Monday, July 27, 2009

Schmid's Alla Prima

Lately I've been dipping into Richard Schmid's Alla Prima, a book Marty Poole turned me on to about seven years ago. At the time I had no idea who Schmid was, probably because I was painting in watercolor. But I had started experimenting with oils and asked Marty for advice. He said to get a copy of Schmid's book and then to pay attention to color, drawing, edges, and values. Good advice from two great painters,. but for various reasons I gave up on oils until 2007.

Anyway...Schmid's book. Tom Buechner and I were talking yesterday about it. I told him how amazed I am every time I open it. Schmid is like this Zen master. There's a minimum of BS and he tells it like it is. He never says "My way or the highway", he just says "this is what works for me. Try it." My copy is paint stained and underlined. It's a book that keeps on giving.

For example at one point he talks about curves, in particular curves on the figure. They are rarely as 'curvy' as we want to make them. And to draw them accurately draw them as straight lines. OK, I've read that how many times and yet it never lit up for me until I tried an experiment. Since about January I was drawing from model books - some very good model books. I decided to draw a figure then trace it and compare my drawing to the tracing. Lo and behold I'd exaggerated almost every curve: The line dropping from the shoulder to the wrist, the hip, the calves... it was another little epiphany.

When I say he's like a Zen Master I mean it. Compare "Concentrate on the breath. When your mind wanders bring it back to the breath," and "Start with the simplest shape. Get the drawing of this simple shape correct, then move to the next simple shape, piecing them together like a jigsaw puzzle." They both sound so easy...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer Time

Our family has been on Summer Time since the kids got out of school. Every week there is something going on. My painting hours are dropping precipitously. (Watching the Tour de France isn't helping matters.) There just don't seem to be enough hours in the day, and when I do have the time, I haven't the energy. So I found myself painting late at night just to get the time in, and I'm not sure this was at all productive. Then I hit upon the brilliant scheme of getting up early in the morning - like 0530 - to paint. Hey I can get a few hours in before the kids get up and the day starts. I've found I'm a morning painter anyway, so it was early to bed and early to worked for about two days. Connor and Jillian decided if Dad was up they would be too. There went my early AM personal time.

Our model sessions are scheduled at two different times: 0930 or 1100, all depending on various factors. We three painters: Bruce, Jackie and myself have all noticed a distinct mood depending on the time of the session. 0930 sessions are full of energy, lots of give-and-take, serious concentration. 1100 sessions are much mellower, slower, and shorter. This past Wednesday's session was like that.

Buddha's List of 84 Things To Do

Buddha said there are always 84 things to do. Get rid of 5 or 6 and there are still 84 things to do. I know what he was talking about.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Hidden Place

Sometimes, no, most of the time I really feel like I'm hitting my head against a brick wall. Over and over again. I'm not sure if the wall has a dent in it yet - or if it's just my head with the dent. Things get way worse when I look at work by other representational painters. There's a very good blog here that has lots and lots of work by contemporary painters. I haven't fully explored the site, but from what I've seen all the current rock stars in representational painting are here - the painters usually gushed over in American Art Collector and American Artist. But there's others I hadn't known about, with a strong showing from the UK and continent. On the blog there are links to the artists' websites, as well as examples of their work. It's a very depressing place.

The author has a few words to say about each painter. I like the way the author's mind works. Each painter is given about a paragraph. The remarks about Lipking I found especially interesting. The author is right that really there isn't much depth to his work. It is beautiful, but is that enough? Shouldn't there be more than a beautiful subject rendered beautifully? Then again the same was said about Sargent and Bouguereau. Go figure.

But tomorrow is another day, and I'm very much looking forward to tomorrow. We have our new model and I plan on exploring a variety of themes and ideas. I've got a 20x24 I've plans for, and hopefully I'll find my painting tomorrow. The plan is to throw a lot of ideas in the air and see where they fall. Poor girl.

One idea intrigueing me was sparked by an artist on TV talking about looking at herself nude in the mirror. She wondered if that was really her, if her outside had anything to do with her inside. (She was a conceptual artist.) My opinion is, well yeah...of course it does. We may not be able to choose our height, skin color or how big our feet are, but the choices we make throughout our lives sculpt outside appearance. If a person smiles and laughs a lot - it shows in their face. If they've struggled throughout - it shows. If they enjoy eating and dislike exercise - it shows. There is no Descartesian divide between body and mind. It's all one. And it's one reason I like to paint people.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Keeper I Think

Just after I was arrogantly bragging about how I wiped out all of my sketching efforts, I started and finished this one of a new model standing on a diving board. This isn't the young woman who dove in high school, but she certainly has the figure of a sportswoman. Decided to keep it. Done in Transparent Oxide Red and Titanium White (both Gamblin). I'm finding it hard to control the three of Titanium Oxide Red, Titanium White and Ultramarine Blue. Theoretically the idea is to treat them as a trois crayons exercise. The Transparent Red is used in the warm areas and the blue in cool areas - together they make a nice dark. Will just have to keep plugging away.

Took photos of paintings today and was disappointed with the results. I know how it's supposed to be done (two daylight bulbs at 45 degree angles to picture plane) I just don't have the means. Attempted to compensate. Looking at the photos they don't look like the paintings and I wonder if it's an emotional thing. When I work on a painting for a while I get very close to it. Even though I actively try to keep an emotional distance, I think my vision gets distorted. My worry is that when I look at the photo the shock of recognition is me seeing the painting as it really is - and I'm disappointed. Sort of like when I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror not realizing it's me. Very scary.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Quotes and Drills

"...staggering babies embody the deepest truth about deep practice: to get good, it's helpful to be willing, or even enthusiastic, about being bad. Baby steps are the royal road to skill." Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code

"Try again. Fail again. Fail better." Samuel Beckett

The idea with these exercises was to pick a shape, draw the shape, get the value correct and go on to the adjacent shapes. I had to judge each value relative to the adjacent values, then compare the whole. From simplified shapes create a complicated picture. It's not as easy as it sounds. I tried it three different times, then wiped each effort out. The last time I used the scaffold of a contour drawing to relate the shapes to each other. The colors used were transparent oxide red, ultramarine blue and white.

I wipe out each effort because I'm working on belgian linen C13. They're exercises so I want to keep the same surface that I'd use in a gallery painting. Wiping out an hour, hour and a half effort is strangely liberating too. I think it gets away from the "preciousness" of an image and places the emphasis more on the process. Or as I like to mutter to myself, "It's the process, not the product." I'm usually muttering that to myself in front of a really bad effort.

This quote is also from Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code:

"1. Pick a target.

2. Reach for it.

3. Evaluate the gap between the target and the reach.

4. Return to step one"

Here I used a rough contour. Then I explored the temperature variations with value. It's a beautiful pose by a pool so there was a lot of reflected cool light and warm sunlight. Unfortunately I didn't do the pose justice. She looks like an amputee.

This summer I'm hoping to pose some more models by the pool. I'd also like to get some pictures from underwater, and in the water. I bought a plastic sleeve for my camera so I could do just that. One of our models was a diver in high school. We talked about some pictures of her diving.

In my upcoming show there are two paintings of figures swimming underwater for the ladder. The mix of pool light, bright suit colors and strong gesture is addicting. The one painting is of my son; the other is of a neighbor girl. I'll be posting them on my website soon. Or you can come to the show? July 24th is the opening. See you there.

About Me

My photo
Elmira, New York, United States
In many ways I think like a photographer. The image itself is becoming more and more important to me; the actual application of paint less and less. Blasphemy in some painterly circles. I choose to paint figures and portraits because I consider them the most difficult subject.