Working from photo’s

In the Atelier forum on facebook they have been talking about the pros and cons of working from life vs. photos. It is pretty much agreed that working from life is required for any serious student of art. However some were of the viewpoint that working from photo reference was somehow not as valid as work done in front of a live model or still life. Well, that is very easy to say for someone that has access to *space*. Models can be found, still lives set up… life is everywhere, just paint from it, right? Easier said than done when there is no space between your easel, the wall in front of it and the wall behind you. When I one day have the luxury to have a nice little set up to my right or left that is appropriately eye level then that day I will work from life every day, day in and day out and love the hell out of it. When I one day have the gift of being able to place a model a reasonable distance away from my easel so I might use sight size I will have a personal renaissance of drawing and painting only from the life. Until then I will take advantage of the models at school WHEN I can and I will paint and draw from *whatever* I need to so that I can continue to work at home and fill that crazy need within to just “do it”.

Absurd to think that somehow there is less validity in the work of an artist that has no access to the luxury of studio space. It is thoughts like that that create a subtle and specific kind of elitism that can divide even something as free as making art into the “have’s” and the “have not’s”

Speaking of photo’s… I have been working on a few pastels lately. I thought I would show the the steps so far of one work in progress. The still life comes from a larger still life I set up and took multiple photo’s of creating different individual still lifes. I spent some time drawing from the still life before I had to take it down due to above mentioned space issues. Now I am working primarily from memory and photo reference. It still has a long way to go – I’ll post it again when it is finished.

Done! Anchorage & Irene

I finally finished my pastel “Anchorage! You can see the progression in the below posts. It has come a long way, and it took me a long time to finish but I fell in love with the subject even more so than when I began. The light in Anchorage in the evening is the most amazing light I have ever seen. I have also finished a little drawing called “Irene”. I had some fun with this one adding abstractions and atmosphere to it. Now it’s time to start new work. that is always a little unnerving.

I am going to do a large drawing in the style of :Reverie” or another girl reading a book. I already prepared the drawing board and it is just waiting. It is going to be approx 18×24 in graphite, charcoal and Conte Noir. I am also starting two pastel still lives and an abstract snowy landscape of Anchorage again. And I am still working on my little grisaille still life. I want to start a new painting so bad I can taste it. In color even!  Anyway, here is “Anchorage” and “Irene” . I really hope you like them!

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Latest WIP: Anchorage Out my Window

Here is the latest from my work in progress of Anchorage. In the post below you can see the progression. It has a ways to go before it is done. I am really struggling with the path and I have not evens really started on defining the tree sky edges but I am starting to see it really emerge. I am working so hard on my classical drawing and on my value paintings that it is refreshing to work in color on this one.

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Re-Beginning Oil Painting — Yay!

I have decided to begin my oil painting re-introduction in Grisaille, or monochrome. I will be using a gray palette where I can focus on learning the feel of the paint in application and clearly communicate value. I am basically teaching myself painting using my drawing classes as a foundation and information I can find online from classical realists and different ateliers that openly share knowledge.

I applaud the ateliers that do this. They are making at least some portion of a classical education available to us who simply cannot afford the atelier classes. I know that without the critique of an experienced teacher it is an uphill battle with results that may never match those with a full house of classes and workshops but, what? Do I just not do it because I can’t pursue the curriculum full tilt boogie. Do I wallow in the discouragement or just get over it and paint. I seek to find the best sources of information and apply it to the best of my ability. I am very fortunate to be able to take figure drawing and classical drawing at the Neoteric Renaissance School of Art. Drawing is the backbone of my painting program. I have already seen a vast improvement in my painting from where I left off over ten years ago just through applying how I am starting to see and sticking with the spirit of classical art studies.

All that said I begin with two still lifes.

The first some eggs and the second some oranges. I will post some as I move forward in the work. Below are my under paintings and the “open grisaille” beginnings along with the reference material I am working from. I have no room in my very small apartment for a still life so I am relegated to working with photos of still lives I have put together. The drawings are done using a grid system and the techniques I am learning via the Bargue system of drawing. The under painting is a burnt umber. The grisaille palette is a value string made of a mixture of ivory black and burnt umber for the dark and titanium white for the light. I am using a nine value string. My lean medium for my open grisaille is turpenoid with a tad of liquin to assist drying time. My fat medium will have a little more of the liquin.
Other than that, in terms of application I feel like I am learning to drive for the first time and I am just a little out of control of the car.

Finished Two Studies Today

I called it done on two studies today. The first is my first ever pastel portrait. This is where the classical drawing will help A LOT. I can’t wait until I can draw a realistic looking face! I was interested in color matching my pastels in this one and also to do a flesh tone in pastel. I think the palette lacks subtlety because it was my first time. I got as far as I cared to go with the study, learned what I wanted from it and all in all I am happy with the result of the study.

The second is just a fun expressionistic study of some fire and ice roses on a bright Mexican blanket. I really wanted to have some fun with the colors in this one. Loosen up, see how much pastel I could push onto the paper and how the pastel acted at heavier applications. I achieved my goals and I think it is a alright in a quirky kinda way.

You have to do to learn and do lots. I have found it is good to have a goal in a piece. It gives you a signpost as to when to stop if the whole is not working. Not every piece is a work of art, but if you can learn something and better yet – know what you learned from each piece then it is a success. Both are 9″ x 12″ soft and hard pastel on hand prepared pumice paper.

On the Easel July 11

The biggest thing for me right now is going to drawing school and learning to draw the old school method. It will take a long time and change up everything. You can keep an eye on the whole “go backwards to move forwards” concept at the Atelier Student’s Blog which I just updated with today’s very humble marks. However, I can not just stop wanting make marks until I learn how to really draw so I have a few projects on the easel right now. The landscape is hard and soft a pastel on prepared pumice paper. The drawing is pencil from a photograph of a friends mother. The under painting here is the start of a re-do of a tiny acrylic I did a while back. I am using the water-soluable oils and am finding they do not perform as well for me on a smaller scale. I am not really sure where I am going with it, but I like the concept.

I know three things. 1) I am compelled to create  2) This is SUCH an exciting time to be learning and making art. 2) In the long run, my drawing study will make so much difference in what’s on my easel.

On the easel today…

On the easel today — a painting of a woman with roses. The reference for this is a cemetery statue. It is a umber under-painting. The detail in the eyes and flesh will be worked in at the color phase.

I am using a new medium – water soluble oil paints. I just started experimenting with them last Wednesday. I like them very much more than the acrylics I have been fighting with for so long. They are buttery and work into a nice consistency or glaze when using the thinner and mediums made for it. They are not quite as nice as regular oils but it is real oil paint with a real oil paint feel. This makes me very, very happy and is a solution to a quandry I have had for a very long time. Next challenge – how to do multiple oil paintings in a tiny studio environment.

Also is a pastel I just started today of the redwoods in Henry Cowell park. This one has a long way to go too!

Bell, Book and Candle – Final Project Pastels – Done!

New drawings for my final project. Bell Book and Candle Series, Pastel on prepared paper. I like these though not as much as some others I have done recently. I was trying to use use the marks to give a subdued, realistic still life energy and atmosphere. There is a symbolic story to the series drawing from the literary and mystical traditions of the object relationships.

In Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus, the lead character is subjected to excommunication using this process: “Bell, book, and candle; candle, book and bell, / Forward and backward, to curse Faustus to hell.” (Scene 7, lines 83-84).

My title piece, Bell, Book and Candle (the three items) is the final piece and represents the closure of the excommunication, a renunciation and the final end/death. Like the Death card in the Tarot – it has a reverse significance. In death is a new beginning.

Of course, the paintings have to communicate this in some way, and in that I was not as successful and I would have liked to have been. Pastel is a new medium for me and it was fun to work with, through trixtie. Lost control of it a little, also the series went a little darker in value than I intended when all was said and done. Loved doing the realism of the still life, I think I lost it a little in the marks. All in all tons of lesson! And fortunatly, there is always more art to make!

Hard at Work

Hard at work on my four pieces for my final project. A lot going on in a very little space… They will look very different when done than they way they look here. Things are flowing very well! I love pastels. The marks you can make are so amazing. I have however, devised a way to paint with oils in my little apartment. I will try it this summer. We shall see. I will always have a fondness and will probably always do pastels.

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A Recent Pastel Study

This is a color study I did of a broom I have on my door. The detail of the wood handle was surprising to me. It amazed me the detail I was able to get with pastel, being they feel like little rocks in your hands. (The whole piece photo is curved.)

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Lessons from a Student Painter

Recently I have realized a few things that I do that contribute to my artwork’s “student-y” look.  These are things in addition to the general tendency for artists to be their own worst critics. I don’t think any artist is ever cured of these things, but it is my hope that a commitment to mindfulness will lead me to more satisfying work over time.  This is generally written in the first person but my reason for writing it is to hopefully provide interesting and helpful insights to other over-thinking students.

1.       I have first realized what I call “a habit of constraint”. I have noticed a tendency to force forms into shorter or smaller expression than they actually are. I am constantly making things too small – spheres, ellipses, angles. I constantly have to “grow them” as I work to the point that it becomes a distraction or I miss the form all together and when the work is complete it just has that off look. This has everything to do with seeing, with perception. I believe I see what I want to see instead of seeing the actual form and its actual relationships. Instead of just observing the bowl in front of me, I complete the bowl based on my experience of the form of “a” bowl . I come up with all sorts of my own ideas about the bowl that has very little to do with the actual bowl in front of me. In the end, the drawing of the bowl ends up small because I am fitting it into a form, fitting it into an idea instead of observing and interacting with the actual form.  Another aspect of this constraint comes from lack of experience and confidence, a shyness of sorts when estimating shapes. This is quite related to “growing the form” where you start of too small and the form grows out of control as you over-correct while you are working. Circles and spheres are  very prone to moving out of control in this way.  I have found if I go into the drawing of a form with this limitation in mind I can actually feel the tendency towards constraint and have to make a conscious decision to make the form larger, let the form breath, give it its actual space in the composition. When I do this, I achieve a much more satisfying result.

2.       A second area that requires my strong vigilance is the impatience that moves the evolution of an image along too fast. It is almost an “un-contained excitement”. Often things feel like they are spinning out of control. I have heard that seasoned artists often feel that they are just on the verge of losing control when they are really in the flow or breaking through. This is not that feeling. This is in fact a loss of control. First let me say that some of the best exercises I have done as a student have been free form expression where the point is to lose control, to let go. There is a time and a place for losing control. When your goal is to do an accurate representation of some fruit and a pitcher and your heart is set on it – you want to have some control.  This impatience comes from various sources and there are a number of types of impatience. Each type results in the tendency to complete the form too early. This happens often in more complex areas of a work where I am really stretching my ability. It has also been the result of fatigue from not taking breaks or breathing properly (I know a lot of folks that hold their breath when they work). For instance, when rendering the complex folds of drapery there comes a moment when this impatience leads me to stop seeing the actual shapes of the cloth and start completing the shapes based on patterns in my imagination. I can even be looking at the form and still not seeing what is there because I am moving too quickly to notice that I am zoning out.  Other forms of impatience such as the impatience to be done with a difficult task in the work, impatience caused by the excitement to see a completed form or impatience caused by fatigue each leads the observer down a false path and you don’t even know you’re going down it.  You are not in control of the marks you are making. Then you finally stop, stand back from your work and it just doesn’t look right and it is a puzzle as to why.  The work then becomes a tense struggle to discover the correct forms, redraw and re-do. If I keep my mind clear and mindful of this tendency towards impatience I have a much better chance of my marks being true and having some control over the expression.

 3.       A third area that continually has a strong influence on me is the struggle with the “conservation of energy” or lack-there-of. Think of an object being pulled by a magnet. In the same way, often after completing some very successful marks or an entire form, when things are really going well and are at a natural resting place – I am compelled to continue, to make another mark, to continue the conversation.  Simply put, I don’t know when to stop. It is almost impossible for a young artist to know when a work is done.  Early work embodies so many lessons that “if to stop” and “when to stop” become blurred and in that blur you just keep making marks, one more highlight, another shadow– and on and on until you undo what might be very encouraging good work. I have gone from feeling confident and proud to becoming discouraged quickly for this very reason. I believe in part this energy stems from the sheer excitement of doing the work. It is exciting to discover that you can in fact create, you can manifest. You make a series of marks and if you get them just right, my God, you have created a beautiful thing.  An artist is continually discovering this indeed, but for the student working on their first pieces it is akin to falling in love. In fact, we are falling in love. That is when it begins for each artist.

(To be continued no doubt…)

New Poem: Candle at 4am

Candle at 4am

I lit a candle at 4am.
It was an awkward flame,
Trying hard to glow
But the sleepless air
Pressed heavy against
The Light – a tiny egg
Of pale yellow and white
Without even a flicker
Or a flinch.

It could not quite burn
Through the layers
of Stillness. The strangeness
Of the hour bore down
On its brave light,
Forcing it into
a  Slight curl of smoke.