Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Sharing Secrets" - A Progression

Here is one of my most recent paintings. While I still don't have one particular method that I use for starting and completing a painting, I share here the process I used for this painting. I hope it can be of some benefit to other artists.

Stage 1: I drew some basic shapes for the composition on the white canvas using vine charcoal, and immediately began blocking in the painting using a thin wash of Gamsol and Rembrandt transparent oxide brown. I allowed some of the drips to stay, and dabbed some of the others with a paper towel. I also left some of the white of the canvas showing through (once you lose it, you can't get it back!). I was working for the first time on lead-primed linen (commercially prepared), which I found to be too absorbent for my taste. However, even though I was forced to really load the paint on (and it was hard on my brushes), the plus side was that I had a lot more control over the placement of my brush strokes because the canvas "gripped" them so well.

Stage 2: I began blocking in the big shapes on one of the sisters but tried to get as close to the exact values and colors as I could from the start.

Stage 3: I tried to work the edges of the subjects and the background at the same time in order to keep it looking fresh and atmospheric.

Stage 4: I began to develop the likenesses of both girls and gradually built up more detail in their faces, hands, and head bows, still simultaneously working the edges along the background and negative spaces.

Stage 5: I used a palette knife to load the paint on for the couch, leaving some of it alone, and using a brush to smooth other areas. I also continued working on the background, leaving much of the underpainting showing through, and I worked the soft edges into the girls' tutus.

Stage 6: I blocked in the bottom section of the painting, and pulled some of the edges up and down to create the feeling of softness, as well as to break up that hard line created by the bottom of the couch.

Stage 7: I was unsatisfied with my rendering of the older sister's hands, so I scraped them down and started over with simpler shapes and values. I then took a break from the hands to block in her legs, and finish the younger sister's head bow.

Stage 8: The feet are finished at this point. I tried to keep everything very simple, so that the viewer's eye would go straight to the girls and their giggling faces.

"Sharing Secrets" - 20x16"
oil on linen mounted to board

The finished painting shows the hands and tutus finally resolved and a signature in place. Shortly after this piece was finished, I entered it in the Oil Painters of America Summer Online Showcase, and it won 1st place! Thank you, juror Bryce Liston, and OPA!


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Daily Victories... a Few Square Inches at a Time

I used to work on half a dozen projects and once, and finish at least one painting a week. These days I'm lucky to finish one painting a month. I would like to think I'm pretty good at focusing, even with interruptions, but when the interruptions happen all day long, with only twenty minutes of peace here and there, well... the days go by quickly.

Still, she is worth it.

Cece is three months old today!

Cecelia is my new full-time job. I nurse her, I change her, I burp her, I rock her, I read stories, I sing and dance and act goofy to get her to smile, I carry her around when that's all she wants... next thing I know, the day is gone and I've got nothing to show for it. I realize that motherhood is the most important job in the world, and I am taking mothering very seriously. I also realize I am nurturing a little person, with a soul and a personality of her own. But sometimes it feels so... hard. And it's torture to walk past my easel every day knowing that more often than not, it will have to wait.

Last week I was working on a figurative piece that involves a seated figure outdoors, with a waterfall behind her. One evening, I got a corner of the painting done -- some landscape work on bushes and rocks. I felt very accomplished! The next day, I worked some more on the landscape, but ended up scraping everything off that I had done that day. It was a mess, and I'd much rather repaint it over and over than "finish" an area and never be happy with it. I realized my focus has not quite been the same since I became a mother.

The most difficult challenge in all of this is making a large painting look cohesive - like it was painted all at once and in the same style. With such limited time, I have often found myself working on one small area at a time, per day, trying to make the edges look fresh, while matching the values and colors to the rest of the painting. This is much harder than having 8 or 9 hours to start and finish a painting in one session, because I am in a different place mentally and emotionally every time I come back to the easel. The way I paint today isn't necessarily how I would have done it yesterday, or how I will approach it tomorrow. So, how do I make a painting succeed, if my mindset will be different with every session?

It's important to try to remain objective. I've discovered that I can use the time and space between painting sessions to my advantage. I am able to find small mistakes, nuances, or aesthetic changes that I would not have noticed if I had simply hammered through a painting from start to finish. As a result of this epiphany, I think my work is getting better.  It takes a lot more patience, and the concession that I'll be doing fewer paintings. But those few paintings will be better than ever.

My latest work is a mad dash, but it is also calculated. I squint excessively, try to really nail it, because I don't have time to dawdle or pick at my paintings anymore. Every second of every day counts now. I have to make each brush stroke count! Still, if I'm too tired, or the baby is being fussy, I find that it's impossible to focus, so I put the brushes down and try again the next day.

I'm not going to post the paintings that show my days of struggle (with those, I sometimes wonder if the viewer can tell that the baby was screaming while I tried to paint...). Instead I will post here one of my little victories (or not so little... the canvas size is 36x24"!), "Lydia and Tinker Bear." Though it was not without its difficulties, this painting came together nicely. It took several months, but I tried my best to tie it together seamlessly. I've posted a picture of the first painting session I had with it (from before Cece was born... so I had more time!). From there, it took several months of smaller sessions, but it all worked out. The time away from the canvas was just as beneficial as the time in front of it.

"Lydia and Tinker Bear", first session

"Lydia and Tinker Bear" - 36x24" - oil on linen

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