15 December 2015

More Landscape Master Copies

More master copies of works by California painters, Brian Blood and Ray Roberts, and North Carolina artist, Richard Oversmith.  Hope they don't mind.  Such a great way to learn.   Pick an artist you admire, decide on the focus of the lesson, start copying.  I'm not aiming for an exact copy...just trying to get a sense of the artist's problem-solving strategies.

I picked the Blood and Roberts paintings to study how they create visual depth. Lack of aerial perspective ruins many a landscape/seascape painting.  Just google "plein air painting" images and you'll see what I mean.  (Here's what my friend Stan Prokopenko says about the subject.)  I also like how both these artists use simple graphic shapes.

A vineyard scene after Brian Blood, 8x10, oil on linen
Seascape after Ray Roberts, 8x10, oil on linen

Lily pond after Richard Oversmith, 8x8", oil on linen
For the painting after Richard Oversmith, I focused on brushwork.  His strokes are confident. Nice color work, too.  And I discovered I like nylon brushes.  I normally use bristle and mongoose.  I tried some nylon brushes in this copy and I like the way they held the paint. More knowledge gained...cha-ching.

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...

10 October 2015

First Plein Air Paintings

Figurative is my primary genre, but I need to mix things up a little right now, so I'm branching out into landscape.  Below are some recent plein air sketches.  Rudimentary, I know, but every journey begins with the first step.  Things will look better 30 or 40 sketches from now.

As a starting point, I'm using 2 books for guidance:  Mitchell Albala's Landscape Painting and Fill Your Oil Paintings with Light and Color by Kevin MacPherson.  Both good and distinct in what they offer.  MacPherson recommends getting 100 starts under your belt as a beginning strategy.  Don't worry about the finish.  The start is where most of the mistakes are made.  Learn how to make a good start and your halfway done.  So that's my plan for now.

My palette includes cad yellow lemon, cad yellow pale, alizarin crimson, cad red light, and ultramarine blue.  I'm limiting the colors because I want to focus on values first.  Each sketch was painted in about 2 hours on a piece of Claussen's #15 linen, taped to some foam core.

La Jolla Cove 1, 6x8", oil on linen

Eucalyptus at Painters Point 1, 6x8", oil on linen

Batiquitos Lagoon 1, 7x8", oil on linen

17 September 2015

Drawing a Portrait from the Inside Out

As an art student, I learned to draw the head from the 'outside in'. Lay in the large contours of the head/hair/neck shapes, overlay with marks to indicate the general positions of the features, then proceed to the details.  It's a classic way to draw a head, taught in many workshops and ateliers.  A good method for beginners, too.

Another, very different approach is the 'inside out' method.  Many artists use this method, including Richard Schmid and his former student Scott Burdick.  I'm a big fan of Scotts' work.  His video  "Secrets of Drawing", was my inspiration for todays' drawing.

I used willow charcoal and white chalk on Strathmore 400 toned paper, from a reference photo I shot.  Going from the inside to the outside, I started with the focal left eye, proceed to the right eye, the nose, the mouth and then out to the general head shape.  Following, I added the planes of the head, separated into the light and dark sides.  Once I had the big value map working, I just proceeded from large to small shapes, as Scott describes in his video.  The approach is fun...very intuitive.  And I think it's wise to occasionally swap out standard procedures for something new.  It keeps things fresh and interesting.

Valor Hsiao, charcoal and chalk on paper, 9x13"

Valors' portrait  shows the visual qualities I am striving for in my mark making.  More expressive than an earlier portrait drawing I did (below) of Nicholas Milligan, using the outside-in method.  It was the best I could do at the time, but I am happy with this new direction.

Nicholas Milligan, charcoal and chalk on paper, 9x12"

05 September 2015

End of Summer

My daughter, and only child, Amanda just moved away. Family is one thing more important to me than my art, so I took a break to enjoy the summer with her.  I'm glad I did, we had a great couple of months.  But she's gone now, and I'm ready to get back to the easel.  Thank you for your patience.

Wedding Day, 8x10" oil on board

Today's painting is a wedding anniversary gift.  Painted from a poor quality reference photo, which actually allowed me to do some inventing.  That was fun.  I tried to keep the brushwork loose.  The only hard part was the grooms' face...an odd, foreshortened profile.  I could have kept refining the painting, but I'm sure that would have ruined it.  So I quit while I was ahead.

The painting is small.  The heads are only about 1.5" which made them harder to paint.  For that reason, I did a pencil sketch first, sealed with fixative, then a raw umber underpainting, followed by the color layer. 

Here is a detailed view.

And finally, the framed image...


03 June 2015

New Portrait Painting: Baby Valor

This is a baby shower gift.  The subject is Valor, a 3-month-old boy.  I'm happy to finish this one and move on.  I found it difficult to paint this little guy due to his lack of personality and character.   Before starting, I took a quick look around for other examples of infant portraits.  There are very few out there.  Makes me think I'm not the first to feel this way. 

Portrait of Valor, 8x8", oil on board

One problem with this painting is that light triangular shape formed by the blanket just behind his far cheek.  It seems to pop out too much.  If I cover that area, I think the image looks better.  Maybe after it settles for a while I will get back in there and change that.  For now, I need to move on to other things.

30 April 2015

Painted Portrait for a Friend...and Chuck Close on Inspiration

Portrait of Erin, 11x14" oil on board

This simple portrait is a gift for a friend.  She's been patient...I did the shoot last July.  It often takes me a while to get inspired.  I need a motivator.  My subconscious needs processing time.  Chuck Close says "inspiration is for amateurs".  That's a great quote.  I know he's right, too.  When it comes to making art, you gotta show up.  I often feel resistance at the start, but when I hunker down and get on with it, I am always happy I did.  Those first few moments in the studio can make or break the whole day. 
"Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will — through work — bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea.’ And the belief that process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today, you know what you’ll do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday, and tomorrow you are gonna do what you did today, and at least for a certain period of time you can just work. If you hang in there, you will get somewhere."
The present portrait was painted on gessoed MDF primed with Golden Acrylics Neutral Gray (N6).  I like how flesh tones vibrate against the bluish background.  I let the background show through in the face and hair to unify the image.  I painted this wet-into-wet, no scumbles or glazes.  I put the painting in the freezer between the 2 sessions.  Below is the progression.  For an explanation of my process go here.

There are actually a lot of visible brushstrokes, which you can see in the detail below.  It looks gauzy and blended from a distance because the values are close together. 

Obey (detail of Erin)

Here it is framed...


And finally, a bonus for reading this far...a link to more on Chuck Close's artistic philosophy.

11 April 2015

Self-Portrait Painted in Oil

Finally getting around to a self portrait.  I painted this from my website profile photo.

Regarding the brushwork, I tried very hard to leave well enough alone.  I'm beginning to understand how this relates to individual style.  What each artist considers "well-enough" supports their aesthetic.  When we overwork (eg. not leaving well enough alone) the uniqueness disappears.  The work becomes generic. 

Self-portrait, 9x12 oil on board

Some comments and the progression...

I start with a charcoal drawing on toned, gessoed MDF.  I seal the drawing with workable fixative. It's not a good likeness at this point.  Big shapes are fairly accurate, though.

Next comes a loose underpainting in raw umber to set the values.

On the first color pass, big shapes are laid on quickly with flat bristles, using the largest brushes I can handle.  I'm thinking about the underlying forms and facial symmetry. Looking for "happy accidents" and trying to get a fair amount of paint on the board.  I want a nice wet surface to paint into on the second round.  This is an important stage, even though it's hard to look at.

 I refine the smaller shapes on a second pass.  This is the "leave well enough alone" stage.

Finally I add highlights to round out the forms, trying not to overdo them.  I like the contrast of the unfinished background against the face, so I consider it done at this point.

Recently I changed to a low chroma palette.  At Watts, students started out with a modified Zorn palette.  Cad red light, yellow ochre, ultramarine blue, ivory black.  I now realize this was the wrong palette for me, way too chromatic.  My skin tones were always too hot.  It's better now.

Self-portrait, detail

20 March 2015

Panel 3 of the Amanda Triptych

I'm finally finishing this little series with the 3rd panel of the Amanda Triptych.  This panel took a while to finish because of those downcast eyes...very challenging.  The perspective is complicated.  For guidance, I looked to works by Michael Borremans and Jordan Sokol.  They both seem to favor downcast eyes.

Amanda Triptych (panel 3) 11x14", oil on board

For context, here are all 3 panels together, as they will eventually hang.

Amanda (triptych) 14" x 33" oil on board

...and a brief progression.  As you can see, a fair amount of adjusting was required to reach that final likeness.


As I painted the 3rd panel, I was thinking about this portrait of Rembrandt from the National Gallery of Art, attributed to an artist in his workshop.  I did a master copy of this several years back and that experience came back when I needed it.  Beautiful image.

Portrait of Rembrandt, Rembrandt workshop artist, 1650

13 March 2015

Panel 2 of the Amanda Triptych

Here is the second panel of the triptych portrait of my daughter, Amanda.  First panel was posted last week.  I'm trying not to screw things up by getting too tight here. So sad to have a beautiful expressive passage ruined by that last unnecessary brushstroke.  It's about knowing when to leave well-enough alone, which I am gradually learning to do.

Amanda Triptych (panel 2) 11x14", oil on board

Here is a progression.  I struggled to get a good likeness, as you can see by comparing the first and third panels.  The challenge of portrait art...it needs to look like a particular person. This painting still needs work, but I need to move on to other things.  I'm finishing up the third panel which I will post soon.


And on a related topic, I love this video about Slomo, a San Diego resident who gave up conventional success to follow his passion.  Something most artists can relate to.  I found the video over on Bryce Liston's blog.  Worth a few minutes of your time.  It's uplifting with some serious good advice.

21 February 2015

Triptych Portrait in Progress

I'm working on a triptych portrait of my daughter.  This is the first of the 3 panels, based on preliminary sketches I posted a few weeks ago.  I like the looseness and abstraction of the hair/body contrasting with the facial rendering.

Amanda Triptych (panel 1) 11x14", oil on board

Using the color study method described a while back, I created a small painting on vellum to work out flesh tones and hair and background colors.  I also painted a portrait of Amanda from life to establish the values and get her hair color right.  I did all my homework.

Color study for Amanda Triptych, 5.5x7", oil on mylar

Amanda, study from life, 10x12" oil on linen

In addition, I'm trying something new...starting my paintings with a looser underpainting/first color lay-in than I'm used to.  I like the change.  I came across this approach in "Norman Rockwell Illustrator".  Rockwell said he always did the first color lay-in very quickly "to generate some accidents to play with".  I like those accidents.  It's a more subconscious way to paint.

17 January 2015

Portrait in Progress

I'm working on a triptych portrait of my daughter Amanda.  The drawings below are value studies for the final painting, which will be composed of 3 11x14" panels.   This piece is part of a series for a show later this year focusing on contemporary portraiture.  I've been thinking a lot lately about the nature of contemporary portraiture, and what differentiates it from traditional fine art portraiture and from photographic portraits. 

Three Amandas 8x18", willow charcoal on Strathmore 500 toned paper

By comparison, here is my first drawing of Amanda done in 2008.  She was 15 and full of teen angst. Can you tell?  I remember thinking this drawing looked pretty good at the time. 

Amanda 2008, Vine charcoal on bristol board