Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fiddling Around with Nero

Last weekend I decided to try the Wetcanvas.com Portrait forum Challenge for July and August.  I shouldn't have.  The challenge turned out to be to paint from a sculptured bust with several to select from.  Foolishly I bypassed several lovely young ladies to take on ....yep....Nero.  That's where my troubles began.  Mistake #1

Day 1 the pencil drawing using a grid
The first day I printed out the subject using standard printing paper rather than photo paper.  Mistake #2.  The picture printed out dull and without the rich look of the original bust.  I didn't care since I convinced myself the print was only for the purpose of copying the head onto canvas and that the painting would be done from a computer monitor or iPad.  Using a grid system, I transferred the 8 x 10 photo to the 9 x 12 canvas.  I had a new panel from RayMar I wanted to try...triple primed, very smooth cotton canvas.  Nice stuff made for portraits. Wow it's easy to draw on too.  I rarely use pencil, preferring to draw directly with the brush but I wanted to proceed carefully so I drew it out. 
In an hour or so on the first day I had it blocked in.  I was OK with the progress. 
Day 1  the block in started. 

The second day I worked another hour or so to begin to refine the image a bit.  I find the block in stage to be the part of the process I like the best.  It always seems to go downhill from there. I was using synthetic sable for most of the block it.  For several years, I've used bristle entirely, but I'm beginning to move away from that. 

Day 2 Refining the image a bit


On the third day, I worked on getting a likeness while at the same time trying to paint a "statue" and not a real face.  I want this to look like a sculptured bust. In particular I wanted to correct the chin which I had much to far to the left.  At the end of this session, I was pleased with the general progress and the likeness.  I should have quit right there, but of course - Mistake # 3 - I didn't.  In looking at the painting, and more specifically, at the photos of the painting, I could see several issues.  The primary one wasn't a drawing problem -although there were a few of those at least -instead, I didn't like the color.  Somehow I had drifted into a very greenish cast to the shadow, no doubt a result of using unbleached titanium as a primary base color and adding ivory black for shading.  The mixture results in a green, which I should remember for landscapes, but which is unpleasant in a portrait.  (It looks better here than it did in life.)  Anyway, I decided I wanted to 'repaint' the bust to get closer to the richer base color and to get to a cooler, bluer gray in the shadows.  Not to mention that by now my new Isabey mongoose brushes had arrived and I was dying to try them out for the first time.   A perfect excuse to Fiddle with Nero some more.

Need I say it?  Tune in for the next post in which I manage to take four giant steps backward without saying "Mother May I?"

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Afternoon

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon today in Sacramento.  Hot and beautiful as the summer always is here; however I was at loose ends until I remembered the July Challenge! in the Southwest forum on Wetcanvas.com.   Sure enough there were some great pictures to choose from this month.  One was this old place located in O'Donnell Texas. I'll have to look that up on Google Earth.  I'm not sure what part of Texas it is...although it sure looks like West Texas...maybe even Judge Roy Bean country!  Anyway, I can't resist these old shacks! When I see them in person, I can't help but think about the lives that were lived there. I got the photo on my iPad and went out to the studio. I painted for about an hour, went off to do some yard work and shopping, then returned for about another hour to work on the already setting first coats. (In the dry heat, the oil really sets quick...and I was using Liquin today too.)

Here's the photo uploaded by Kay of the Southwest Forum.  She had several good pictures to choose from this month.  (I hope she doesn't mind me using here photo here.  Here's a link to Kay's fantastic blog (http://kaysmithbrushworks.blogspot.com/)
as a bit of a thank you!)

Shack in O'Donnell Texas   Oil on 8" x 16" panel
I picked an oblong canvas because I wanted to put some prairie behind the little shack and create a sense of space and, of course, loneliness.  (There's actually about another 2" of the painting on the right, which shows in the preview, but not in the final post.  Agggghhh... I think it does a lot to give a feeling of vastness and emptiness.  Here's a smaller size to show you what I mean..)

I moved the Yucca plant (tree??)  and added a window and door to the exposed face of the cabin.  (Love those tall skinny windows!)  I made the Yucca the focal point which then hopefully leads one to the more complicated cabin.  I exaggerated the roof lines intentionally to add a bit more drama.  I like the way it came out...and I was glad that I decided to get out into the studio and make it a Painting Day, as my Artist Friend Ruth Andre says on her blog ( http://ruthandre.com/blog ). It was a good Sunday all around. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Final day in Bishop

Our last full day of painting in Bishop found us alongside a country road outside of town.  The mountains in the distance were beautiful with snow still on top.  Ruth Andre (ruthandre.com) and I set up and painted these trees to start the day...

Outside Bishop  Oil on 12" x 16" canvas panel
 It was a simply gorgeous summer day...yes, it was hot, but it was SUMMER!  After the long drawn out winter/spring this year, it was glorious.  Immediately in front of this scene between the easel and the trees an irrigation canal flowed.  Just a few feet away, at the source, it was much wider and partly concrete lined.  About noon or so two bicyclists came by, stopped and hopped into the cold clear water.  It looked wonderful!  And it reminded me so much of growing up in Fresno and swimming in the canals in the summer...and sometimes even the San Joaquin River.  Wow those were wonderful days.  I think this painting was the most successful of my Bishop trip.  Perhaps listening to the swimmers in the cold clear water as I painted had something to do with it!
Eastern Slope   Oil on 12" x 16" canvas panel

After lunch, I set up under some nearby trees and tried to paint the distant mountains.  I didn't catch the intensity of the high desert light in this picture, but overall I was pleased with it.  It's the kind of "pure" landscape that I always have such trouble with, so I felt that it was not too bad with that in mind. 

We did paint one more morning before heading home around noon, but my painting wasn't successful at all.  The real highlight of the last day was watching the local kids come down to swim in the Mill Pond and to use the rope swing tied to one of the big trees overhanging the pond.  Growing up in a small town definitely has its compensations.  With that it was goodbye to Bishop and my artist friends until next time.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Bishop Workshop Continued

On the second day of our workshop, we visited the Laws Railroad Museum.  Among RR and history buffs, the narrow gauge Southern Pacific branch that served the high desert area is well known.  The museum has only one locomotive and a string of cars, but it is full of old structures, machines, steam engines, and of course the famous Laws water and oiling tanks.  There was just too much to paint.  During the day, the wind kicked up, blowing sand and debris into the air...and into paintings as well.  It was challenging.  I was pleased with the performance of my easy...I never felt it was going to blow over.  I think two of my fellow painters french easels did go over...and I know that at least one painting went into the dirt jelly side down.  I did have to close up my umbrella a couple times as a precaution.  I was intrigued by this old Ford sitting at an ancient gas pump.  It was in full shade with brightly lit buildings behind.  That was the look I wanted to capture...the car and foreground dark with brilliant sun behind.  The painting feels very unfinished to me, but I think the design worked out OK.

Laws RR Museum 1932 (?) Ford  12" x 16" oil on panel

Narrow Gauge Pulling Into Laws   Oil on 8" x 16 " panel
After lunch and when the wind had died down, I tried to capture the line of cars behind the narrow gauge locomotive.  It was almost as though the train was pulling into the Laws Depot (another wonderful relic on the museum site).  But I no sooner got set up and started a block in than it was time to quit.  It seems the Museum closes at 4PM each day, so we did our critique at about 2:30...earlier than usual.  I got caught with nothing more that this little study.  (Sorry for the lousy photo...I'll see if I can't get a better one,) This isn't much of a painting, but I've posted it just to be honest about the struggle that goes on when painting outside.  Time, light, wind and early closing all can work against you!

At the left are the water tank and oil tank for the little narrow gauge locomotive- which no longer runs.  Though they don't show well in this photo, they are well known structures to RR buffs. I love the way they are silouetted against the Eastern Sierras.  I can almost hear the whistle and the chug chug of the little locomotive.  I would love to return to Laws to paint.  The opportunities are almost endless.