I'm running a summer painting group, where we try out a new challenge each week. The idea is to try something a little different- a new technique or subject matter that we aren't quite comfortable using yet.
This week's challenge was to paint on black gesso. I found the process intriguing. It felt more like using pastel than paint, because the lights stand out so beautifully against the dark surface, but the paint had to be built up thickly to really cover the black.
I enjoyed keeping the shadow areas large simple shapes, and letting the black peep through here and there.
I still have my mind on this guy. My first portrait of him was a profile view, and I wanted to try painting his full face. I like his expression here, which I interpret as a mixture of caution and intelligence.
When I paint a portrait, getting a likeness that satisfies me usually doesn't happen until the final day. There is lots of fussing over the mouth and eyes, but overall I may spend more time on the non-features, like the folds of skin under the eyes, and the shape of the forehead, cheeks and chin. That's where the real likeness is found.
My recipe for painting a portrait from an image:
1. Paint simultaneously from a color image and a black-and-white version to get both the colors and values right.
2. Paint the entire thing upside down, but frequently turn it right-side up to check results.
3. Paint the details, then when you get tired of them and the painting seems to be going nowhere, move your easel back 12 feet from the images and paint from that distance. It's help pull the portrait together, and the main large shapes will be more apparent.
This was a tough one. The still life was lit with such a strong spotlight that I needed to keep the shadows fairly dark in order to show their strong contrast with the brilliantly lit areas. As always, I never seem to feel sure as to how much detail I want to include. Sometimes lots of detail helps a painting be strong, sometimes it hurts!
There's a bit of a backstory to this portrait. In 2012 I painted a portrait of President Barack Obama. In 2016, shortly after Donald Trump won the election, someone challenged me to paint Trump, not hatefully or sarcastically, but "showing his humanity".
I have spent hours pouring over available images of Trump, trying to choose one that I'd find revealing of his innermost self, without seeming to be an easy "hit piece". I started two paintings of him and abandoned them both. I may try again.
But in the meantime, I kept thinking of Attorney Robert Mueller, and how much I was dying to paint him- and so it goes. The heart wants what it wants (an Emily Dickinson quote).
This is the third in my little series of "Balance" paintings, each focusing on a different color. The first, "Yellow Balance", came easily and quickly. The second, "Blue Balance" took much longer. This one took the longest- I found purple a much harder color to work with.
Saying that, I'm not sure why how long a painting takes should be such a concern of mine. A painting takes as long as it takes.
Here is a composition with mainly blue tones, with just a bit of warmth provided by the flower. My challenge was choose a subject with a focus on one color, without that limitation making the painting boring.
I painted this shell using the Zorn Palette (just white, black, yellow ocher and cadmium red), but changed my mind about the background. I wanted the green to be intense, as to contrast with the subtle colors of the shell, so went outside of the (Zorn) box.
I'm still in the midst of teaching a six week class using the "Zorn Palette", and thought I could learn by copying one his paintings. As in the original, I used just titanium white, ivory black, yellow ocher and cadmium red.
Anders Zorn's portrait of his wife is 15.8 × 23.9 in, while my copy is much smaller. Zorn's style is often thought of as full of bravura, but I found the soft, internal expression of the woman subtly and lovingly painted.
This is my grandniece Margo, with the photo credit going to my nephew Jordan Meeder.
I'm gearing up to teach my limited palette class, and wanted to try the Zorn palette on a portrait. Just using white, black, yellow ocher and cadmium red makes painting seem closer to drawing- the values become more important than getting the exact right color. Every tone leads to just two questions- how light/dark is it, and is it cool or warm?
I like the intelligent look this goat is giving me.
I've come to think that, although the handling takes some getting used to, pastels are not so different from oils. They are a little easier and faster to blend, just needing a swipe with a finger, but it's still all about values.
Time to get back to oils, as I'll be teaching a limited palette class in January. I spent the afternoon making a chart of Anders Zorn's colors, just yellow ocher, cadmium red, ivory black and white mixed to get a wide range of colors.
I've been continuing to experiment with pastel. This started out loose (and I liked the looseness), but gradually settled down into something quieter and more balanced.
Never having taken a pastel class, and not knowing any pastel artists well, I feel like I need to find my own way with the medium. I ordered a set of very soft pastels by Sennelier, but found them much too soft for details. Then I ordered Nupastels, which I can sharpen to nice points using a razor. I'm very happy with using the two sets in combination.
I tried using fixitive on a section and it darkened the colors dreadfully, so I drew over that area.
Working in pastel is giving me a real jolt. It's so difficult! Yet the the feel of the soft sticks in my fingers, and the beautiful textures they give are satisfying. I thought it would be kind of like drawing in charcoal, except in color. Instead I find it hard to be very exacting, and easy to get muddy colors (on that point I'm disagreeing with my last post). I can now see why so many pastel artists end up not blending colors, but instead placing strokes of differing colors side by side.
This is drawn on charcoal paper, but I've been reading about preparing my own rough surfaces by mixing ground pumice into gesso and spreading it on heavyweight illustration board. Perhaps I'll enjoy a rougher, sturdier surface. Or perhaps I'll give up and go back to oils!
What really bothers me is having to leave this without a fixitive spray. How on earth to store it? It's as smudge-able as a sidewalk chalk drawing.
This is my first attempt using pastels. I've had no interest in the medium until recently, an interest that grew out of the charcoal class I've been teaching. My demonstration drawings with charcoal and white chalk had me craving the feeling of a dry medium, but in color.
I like strict realism in color, and sometimes find that pastel paintings are too pretty. Still, I think my paintings could use some bold color, which pastel makes quite hard to not achieve.
So much to find out- some online articles I read say that fixitive doesn't really "fix" pastel drawings- that they'll still smudge. Also that it will darken the colors. Some fixitives that I look up on DickBlick say they are glossy. I wonder what effect that would have on pastel?
I was intrigued with the idea of being quite honest about getting older. So here I am.
I used two small mirrors to get this view, and boy, was it hard to keep my face in the same position! I had to keep moving my head to check my drawing's progress from a bit of a distance. For a long time it seemed I was drawing sections of my face that didn't line up with each other.
First I drew all the negative (background) spaces, then the plant. In other words, all the chunks of flat white behind the leaves came first. I always tell my students that a strong awareness of negative spaces makes for stronger work. I think it helped here.
I moved into a new studio last week, a space in an industrial building that was once a pants factory. There are about thirty other businesses here, such as a private detective and a kombucha manufacturer, a hair salon and a karate studio. I feel so at home here. The building has such strong bones yet beautiful details.
This is my first painting completed in my new space, a single tulip on an industrial windowsill, casting an evocative shadow.
Here's a photo of my space before I moved in. It looks to me almost like an art school classroom.