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.

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