Tuesday, July 28, 2009

But it looks cool.

Wine and Beer (The Couple), each panel 11 x 6, oil on linen

WARNING: The Surgeon General Has Determined that Smoking is Dangerous to Your Health. Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, and Emphysema. Smoking By Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, And Low Birth Weight. Cigar Smoking Can Cause Cancers Of The Mouth And Throat, Even If You Do Not Inhale. Cigars Are Not A Safe Alternative To Cigarettes.
But, even the Surgeon General will admit, while unhealthy, it looks totally bad ass.

Alright, I got that out of the way. I really don't smoke that often, but I have been smoking a lot of cigars for the above paintings. The paintings are done, and I think I will lay off the smokes for a while.

This is a set of paintings that I mentioned in a previous post. I will not bore you with the details again, but I thought I would talk about the process of painting something that moves. The tendency here, if one were to paint a moving and active thing like smoke would be to use a photo for reference. Now, if you are painting something that is living and breathing, are you getting the complete picture by copying a flat photo of an instant? Be it a person, an object or outdoor scene, if you work from photos, you are not going to get a healthy and full concept of what you want to represent. If you copy a photo of a person, you miss the life of that person. You miss the possibility for the happenstance. You miss the form.

As I have said before, drawing and painting is the interpretation of form. You need to be looking at your subject with two eyes, to see, understand, and eventually render that form. A photo, is taken by a single lens, often with equal focus. So you get a photo that flat- not form.
We understand form because we have two eyes- there are other reasons involving our sense of touch, but I will not get into that here. I am speaking visually now. We see two images, from two locations: A left eye and a right eye, usually separated by a nose- unless you are some sort of freak or one-eyed pirate.
You really only get the whole picture if you are working from life.

One more argument for working from life is the possibility that your picture will improve with some random event. Let's say you are painting a picture of a beautiful woman. You work on setting up the pose, and feel it is just what you want. How could it get any better?
A few days later, 10 hours into this painting, the model moves a bit, as they occasionally do. A lock of hair falls slightly and she glances up with her eyes. Suddenly the scene has greatly improved. In a way you would have never imagined on your own. What can you do, but shout for the model to hold still, and rework the painting to these improvements on your original idea. You miss these events working from photos. Working from life you get the vibration of life- the dither.
Working with a model you get a chance to get to know the person, the mannerisms, the various looks. I have had some great experiences talking, laughing with the model while I work.

In landscape, I paint the scene and sort of let it live and breath, chasing effects. On a sunny day, the shadows move with the sun. I paint what I see at one moment. If it moves and I don't like it as much, I leave it, if it gets better as a design, I will change the painting to match the improvement in nature.

In this picture I was painting smoke. I had some idea how I wanted it to go. I had drawn some thumbnail sketches with the generalized smoke sketched in. Of course smoke can not be arranged. Lit a cigar- a cheaper cigar than the one in the painting, and held it close to the still life to see the color, value, shape and movement of the smoke. I basically had to memorize the trends that happened. Get an idea of what the smoke looked like in front of a dark object, I would puff on the cigar and hold it up, get a concept of what I wanted and then paint.
It took 4 cigars to get what I wanted. The nice thing was that I could do anything I wanted. I had painted it in, and realized that the design had some issues -some of the smoke lined up with other compositional elements in an odd way, so I just changed it.
I also had some incense burning that I set in that area, as I was getting a bit light headed from all the smoking. Unfortunately for me the smoke was not quite right. So, I returned to the cigar itself.
I started with the big movements and added detail as needed. I was not painting smoke as much as I was painting my impression of smoke. Interestingly, I started to notice that smoke looked like a series of transparent cylinders, with a sharp edge and a soft one. In my scene, the smoke was a warm yellow- gray color near the cigar and got more violet as it moved away. All stuff that would have been hard to get from a photo.

If you are painting a picture of cigar smoke, and if you are doing it right, painting should be bad for your health.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I have the power!

Unfortunately this power is an evil curse.
When I started painting this picture, the Cincinnati Reds were fighting for contention in the division. There was a lot of talk about how good they were doing- talk about winning the division, talk about playoffs. Big excitement for our team. A few days into the painting, someone gave me tickets to see a game. It was the first game I had seen in the new stadium. I was looking forward to it. I am not a big sports guy. I thought it would be fun to watch the team score some goal units.

They lost 1-10.
These were box seats, so even though the game was not the most exciting I had seen, I was able to eat my weight in free pizza and ice cream bars.

I finally finished the painting this week. I just checked and the Reds are not doing so well. They just lost their sixth straight game. They are not in last place, but close.

Coincidence? Seems pretty unlikely.

After the Game, 15 x 19, Oil on linen

Now, you are probably thinking that I must be extremely ego centric and completely crazy for thinking this.
Well, I am not crazy.

Let me offer more proof:
I started to suspect something last year when I painted another picture. Again, I am not sure that I am completely to blame for the economic collapse (there may have been a few other factors), but things really started to go badly after I did this painting with the Money and Investing section of the paper.

Morning News, 9 x 12, oil on linen

I am really going to have think long are hard about what my next painting is going to be. Should I even think about doing portraits anymore? Someone could get hurt.

Wait, what if the way to break this evil spell is for someone out there to buy these paintings?

That seems completely logical!

If you buy these paintings, you will help the Reds season turn around. We will see them in the playoffs. I can't promise the World Series, once they get to Playoffs they are on their own.
If you buy the coffee and newspaper picture, we will have complete economic recovery.

Contact me about purchasing the above paintings. Just think of the good you will be doing.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Quick sketch and a Contest

Here is a fairly adequate figure sketch I did this week at our Tuesday night figure drawing group. I only had about 40 minutes on this one, and while it needs a lot of work, I thought it was fairly successful for the time spent.

12 x 9, graphite on paper

Now, I would like to mention a few points about sketching and drawing. In a quick sketch like this, one hopes to get a solid representation of gesture and proportion. There is a living, breathing model posing for this. She gets tired and needs breaks, and then has to try to get back into the pose. Rarely is it exactly like it was the first 20 minutes. Standing poses with both feet planted are easier to get back, but often the more lovely, graceful poses with movement are hard to hold and hard to get back. It is even harder if you haven't any important points mapped out on your paper from the first session.
The above drawing definitely has some issues- the arm is not very well represented and has weak form- but I like the pose and the movement. With more time these problems could have been fixed.

I once heard a local 'artist' proclaim that if you can't draw the figure well in the first 15 minutes, then you probably don't know what you are doing. That is of course complete nonsense.

Now, I will agree that the better the artist, the better the chance that the image put down in the first 15 minutes is going to be, but this is not what was meant. It was part of the glorification of the sketch. The acceptance that the initial ideas and marks are the best.

Nothing hides errors more than a sketch. This is true in both painting and drawing. You can get away with murder in the quick sketch. The bravura and flowing lines of a fast sketch have a life of their own. It is fresh, but it is rarely very truthful. The 'life' it has, can over-ride some hideous drawing. People today love the sketch. For one thing it is way easier to complete. Most artists working today haven't a clue what to do with a drawing after the first few hours. If you have been to college for art, you can fill a dumpster with bad sketches after you graduate.
In college we wasted a lot of time doing 20 second gesture drawings of a model. If you don't know how to draw, doing it fast is not going to help. Long, studied drawings are the only way to learn how to draw. If you have not spent 20 to 40 hours on one figure drawing or one cast drawing, chances are you really have no idea what drawing is, or really any idea of what I am even talking about.
Now, you have to know what I mean by 'drawing'. I talked about this a bit in a previous post.
I will quote from it here:
First I defined drawing as 'the interpretation of form'. We are often told that drawing is 'mark making', or something touchy feely having to do with self expression. While that can be true, it is basically about representing the 3D on a 2D surface. By that logic, if you are not interpreting form, you are not drawing.
A monkey with a crayon is not drawing. Squealing your tires at a stop sign is not drawing. It's mark making, but not drawing.
Again, teaching someone to faithfully interpret form can not be taught in 4 days. It probably takes closer to a year of full time study under someone that has already mastered this skill.

I will now add that 20 second gesture drawings are tough to put in the drawing category. It is mark making. If you have ever sat in a class with a bunch of punk art students flailing around on newsprint paper with a hunk of compressed charcoal, the image of a monkey with a crayon might be more fitting.

If you have spent any time on drawing, and spent some considerable time on single drawing, you should know that your first marks, your first attempts to learn the drawing were naive. The sketch is a start. Over time you learn the subject. You refine and give form to the flat surface. Your initial marks may have life, and be exciting, but the more you look you see that it is ill proportioned, and lacking in any breadth or feeling of form. So, your job now is to take those initial impressions of the big gesture and movement, and keep then as you refine and improve your drawing.

To quote Degas, "It is not difficult to get life into a six hour study. The Difficulty is to retain it there in sixty."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Go Team

I am exhausted today. I tried to write something clever, but it sounded like it was written by someone on drugs- and not the totally awesome kind, but the bad kind of drugs. So I deleted the post.
I am going to keep this short and sweet.

I finished this painting today. Here are a few process shots, showing the first day lay-in (one of the best I have done), followed by a shot a few days later, and the final photo taken today.

Sorry the text is so boring, but give me a break! Writing this blog is tough. A man can only give so much, and I am constantly giving. I give, and you want more, day after day. I can't handle it! I am a giver, that is what I do.

Just enjoy the painting, offer your comments and more blog entries will be coming. I am going to bed.

After the Game, 15 x 19, Oil on linen

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Couples and Alcohol

I have been doing some paintings in pairs lately. I enjoy the narrative that happens in these dyptics. Trying to compose two paintings that work individually and together in color, composition, and subject. The current pair are shaped like stone tablets meant for chiseling commandments.

This grouping is a comment on the differences that exist between couples, shown here having a moment together over a drink. She is having a glass of Italian Wine. He is drinking cheap Cincinnati Burger Beer and smoking a cigar. Elements of her refined taste are infringing on his panel, while eventually the smoke from his cigar will waft through hers.

It is sort of an odd couple thing going on. His side being a bit more messy, and not as fancy.
I really had to stretch here, as I could not really work from experience. Both my wife and I are very fancy and refined.

Anyway, I thought I would post a few of the paintings to show the progression through out the week. The first is a bit of a mess, as I did this as a demonstration lay in for my Iowa workshop. It was not my best since I was talking too. It is difficult to do both well. I tried to show the girls that in the beginning it is about getting the likeness in color and value, keeping it loose so that drawing can happen later.

While it is a pair, I only laid in one of the panels for the group. This was done in about an hour.

Day two I laid in the second panel, and cleaned up the first panel.

Here it is next to the setup.

Day 3- an interesting note on this one- I wanted a lipstick print on the wine glass to do more than hint toward the feminine. No one else was around to do this for me, so I did it. I do not regularly wear lipstick, so it took me a while to get it on and then get a nice print on the glass. I think it turned out well, and while I am not proud about wearing ladies makeup, I am proud of how I painted it on the canvas.

As of today after 4 days. I will post the finished painting next. (hopefully I can get photos that are not blurry like these)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Go Big or Go Home!

To be truthful, I am kind of an old curmudgeon. My mother claims I was born that way. I came out of the womb and immediately had issues with most of what was going on around me. Being the old bastard that I am, I was a bit nervous about doing a workshop with a bunch of teenagers. I did not really get along with teenagers when I was one myself.

Despite all of that, I just had a great time teaching a class with seven high school kids from Iowa. Mrs. Bereskin is a wonderful art teacher that works very hard at making sure they see a wide variety of art, have lots of opportunity to visit museums and even organizes trips abroad.
She decided to organize a 4 day workshop on traditional methods of drawing and painting with me, and they drove all the way in from Iowa to do it. I didn't know much about Iowa other than that it is a mystical land to the West- and they grow corn. From this experience I discovered they are a clever and hardy people.

I have been asked a few times, "How in the heck is it you came to be teaching a class for a group from Iowa?"

Well, as it turns out, I am huge in Iowa! They freakin' love me there. I am a house hold name practically-
at least in 7 or so houses.

I did my best to introduce them to traditional methods and some bigger ideas concerning drawing and painting. The first thing was to define and explain some basic terms.
Now, of course it is crazy to believe anything life changing is going to come out of such a short class- other than the fact that it will introduce them to a more traditional way of working not available in most college situations. I treat a workshop like this as if it is a CliffsNotes version of full time training. Little more than just a quick overview of something that takes years to learn.

What are some of the major ideas I bombarded them with over the 4 days?

First I defined drawing as 'the interpretation of form'. We are often told that drawing is 'mark making', or something touchy feely having to do with self expression. While that can be true, it is basically about representing the 3D on a 2D surface. By that logic, if you are not interpreting form, you are not drawing.
A monkey with a crayon is not drawing. Squealing your tires at a stop sign is not drawing. It's mark making, but not drawing.
Again, teaching someone to faithfully interpret form can not be taught in 4 days. It probably takes closer to a year of full time study under someone that has already mastered this skill.

"Drawing is the interpretation of form." - Degas

We discussed the idea of light and shadow. Objects are made visible to us by light. If an object is lit well from a single light source, we can see that there is a definable light and dark side. There is a shadow line, that separates those two sides. We must first understand that concept. The light side is for interpreting form. Form is not for the shadow side, but is left for showing atmosphere, which we do by keeping the shadows flat. Look at the shadows, not into them. The dark is scary, stay out of there.

Squint! By closing one eye and blurring or squinting with the other, we simplify the scene down to the essentials.

Drawing and painting is really all about relationships. These relationships are discovered by looking, comparing and questioning. This way one determine proportions, values, colors, shape and edges. By being ever critical, you can learn your subject with every stroke. "Is it lighter or darker?" "Does it need more red, yellow, or blue?" "Is it warmer or cooler?"

I explained the novel idea of making sure your image will fit on the page by starting with the largest of measurements first- Top and Bottom. If you have ever been in a figure drawing class you will occasionally hear someone say they ran out of room for the feet or that they can't fit the head. If that every happens to you in the future, you have my permission to smack them in the back of the head with your sketchbook. Your main job when working is to at least make sure you can fit the subject in the square of the page. That is basic composition- arranging in a square. Always work big to small. Details are not as important as everyone thinks. Adding detail to a bad drawing will not make it better. Putting the features on a misshapen head will not make it look more life-like. Get the big stuff right-the big proportions-the big look, and the rest will fall into place. You will see that detail is not as important as the poetic beauty of the big impression. You will also find that there is more harmony in the 'whole' and you will save yourself a lot of wasted work. Leave detail to cameras and photorealists, both of whom are just dumb machines.

"Genius lies in seeing the thing as a whole." - Joshua Reynolds

Did I mention the squinting thing?

Most of the girls had a lot of natural ability and ended up doing some nice work for the short amount of time they had to complete it.
I explained that my job in the class was not to be the host of a group Hug Fest celebrating art.
First off that would be creepy, and secondly it is just not helpful. I just stood behind them and pointed to the things that were most off in their paintings from nature. I made sure they knew their job was basically to make "this look like that". They handled it pretty well, though a few seemed to have issue with me painting on their work, but I think that is the easiest way to demonstrate a point. We are taught from an early age that anything creative we do is special and awesome, and while it may occasionally be the former, it is rarely the later. It all went pretty well and I made it the whole class without making anyone cry despite my best efforts.

The title of this post is in reference to a rally cry the girls came up with for the week- "Go Big or Go Home!"
I was so proud.
I almost cried a bit myself.

I laid in a painting for them as a demonstration, I will do a post on that painting next.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Drinking coffee, lots of coffee

I got another group of tiny frames from my gallery. There is not a lot of room to play with in a 3 x 5 frame, so I did pretty much the same thing I did the last time- painted a few espresso cups. Of course one of the reasons was that the last three I did sold almost immediately. It is fun trying to create interesting designs and abstractions in such a tiny space. I use the table cloth the cup, the spoon and the resulting shadows to make something that feels good in the space.
I often glue linen canvas to a board for something this small. This time I just used shellac on cherry plywood. This seals the wood from the oil paint and gives a smooth surface to paint on. It gave me a pretty warm background to paint onto. I figured as much, but I was not too fond of the surface as I found it too slick, and pretty frustrating to paint on. I will probably go back to canvas in the future. The time spent on these varied pretty widely. The green one was completed in an hour and a half. The blue one gave me fits, and took quite a bit longer.

Espresso with Blue, 5x3, oil on wood

Espresso with Pink, 5x3, oil on wood

Espresso with Green, 5x3, oil on wood

They are all available at Rottinghaus Gallery in O'Bryonville. You can't miss it as there is an awesome painting of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the window. If you go in and mention my name to the gallery owner when you buy one of my paintings, they will make you an acutal sandwich. Supplies are limited.