Friday, July 24, 2015

New Painting - Bridal Portrait

Painting is an exercise in problem solving. There are countless things to keep in mind: choosing an overall design, deciding whether to block in with paint or do a simple line drawing first, choosing and mixing colors, putting down accurate shapes, values, and color temperatures... Oh, and then figuring out how to express a certain mood or idea--in paint. The list of important things for an artist to remember can seem endless, and if you are working from photos, which most of us do at least part of the time, the problems are compounded.

Eight years ago when I started my professional art career, I did not have the experience or wealth of acquired knowledge to really understand both the pitfalls and the true potential of reference photos. I had to learn a lot of things the hard way, and I am still learning as I go.

My little brother got married last summer, and as a wedding gift to the newlyweds, I promised them a portrait of the beautiful bride. In the chaos and craziness of their wedding day, I only got a few minutes with the bride to take reference shots. I already knew I wouldn't be using their wedding photographer's photos, because I wanted this portrait to be one-of-a-kind and not just a painted copy of someone else's point of view. Unfortunately, that meant I had to work with what I had: some less than ideal, underexposed photos taken on the fly.

My first mistake was that I originally tried making the portrait too large. I started with a 30x40" canves and after several painting sessions on it, gave up. I just didn't have enough information to work with. Lesson learned: only make the painting as large as the reference photos will allow!

I took quite a few months off from the project as life and work got in the way. Several portrait commissions and dozens of life sketches later, I felt ready to try again.

This time, I was able to complete the portrait within about a week and a half, and I was actually very happy with it. My secret to success: returning to life figure drawing sessions. I attended two of them at the Art Students League of Denver during the time that this painting was on my easel, and not surprisingly, I found that the sessions were incredibly helpful!

Alternating between studio work and alla prima painting from life keeps the work fresh. Alla prima painting forces a certain amount of intuition, with greater focus and intensity. Studio work allows you to pay more attention to detail, but you have to be so much more careful that the painting doesn't fall into the area of slavish copying. In the case of this portrait, I benefited most from observing areas of overlap on the form. I could observe the model from all sides, under different lighting conditions, and truly see how things relate. I took the memory of this experience back to the studio with me, and even though 4 or 5 photos are no substitute for a 360-degree view, I was able to use that memory to accurately sculpt passages like the arms and collarbones.

Another issue I had with my photo references was the lighting. Cassie was seated indoors under a hot overhead light, which made her spotless white gown look yellow. I did take a look at some of her other wedding photos to see how the dress flowed, and what kinds of colors it picked up from different environments. I ended up using a lot of warms and cools in the gown, layering as I went to mimic the layers of the dress.

It's too bad I didn't put Cassie's cute red shoes in there. But I'm happy with this painting and can't wait to present it to the newlyweds.

"Cassie on Her Wedding Day" - 30x24" - oil on linen


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Painting from Life: My Toddler

Someone sent me a gentle reminder this morning that while it may be worthwhile to fight for my painting time, it's more important to be spending time with my daughter and enjoying every second, especially while she is young. I completely agree. And I suppose for my blog readers it does seem like I often complain about lack of studio time or not being at the top of my game. Since this is an art blog, I try to post things that are relevant to art, so it can be frustrating when I don't have any new work to post.

In truth, I am enjoying every moment with my daughter while she is young, and painting is all part of my desire to capture that. In my life, creating art has been my way of "possessing" or capturing moments. For example, as a young girl, horses were my favorite animal, but I was deathly allergic to them. So I drew them instead. I filled hundreds of pages with horses in every breed, color, and pose imaginable. Now, years later, I have that same obsession but instead it's with painting my little girl.  Painting is how I experience life. Picasso said, "Painting is just another way of keeping a diary." So as I see my daughter changing and growing every single day, my heart is full. And on those rare occasions that I get to paint her, it's filled to overflowing.

Last night after Cece's dinner, I kept her in the high chair for an alla prima portrait sketch. She did an amazing job! Although there was no way she would ever hold still or maintain any one position, I took note of certain head tilts and expressions that were characteristic of her. Children enjoy one-on-one attention, so it surprises me that so many artists refuse to paint them from life. It is a wonderful experience for both artist and model. We made funny faces at each other, we repeated words and sounds back and forth, and when Cece started to fade, I bribed her with Cheerios. She also spent a good deal of time looking at one of her board books, and narrating the story in a language only she understands right now. Amazingly, she sat in that high chair for nearly two hours and didn't complain, although we ended up working past her bedtime and by the end she was rubbing her eyes. It was worth it though. She'll just have to get used to being the daughter of a portrait artist. ;-)

Early on I was ready to scrap it completely and give up. But I kept on going...
...and Cece was a trooper.
Time for more Cheerios!
This is as far as I got last night. "Good Dog Carl" was a lifesaver!

Finished from life this morning. "Cece at 14 months" - 8x6" - oil on linen panel


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Emerging from the Fog - Painting Trip to Telluride

Last week our little family went on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Telluride. It was no small thing, packing up and making the 6-hour drive, but we had already lived in Colorado for a month and still hadn’t been into the mountains! And those mountains… well, they were the closest I’ve ever seen to Switzerland in the U.S. They were breathtaking. It was just what I needed to help spur me back into painting, after taking over a month off for our move. I couldn't wait to do some plein air painting, even though I was really out of practice. I am most happy with the two paintings I did from our hotel balcony (below).

"Telluride Clouds" - 8x10 - Available

"Last Light in Mountain Village" - 8x6" - Available

I caught up with some Texas artist friends, Carol Devereaux and Suzie Baker, who were painting in the Telluride plein air event that week, and I made some new friends, too. Arkansas artist John Lasater was also painting in the event, and I met him at the artist reception (he is awesome - check out his work!). The next day, I had the opportunity to join him and his daughter for some nocturne painting. It felt strange, being out after dark. I can’t remember the last time I did that! It was even stranger trying to paint a nocturne, as I had never done it before and couldn’t see my colors. When John finished his painting, which was a beautiful rendition of Telluride's city lights from above, we went down into town to start another one. I painted alongside him, and had no clue what I was doing. His looked luminous and convincing; mine will definitely need some work in the studio to correct the values! But it was so much fun, and I loved talking art and faith with a like-minded person.

John Lasater  doing a nocturne painting (with my easel to the right)

The altitude affected all of us for the first couple of days, but Cece handled the trip really well. She enjoyed the hiking, since for her it meant riding high on Daddy’s shoulders. On Friday we even did a 9 mile hike! I didn’t have a pack, so my body handled it okay. Steve was exhausted though! :-)

Speaking of bodies… 14 months postpartum, I am finally starting to feel like my old self again. I knew that having a baby would change everything, but I didn't realize how long it would take to really make the adjustment. While parenting is a joyous and integral part of my life, I still find myself having days where I'm frustrated because I didn't get to paint as much as I wanted, if at all. Other artist-parents have advised me to paint a little, every day - fight for that studio time. I haven't followed that advice as much as I'd like, but as my daughter gets older, things get a little easier. I am beginning to emerge from the fog and find my bearings again. The hard part is to stay motivated, with projects that keep me interested and passionate. Whenever you take a big chunk of time off from something, it's hard to get back into it. But I must. Art is ingrained in my being, and I have to keep painting, no matter how "rusty" or unmotivated I feel.  

It will help to have my new studio completely unpacked and set up for painting (which will be soon, hopefully!). I stretched and primed a bunch of new canvases, so I have no excuses now! :-)

New works coming soon. Meanwhile, here are some of my favorite pictures from our trip.

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