Friday, January 8, 2016

A New Year for Poetry - Recent Life Studies

Ever since my visit with master painter Max Ginsburg last fall, the idea of "poetry" has weighed heavily on my mind. I don't mean poetry in the literal sense (although I'm a sucker for Tennyson and T.S. Eliot). No, I mean, the motion, essence, and energy of the form when painting a figure.

Looking at my past work, I notice that many of my paintings are static, and could have been more dynamic. Even when a subject is still, there should be a sense of life and movement in the piece, otherwise the viewer (heck, the artist too!) gets bored and moves on. One can accomplish this by carefully alternating hard and soft edges, and by intentionally giving variety to the size and direction of brushstrokes. Of course, color harmony, drawing, and overall design have a lot to do with this as well. I can see why some of my mentors have suggested that I work harder at areas like design, drapery, overlap of form, edges, and visual interest throughout. I am grateful to them for challenging me to create paintings that flow like a well metered sonnet.

In the past six months, I've had the privilege of returning to weekly life painting sessions and these 3-hour exercises have taught me more about poetry than anything else. It always helps to have a top-notch model who can strike an inspiring pose, but even when stuck in an unfavorable spot in the room, I try to latch on to something interesting about my vantage point and make it work. Sometimes that means cropping way in; sometimes I revert to my comfort zone and just paint a portrait; other times, I focus on improving my values or drawing without worrying about a "perfect" finished painting. Whatever the design choice, I look at these studies as artistic calisthenics. This is how I "work out." As a result, my studio paintings end up so much stronger and better informed than if I wasn't painting from life on a regular basis.

Painting is hard. There's no question about it. But I always encourage my students to tough it out, and paint from life as much as possible. It's just like working out and eating right - if you want to look good, you have to put in the work!

So, here are some of my life studies from the past six months.

"Zelda Seated" - 12x9" - oil on linen panel (available)

This painting (above) has the energy I would like to see, in spite of the static pose. I enjoy the tension of the model's hands as she grips the fabric in front of her.

Above and below (details): these two were "scrapers," i.e., I wiped them off at the end of the night and recycled the canvases, but not before taking pictures to record my progress. In the painting above, I was happy with the hand, which was blocked in during the last ten minutes of the session. The rest of the painting looked belabored and static, so clearly, I had some warming up to do! For the painting below, my drawing was inaccurate on the upper torso, arms, and head... but I was happy with my results in the pelvis and legs. I was also happy with the edges, as they achieved the flow and visual interest I was hoping for. What a great learning experience these little studies are!

Above: "Felissia Standing" - 18x14" - oil on linen panel (SOLD)

(Above) Felissia was like a Greek statue - she held this pose with effortless grace and a demeanor reminiscent of Sargent's "Madam X". I don't remember much from this painting session except that my brush was flying and I loved every minute of it! When you're on, you're ON!

"Zelda" - 12x9" - oil on linen panel (available)

(Above) That hair! This one had to be a portrait.

"Vivian" - 12x9" - oil on linen panel (SOLD)

(Above) I was extremely happy with how this one turned out. It was lovely to have a model who was not only Indian (such lovely olive skin tones), but also more curvaceous. Her pose was gracefully simple, so it was up to my brush to add the feeling of motion.

"Colorful Expectations" - 14x11" - oil on linen panel

(Above) What a treat, especially for a painter like me who delights in the subjects of pregnancy, motherhood, and children. Daphne came in several times during the course of her pregnancy to model for us. She was about 8 1/2 months along in this one, painted in early December.

"Tarena" - 14x11" - oil on linen panel (available)

Tarena has such a lovely profile that I decided to paint her portrait instead of tackling a whole figure. I'm so happy I did!

"Noelle" - 12x9" - oil on panel (available)

Finally, here is my first painting of 2016, a sketch of Noelle. This is my best poetic effort so far and I very much look forward to what the next year will bring!

Big news for 2016: I am thrilled to be included on the faculty for this year's "Art of the Portrait" conference with the Portrait Society of America in Reston, VA (April 14-17). For those of you who know me, I have always wanted to paint in the Face-Off event, and this year, they have given me that honor! Hopefully my demo will be poetic. :-) I will also be on the faculty for the 25th annual Oil Painters of America national convention in Dallas, TX (May 13-15). I'll be doing a group demo, and am currently lining up a portrait workshop in conjunction with my stay in Dallas.

Stay tuned for more. The year has just gotten started. ;-)


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