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").