Tuesday, February 23, 2010

25-minute sketch from today

Thought I'd post this, since it probably won't go on my website. I did this 8x8 oil sketch in 25 minutes. He's a great character, isn't he?

25-minute portrait sketch by Anna Rose

Friday, February 12, 2010


I can't help but at least mention that Dallas just got a record-breaking snowfall of 11+ inches yesterday, and the Wisconsin girl in me says, "This is what winter is supposed to look like!" However, my husband and I acted like awe-struck Texans late last night and went to play in the snow in the middle of the street. :-) Today as I write, I can hear children all around the neighborhood getting into snowball fights and building snowmen. If I were back "home" in the Midwest right now, I would probably be grumbling alongside everyone else who gets tired of cleaning the snow off their car every morning...but today I am enjoying the snow and reveling in its beauty.

Sketching and Style

The latest issue of Drawing Magazine features an amazing artist and friend of mine, Michael Mentler. Michael is the founder of the Society of Figurative Arts here in Dallas, and he teaches several portrait and figure classes at his studio. I go to his portrait group occasionally to paint from life, and during model breaks, Michael will often do what he likes to call "Chalk Talk," lectures involving demonstrating features and form with sketches on a chalk board. Some of his chalk sketches are masterpieces in and of themselves. He draws every day and has a vast wealth of knowledge built up from years of drawing from life, from reference, and from imagination. Richard Schmid has called him a "modern-day Leonardo," and Michael's sketchbooks, which are featured in the Drawing article, have inspired me to get back into drawing on a daily basis. After all, good drawing is essential to good painting!

Michael Mentler's 'Chalk Talk'.jpg
(You can view Michael's work at his website: michaelmentler.com.

I used to doodle incessantly as a kid; in fact, when my parents remodeled my old bedroom recently, they pulled up the carpet to find crayon drawings on the wood floor underneath! I don't really know why I stopped - perhaps because I'm so obsessed with color...

Regardless of whether I work in black and white or color, having a sketchbook is great because it's the artist's own private playground, without the pressure of anyone seeing it or judging it. The sketchbook is the perfect place to develop one's skills by copying master works, practicing anatomy, or drawing whatever catches your eye.

Sometimes I wonder, when I see so many great artists out there and observe their unique quality and style, whether or not I should be in this business. What's the point? Well, here's one answer: only I can express my artistic vision in my own way. I may share a common interest of medium, subject matter, and even style with other artists, but only I can arrange these things and see them and paint them in a way that's never been done before in quite that way. Each work of art - no matter how many times an apple or hand or face has been painted - is completely unique. It is a huge privilege for me to have these skills and to be able to pursue them the way I do. And I owe much of it to other artists, like Michael, who are helping to inspire me along the way. :-)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Priming new canvases today!

My canvas prep methods might be somewhat boring to talk about, but they are a big part of the direction my paintings take, as well as the end result. I take particular pride in knowing and implimenting classical techniques that help oil paintings last for generations.

Today I applied the first coat of oil primer to five new canvases. Two days ago, I stretched a portrait-grade (finest weave) Belgian linen on three of them, and a slightly rougher grade on the other two. The selection of linen (I avoid using cotton canvas) is very important because in many ways it will dictate the style I paint with. The finer the weave, the tighter the details I can get - this is perfect for commissioned portraits, because portrait clients in general like a detailed portrait with a great likeness. The medium-textured linen is great for a more painterly style, as it can handle a great deal of thickly-applied paint, and provide more texture for setting the mood. I love using rougher canvases for experimenting and "playing" with the paint.

After stapling the linen on to the stretcher bars, I tighten and seal the new canvases with two coats of rabbit-skin glue. I know, it sounds cruel, because this stuff is actually made from rabbit collagen...but it's been tried and true for centuries. Not only is it is the best coating to protect a canvas from the linseed oils in paint (which would naturally destroy canvas fibers over time), but it also makes the canvas so tight that you can pluck it like a drum. The glue comes in powder form and has to be dissolved in warm water and applied with a large brush. It's amazing to see the canvas begin to instantly tighten with the first stroke of glue.

Anna priming a new canvas.jpg
After that, the canvases need two coats of oil-based primer, with a thorough sanding between coats. I prefer oil-based primer to acrylic gesso, as gesso tends to absorb oil paint much more, causing it to lose its luster. I find that I can use less paint and get better colors by using oil primer. The surface is also very smooth and easier to glaze and scrape with a palette knife when the occasion calls for it. For example, I like to scrape off the first couple of layers of paint on a child's face in order to make it completely smooth in the final layers. The glaze can be used to very subtly change skin tones; if the canvas is too rough, a glaze will just collect in the hills and valleys of the canvas surface and look bad.

I'm always excited about having fresh new canvases at my disposal. In about ten days or so, they'll be dry and ready to go. What will I use them for, I wonder...?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Olga (almost finished!)

As with many of my portraits, I was forced to finish this painting from photographs. However, I'm using this time in my studio to try and add some creative liberties, especially with the background. I'm making some conscious choices to simplify different elements of the composition, while adding to the model's surroundings. There is a great deal of negative space in this 16x20 portrait, and I'd like to give it a very classical, traditional feel...
I've begun by adding some drapery to the background, and by playing around with values surrounding the model's face.
I'm almost finished - will post a picture as soon as "Olga" is done!

Olga (almost finished)
Olga (detail)


Tonal Arrangements

I've become utterly fascinated by a concept I just read about in the latest issue of International Artist. The article by James Gurney (the famous illustrator of the Dinotopia series) was entitled, the "Windmill Principle," and discussed a specific kind of tonal arrangement found in Rembrandt van Rijn's "The Mill." Here is the painting:

The Mill by Rembrandt

The idea is that each value of the four vanes of the windmill represents one of the four possible tonal arrangements: light on dark, light on light, dark on light, and dark on dark.

Here is Gurney's illustration:

Tonal Study from The Mill

I began looking at all my paintings with fresh eyes and tried to find areas in my own work where I may have subconsciously followed this tonal arrangement. The most obvious one I could find was this portrait I did back in college:

Arthur Thomas, oil, 2004

I realized, in looking at my work, that I often incorporate this kind of arrangement to a greater or lesser degree, but not out of deliberate premeditation. I tend to work until my painting "feels right". Perhaps now I can reach a greater level of drama in my work if I am beginning to employ the "Windmill Principle" more attentively.

P.S. Gurney's article is an excerpt from his latest book, "Imaginative Realism", which you can preview by clicking here.

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