider to measure shapes and positions.  I don't like using transfer grids...the divider is a better alternative, imo. Check out the product website if you'd like to see how it's used.

Here is the progression for your interest...

"Dreaming in an Open Place" was entered into the 2014 International Portrait Society of America competition.  The PSA is taking more interest in drawings these days, which I applaud.  Leslie Adams' drawing, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl, took the grand prize last year.

21 February 2014

Fresh Commission...

Today, a fresh commission of 3-years-old Eli.  Kids this age cannot sit still, so getting usable images is a numbers game.  I shot 300 photos to get the reference I needed.  This painting is a composite of 3 shots.  His grandmother propped a doll on top of my head while I was shooting, to get him to look towards the camera. Whatever it takes.

In painting this portrait, I pushed the gradations in the background to create a sense of depth in the image and make the subject come forward.  After carefully painting it in, I used a mongoose fan brush to fuzz out the far background.

I also focused on turning form with temperature, most apparent in the white t-shirt.  I was guided and inspired by Ryan Mellody's recent article in the online magazine, Artists on Art (issue no.9). The article addressed color temperature in the half-tones, or what he calls the "last light".  A somewhat advanced technique which can electrify a painting, or muddle it if not handled well.   I haven't mastered halftone temperature, but knowing it's there is a good first step.

Here is the completed portrait, unframed...

Portrait of Eli at 3, 2014, 16x12", Oil on linen

And framed...

The progression for your interest....if you have questions on my process, leave a comment.  Each frame shows 3-5 hours of work.  You can see how the painting "sunk in" in the 5th frame.  To bring back the value range and luster, I oiled out with a mixture of 1 part linseed oil to 2 parts turp, as seen in the 6th frame.  A nice multi-purpose medium.  Almost eliminates the need to varnish.

27 January 2014


Here is a recent portrait of my daughter, Amanda.  A difficult painting because there was so little value change across her face...which tends to flatten the form.  Amanda was in shade, except for a few spots of sunlight on her head and arms.  Her face and forearms were lit by reflected light...subtle and challenging to convey.  I learned a huge amount from this piece.

Embrace, 2013, 18x24", Oil on linen

Here it is framed.  I include this to show how the right frame enhances a painting.  Some artists always paint on a pre-framed canvas.  Not a bad idea, if you know in advance which frame would suit the outcome.

"Embrace" was a finalist in the 2013 Western Regional Oil Painters of America exhibition this past fall here in the States.  That part was nice.

15 January 2014

My Portrait Process: Fourth Step is the Final Painting

Happy 2014.  Always good to start another year.  Hope you had a nice break.  I did, however, I am happy to resume normal function and get back in the studio.

Back in November, I was working up a series of posts describing my portrait painting process, based on a portrait of my friend's son, Kirk.  Today, I end the series with the fourth step...the final painting.

Twenty (Portrait of Kirk), 24x18", oil on linen

For commissioned portraits, I paint indirectly...building the painting up in layers, allowing each layer to dry before proceeding.  It's easier to get a decent likeness imo (compared to direct painting), and it allows the creation of transparent flesh tones.  I won't describe my actual method here, it would be very long-winded and boring.  However, for your interest, I recommend Virgil Elliott's book "Traditional Oil Painting" (see chapter 6).  The method I followed here was an approximation of the Venetian method.

To summarize, my 4-step portrait process includes the value study (top left), the color study (top right), the underpainting (bottom left) and the final painting (bottom right).

It is done................