Sunday, April 29, 2012

Partial Portraits

Week three of portrait painting class.

There has been some progress.

I managed to get to class at the studio, about a 45 minute trip one way, and back home without missing a turn or getting usually takes five or six trips for me to remember how to get anywhere in a clean shot.   That's big.  Even if I don't come away with a completed painting, I can proudly show my face at home, sharing the results of my ability to find my way and back (check out my earlier posts about my GPS, Samantha, and my driving exploits).

And, to the great glee of the instructor, I showed up with everything I needed to paint.  The first week I didn't have the right medium, any paper towels or the right oils.  Week two was a bit better, I did manage to get all of the paints together.

But, week three was a total success...on the equipment side.  I brought along a new pad of palette paper (to replace my wooden palette that has wet paint on it, which always manages to get on everything in my car and everywhere on my clothes while traveling), new medium (I hear the joke, "What no large?"), and a whole roll of paper towels, to continually wipe away mistakes on the painting!  I go through a lot of paper towels.

Things were looking good, regarding preparation.  Painting was a different thing.

To continue painting the portrait on which I am working, I was advised to, "Look at it as a landscape, check the drawing by measuring everything to redraw the face, and drop lines so see where corners of the mouth fall in relation to the eyes, or where the center of the lip falls in relation to the nose, and so on"..."Take it apart," said the instructor, "Don't think of the person, think of values and lines...treat the pieces of the painting."

Fortunately, I did have an Exacto knife with me, so it was easy to take it apart.  I wasn't sure of exactly how to "take it apart," so I just cut it into four pieces.

Right away I could see the problems. Here, to the left, one can see that the eye is too big and falls to the would have been a better painting had I seen that.  The eye on the right (here and there), is much better, but her chin looks like a blister and the red coloring to the right looks like an infection...didn't see that when it was a part of a larger picture.

Years ago, on Monhegan Island, as I prepared to throw a painting away, an artist stopped me and said, "Before you get rid of that, take a small mat and go around the large painting looking for a smaller one.  In every bad painting there's usually a great postcard!"  

The chin here, with the neck looks better...maybe it is okay and there's something wrong with the upper right portion...this is strange.  But, I guess it's like wearing sneakers...they don't go with everthing.

I do think the neck is coming along well...but now I see that the blotching has spread to her chest...perhaps it's a rash...sitting under hot lights for hours will do that.

The point of all of this measuring and getting values correct is for the "finish."

Getting the light lights on at the end is what "makes the painting sing." 

As she sits holding this pose, the lightest light is on her forehead, as you can see here to the right.

I put on the white highlight and didn't hear a thing.

Of course, now that this part of her head is separated from the rest, I can see that this is really a great part of the painting.

The lesson here is that, at times, we have to sacrifice for our art and learn something in the process.  Chopping up a painting may not feel good or be the best action to take.

However, now that I look at these, and working with the "postcard" theory, maybe there's a market for partial portraits...I only paint your good side or good feature!

Let me know.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Layered Look

I did think about taking some video during the portrait painting class that I'm taking, but didn't want to intrude on the others in the class.

And, I couldn't figure out how to mix paints, hold a brush or two along with a wipe rag, be able to squeeze out more oils as needed, hold the camera and zoom in and out at appropriate times, and run back and forth to the snack table!

It's a lot of work being an artist.

I did write last week that I would post the painting as we go along, and here to the right is week two of the same model, with another layer of paint.

You don't get to see the painting stroke by stroke, but hopefully you see some progress.

I was surfing the web and came across this portrait painting video and thought you'd like to see what we artists look like in action:

While some painters have insecurities about having people watch them paint, I don't mind.  In fact, I seem to do a bit better if I think someone is watching.  Don't know if I try to do better in front of an audience, so they think that I know what I'm doing, or if it's akin to a joke I read recently.

"How many artists does it take to change a light bulb?"

"Ten.  One to change it, and nine to reassure him about how good it looks!"

It always helps when you hear positive things.  Some like to hear only good things.  I'd rather have honest critique.  I did have an art instructor in a class setting once take a painting I was working on off my easel, look at it for a moment and then drop it on the floor, paint side down.  As he walked away, he said, "Garbage.  Start again." 

I knew the painting wasn't going well, but....

I probably should have picked that oil smeared canvas off the floor and framed it with all of the dirt, hair and unidentifiable objects now embedded in the surface.  "Studio floor - a study."  I could have been rich.  A whole new genre.  Floorealism...hmmmm.

Next joke...

"How many modern artists does it take to change a light bulb?"

"Four.  One to throw bulbs against the wall, one to pile hundreds of them in a heap and spray-paint it orange, one to glue light bulbs to a cocker spaniel, and one to put a bulb in the socket and fill the room with light while all the critics and buyers are watching the fellow smashing the bulbs against the wall, the fellow with the spray-gun, and the cocker spaniel."
Back to the portrait.  I have managed to get her face positioned in the right direction, but keep struggling with that nose.

The instructor says that I'm painting my nose.  When she said that, I went right to the paper towels and started to scrub my face for errant oil paint.

"No," she said, "You don't have paint on your face.  You're not looking at her nose, so you're painting a picture of the one you see every day....yours!"

"But," I protested, "I can't see my nose."

She grabbed my brush out of my hand and plopped the end of it on my nose, giving it a dollop of paint, and said, "Now, go in the bathroom and look in the mirror and clean that off and you'll see what I mean."

What's with me and these instructors and paint everywhere but on the canvas?

So, here we are at week two.  The model continues to be outrageously patient, holding her poses so well that you could almost tell time by the shadow cast by that nose, if she were outdoors during the day and were in the middle of a garden in the sun...she is good.

I wish I could do her justice and come up with something that really looked like her.  There are about six students in the class, mostly beginners, and as the model takes breaks I can almost hear her wincing as she passes the canvases of the various students and looks at our efforts.  I hope she doesn't drink.

Everybody who paints portraits wants to capture the likeness so that the sitter is pleased, along with the artist.  And, perhaps even someone who didn't know the model would see the painting and then the model would walk in and the viewer would turn quickly and say, "That's's so good."

You never know when a good representation can come in handy.  There's a story that the artist Pablo Picasso surprised a burglar at work in his new chateau.  The intruder got away, but Picasso told the police he could do a rough sketch of what he looked like.  On the basis of his drawing, the police arrested a mother superior, the minister of finance, a washing machine, and the Eiffel tower.


We have two more weeks of working on this portrait, so you will be treated to at least two more rounds of "what does the model look like this week."

I did a little bit of work on it at home this week (something you shouldn't do, as you should always be looking at what you're painting) and made some improvements.

Here it is now...let me know what you think!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Face It's hard to paint portraits.

Unlike trees and rocks, and lakes and streams, that appear in landscapes and can pass muster just by looking something like one of those listed, people want something more.

Seems it is expected that the picture you're painting of the subject is supposed to look just like them!

The original "snapshot" before film, portraits were the way to memorialize faces and figures.

We know what George Washington looks like because of the number of paintings of him, and they all look like the same guy.  You could probably pick him out of a crowd today, based on those visions that we've seen.

Same goes for Ben Franklin, Napoleon, and a bunch of other people.

To take the pressure off, I've decided to paint portraits of people that my friends don't know.  That way I can assure them that the likeness is dead on...sorry I can't produce the model, but trust me this is just what they look like.

I started taking a portrait class last week, at the Woodstock School of Art.  You should check out their classes, as the offer instruction in many medium:

I've wanted a challenging art class and I got one.

I thought I'd share the process here with you, through the four once-a-week classes that will result in a completed portrait at the end!  Really!  The instructor promised that!

To the right, above, you'll see the work in progress.  Now, before you get all excited and start writing me about how she seems to be missing an eye and, well, it's not really a very good painting, I must point out that this is the first under-painting, if you will.

As the model posed, we had three hours to draw in the head and shoulders and start putting in values.  She was very patient and kept the same pose, with a few breaks, without fail.

I think it's a really good start.  The instructor thought just a bit different, "that's going to need some work."

While I was busy measuring the eyes, the nose, the mouth, etc., I got a bit the teacher noted, "you seem to have flown into space, transposed yourself, and seen the model from over there," as she pointed to the other side of the room.

It was then that I noticed the model was actually facing the other way!  Details!!!

"I did get the hair values right," I added quickly.

Our instructor threw a glancing blow, "a little dark for a blonde, but I guess you can claim artistic license."

I worked on the canvas for another hour and made terrific gains.  Here, to the left below, you'll see the differences...right?  Big improvements?

The nose lighter, better color in the shadows, brighter whites?

You can see the vast difference after an

Oh well, more later...another class this week and you'll see...the commissions will start pouring in.

I remember what a former art teacher said to me about portraits.  "Do your best, but don't show it to them right away.  Put it in a closet for about 10 to 20 years, then give it to them.  They'll love it."

Let me know where you're ready to pose!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sketch a Sketch

I am in the process of re-writing my instruction  manual on sketching and am letting everyone know that I am ready for drawing classes...before you shout, "About time you took drawing lessons," this is to let you know that I will be teaching the craft.

Over the years, I've come up with a fool-proof way to teach people how to draw.  Even the most die-hard resistor, "You can't teach me to draw," came away surprised that they had a drawing in their hands that they had completed.  True story!  One student fought me tooth and nail during each class session, but once she gave into the idea of listening, it all came together.  I didn't buy it from her, but it was so good that she wanted to take it right home and put it on her

Just like some other folks, I spent many childhood years wanting to draw and paint. Hours were spent on the floor of our second floor apartment studying under the watchful eye of Jon Gnagy.  Or it should be said, laying on the floor in front of the television, watching Gnagy’s art instruction shows, drawing along with him.  Here's a clip from one of his classes: 

When Jon wasn't around to provide "private" instruction, I would spend time copying all sorts of shapes, and dogs and horses, over and over out of the Gnagy drawing lesson books...I had a whole drawing set of his at one time! 
Following up on my desire to take art classes in high school, and perhaps from someone in person (as Gnagy was off the air by then and the books had worn out), I asked about taking art classes.  The guidance counselors directed me away from that passion, with the statement that "there isn't room in your schedule, as you need Math, English and Science courses for college.”

When I got to college, someone at the college admissions office said, "You only have Math, English and Science classes.  You need liberal arts courses!" I'm still confused.

At that time, there were two “arts” classes to pick from, "Introduction to Spanish and Spanish Culture" or "Introduction to Oil Painting."

Painting won out.  Not that I had anything against Spanish and Spanish Culture but, after studying French for seven years, I thought I had spent enough time on learning a language that no one else around me spoke.  I will wait for a moment while someone points out the merit of having thought twice about the Spanish classes!

Back at the community college, I spent several years studying with Guy Corriero, a fine oil painter and instructor, and now an AWS (American Watercolor Society) member.  A prolific artist, Corriero's works have been described as "the most colorful impressionistic watercolors anywhere."  You can see his link here on my blog page...he continues to paint many wonderful things.  I heard recently that he painted his kitchen!

Under Guy's tutelage, I learned the techniques of sketching, drawing, oil painting, watercolor painting, critique in studio, not crying when he asked you what your subject matter was, and the joys of painting plein air. 

Monhegan Island, Maine
The think about sketching is that you can do it indoors or out...Monhegan Island is a favorite art retreat for me and the groups that Guy Corriero led there over 25 years. Instruction on the island focused on seascapes, the life of a sea village and, as Guy would walk all over the island to give individual instruction to the students, learning how to let him know where you were so that he didn't run around the island all day long looking for you.

I've also painted plein air in Lyon, France, where I bought my first box of oil paints, while also studying French language, history and culture, and have painted in the Hudson Valley and upstate New York, and in Massachusetts and other areas of Maine.

I do favor the impressionistic style of painting and am fairly adept at the skills that watercolor requires. Other studies of mine included studio classes with Sylvia Springer, a fine upstate still life and portrait artist; Lee Parks, watercolorist and instructor with the Hurleyville Artist Association; James Ziegler, classically trained oil artist; several local classes in pastel, and figure drawing with School of Woodstock instructor Jon deMartin.

I've provided art instruction to individuals and groups, including art programs at Mohonk Mountain House, during “Artists Inspiration” programs, and created a very successful program for 1st graders at Kerhonkson Elementary School in the 1990's that resulted in successful watercolor training for 7-year-old students.  Along with other artists, I contributed art work of my own to the school.  The program developed with First Grade teacher Barbara Cesaratto brought varied art forms to the lives of young children, created an 'art gallery' in that school's library and a full scale outdoor display made of tiles created by the students, among other projects.  I also produced a very successful class around Native American art processes, instructing those same groups of children on how to find materials in nature to make brushes and drawing implements and painting with natural substances, such as berries and plants extracts.

Starting my career with oils, I've had many successes with the medium regarding landscapes and seascapes.  I also studied watercolor and produce an annual series of "Fall Foliage" paintings focusing on individual leaves that has proved to be very popular.

My works have hung in the Omni Building in New York City and are in many private collections across the country, and I've participated in group art shows in the Mohawk Valley and Hudson Valley, and at Mohonk Mountain House, in New Paltz.

So, here's the point.  I'm about finished with the re-write of "The Values of Sketching" and will be using it as an instructional booklet for upcoming classes, for individuals or for groups.  I am also trying to figure out how to "teach" sketching on line, via my blog...stay tuned for developments there.

In the meantime, each drawing or painting really starts with a sketch...if you have an interest, contact me and somehow we'll figure out how I can get you sketching!