Sunday, April 19, 2015

Two recent portraits from the BFAC

Recently I was able to get to the BFAC, despite having a cold, and found they'd hired some great models for us.We're given two and a half hours to paint these, and I always seem to use the first 30 minutes deciding and looking at the model to see what issues I might have.  In "The Jade Earring", I ran into a problem that could only be solved by squinting my eyes and reducing the values, simplifying everything.

"The Jade Earring" oil on canvas 8" x 10"

"Mark" oil on canvas 8" x 10"

Monarch and Clover

"Monarch in Clover" oil on canvas 9" x 12" 

This painting was a recent commissioned painting. While painting it I was thinking about the symbiotic relationship between flowers and bees/butterflies. The butterflies and bees need flowers for food, and the clover needs the winged animals to help spread themselves. I used this to remind myself that spring is right around the corner, which after this winter in Boston was sorely needed.

Sketches of people on the MBTA (mostly looking at their phones)

Here's another set of MBTA riders (See previous one here). I was speaking with another artist, Jason Cheeseman, and he'd remarked that when he first started sketching people on the train and bus they were reading newspapers, reading books, talking, and now everyone is staring down at their phone. This is evident in the sketches below, and I generally wait for someone to 'settle' into their relaxed position before I start sketching. I try and sketch quickly, but sometimes their destination arrives quicker than I'd prefer, and you can see some of the unfinished ones below.

If you like any of these or want to share your own stories of sketching in public places, feel free to share them in the comments, I'd love to hear them!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Portrait art from a live model.

This was done on a canvas panel, toned first with transparent red oxide to eliminate the glare of the white canvas.  I started with the eyes and built the portrait around them, wanting to capture the model's vibrancy and passion.  

During the first break I'd realized I had painted the left eye too low, resulting in me using a paper towel to wipe away the incorrect part.  The benefits of oil painting!  I was thinking of that old carpenter's adage, Measure twice, cut once.  Had I measured correctly the first time it would have given me more time.  Ah well. When working from a live model, it's challenging to balance taking the time to do it right with the immediacy of limited time.   It's also where the fun is! 

Working with two models.

 I didn't know what to think when I got to the BFAC (Boston Figurative Art Center) the other night and found myself looking at not one, but two models on the dias.  The female model, Tessa, was moving to Atlanta and wanted to come in for a last model.

The energy in the room was high and we ran through our three minute and five minute sketches.  When we got to the 10 minute sketches I'd found my rhythm.  The models worked together to create some fantastic poses, supporting and balancing each other as they flowed from one pose to the next.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to take advantage of these poses, as I was focused on drawing the head. Sometimes it would take all 20 minutes to sketch one face, so I wasn't able to draw in both models together, except for the last one.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

New techniques with a palette knife

   While reading Alla Prima 2 by Richard Schmid, he recommended painting only with a palette knife for several paintings, in order to get the feel for the tool.  This passage stuck with me and I finally decided last week to try this.  The painting above was the result of this experiment, and while it's not a 'finished' piece, I still a, intrigued by the high relief and textures that using a palette knife alone creates.  I plan to do several more of these to really become comfortable with a great tool I'd previously underused.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Getting outside with other artists..

"Winchester Public Library" 11" x 14" oil on canvas - $400

   Using Meetup, I was able to join a group called Massachusetts Plein Air Artists Group.  Once a week, during temperate months, they get together at locations near Boston and paint what they like.  I've been to a couple of these and they seem a great way not only to meet other artists, but also to see how other painters paint and what materials and easels they use.

Swedenborg Chapel

"Swedenborg Chapel"  9" x 12" oil on artist's board 2014 - $400

    This is a small chapel just outside Harvard yard I was by most days and have been fascinated with it's small size and old, stone architecture.  This was a two-day alla prima study done across the street, setup in the shade of a tree.  The artist board used had a different texture and tooth than a traditional canvas, one I plan on using again!

The cosmos!

"Butterfly Nebula" 18" x 24" oil on canvas - sold
    This was a commission by an solar-physicist for their office, and it was quite exciting to paint!  The gases intermingling proved to be a challenge, with a veritable rainbow of colors throughout the nebula.  I can only imagine what this nebula looks like up close, in real life.


'Gail' 18" x 24" oil on canvas - sold
    This was a painting commissioned to honor the memory of someone whom had passed away.  The challenge was to recreate the image and memory of the individual while only using a photograph.  It was an honor to be asked to paint this, I was grateful for the chance to do so!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The glory of Vedauwoo

"Vedauwoo at Dawn" oil on canvas 30" x 40"

This painting was done from a photograph early one morning in Vedauwoo, which is a series of geologic formations in southeastern Wyoming between Cheyenne and Laramie.  Finding the proper oranges and blues to represent the rocks was a challenge; you can see greens, blues, and reds throughout the rocks as I attempted to recreate the sandstone.


"Ed" 9" x 12" oil on panel

A few Saturdays ago I was able for the first time to use oil paints with a live model.  Ed, the model, works with many artists in the Boston area, as well as training models the ability to sit still for hours. It was great to work with him, his professionalism was inspiring in itself.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Rainy Sunday Morning

This morning I was ready to get outside and paint.  Nature had other plans for me and decided the desert needed moisture, which is fine. So, after talking to the hotel staff, I went to the top floor of the building and setup at the end of the hallway, assured I wouldn't be in anyone's way because the elevator is the other direction.  They were correct, and the few people I did meet were quite nice.

This painting was interesting in that the water in the creek filled slowly as I painted, so by the end of the session several smaller plants had been subsumed by the rising water. There were several buildings in the background that I decided to leave out, mainly oil field supply buildings that I didn't feel added anything to the painting.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Story Behind the Picture

"Sunday Morning Tea" pastel on paper 8" x 12"

   For most of my life I have worked to accurately paint or draw the scenes in front of me.  Recently I have been motivated by the idea behind a picture.  In the pastel above, I used all the title to create a whole, compete narrative.  Originally I had a pastel of a teapot by itself and was at a loss as to what to do with it.  I came up with the title "Sunday Morning Tea"; this title gave me the blueprint to build from.  It gives the viewer the time of day (morning), activity (drinking tea), and day of the week to go from. 

   Take for instance the high value yellow in the background and  tea set.  It's not a color I would have normally pulled out of my pastel box.  However, now armed with the title I was able to simulate the early morning sunlight streaming in.  Using the title as a narrative I built from there, including a tea cup added in the background as well as some tea biscuits Trish had in the cupboard (one if which I had to eat part of, in service to the painting).

   This is one of the first paintings I have actively used the title to build a story around.  It's become another tool in my virtual toolbox to use if I am in need of inspiration or cohesion in a picture.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Pet portraits.

      'Bugsy" 11" x 14" oil on canvas 
   One of the main things people have me paint is a portrait of their pet.  This is always enjoyable, the pet's character always seems to come out.  Pets, like children rarely sit still so working from a photograph is required.  When painting from a photo several modifications are required to make the painting look less like a photo and more like oil paint on canvas.

   The first thing I work on is the eyes.  Both humans and animals get an odd reflection from a camera flash.  Fortunately this only happens in the darker parts of the eyes (generally) but some research is required to make them look normal.  Searching for the breed of dog and studying the eye can usually solve your problem, but you can go another step to use photoshop.  This requires you to select the eye and a bit around it, de-saturate it so it's grayscale, and then bring the midtone levels down to show the highlights.  This generally gives you a normal look that is consistent with the rest of the lighting.

   The next thing I focus on is the background.  Sometimes you can keep the background given, but I've found some thoughtful editing must be done, whether to highlight some, downplay others, or leave them out entirely as I have done with Bugsy above.  As you can see in the photo he gets lost in the black background.  With the neutral grey I was able to bring him forward more, making him the focus and giving an almost regal pose.  To enhance this I also raised his head.

'Melvin' 3" x 3" oil on canvas board
   Here you can see with Melvin (sorry for the poor photo, it was still quite wet and reflecting light) I cropped it down considerably from the original photo.  By darkening the values of the wall behind I created more contrast, and by adding more color to the carpet it naturally brought the carpet forward to the foreground.

   The last thing I generally do differently when working with a photo is to amp up the colors and values more.  The camera is a great device, but as anyone who has tried to capture a beautiful sunset has noticed, it can't capture all the colors and value changes effectively (yet).

   Here the main color is violet, with the highlights on the dog orange tones.  The colors in the photo were a muted grayish-purple. I took those colors and amped them up as far as I could while still keeping it natural looking.

   Painting animals is never dull,.  Like everything, the best part is helping their character to really come to the forefront to be the star of the piece.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Color Sheets

In reading Richard Schmidt's book Alla Prima he suggested taking a set of eleven colors and using these, draw up a series of color charts.  The top let is each color mixed with white, the second is Cadmium Lemon mixed with the other ten, the third is Cadmium Yellow light, and so on.  What you end up with is a wonderful series of charts that show most colors and exactly how to get to each.  So, with the guesswork gone, it's much easier to focus on the actual painting.  

The eleven colors I used were, in order: Cadmium Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red, Terra Rosa, Alizarin Crimson, Transparent Red Oxide, Viridian Green, Cobalt Blue Light, and Ultramarine Blue Deep.  The charts are four 18 x 24 canvas sheets marked off for one inch squares.  

Mums for Thanksgiving

'Thanksgiving Mums' oil on Masonite, 5 1/2' x 8"

Over Thanksgiving we had some guests from Bulgaria who brought these flowers over and had never had an American style Thanksgiving dinner before, and it was a lot of fun to see them try new experiences.  For instance, they had never had turkey except in the sliced deli meat, which they didn't like.  However they tried our baked turkey and thought it was outstanding.  The wishbone was another fun activity they got to try, as well as the apple and pumpkin pie which Trish had baked.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Rusting Steel

"Rusting Steel and Weathered Wood" Oil on canvas 18" x 24"

    As a kid my parents would drive to their friend's house to play cards.  To get there they would always drive to the end of the street and turn around in a cul-de-sac to park.  At the end of this road was a garage where someone had nailed every Wyoming licence plate to their garage door.  This burst of color and images on an otherwise drab street always caught my attention and captured my imagination.  I used old plates my parents purchased as a gift for me to compile the above image.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Working on masonite

"The Palisades Over the Green River, in progress" 24" x 36" oil on masonite
   I've heard from several artists that untempered hardboard, or masonite, is one of the preferred substrates to use with oils.  The other day I bought a full sheet to try out.

   One of the things I noticed was how different preparing masonite can be over stretched canvas.  I was working relatively large (24 x 36 inches) so I glued a frame of 1x2's around the back side to stabilize the sheet.  Next came the layers of gesso on the surface and acrylic primer on the back to seal and prevent the board from buckling.

   The real surprise came when I started painting on the surface.  The masonite makes every brushstroke slick and visceral, showing every movement and mistake you make.  Quite a difference from cotton canvas which sucks up the paint as soon as you apply it.  The transition was so large that after a few hours I had to set the painting aside and (hopefully) let my subconscious deal with it.  Coming in the next day was better and by the end of the day I was fully enjoying the fluidity of the masonite.

   I think I'll be using this as my new painting surface from now on.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Getting outside.

   One of the benefits of being an artist is working from nature.  When you are able to go outside and work directly from the source, you can incorporate everything around you.  I read a blog post by Kathleen Dunphy earlier and she said that stuck with me today:
     Nothing can compare to being in the landscape that you're painting. The sounds, smells, and feel of an area are somehow transferred through the artist and onto the canvas. Colors are truer and so much more complex in real life than in a photograph. 
   Standing at the park listening to the skateboarder behind be practice, hearing the playful yells of kids around the area, the ducks in the pond splashing for food, everything made it's way into the canvas.  Being able to get outside and paint is one of the most exciting things I can think of.  Even if the painte
d piece isn't always a masterpiece, the experience is the best.