Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Switzerland: An Artist's Paradise!

Now that we are in Venice, I've managed to get some faster Wi-Fi, and here are the pictures I promised from Switzerland. While I had a little difficulty finding painting subjects in Milan, Switzerland had me chomping at the bit to paint from the moment I arrived. It was completely wonderful and overwhelming to be surrounded by this majestic beauty, to breathe such clean fresh air, and to feel so small beneath the towering mountain peaks. Steve and I loved every minute in this glorious country... this haven for artistic creativity.

While the views everywhere are fantastic, our hotel also had an amazing view. You can see the Jungfrau itself, a peak of 13,642 feet, from our room's balcony.

A sampling of the views from our hotel room balcony (above and below) - one at later in the afternoon, and one at 6:00 in the morning.

 Here I am at one of the many restaurants we ate at with a birds-eye view of the mountains beyond. We started feeling pretty spoiled!

On Saturday, we visited Lucerne and Brienz, and just about everything in between. Lucerne is a romantic city, especially near Tower Bridge, the oldest surviving wooden bridge in Europe. The overall atmosphere is made even more nostalgic by the talented street musicians, and elegant white swans floating down the river.

Hard at work in Lucerne. The boat took off before I could finish my painting. Will have to put in a few more details later. :-)

Steve and I spent some time hunting down beautiful buildings and mountain peaks on our Alpine drives, sometimes driving up so high that we thought we might tip off the hillsides. This little gem of a chapel is something I would like to paint.

On our way back to the hotel from Lucerne, we stopped for dinner in Brienz. There is a walkway all along the north shore of the lake there, so Steve and I enjoyed a leasurely stroll.

Sunday morning, up bright and early and freezing my little fingers off to get in this pastel landscape. I wanted to capture the soft light, and unfortunately, it required getting up at 6:00 a.m. I did three paintings that day! (See below)

Another shot of my morning painting.

Sunday morning: Steve and I spent most of the day in the Lauterbrunnen valley (see the shot below). Above: our first stop was to visit Trummelbach Falls, incredible waterfalls that come down through the mountain. Lauterbrunnen is part of the larger Jungfrau Region and is one of the most spectacular places in Switzerland! The waterfalls cascade down cliffsides and into tumultuous rivers. The water, which is fed from mountain glaciers, is extremely pure. Steve and I had a taste when we refilled our water bottles directly from the river!

Lauterbrunnen Valley, view from our cable car headed to Murren.

Getting started on my second painting of the day. I set up on a hiking trail above the car-free town of Murren. Had we chosen to go up further, we could have ended up at Mount Schilthorn, where there is a revolving restaurant and an incredible view of the Jungfrau.

This was my favorite painting of the trip so far; with so much inspiration, it can be a bit overwhelming. This time I just had fun with it, and the sketch turned out great! For my artist friends: I have been working with a Guerrilla 9x12 pochade box, which mounts on a camera tripod and fits nicely in a large backpack. My panels are Raymar panels in either 8x8 or 9x12.

Steve and I stop for one more picture before heading back for the day.

Relaxing with a bottle of the house wine on our hotel balcony. That's when the sun started setting and the scene before me was this: ...

How could any artist resist painting this amazing beauty?! I set up one more time, and ended up doing a quick sketch of 1/2 an hour. The light changed rapidly, but it every minute of the painting was exhilerating.

Here is a partial line-up of my paintings from this trip. So far I've done a total of ten paintings. Below are two more from yesterday, which was our last day in Switzerland.

A lone tree in front of the mountains, in Grindelwald.

Later that afternoon: the clouds were beautiful; Steve and I drove around Lake Thun, and I ended up finding this great spot on the north side.

No trip to Switzerland would be complete without a picture of a cow wearing its cowbell. I'm thinking about getting one for my dog so I don't lose her on the mountainside... ha.

Well, this morning we left early and drove straight to Venice. We spent the afternoon exploring, and were very thankful for our street map in finding our way back to our hotel. No paintings today, but perhaps tomorrow. Until then, buona sera!


Friday, May 27, 2011

Museums and Mountains: From Milan to Switzerland

I've gone from sweating as soon as I step outside to having to wear four layers! But, for Steve and I, it is a welcome change.

I am now at the Hotel Beausite in Beatenburg, Switzerland, just 10-20 minutes up the mountain from Interlaken. But before I share about Switzerland so far, I should mention a few things from my last couple of days in Milan.

I decided to make Tuesday a museum day, since my back has been "out" for the last couple of days and it's difficult to carry my supplies around. While my Milan guidebook tends to paint a positive picture of the city, it has failed to mention how dirty the streets are or how every inch of wall and bridge has been defiled by graffiti. It's very sad, and unfortunately, has left me somewhat uninspired. Still, I've found a few quiet nooks to paint in here and there. But, as I said, Tuesday was museum day. I had the privilege of going to the Palazzo Reale, a museum that hosts various temporary exhibitions and is located right next to the Duomo. They were currently hosting an Impressionist exhibit of the Sterling and Francine Clark collection from Massachusetts. I couldn't believe how many famous pieces were in this collection, including Renoir's Box at the Theater (1880) -- among quite a few other Renoirs -- Giovanni Boldini's Crossing the Street (1873-75), Monet's The Cliffs at √Čtretat (1885), and Bouguereau's Seated Nude (1884). You can view the works that I saw here. I spent a good two and half hours staring at the art and hoping to somehow take it all in.

After my museum visit and a little bit of shopping (I mean, let's be honest... how can one NOT shop in Milan??), I had a late lunch at the Duomo Cafe, located directly across from the front facade of the Duomo. The view was spectacular, and there was a cool breeze on our faces as those of us sitting outside lingered even after our lunches and espressos were gone. I enjoyed people-watching, and watching the shadows move down the side of the beautiful cathedral as the afternoon went by.

That evening, Steve and I had a romantic dinner at a restaurant near the Brera. There were roses on the tables, and rose petals strewn across the cobblestones at our feet.

Wednesday was our last day in Milan. My excursions began with a visit to the Ambrosiana Library and Museum, home of the Codex Atlanticus, the original drawings and notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci. Not only was the library where they are housed a breathtaking site, but the rest of the museum had some real gems. Most notable was the "cartoon," or preparatory drawing, of "The School of Athens" by Raphael. The cartoon is one of the only surviving preparatory sketches from the Renaissance, and is massive in scale, just like the fresco, which is in the Vatican. I did a sketch of the drawing, and took note of the solid composition, the fluidity of form, and the motion of each figure. Raphael made several of the star characters look like his peers, including Plato (in the form of Leonardo Da Vinci) and Heroclitus (in the form of Michelangelo).

On Wednesday afternoon, I visited yet another museum, the Brera. There they had a wonderful exhibition featuring Milan's favorite 19th-century painter, Francesco Hayez. His most famous painting, "The Kiss" (1859), was a perfect representation of the Romanticism of the time and even more so, the Italian unification ("Risorgimento") that was underway.

The Kiss, by Francesco Hayez (1859), oil on canvas, 43" x 35"

Later that evening, I went with Steve and one of his coworkers to the Naviglio Grande. The two guys sat in a restaurant and enjoyed Happy Hour drinks, while I set up to paint nearby. I was worried about becoming a spectacle, but as people passed by, they were curious and kind, but kept their distance. A couple stopped and asked questions. The experience loosened me up and I actually really enjoyed it. The light changed very quickly, so I may have to finish my oil sketch from photos. Here are some shots from the evening's painting session:

So that was a good way to end our time in Milan. I hope to post many more pictures from this trip to Facebook when I return...

Yesterday's travels were strenuous; I had the painstaking task of getting myself and all of my luggage from Milan to Switzerland, without the help of Steve (who still had two more days of work!). I honestly wasn't trying to look like I was struggling with my luggage, but I really was! Thankfully, there were lots of kind people along the way who helped me out. :-) When I finally arrived in Switzerland, the views from my hotel more than made up for the trouble. Our hosts, Rita and Kasper, welcomed me graciously to the Hotel Beausite. I was able to enjoy a long walk around Beatenburg, the little hill town above Interlaken where Steve and I will be staying for the next few days. It was beautiful; however, rain came in, so I rushed back, and enjoyed an amazing Swiss dinner at the hotel.

Today is Friday, and I haven't gone out all day, unless breakfast downstairs counts. It has been very cold and rainy, with a fog so thick I can't see beyond the patio outside my hotel room. Thankfully, Steve has arrived her safe, and I consider today to have been a good day. I got a lot of rest, painted an 8"x8" self-portrait, which I entitled, "Self-Portrait on a Rainy Day," and caught up on some much-needed e-mails and general news, thanks to the free Wi-Fi here at the hotel.

I hope to post many more pictures soon, especially of my plein-air paintings and the views here in Switzerland. Until then, guten nacht, dear friends.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Miles logged in Milan = Unknown

Even though I remember well the hours of walking through Florence, I knew I would have to tough it out once again for these first few days exploring Milan. Three days in, my feet are covered in blisters and bug bites that swell up to the size of quarters, and yet, there is so much to do and see that I keep on going out every day to take it all in.

The Church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie (to the right is the refectory with "The Last Supper"

Yesterday Steve and I visited perhaps the most famous of Milan's attractions, Leonardo Da Vinci's "Last Supper." We booked our tickets several weeks ago, knowing that was the only way we had a chance of seeing it. The painting is well-known and has been recreated over and over again, even though it has deteriorated a great deal, due to Leonardo's dry tempera painting technique (unlike true fresco, where the paint chemically bonds with the wet plaster beneath it). Still, when we stepped into the room where it is housed (the rectory of the church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie), it still made me catch my breath. It is bigger than I imagined, and the atmospheric background behind the head of Christ still seems to glow. The 1-point linear perspective is immaculate, and directs the viewer's eye directly to the figure of Christ.  We were only given 15 minutes to view this masterpiece before being ushered out quickly, but I used every last minute to stand in awe of the "Last Supper." No photography was allowed, but the memory of it, and how I felt when I saw it, will stay with me forever.

Other sights from today and yesterday included a walk along the Naviglio Grande (Milan's Grand Canal), a visit to the Science and Technology Museum (which houses replicas of Leonardo Da Vinci's many inventions), and even a soccer game! We bought matching jersies and went with Steve's two co-workers to an Inter-Milan game at the city stadium. This soccer game wasn't originally on my to-do list, but I'm glad we went. :-)

The enormous stadium, with a view of the city behind it.

Sporting our Inter-Milan jersies. :-)

This was definitely the wild side of the stadium. They were waving enormous flags and firing flares. Thankfully, Inter-Milan won, so we didn't have to experience an Italian riot. :-)

The Naviglio Grande

Happy Hour in Milan lasts from 7-9. You buy one drink for 8 euros or so, and get this huge spread of food for free! We filled up tonight on happy hour food and ended up skipping dinner!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Milan, a City that Embraces Old and New

Five years ago after finishing a summer class with the Florence Academy of Art, I left Italy and promised myself that I would return, but not alone... I wanted to come back with my husband, Steve. This week, the dream came true, and it was all made possible by Steve's new job working for a company called Festo. Last week, he was in Germany, where Festo is internationally based, for work. This week, he was scheduled to work in Milan, so on Thursday/Friday, I flew in to join him. After his work week is finished, we will spend the next two weeks exploring Switzerland and Italy. It is an opportunity I never thought would be possible so soon, and I am grateful to be here!

I've promised many of you that I would blog about this experience, so consider this my first little update. Of course, I could write a great deal about all the cultural differences and the little things I've felt silly having to learn the hard way (like how to buy an underground metro ticket...), but everything comes together in the end, and the Milanese are gracious people, willing to help even with the language barrier.

When I first landed in Milan, I felt my heart flutter. I could hardly believe I was back in Italy! Still, Milan, as I have discovered, is very different from Florence or Rome, and I am anxious to learn more about it. My first introduction to the city basically consisted of curious, random wandering for an entire day. I only had one goal on my first day here, and that was to find an art supply store where I could buy solvents for oil painting. Once I finally found one in the Brera district, I continued to wander, wondering what kind of portrait (or series of portraits) I would end up painting of the city of Milan. It's unlike Florence, which feels locked in time, and also unlike Rome, which revels in its historical fame. Milan is extremely urban, bustling with real city folk who go about their day, but dress more fashionably than Americans and yet aren't ashamed to take public transportation. I have yet to see the high-end shopping districts or go into the art galleries, but I've seen enough to realize that Milan's beauty is unique, and it will be challenging for me to find places to paint that really capture this dichotomy between the old and the new. The city, so rich with tradition, is also a leader in the modern age - art, fashion, technology. So, the question I have is: what portrait shall I paint of Milan?

Day 2 (today) - Steve and I unashamedly playing tourist... here are some pictures of our adventures.

Steve and I in front of the famous Duomo, which is charactarized by its numerous architectural styles, as it took over 500 years to build.

One of the impressive views of the buildings and streets below from the top of the Duomo.

Walking through some of the expensive shopping areas in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. This was an impressive window display for Louis Vuitton.

At the Piazza Della Scala, with the statue of Leonardo Da Vinci. Da Vinci was very active in Milan; tomorrow we will be going to see "The Last Supper."

One must have gelato as often as possible when staying in Italy! These flavors were mixed berry and milk (this is branching out for me - I'm usually a stickler for chocolate!).

A typical, beautiful city street.

These strawberries in a Milan fruit stand looked absolutely mouthwatering.

At the Castello Sforzesco, a fortress built in the 1300s.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Final notes from the Portrait Conference before Taking off to Europe!

I've got Europe on my mind (flying out tomorrow)... but before I forget, I wanted to post the last of my notes from the Portrait Society. This last segment was a panel of professional portrait artists giving us tips on “Steps to Professionalism." So here you go:

Gordon Whetmore:
One of the first steps to professionalism is the sale of your work.
- Make a portfolio of excellent photos, including a biography and price list. Include only your best work.
- Make a client list of at least 20 prospecta, and make appointments to speak with them about a portrait.
- Paint demos for prospective clients
- Paint your best sample portraits - don't show anything you're not proud of.
- Build a solid reputation by being timely in your completion and delivery.
- Set up an article about you and your work with the local paper
- Develop a thoroughly professional attitude. Take on the attitude that the customer is always right. Be sensitive and take clues from your clients, even if it means you have to start the painting all over.
- Participate in charity auctions.
- Work with agents, such as Portraits, Inc.
- Organize get-togethers or luncheons with live demos
- Mentor others; teach / have workshops
- Give greeting cards, prints, and other gifts to your clients as a thank you; keep in touch with your clients; send them notes and Christmas or birthday cards
- Your best prospect is always your previous client

Jennifer Welty – on Competitions
- Don’t let competitions define you as an artist
- Don’t allow rejection to get you down – just keep painting.
- Learn to paint well, and paint what you love.
- Photograph your work well
- Be willing to pay your dues
- Set aside a yearly allowance for entering competitions, and enter a lot of them
- Hang with professionals and watch what they do

Rich Nelson – on Building Good Relationships
The client is as nervous and uncomfortable as you are, if not more. Find out if they’ve bought a portrait before – if not, make it stress-free for both of you. Clients can tell if you’re nervous, but on the flip side, if you are confident, they’ll also feed off of that.
- It’s not always stress-free. Use good common manners, especially when things get ugly.
- Good communication and good listening. Pick up on their signals. A lot of people are not comfortable telling an artist there’s something wrong
- If you’ve taken good photos, send them along with the client.
- Pick up the dinner tab.
- As far as working with agents, remember that they’re clients too. Try and make them look good. Include them in every aspect so that you don’t blindside them. Copy them on emails. Be ready for the unexpected or things you might not have originally thought of.
- If you’re doing everything right, we can all get through this together. They’re willing to put up with our weirdness as long as we can connect on some level.
- Finally, deliver amazing work.

Bart Lindstrom – on Organization and Time Management
- Have a place for everything, and have everything in its place. This is especially true of your studio.
- Set your studio up so you can sit down and paint quickly. It should embrace you. Same is true for your business side of lie.
- Try to write one thank-you note per day.
- Record your mileage. Keep a notebook in your car. Write on your receipts – note as to why it’s a business expense.
- Try to have some time during the day to clear your desk and re-organize.
- Have a to-do list. Prioritize, and pick the hardest one to do first.

Patricia Watwood – on Goals
- Most artists only produce about 500 paintings in their lifetime. How many great paintings are you capable of making in a year, or in your lifetime?
- What is this painting you’re working on right now and how does it fit in your lifetime of work? MAKE IT COUNT.
- Think about what it is that defines your work. No matter what your subject matter, there’s a particular quality about your work that is uniquely yours. Learn to recognize That quality and how to make it shine. Show it off to its best advantage.
- What is it that really gets you up every morning and keeps you going? You’ve got to have something bigger than you to live for. We all have to deal with rejection and uncertainty, so you have to dig deep and find a source of strength and inspiration.
- Inspiration doesn’t come by repeating what you did before. By nature, it’s always original. Think about continuing to grow and challenge yourself. People know inspiration when they see it.
- Think long-term – you have to keep growing. The very best artists are never too proud to study and go back to the basics.
- Develop good relationships. The art world is a mystery, so you’ve gotta trust in good people. Be genuine. Always put people first.

Judy Carducci – on Volunteering and Advancing our Discipline
- Why teach? Those of us who are in traditional art lost several generations worth of instruction during the 20th century, and we are working to get it back.
- Don’t teach until you can learn not to trample on your students’ vision. Let them discover their own style and taste. When you solve your own problems, then your work takes off.
- Judy started by giving a local workshop and doing a pastel self-portrait. Someone there asked her if she’d like to teach in France. One thing led to another.
- Mentoring is less teaching skills than it is encouraging and helping someone through their ongoing career. Develops out of a friendship and teaching relationship. Can be a lifetime thing as long as both people want it.

My own thoughts on this (in case anyone cares about my two cents!):
Gallery work is “safe” and “predictable.” Competition pieces should be more creative and take more risks. I try to set aside time from my commissions for 2-3 competition pieces per year. Ultimately, those will end up being my best and most creative work.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

"HeArt of Hope: a Portrait of Sudan" - Teaming up with Makeway Partners

After attending the first exhibition of "HeArt of Hope: A Portrait of Sudan" last night, I wish that I had advertised for it a little better. It was absolutely amazing. Here was the general event information that was posted to our local radio station's website (KLTY, 94.9FM): Kimberly L. Smith, President and co-founder of Make Way Partners and author of Passport Through Darkness will speak on the topic of human trafficking. Make Way Partners is a Christian mission agency committed to prevent and combat human trafficking and all forms of modern-day slavery by educating and mobilizing the Body of Christ. Following her speaking engagement, Kimberly will sign books and an art exhibit and sale (HeArt of Hope:A Portrait of Sudan) will follow. HeArt of Hope is a fundraising effort by more than 25 local artists. HeArt of Hope continues to take in more portrait artists and travel throughout the area to bring hope to widows and children who suffer from the effects of modern day slavery. All proceeds go to Make Way Partners.

The keynote speaker, Kimberly Smith, shared about her experiences in Sudan and opened my eyes to some of things that I didn't know could still happen in this world. Because Sudan has been at war for three generations, the women and children who survive know nothing but a life of suffering. There is lawlessness and hate, with Islamic warlords doing whatever they can to wipe out the "lesser" indigenous tribes. Local women trek three miles to find clean water, with the risk of getting raped multiple times along the way. They go instead of their men, because their husbands would simply be murdered. The children who have lost their parents to the wars or slavery, live simply to survive. At night, they sleep in trees, or they will be picked off by hyenas. By day, they risk getting caught by traffickers and sold into slavery. These are the "orphans and widows" that the Bible speaks of. It is our responsibility as the body of Christ to help these people, and Kimberly's organization, Makeway Partners, is doing just that. She left a corporate job and the American dream to start orphanages in these forsaken places, including Sudan, Congo, Romania, and Peru. Kimberly did emphasize in her talk that we are not all called to drop everything like she did; God has a different plan for each of us. In my case, I was honored to be a part of it by donating a painting to the cause. I just hope that these works of art will be purchased so that the funds can go directly to helping the widows and orphans.

Our hope is that more and more artists will join in, and the art will be sold as it continues to be exhibited around north Texas, with all funds going directly to the organization. Giclees and prints are available along with the original paintings. If you would like more information about this event, please e-mail the coordinator, Lisa Temple, at charliepotter@sbcglobal.net. Her own story about how she was inspired to put together this fundraiser is quite wonderful.

My painting for "HeArt of Hope"

Having attended Kimberly's talk, I had the opportunity to buy her book, which I plan on reading on my flight overseas next week. She wrote on the inside cover, "May all your days be painted by God's dream just for you." God's dream is more often than not different than what we have in mind, but I am encouraged by this, and know that as long as I keep my heart open to it, He will use me in ways I never thought possible.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

More Notes from the PSOA Conference 2011

One of my favorite moments of the weekend with the Portrait Society of America was when Michael Shane Neal painted his mentor and long-time friend, Everett Raymond Kinstler. To give you a little background: Kinstler is well-known as a painter of presidents and movie stars, with a bravado of brushwork that could rival Sargent. He estimated that he painted nearly 2000 portraits in his lifetime, an acheivement few artists will ever be able to match. His student, Michael Shane Neal, has an extensive resume of official portraits as well, including Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner. But it wasn't their experience that held the audience's rapt attention - it was the relationship they have and the humorous conversation that ensued during the 2-hour demo. Kinstler never held still or stopped talking, but I found his comments to be wonderfully insightful. And the stories - well, I could listen to him talk all day!

Some of my notes on things the two mentioned:
First of all, Kinstler, who was one of the judges in the International Portrait Competition this year, divulged exactly what he looks for in a great work of art: Imagination, feeling, and the ability to communicate. I think I'm going to write these down in permanent marker on my mirror!

Second, Michael Shane Neal had some important points as he worked:
- When adjusting your painting, the key is not so much re-painting, but re-stating. Make it stronger than it was before.
- Don’t take your eye off any part of the canvas as you work, because everything relates.
- Someone asked what he does to varnish a painting when there's a delivery deadline and the work hasn't had a full six months to dry. The solution? Gamvar varnish. The only downside is that it is high-gloss (personally I have yet to find a matte retouch varnish!). Otherwise, if you have the luxury of waiting till the painting is completely dry, Neal's varnish of choice is equal parts of Dammar varnish, matte varnish and English distilled turpentine.

On Saturday night of the conference, I attended the awards banquet for the international competition winners. The quality of work this year was absolutely impressive! If you wish to see all of the finalists, I recommend checking out "Underpaintings," a blog by artist and conference attendee, Matthew Innis. I was both very happy for the award winners, and a little overwhelmed at how good they are! It's a little disheartening, realizing you have such a long way to go! But, the challenge is good, and just what I need to get back into the studio and work hard. I was especially impressed by the work of young artists Teresa Oaxaca (for her painting, "Father Time"), and the grand prize winner, Jesus Villareal, for his self-portrait, "The Studio."

Here is our little group from the Dallas area:

It sure is nice to get out of those painting clothes and dress up once in a while! :-)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Notes from the Portrait Society of America, Continued

If you've ever met Bart Lindstrom or heard him speak, you'll probably agree with me in saying he's one of the funniest portrait artists in the business. There's nothing better than having a sense of humor about this profession, especially when times get hard. While Bart is great for a laugh, I have to say that he is an amazing professional who takes his work very seriously.

Here he is at the Face-Off demo from Thursday night:

And the finished painting:

On Friday afternoon, I had the privilege of hearing Bart's talk about "Creating Timeless Compositions." Here are some of my notes from this lecture:

- Composition is the foundation of your painting. We get impatient sometimes and just want to start throwing on paint. Just as it’s smart to carefully think through your plans when designing a house, so you should carefully compose your painting.

- A good composition is open to debate, but here are some general guidelines:

(1) Dividing the canvas in thirds and making one of the connection points your focal point location.

(2) Never put an important element at these points (see below).

- Pay attention! Orchestrate the composition.

- USE THUMBNAIL SKETCHES. Do lots, and make them small (postage stamp size). You should only see the lights and darks.

- ABSTRACT VALUE PATTERNS are what the image would look like if you broke it down into its most basic shapes and values. For example, Sargent's painting of the Windham Sisters, has an abstract value pattern of almost two squarish shapes: a dark square on top of a light square.

- Next step from the thumbnail sketch is a color study, no bigger than 4x6.

- When you put down a brush stroke, it must be right in 5 ways: it must be the right shape, be in the right place, be the right color, the right value, and have the right edges. What are we doing here? We are trying to see the end painting at the beginning. Always ask, “What is the abstract value pattern?

- The color study should be FAST. Use three primaries and three secondaries. 10-15 minutes. If you’re fast and relying on intuition, you’ll be using the right side of your brain and not being too picky / analytical.

- When it’s raw canvas, you’re painting, when it’s paint on paint, you’re blending.

- To determine a correct value, mix your color-value, brush some of it on a 3x5 card and hold it up to our subject and make sure it’s just right.

- Orchestrate your composition with value and then color. The goal is to get something you are excited about.

- Paint from a well of knowledge and decisions you’ve already made.

- Get busy and have more fun!

- Don’t take shortcuts. Put your painting at the very top of your priority list.

- Look at the abstract value patterns of other great artists – it’s okay to borrow these.

- Lack of attention / focus causes you to lose your best brushstrokes... those little gems that you may never get back if you're not careful to preserve them!

- Make a vision book of paintings you want to do. Paint like Roger Federer hits the tennis ball – with all his might and with the greatest of accuracy.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Weekend with the Portrait Society of America, Atlanta, GA

I just returned late Sunday night from the "Art of the Portrait" conference, held by the Portrait Society of America. This event is always one of the biggest highlights of my year, and I look forward to the next one almost immediately as soon as the previous one is over! The finest artists all gather together for a weekend of learning from and fellowshipping with one another, and I've found that even the most famous of portrait artists are kind, generous, and approachable. They're some of the nicest people you'll ever meet.

For the sake of many of you who were unable to make it to the event this year (it was held in Atlanta from April 28-May 1), I've decided to type up my notes from some of the lectures and demos that took place over the course of the weekend. Hopefully they will make sense to you and perhaps even help you in some area of your work, as they have for me (though to be honest, I'm still just trying to process all the information...).

Thursday night was the "Face-Off" competition, in which 15 leading artists painted for three hours from several different models, and the rest of us milled around the room to watch their progress. It's an incredible thing to be able to see so many amazing artists working in their own particular style and have them all come out in the end with a unique masterpiece. After they were finished with their paintings, the conference attendees were given the chance to vote for their favorite, and the winner (Anthony Ryder) did a solo demo the next day. I have an entire album of pictures from the conference, including pictures of the finished demos, on Facebook. You can check them out here.

Here are some of my notes from the demos. Please note that these are the views as expressed by the artists giving the demonstrations, and not necessarily my own. There was a great variety of styles and methods represented by the artists in attendance, and it truly made for a wonderful educational experience.

Friday, April 29 - David Leffel’s demo:

Leffel did a self-portrait from a mirror.

There are two kinds of edges: (1) dynamic edges, and (2) structural edges. Dynamic edges are the “eye candy” , e.g. Zorn or Sargent. Incorporate lost and found via squinting, and exhibit a striking visual quality. For example, dark, hard edges against a light background. Structural edges go back to the Old Masters – edges become part of the form and structure of the painting. “Half tones don’t exist except as a painting problem…What is the value / temperature of a half-tone? It’s nothing you can extrapolate on. But edges do exist in nature.” Light hits a plane and travels as far as the place facing the light goes, and as the form turns away from the light, there will be a soft edge. So you’re not getting a half-tone – you’re getting a soft edge which eventually turns into a shadow. So nature has soft and hard edges. Edges naturally turn in sequence from hard to soft – it’s an abstract sequence. Color, like edges, alternate from warm to cool. So if you have a warm plane, next will be a cool plane. This is true regardless of subject matter.

There are painters and there are renderers. In painting – instead of seeing form in a circular fashion, you see the world flatter, in planes, like sculpting. Rendering – using the wrist and brush, and doing a lot of blending. Leffel considers his style “abstract realism,” and he is a painter as opposed to a renderer.

When starting, the most important thing to consider is size and placement. The more empty space you have, the more important the filled space becomes.Start with a gesture drawing so you immediately know the design of the whole thing. Endings are abrupt, and continuations are soft. So even if you’re some distance from the model, you should know what to do.

Edges also control color and value. As you soften an edge, that area loses its impact, so it becomes an aesthetic rather than technical problem. The more impact you want an area to have, the quicker the turn. The less impact, the softer the edge.

Put down what you consider pertinent to the final painting. Learn to put down as quickly as possible what is significant. Know already where your edges and planes are, “and then all you have to do is finish the painting” (grin)

Work from big to little.

Background is very important. When you’re painting it, it is an integral part – it’s part of the “air” of the painting. Consider the color and value of it. It’s the local color and the color of the air between the subject and the background – as though you’re doing a landscape.A finished painting is a relationship of all the elements in the proper order. If you want something to go back in space, you lighten it, like a landscape. Learn to understand the abstract nature of painting. Just add information to your original idea (the gesture drawing). Build on the idea. “Try to only put down good brush strokes. Don’t waste time putting down bad marks.” A good brush sroke is descriptive of either structure or form. Structure goes across and form goes along. Zorn and Sargent, for example, preferred painting along form because the long brush strokes were more virtuosic. Just the change of direction of brush srokes gives you a totally different emotional impact or feeling in a painting. Part of it is intuitive or psychological, but part of it is conscious decision-making.

Highlights are anchors in the sense that they’re in the extreme. You have to know exactly where they go, so the painting should be “finished” before you put them down. A corner is where a plane changes direction.

Cleaning the brush is an unnecessary interruption while you’re painting. The solvent changes the consistency of the paint. Just get to know your brushes, and wipe them as you work, but save the solvents for when you’re finished.

You know a painting is finished, very simply, when you run out of energy. As long as you can see something to do in a painting, you have energy. Monitor yourself and your energy level, or else your painting will go downhill. If your painting is losing energy, either stop or work on a new passage or new painting. This will refresh you enough to go back to your original spot and find things that need work.

Here's the finished demo:

More notes to come in my next blog post!
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