Sunday, April 29, 2012

Art School: Cori.

Cori (Oil on canvas board, 9x12").  Painted in a little over 2 hours from a live model.

A new term of school has begun and I'm taking a portrait painting class with varied lighting.  The model was lit with two lights -- one from the side and another from top.  This term I want to focus on nuance and spontaneity.  The nice thing about a three hour class is that it forces you to persevere.  I hit several awkward points in this painting where I said to myself, "This isn't going to work out."  Had I been alone in my studio I may have likely scrubbed out the entire painting.  But I kept marching on, worked through the awkward bits, and achieved a result I am pleased with.  I got a decent likeness.  Many thanks to my instructor, Jeff Watts, for his help.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Watercolor: White Orchid Study.

White Orchid Study (Watercolor, colored pencil, and white gouache on paper, 9x12").

It was interesting to paint this orchid -- lots of overlapping concave shapes with subtle value gradations.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Art: More Published Newsprint Watercolors.

Mountain Lion Skull (Watercolor on San Diego CityBeat newsprint)

California Condor Skull (Watercolor on San Diego CityBeat newsprint).

Sometimes painting can feel like a combination of calculus and digging a ditch: a methodical grind. This feels like neither. It’s spontaneous, intuitive, and relaxed. There’s something about this combination of paper, medium, and subject matter that has led to some of the most fun I’ve had painting. There's an experimental immediacy to the process, and I like the results.

The Pelikan opaque watercolor set has revolutionized my technique when using paper that’s non-conducive to water media. It produces rich colors without the need for much water. I use a waterbrush due to its self-contained efficiency. Because I don’t carry a water basin to fully rinse out my brush, color cross-contamination occurs, but I don’t mind that. My set-up promotes quick, reactive work and creates interesting mixtures. If I need a pure color it’s easy enough to remove the top dirty layer and get a clean pigment. Here’s a picture of my set-up:

A friend recently asked me a perfectly reasonable question: “Why so many skulls?”

From a technical standpoint, there are many reasons. Skulls offer a dynamic range of shapes, contours, and edges. They require a heavy amount of design to make them look cool. In order to understand an animal’s outward appearance, it’s helpful to understand the structure underneath. I also recently visited the San Diego Natural History Museum’s Skulls exhibit and have an abundance of original photo reference I can work from. Drawing skulls becomes its own form of art school -- I learn a lot in the process.

From a personal standpoint… that’s more difficult to answer and something I’ve been thinking about a lot. Five years ago, I would have found the act of drawing skulls to be a morbid activity. But over time I’ve acclimated to their visual impact and consider them somewhat benign objects -- no different than a vase or a bowl of fruit -- if the bowl of fruit was really, really cool looking.

I’m often not aware of symbolic repetition in my artwork until hindsight, time, and distance provide me perspective. I remember going through drawings I did ten years ago and realized that I had drawn all of these structures that had no foundation. I drew the top part of the Eiffel Tower and it had no base. Trees had no trunks. They all just floated without attachment. Did this thread say something about the state of my life at that time? It’s difficult to tell but I find it an interesting question to pose. I noticed that a few years later I had drawn a considerable number of doorways and entrances. Again, how to know what it means?

I'm at an age where death enters my mind with some frequency and I feel vulnerable.  Wills are drawn up.  Classmates have died.  My beloved aunt succumbed to cancer a few years ago.  I was updating my address book last week and when I saw her name I became instantly filled with sadness.  I'm out of shape.  I have an aging and very sweet cat that has her share of problems and I worry about her.  Is drawing skulls a coping mechanism that demystifies death?  Would I draw fewer if I was in better shape?

It's hard to determine why a visual thread appears in my work and then disappears.  To what extent is the selection based on purely technical reasons or emotional?   It could mean nothing.  It could mean everything.

And in ten years I’ll look back at this time and wonder.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Wolf Skull On Published Newsprint.

Wolf Skull (Watercolor and ball-point pen on newsprint, 10x12 [paper], 7x6 [image]).

I did another watercolor in the pages of San Diego's CityBeat.  The newsprint holds up surprisingly well.  The only problem is that once the paper gets wet it instantly turns dark, so I have to wait for it to dry to determine the actual color value I laid down.  Although it's quick absorption assists with the wet-into-wet painting technique.  It gives me a chance to blend and soften edges.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Art: Juliana.

Juliana (Oil on gessoed illustration board, 15x15").

I spent Sunday painting a portrait of my wife.  I took a couple of quick snap-shots of her yesterday, illuminated by the natural light of the window and used them for painting reference.  There's always an added level of complexity when painting someone familiar, in particular my wife, because I want to capture a likeness and handle her features with a delicate touch.  Occasionally my wife would wander into my studio and check my progress.  She jokingly added suggestions about making her lips a little bigger or wondered how she'd look if her hair was the reddish color I used to glaze the hair shape.  With a pond of yellow sitting on my palette, I said I could easily change her into a blond.  She was a great sport and intrigued by the process.  She still likes me which is a good sign that my brushstrokes didn't create too much harm.

I think it turned out okay.  As mentioned in previous posts, I feel I'm at the stage where there aren't any glaring monumental issues -- just two-dozen nuanced ones that if fixed would shift the painting into something transcendent, and it's my job to find out what those are.  On this piece, I wanted to focus on the eyes and getting their edges to read correctly.  One thing that pleased me is that the painting came together rather quickly which is a good sign of progress and increasing proficiency.

Here are two progress shots:

I've been having a miserable time getting the painting to reproduce accurately.  Here's another photo that reads too brightly.  I can't capture all of the nuances that I find engaging.  The truth is somewhere between this photo and the first one.

Here's a close-up: