Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Very Limited Palette

For the past few weeks, the students in my figure painting class have been painting with just black and white. The idea, obviously, is to focus on values without the distraction of color. 

Next week, I'm going to introduce color, but I want to ease into it because painting in black and white is hard enough as it is, and to have to blow up the problem to include the infinite complexities of color can be overwhelming. 

So we are just adding one color, Transparent Oxide Red (or Transparent Iron Oxide, or Transparent Earth Red or some other name. Every brand has a different name for this color but it's basically a transparent red brown).  So we have the Black, White, and T.O.R. 

It is surprising just how much "color" you can tease out from this very limited palette. All the sketches I'm posting today are done in this palette, and as you can see, it's possible to get a pretty nice skin tone with just black, white and brown.

Obviously the palette has its limitations. but I think it's a hell of a good way to transition from black and white to color, especially for indoor figure painting. Why, if you juxtapose the different mixes just so, you can even get notes to look blue or green! Learning to manipulate perceived color by juxtaposition of subtly different colors–all from an extremely limited palette– goes a long way toward understanding how color works. After all, this forces you to really understand that color is relative, and that color is contextual. Without this understanding, a full palette will only confuse us. 

 All these sketches were quickies on paper, done in 30 minutes to an hour each. We won't be painting portraits in my class ( a whole another can of worms!) but I think they illustrate pretty well what we can do with this very limited palette.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Couple of WIPs

Hey art people!  Today I'm posting a couple of works in progress.

These are larger pieces that take much longer to complete. I haven't been doing the smaller, quicker paintings lately so I haven't had much to post. But if I waited till I finished these babies I might not post anything for months (I have no idea how long they'll take) so here are shots of the works in progress.

The top one is a larger, more abstract version of the Archangel Michael painting I did last year. I have been wanting to blow it up and really go to town with more expression and surface work. This version is 40 x 30, and I really like it. I think it could even be larger, too.

This is after two days of painting. It may look near finished here, but I think that has to do with the fact that photography unifies the image. In person, the various areas are fragmented and most of the strokes look superficial and not integrated enough, so that's what I'm working on.

The original sculpture is by 18th century flemish sculptor / architect, Peter von Verschaffelt. If this painting turns out good, it's because good ol' Pete was a genius and he did the hard part.

This one is 36 x 48, and this is shot after my third session with the painting. This too has had an earlier, smaller version, which was just a single building on a light ground, like the left half of the painting.

When I was working on the earlier version, the background flip flopped between light and dark several times and I wished I could have both versions, side by side so I can see them together. So that's how the idea for this one came about. 

The first two days were spent just blocking in with simple values (light for lit side, medium for shadow side, and dark for the windows) and looked like an oversimplified color-by-numbers painting. After I let that dry for a few days, I went in with a more expressive brush and "messed up" the surface with drippy paint, dipping into Liquin and Gamsol to vary the consistency - not a controlled variation in viscosity by any means - more of an intuitive, arbitrary process to help me get out of the representational frame of mind.

Both paintings only use White, Black, Transparent Oxide Red (reddish brown) and Yellow Ochre. If you'll notice, that's a low-chroma primaries palette. I'm not trying to depict  natural light and color, So the color choices are not based on that criteria. In fact, I want to take color out of the equation for the most part because it's not part of my concept. Natural color would add a huge emphasis toward representation, and I want to go the opposite way. It doesn't make sense for me to try to have it both ways. I've tried that many, many times and have had to accept the conclusion that trying to have it both ways only dilutes the concept and consequently, the impact. 

That's just my conclusion, and other artists may disagree, but hey, I can only work with my conclusions  and not someone else's, so there you have it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Aria Redux

Aria Redux, 36 x 36 inches, oil on linen

I posted this painting on my Facebook page not too long ago, but I wanted to talk about it a little bit so here it is on Studio Notes.

As the title suggests, this is a re-do of an older version which I originally painted for my solo show, Urban Aria, at Thomas Reynolds Gallery in San Francisco a few years back. The original was 24 x 24 inches and you may have seen it in a magazine or two if not on this blog. 

Anyway, as I've become more and more comfortable with abstraction, I felt this irresistible urge to revisit the painting and do a larger version that put more emphasis on abstraction and surface manipulation. 

Here's the earlier version:

The new version uses a much warmer color scheme than the original. I don't subscribe to the notion that  certain color schemes are better than another, but I wanted to use this violet-based palette because I had done some paintings with it and I liked the look.

The placement of cars and other objects are more or less the same. I used a grid to transpose the drawing onto the new canvas, and quickly obliterated smaller shapes (drawn in pencil) when I started slinging paint all over it. (not that I was trying to obliterate them) So the drawing, especially of the smaller shapes, are just freehanded more or less.

The clutter on the sidewalk is just pushing and pulling positive and negative shapes until it looked convincing, and much effort went into ignoring the description of recognizable "things". I wanted a clutter that suggested an urban street, not a collection of actual things.

The cars in the distance are reduced to the barest suggestions. Typically I first paint enough of the structure (using a few values differentiating major planes) of each of the cars, and then bit by bit I take out literal information, while adding abstract notes. In order for this to work well, I make sure that the color and value are relevant to the context established by the overall color scheme and the atmosphere, while consciously and intentionally disregarding the shape / form of the thing that's being painted.

By pulling in the background color/value into the car, I integrate the shape into the environment. This is the same thing (in my mind, anyway) as using broken soft edges to relate one shape to its adjacent shape, only I just took it way beyond the edge.  The thinking is that I'm integrating shapes, not cars and roads. By not thinking in terms of objects, I allow myself to not be restricted to edges that "make sense" in a traditional sense.

Here I'm doing a similar thing by pulling light into shadow. Not only do the shapes get integrated, but the abstract notes serve to activate an otherwise passive area.

The figure in motion is not easy to do. The gesture has to be communicated, first and foremost. The suggestion of motion through softening or blurring isn't really effective unless the gesture is there first. You can't really fake it. Well may be you can, but I can't.  Years and years of doing short pose drawings pays off in spades in this sort of situation.

I want to do more re-do's of older work this year.  A lot of the paintings I had done in the past three years were on the verge of cracking the abstraction nut, but I didn't quite cross the line. I'm ready to revisit them now, and push them much further. I think it would be a lot of fun to see what comes out!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Getting the Gears Going

After the Rain, 11 x 14 inches, oil on panel

Happy New Year everyone~! 

I've been sick with some kinda bug for the last few weeks. That, plus a general lack of motivation, have kept me away from the easel for a long time. I've painted once or twice in that time, but if I were to be honest with myself, my heart wasn't in it so it didn't count. Looking back, the last time I seriously painted was back in early November, getting ready for the Holton show.

That, of course, will not do. Being a professional, I can't just sit around waiting for the inspiration to hit me. I've got bills to pay, after all. Which reminds me, Q4taxes are coming up!

So finally I got off my butt and spent the day in the studio yesterday. Boy was I rusty. I couldn't draw, couldn't see color, and subtlety was pretty much nonexistent. I expected as much, and getting my butt kicked like that is an effective, if unpleasant, way to get my engine going. I know this from experience.

Fleeting, 9 x 12 inches, oil on panel

I've talked on this blog before about some ways to get out of ruts like going back to the comfort zone, or limiting the scope of a project, etc. One of the best ways I've found is to simply grab a piece from my stack of old paintings, and rework it. 

I have a ton of old pieces which are not likely to see the light of day because they're just sub-par, or I hadn't spent a lot of time on them because they're studies or demos. Most of them can be "saved" or given new life if I simply sit down, analyze what's wrong with it, and fix it. 

It's a lot less work (or not) than starting from scratch - physically, mentally, and this is important– emotionally. The pieces are no good to start with so if I fail to bring it up to par, I haven't lost anything but time. Actually, in this case it's time well spent because it allows me to grease my chops, as it were.

So there's very little pressure to perform, and yet if I can successfully make a good painting out of a bad one, it's a tremendous boost in confidence. Although success is not guaranteed, chances are good because 1) these old studies have potential. after all, I must have liked something about them or I wouldn't have kept them. and 2) I'm a better painter now than I was when I did them (hopefully). 

So I worked on three small old studies yesterday, and managed to get two which I now like. The third one... meh. Into the trash. But two outta three ain't bad, and my gears are slowly beginning to turn again.

I wish I had a "before" picture of these, but as they weren't very good when I first did them, I never even thought to record them.  Ah well, I hope you like the end results anyway~