Monday, April 22, 2013

Plein Air Workshop with Frank Serrano

In art school I was always told I needed to try and master different subject matter - not just portraits, but also still life and landscape. Studying other genres (and mediums, such as sculpture) will only help an artist excel at whatever they are already good at.

Since I haven't had much actual training in landscape painting, and since I LOVE being outdoors, this spring I decided to take a plein air workshop with Frank Serrano.  The workshop took place in New Harmony, Indiana. Spring was late this year, so all the trees were sprouting that neon green that happens just before they've fully leafed out. The weather was cloudy for most of the 4-day workshop except for one day, so needless to say, it was challenging. Still, I learned a LOT. Frank is an excellent teacher and an amazing painter.

(Above) Doing a demo with his back turned to the scene (to avoid direct sunlight on the canvas). This requires an excellent short-term memory! :-)

Above: Showing us how to paint realistic reflections in the water.

I came home with probably 8 or 9 paintings, but these two (above and below) were the only ones I was mildly satisfied with.

Frank doing a fast cloud demo. I've decided to adopt his limited palette for plein air (white, ultramarine blue, thalo green, cadmium yellow light, alizarin crimson, cadmium red, cadmium orange, burnt sienna), since pretty much every color is possible with this combination.

Above: my attempt at atmosphere on the one sunny day we were given. Just trying my hand at simpler brushwork, and beautiful greys. Then, there was Frank's AMAZING demo (below), which all of us in the class were drooling over. I still have a lot to learn, but I'm excited to get outside and implement it all.  :-) Last year at this time, I had a cast on my painting hand, so I'm grateful for every second I get to paint!

A big thanks to Frank Serrano for being so generous with his knowledge. I am inspired.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

New Self Portrait - "To Paint or to Play"

As promised, I thought I'd share some more about the process of painting what turned out to be a very challenging new self portrait.

The idea for this painting has been brewing in my head for almost a year and a half now. I've only seen a handful of artist self portraits that incorporate other figures or elements, but those are usually the most fascinating to me. The one I felt most inspired by for this project was a self portrait by Gustav Osterman, "Self Portrait with His Dog". If you take a closer look at the dog, you can just make out one crazed eye which, for me, completely makes this painting!

For my own interpretation, I wanted to depict my dog the way she is when she's impatiently waiting to go for our walk. Whether I'm at my computer or my easel, she frequently comes up to me and places her head on my lap, looking up with those sad puppy eyes. I originally considered doing something where she had her leash dangling from her collar, but when I sat down on my studio couch one day, and looked over at the full-length mirror that I had stuffed in the corner of the room, the idea for this composition occurred to me and I decided I had to give it a try.

I painted essentially what I saw in the mirror. A 28x12" canvas worked perfectly for the long, rectangular composition. I completed my head and much of the block-in during the first sitting, which took several hours (maybe... I don't really keep track of the time when I'm painting self portraits, nor do I give myself many breaks--a very bad habit).

This was day 1. Bella was finished in a matter of minutes. I posed her on my lap by placing a cracker on my leg, and awarded it to her after quickly blocking in her form. I had to finish some of the details from a photo I shot on my phone, but she did a very good job of staying put for as long as could be expected of a hyper Springer Spaniel.

The tricky part arrived when it was time to paint the hands. Since my left hand was always moving as I worked on the painting, I wasn't sure what to do with it. At first I thought it would be important to be holding a brush, so that's what I tried to do. But after hours and hours of frustrating work on it, I started to hate it and wondered if I'd made a terrible mistake. At that point, it was time to put the painting aside for a few days - completely out of sight - and give myself some time away from it. That was the best decision I made. Below is the painting with a very sad looking arm and hand...

After coming back to it two days later, I realized that as humbling as it would be, I needed to repaint the entire arm and hand. I got back into position in front of the mirror, and carefully posed my arm in a way that was simpler and also better for the composition - something that would lead the eye into the painting instead of causing a visual stopping point. I had to scrape and sand some of the paint off to smooth the surface, but after completing that, and going over the whole arm with a fresh coat of middle-value flesh tone, I was able to repaint the whole thing in a fraction of the time it took on my first attempt. I was infinitely happier with it this time around, and was so glad I had decided to risk it!

"To Paint or to Play" (finshed) - 28 x 12" - oil on linen 

I've already gotten a number of insightful interpretations of this portrait. While I can't always help what happens with my own expression (the focused look and parted lips always happen), this painting somehow ended up a little different than all of my previous self portraits. It has a feeling of openness and vulnerability that I've never shown before. Am I really that transparent? That insecure? I suppose the bare feet betray me. The dog, too, represents more than a literal image of my precious Bella. She is, in essence, everything that competes with my work, for better or for worse. She is the laundry, the grocery shopping, the phone calls, the social life. She represents the balance I must find in my life in order to make great art. One can't just work. There should be room for play. :-)

Monday, April 8, 2013

My New Portfolio is Here!


Type A (for "Anna") and Being a Painter

When my mom came to visit last month, we got into a discussion about personality types and I said something along the lines of, "I don't really think I'm Type A..." to which she interjected, "I always thought you were Type A!" That got me thinking. Whenever I have a question about something, I Google it (Yes, I'm one of those). According to Wikipedia, Type A individuals are described as "ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status conscious, can be sensitive, care for other people, are truthful, impatient, always try to help others, take on more than they can handle, want other people to get to the point, proactive, and obsessed with time management. People with Type A personalities are often high-achieving 'workaholics' who multi-task, push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence." 

Well, Mother's always right. I'd say that description fits me... perfectly.

The article goes on to mention a book written for the "diagnosis" and "treatment" of Type A behavior. I had to laugh after reading that, since I know how much my own drive and artistic obsessions have gotten in my way over the years. But I don't think Type A is something we should be trying to "treat." I think, from an artist's standpoint, that it's actually a good thing.

It was clear, earlier last week, that I needed to take a step back from my easel. I was working on a couple of larger portraits, neither of which seemed to be going well. Often I will start a portrait feeling incredibly energized and hopeful about its success, only to feel deflated after a while because I start to overwork and overthink the whole thing.

Well, my remedy for this was to spend a day with my twin sister, who, is not at all Type A but is a sweet and caring Type B. :-) Emily is my best friend and is the first person I go to when I need to talk something through. She told me to channel my frustration and self-inflicted misery and turn those things into positives. Maybe frustration is determination. Maybe the misery will lead to an "Aha!" moment, where the my brain has to switch gears and totally change its thought process. After all, as Clayton Beck says, "Your paintings are a complete reflection of what you are thinking (or not thinking). If you don't like what you're doing, change your thoughts."

So how to use this "Type A" stuff to my advantage? I am extremely sensitive. I take things personally. I get impatient. But I am also determined and not willing to settle for anything but my best. Maybe I just need to learn how to step away once in a while. The "cure" for Type A is to live in moderation... doing nothing in excess, having close friends who love you enough to peel you away from the easel, and of course, leading an active prayer life. Once you've "re-charged", you can go back to the studio again with that confidence and panache that people love you for... :-)

That's exactly what happened. After some time away, some time in the Word of God and some good conversation with my sister, I went back to the easel and finished those two paintings in two days. And you know what? I'm happy with them!

Here they are:

"Scarlit Tones" (Portrait of a Songwriter)
29 x 22" - oil on linen 

"To Paint or to Play" (Self Portrait with Bella)
28 x 12" - oil on linen 

I'll talk about the new self portrait in my next blog post. There is a little bit of a backstory... :-)

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