Saturday, November 12, 2016

26th Annual Holiday Miniatures Show, Abend Gallery, Denver CO

"Lucy is Thinking" 
Oil, 5" x 5"


"Small but Still Life"
Oil, 8"x 10"

I'll have two small paintings for sale at the upcoming Annual Holiday Miniatures Show at Abend Gallery in Denver. The show opens December 2, 2016 and runs until the end of the year. 

Abend has distinguished itself by developing an energetic stable of imaginative, gifted artists, both nationally and internationally renowned, at various stages of their careers. This would be a terrific opportunity to take a look at what's going on there and take home a small work (or two). 

Lucy is one of our dogs, a young and very graceful pointer. I'm not sure she is actually "thinking" but I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt, as she has tons of other skills that far surpass mine.

The baby rabbit is one that I rescued from Lucy. Rabbits are shockingly vulnerable creatures. This one kept its eyes squeezed shut so it would be invisible and I would go away. I put some fencing around the rabbit nest to keep it away from the dogs. This rabbit eventually managed to grow up to live under the barbecue, which gave me an excuse not to have to use the barbecue all summer, a win-win situation because I don't like to barbecue. 

Although I'm doing a lot of figurative work these days, I really enjoy painting animals as well as putting them in my paintings.  Somehow, seeing an image of an animal on the wall lifts my spirits in a way that's hard for me to describe. Maybe it's their beauty, or maybe it's the reminder that we are not alone on this planet. Thanks for looking at these.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Fall 2016 Charcoal Portrait Class at Scottsdale Artists' School

From the school's new local program catalog

I'll be teaching portrait drawing again this fall at Scottsdale Artists' School, this time in a two-full day format.

We'll be working from live models and discussing various approaches to drawing.

When: September 28 and October 5, 2016 (two consecutive Wednesdays)
            9:00 am- 4:00pm

Click here for more information and to register.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Need for Speed: Oil Portrait Sketches, Part Two

"Hasan" oil on panel, 9.5" x 9.5"

A few months ago I wrote Part One about alla prima oil portrait sketches. I'd just like to repeat: this isn't necessarily my favorite way to paint somebody. In an ideal world, I'd have lots of time, time to get to know a sitter, time to go slowly and get the likeness exactly accurate. I also really like painting a subject over the course of many days but I don't get to do this as often as I would like to. This is the real reason so many artists paint self portraits. ... they've run out of money for model fees, their family has grown resentful and their friends are sick of them. 

Thus, an artist may find herself in front of a model for a limited time period. I painted the portrait above at an open studio, seated in the front row and looking up at the model, which changes the facial proportions a little bit from what you'd see at a distance while standing. I've grown to like this angle because it tends to lengthen the neck and add some drama. But I don't always choose this angle. I like to mix it up and keep myself on my toes.

I suppose that's my first point I'm trying to make in this mini-series about alla prima portrait sketches. You can do a decent job from pretty much anywhere you place yourself, as long as you're not directly in front of a light pole, say, or directly behind another artist. You should challenge yourself if you're "just practicing". I've seen artists set up at spots where they're essentially painting the back of the model's head and they still manage to paint amazing paintings. 

One key consideration is getting enough light on your easel and your palette so that you can see what you're doing as you work. This is often a huge problem that only becomes apparent when you're in, say, near-total darkness and guessing at what the puddles are on your palette. (If this happens, try to clamp your palette so that it's parallel to your work so it's all in the same light. Or go over to David Kassan's website (see the links on the side of this blog) and get yourself a Parallel Palette!)

On the other hand, if you're painting in front of a group of people, demonstrating, or painting a portrait you'll sell to the sitter, you're going to hope to be in the best possible set of conditions that will ensure that the painting will be a success.

1. Make sure your equipment is to your liking and make a list to make sure you don't forget anything if you're traveling. This includes having your paints set out in the order you're used to so that when you're under time pressure, you know exactly where that yellow ochre should be. I'm guilty of violating this advice since I'm a compulsive experimenter and tinkerer, adding and subtracting new colors and moving them around, so it never really becomes automatic for more than a couple of years at a time. But I'm working on it.

2. If you get a chance to select a model in advance you might consider doing that. The best case scenario is where you've painted the person before and you've had a success with him/her. Not only do you get an idea what the person looks like and what face tones will be there, you'll know whether he or she can sit still and - this is important - whether the sitter can get back into the same place after a break.

Some of the best work I've done is where I've happened upon an exceptionally calm sitter who sits for an hour or so without actually taking a break.

By the way, the ability to know where you are in space is called proprioception. Dancers and many athletes have this ability to place themselves and remember exactly where they were when they get back to the pose after a break. If you ask them to tilt a quarter of an inch to the left they can actually do that. (But I don't think you should unduly stress out a model, I think some flexibility and going with the flow is a good thing.) I like dancers as models because they also don't mind being looked at, it's their job, as a matter of fact, and they can"give" you a lot, a certain attitude or feel that you can pick up on if you're sensitive.

Worst case scenario - for a fast sketch under time pressure - is probably a person who is fidgety, awkward and self-conscious about being looked at. If you add "sullen and reluctant" to the list that probably will describe most of the teens or young adult relatives of yours. Good luck with that. Lots of people just don't react well to holding still, so it's also a good idea to get used to people moving around. The artist James Gurney is one of the best people out there in terms of painting people who aren't holding still (see the link to his site on the right to find his videos and tips on doing this).

3. Many artists seem to work under the same lighting setup over and over again. I think this is a really good idea if you can manage it.  Personally, I don't do this - I always think it's a better idea to keep yourself on your toes by practicing a lot of different ways and putting people in different lighting conditions.

I think this is my personality type, too, to keep experimenting, change things up, try things out. I'm not sure this is always a terrific characteristic.

4. Finally, keep in mind that children have different head proportions than do adults and if you haven't worked with children much, a child model will be markedly different, plus they tend to move around much more than adults.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Need For Speed: Oil Portrait Sketches, Part One

"Gordon", oil, 12" x 12"

A quick oil sketch of the wonderful Gordon from a few months ago. "Quick" in this case means one hour. I think that is super-fast, at least for me. They don't always turn out well but I liked this one. He was a calm, patient sitter.

One thing you should know about painting fast like this is that nobody cares how fast you paint anything. Except your sitter, who probably wants to take a nap or have lunch. (If you're painting in front of an audience, they will also care, and maybe start to fall asleep too.) Sure, somebody might ask you, "How long did it take you to do that?" You should answer as Picasso did: "It took all my life".  But the answer doesn't really matter when you see a painting on the wall. You either like it, or you don't, right?

I'm going to be giving a short demo next week for a local art group, the Scottsdale Artists League, in Scottsdale, Arizona, so painting alla prima oil sketches has been on my mind.

Many times you run into sitters who simply can't hold still, or don't have much time for the sitting, for one reason or another. If you have ever sat as a model you'll know that it isn't easy, isn't all that much fun and artists can really be annoying. You could draw or sketch people with drawing media, of course, which could be faster, but the real reason to paint a person in a limited amount of time is because of the joy of the process of doing it and it gets addictive, I think.

"Whitney", oil, 12" x 9"

Whitney has a wonderfully animated, lively face. She talked as I painted, something I don't usually let models do, but it was so interesting to watch her expressions change as I painted. We were by ourselves in my studio so it all was relaxed and fun.

If you have only a limited amount of time to paint something and you want to do a decent job, there are some things you can do to make things go a little bit easier.

First, a few thoughts.

1. You can do a bad painting quickly. You can also do a bad painting while taking a long time. I've done bad paintings both ways. (You can do a big bad painting or a small bad painting, by the way; the small ones are a little less painful.) Nobody really cares how long it takes to do a painting, it just matters if it's good. Having said that: I believe that process matters. It matters! Artists discuss this from time to time and by that I mean they argue about it. This deserves its own blogpost, one of these days.

2. It takes a long time to learn how to paint a good portrait quickly. You need to know how to draw well before you can learn to paint well. A lot of mistakes are drawing and value errors, not color mistakes. There are also paint-mixing considerations which can be overwhelming.

3. Practice on a lot of still life setups at the same time you're painting heads from life. The still life paintings will improve your head studies, and vice versa. Work on accuracy.

4. It can be hard to get models, especially those who don't move around and fidget. Friends and relatives can be tricky.  Paint yourself over and over again if you have to. If you've done this for a while, as I have, you'll get to enjoy watching yourself age over the years. Oh, great. I like painting other artists because then you take turns sitting for each other and learn a lot about the other artist's working methods, too.

By the way, this alla prima method isn't necessarily my own preferred way to paint a person - I like  to take my time and paint directly over a series of days, which is I think technically not alla prima (which means, one shot) but is still considered "direct painting". I guess I'll blog about that sometime also.

So: in addition to the above advice, are there other things an artist can do to stand a better chance of painting a good, fast alla prima portrait? More to come in Part Two.

Monday, March 14, 2016

"Gardenias in Her Braided Hair": First Prize at Portrait Artists of Arizona 6th Annual Exhibition, Phoenix

"Gardenias in Her Braided Hair", oil 20" x 16"
Currently at the University Club, Phoenix, AZ
6th Annual Exhibition and Sale, Portrait Artists of Arizona

I went to the opening of the PAOA's Exhibition in Phoenix on Friday night and saw that I'd received a First Prize ribbon for my painting. I've been experimenting with different ideas and techniques lately and I'm so happy and flattered that it received a ribbon. Thanks so much to the amazing artist Romel de la Torre who judged the show. There are a lot of good paintings there!

I've been trying to include many layers and textures in my work. It's one of the things that pulls you in closer to a painting, it's not the only thing (detail is also a big pull) but it's one of the things.

I've also been doing a lot of thinking about something my teacher Max Ginsberg said to me, which is that you're not just painting your subject, you're painting the atmosphere between you and your subject.  He may have just been saying this in a scientific sense, i.e., dust, smoke, humidity factors (and whatever), but I think that emotional factors are at play as well.  What is the nature of the atmosphere?

You know how some people suck the air right out of the room? A beautiful woman - plus flowers, plus vegetation - is supposed to inject the air back into the room at the same time she takes your breath away, I guess.   If you have ever smelled a gardenia you'll know they're exotic and primal. It's all supposed to lure you in, of course. Maybe that is the purpose of beauty and the nature of attraction, that paradoxical sharpening and stupefying quality actually creates more of what we need to survive.

Anyway, here's the painting when it's not at an angle:

The multi-layered background was tremendous fun. I used a variety of tools to make the marks in the background, including a rubber squeegee, a wine cork and the cap from a bottle of some chia drink. The drink was a wildly overpriced impulse purchase. I recommend you make it yourself from a tablespoon of chia seeds and whatever fruity sludge you have in your refrigerator.  The metallic gold tube oil paint is made by Gamblin. I took the purple/green vine cutting (with permission from the intrepid and remarkable Sheila at the front desk) from the outdoor planter at Scottsdale Artists' School. I held the stem up in my left hand while I painted it and I decided to stylize it to some degree, rather than model it.

Here's a detail below of some of the flowers. I've painted the petals thickly and with a lot of attention to the edges, which are soft in comparison to the leaves. Then I glazed over the petals with an oil gel medium to help lose them into the shadow. I placed a darker glaze over the white and let bits of the dark glaze nestle in the ridges.  The pattern of the petals, flowers and spaces between them is a lyrical, dancing arabesque. I tried to keep the fugitive, frail quality of gardenia blooms in this painting, how they keep changing and fading.

As usual, I tried not to use a single hard line to separate the lips. Here I used at least three different shades of red and reddish-brown, trying to pay attention to subtle plane changes, with blurred and lost edges and glazed-over sections.

My model is the smart and beautiful Emily Wilson, a photographer based in Phoenix. I predict that she has a brilliant career ahead of her.

Friday, January 29, 2016

"Animalia" at Abend Gallery, opening Fri. Jan. 29th at 5:30

"I'm the King of the Castle" oil, 19.5" tondo

This painting and a couple of others of mine are in a show titled "Animalia" which opens tonight at Abend Gallery in Denver. I'm excited about this show because it features subjects dear (deer?) to my heart   - animals, frequently shown in their relationship to humans and our shared habitat.

It's an imaginative show, at times thoughtful, passionate, whimsical and sorrowful.

You can read a review of the show and see some of the work in it on the Hi-Fructose Magazine site here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Interview with Artwork Archive - Art Advice

Artwork Archive is an excellent web based system that helps artists organize artwork. A while back the nice people at AA asked if I had any advice for artists near the beginning of their career. Yesterday they published the interview as part of their Newsletter.  I'm flattered to be asked to give advice since there are so many working artists out there who are much further along in their careers than I am.

The art world today is very different than it was when I was a kid. Most of my comments consist of general life advice.

The full article is here.