25 November 2017

Painting from Memory

Sycamore at Dawn, 11x9", oil on linen

Today I'm posting a landscape I painted from memory.  Why from memory?  When I paint from photos I tend to be too literal.  It feels like copying, and takes some of the creativity out of the process.  However, when I paint from memory, my feelings about the subject come through more freely.  I sit before my subject, observe intensely, and sketch my impressions.  Then I paint from those sketches, no photos.  My memory edits out unnecessary details.  But I remember the parts that resonate with me.  The parts that matter somehow, and those are the parts I paint.

I picked all this up from a course I just finished with Deborah Paris on training and using memory in the creative process. Another great Paris course.  I've learned a lot from her classes.

Here is the process I followed to create the painting.

I went to the location 3 mornings in a row and just observed shapes/values/details for about 20 minutes.  After observing, I sketched a composition based on what I could remember. I visited the site once more to observe the colors.  

Here is a photo of the actual landscape subject, for comparison.

Here is my memory sketch of the place, with some composition notes.  The light on those tree trunks on the left and the way the big shapes fit together attracted me to the scene.  The numbers around the edges are value assignments.


Below is the painting progression. 
  • Top panel:  The underpainting.  
  • Middle panel:  This is as far as I could take it on memory.
  • Bottom panel: Brought to a finish on imagination and invention.  At this stage, I added variety, did some glazing and scumbling, and changed some shapes to improve composition. 

And finally, the framed painting.

03 November 2017

A Possible Portrait

Mother in profile, 12x16", Charcoal and chalk on toned Strathmore 400

A preparatory charcoal sketch for a future oil portrait of my mother.   I like painting my mother.  It's really a painting from memory when it's a face you know so well.  Those are the most expressive and easiest paintings to do.

While I'm posting about drawing, I want to recommend the book by Nathan Fowkes, "How to Draw Portraits in Charcoal".  Outstanding for everyone, but especially for students.  I've admired Nathan's work for a long time, and it's special to know how he achieves his beautiful results.  He shares lots of tips and techniques.  Good book.

23 September 2017

Fresh Paint - Portrait of a Little Boy

It's been a while since my last post.  I'm still out here, working hard, but most of my recent effort has been on learning, not finished pieces.  I've been studying landscapes the last 18 months, but I can see that most of what I learned with landscapes applies to figurative work, too. 

Portrait of Ian, 16x20", oil on linen

Today's painting is a commissioned portrait.  The big challenge with a child is avoiding sentimentality, it's so easy to overdo the sweetness.  I tried hard to express Ian as a little person. To get the shot, I was kneeling down in front of him with my camera.  For about a minute he was studying me, trying to figure out what I was doing, then he lost interest and was off in a blur.  Those first few photos were the 'money shots'.

Here are the steps in the process I used to create the piece.  Lots of planning, but for me it helps avoid disappointment in the later stages. 
  • The photo shoot and preliminary design ideas
  • Composition planning, including notans and 4-value studies.
  • Planning the important details including things like edge quality, colors/temperatures, contrast placements and all that good stuff.
  • Charcoal study to become familiar with opportunities/interesting areas in the image, for value and shape refinement and to create a working image for transfer to the canvas.
  • Final value map: I plan all the relative values using a 10-step value finder.  Value control was especially important in Ian's face.  It had to be subtle, not too extreme between the light and shadows.  I use this value map as a guide during the entire painting phase.
  • Color study to plan the color harmonies and for client approval.  The client can request changes at this point.

Color study for Portrait of Ian, 8x10", oil on linen

  • Underpainting:  I did this in burnt umber to match another portrait I did for this client.
  • Pre-mixing paint piles.  I premixed 3 flesh piles (light/halftones/shadow) and the shirt/sock colors. I knew those shirt colors had to be carefully controlled.  I wanted some temperature vibrations between warm and cool blues there.  
  • Painting the portrait.

Here is a progression of the piece:

Progression for Portrait of Ian

And finally, the framed image.

22 May 2017

My Landscape Painting Process Revisited

I've been offline for a few months.  In March, I took another course with Deborah Paris, Practical Color Mixing II.  It was a good one, I learned a lot.  This painting was a result of that course.  In it, I have applied lessons learned about the importance of color temperatures and how to apply temperature contrast to convey form, perspective, and interest. 

Back Country, 8x10", oil on linen

Today's post also shows how I developed the painting.  I got a lot of interest on the previous post showing my landscape painting process, so I decided to put one more out.  I used that same process here, so please see that post for more details.

Here is the original graphite thumbnail. It's an invented scene, based on my memories of the local back country. I was trying to convey a sunny, mid-day scene.  This was the first time I created a painting without a reference to work from.  Very liberating, and a big a-ha moment.

Original graphite thumbnail, 2x2.3"

Here are the notan and 4-value studies (discussed in the earlier post).

The 4-value and notan sketches

Before I started in on the painting phase, I made most of my color decisions...where to add contrasting color temperatures and gradations, where to put the highest chroma, etc.  More planning means fewer bad surprises.

Below is the progression of the actual painting, from monochrome underpainting, through the first pass of color, to the more-refined finished piece.

Here's the underpainting.
The first pass of color
The final painting

To check for value drift, I converted the final painting to grayscale and compared it to the original thumb (below).  Not too bad.  In my work, value control comes first, color comes second, so I'm always checking things with my little value finder.

Grayscale of the final painting

Original thumbnail

And finally, here is the framed painting.