Artistic Redirects

It’s time to re-arrange the furniture a little bit so to speak. This blog was started when I began studying at a local atelier run by my teachers and friends Lisa Silas and Matthew Riggs. After many years of trying to meet the standards of expression I saw in artists of the past and select few current artists, I went into the study of classical realism full tilt boogie. I almost too easily left behind a budding career in non-representational work that had never really satisfied me. I learned to do things at the atelier that I never, ever thought I could do – like really draw for the first time in my artistic journey. I was just beginning to learn the classical traditions of oil painting as passed down from a long tradition of artists through the Florence Academy School of Art in Italy where Lisa and Matthew studied and graduated from. And then I got sick. I couldn’t make it to the studio anymore and I couldn’t stand at the easel to work anymore. At home, I worked very hard, all the time, pushing the skills I learned and practicing, practicing, practicing. Lisa and Matthew knew how much I loved the form and how hard I worked. As friends, they came to me at my home studio and coached me as best they could from there. At that time, I also began studying at home with Sadie Valerie at her online atelier. Again, I was just starting to get into the oil painting section of her instruction when my illness took a bad turn. I was told I could no longer work in oils or pastels, the two mediums that were core to my study and my artistic expression. This pretty much bummed me out for a little while – but I still had graphite. I remembered my artistic journey began with watercolor, but I had completely abandoned it for the feel and look of the oils. I had very little love for watercolor and found it cumbersome and ornery. But I have to paint.

And this is where my new and improved blog finds me. I am continuing to push my classical drawing practice. I do regular practice of Bargue and Masters copies in graphite. I also do figure work using my (clothed) friends and often photos of nude models (I cannot afford a personal life model at my home). I also do value studies, anatomy studies and still life drawings in graphite. Drawing is the root of my practice. Lisa comes over when she can to coach me and give me crits on my copies and Bargues. Lately, she has been encouraging the development of my personal expression and point of view. I paint almost every day in watercolors. My art practice is my meaning and what drives me, along with my writing which I will talk a little about in another post.

So – wow, watercolor. I am actually finding that I enjoy the cranky things. There is a playfulness and humor to them that had been lost on me. I had judged them too harshly, too soon. The water has many things to teach a person and the medium helps me get my Zen on more than the oils really did. They are also my only option – so I am grateful to have them!

Here are a few of the watercolor I have completed up to now and a Master copy I just finished. I have lots of thoughts to share about art and life, and the union of the two but for now just pictures, because I could type forever… but I bet you don’t want to read that long!!

 

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The Hand, Heart and Eye – Josie II

I finished Josie! The last few weeks I have had pneumonia so only worked a little at a time as I had energy. It all adds up! I am really happy with how she turned out for me. It is something to know that all the time and patience comes together. There are always things you think you could have done different, there is always that distance between the thing you say in your mind’s eye and the final result but in this case, the distance is not as great as it usually is.

When I did the original block in I did it on a different sheet of paper and then transferred the final block in to the pristine paper. I do this because I am forever heavy handed in my block-ins, erasing lots, grooving the paper a little too much. I am getting better with practice but it is a slow process developing that pencil control so I want to start my drawing with a fresh, light block in. I use a transfer method I learned at that Neoteric and that Sadie uses as well. I copy the drawing to tracing paper and then on the reverse side put a thin layer of graphite. Then I use a permanent fine point marker to lightly draw over my drawing transferring it smoothly onto the pristine paper. I love this method. You are never pushing a pencil into the paper when doing the transfer.

All that went really well on Josie. But – then I saw some changes, of course, that needed to be made to the block in and I got a little “groovy” on my drawing. That is the biggest bugaboo with the final Josie drawing. If you look closely in person you can see some of those grooves I made when adjusting the transferred block in. I didn’t really need to make those adjustments either, that’s the thing. I could have made the adjustments while drawing, and with a lighter hand.

Sometimes you can become so enamored of your own process and mark making. In doing so you put yourself smackdab in the middle of “thinking” and bugger things up. I do my best when I get out of my own way and just let my hand, heart and eye work. I am a far smarter artist when I am not thinking about the execution too much while executing. I think this is what I learned from Josie mostly…. Think first, think and look, then get out of your way and let instinct take over. Then stop and think again, look again and then fall back into the knowing.

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Josie II Graphite on Canson Paper

I am learning the same lesson when applying a print to a fabric in this little pastel study of a potato I am doing. I have never done print on fabric before, much less in pastel. I found the same process rang really true for this… get out of my way. The more I thought about the print the more forced the print became, the more fiddly the detail and the less fresh the result. I took a toothbrush and loosened the pastel up over most of the cloth and went in with a much lighter hand. I looked hard and then I put myself away and let my hand, heart and eye take over.

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WIP – Sweet Potato Pastel on Hand Prepared Paper

There is a time to think, and then there is a time to put thinking aside and just do what you know to the best of your ability and instinct. We have so much knowledge inside of us, we actually know how to do so much if we just get out of our own way. You take all this time to learn all you can and you practice all you can so that you can let go when it counts and let the rhythm and instinct guide you.

I think the rest of my art practice, for the rest of my life will primarily be this… learning to get out of my own way!

Making Art in Early June

It’s quite warm in my apartment and it’s hot under my painting lights so I thought I would take a break to show what I’ve been up to these last few weeks.  First off last weekend I did my first “almost” alla prima painting. It went a little longer than expected because I had to learn how to paint and paint and orange fifty times to get it right. Someday when I start a painting I will not have to relearn again everything I have learned before. Could be my memory isn’t what it once was, could also be that PAINTING WELL IS HARD!

The pitcher came surprisingly easy. I was surprised with how quickly the color came to me through the whole painting. I think this is because I did a pastel of this same still life image a while back. Yes, I worked from a photo of my still life on this one. Shame. But I have very limited space for big still lifes. I think in this one I could have paid a lot more attention to edges. It’s a real juggling act. That is the bugaboo of working from a photo. The edges are much more exaggerated than in real life. You also often get your shadows defined and colorful with your lights over exposed or the opposite, your lights defined well and your shadows exaggerated and dark. I think if you take these things into consideration when painting form a photo you a photo can be extremely useful, especially in close quarters. It is important to me though to use original images only.

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I will always prefer life. I have arranged a “light box” area next to my easel for me to do very small paintings form life so expect to see lots of little paintings this summer. A still life might be a couple of fruits or eggs, single items, etc. I will be able to paint from life so that will really be great. Matthew, a beloved teacher of mine challenges me to work from life as often as I can.

I miss my teachers and my friends at the Neoteric. It is a terrific school and I will go back one day when I am able to make a consistent commitment at actually being there. My health is improving a lot lately and I know I will be able to rock it in the studio again soon.

I have also FINISHED (!!) my sketch of Josie.  The images of Josie that I am working on are from a photo shoot I did a number of years back. I cannot have a live model in my apartment. I might though have a friend over to sit for me for sketches. They would have to sit a long time though. It takes me forever to finish anything. I also came to the realization that though I love the delicacy and responsiveness of charcoal I prefer working with graphite. This drawing was done using mainly Coates willow charcoal.

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I have made some progress on my second Josie drawing in graphite.  Again learning what to do with the edges of the drawing. This is a test drawing, a practice drawing for a real drawing I am going to do of this image. It is a practice drawing because: a) I am really studying my pencil skills in this one and b) in the block in I was too heavy handed and made some deep grooves into the paper. It’s hard to see that in the drawing but that is why it is a practice drawing.

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My online work with Sadie Valeri’s Atelier continues, this time with block-ins and a final sphere. She gave me the go ahead to start her first painting lesson which is – value scales!! I am learning so much about the basics one step at a time through this program and it is paying off in my work. I see it all the time. These things seem small and unromantic but they are like backbones to build your hopes on.

Finally, My Varo copy continues and I with it…..

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What’s been on the table this week…

My discipline has been good lately, though I am torn three days a week when I have to work on my side business that actually brings in a meager amount of money. I will say that it is gratifying to have your own business, but not nearly as gratifying as making art.

Lisa, the Director of the Neoteric Renaissance School of Art and dear friend was over for a visit the other day and looked at some of my recent endeavors in progress. She said the most encouraging thing I have heard in a great while. She said she always recognizes my work. She said that the decisions I make regarding moving light and line through a piece, what I accent and what I down play are delicate and consistent. We talked about how these things happen unconsciously, the real signature of an artist being the little things like where you begin and end a line, the way you choose to accent the light moving through a work, etc. Delicate is not a word that I think of when I think of my work. I constantly struggle with a heavy hand. It was good to hear though, and then to let go of and get back into the learning. If it happened unconsciously then I best just be true my studies and not become too self-conscious of it.

I was quite tired today and found that it actually helped my art work a lot. It slowed my mind and all the thoughts that tend to dart all over the place and tire me out much quicker when I’m working. I put in a good five hours today.

Varo

I have made progress on the Varo! It should be done within a couple weeks, definitely by the end of June. I had a great go at it Saturday and made lots of progress. I really just have the table and box to do, the final touches to the cloth and then the face and hands of course. The face and hands will go fast, because it has to be on the money the first pass. I have been working on this one for almost a year, a little at a time.

I work slowly and I still find the act of close comparison fatiguing over time. So I just work on spurts. I generally do not work longer than ½ hour without a break, and around three or four hours before a longer break. Sometimes that is all I can put in for the day. Sometimes I go back to it after a few hours of doing something else. Often I work on my writing or book studies in between painting sessions – or play a computer game – another way I like to take a break. I do not know why I fatigue so quickly, but it does get noticeably better when I consistently work every day.

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Josie

The less I think about what I’m doing the smoother what I’m doing becomes. It is a luxury to not think about what you’re going to do next, especially when you’re learning because you’ve always got this dialogue running in your mind coaching you, the voices of teachers, of books, instructing you into the correct way to do things. I do my best when I shake all that.

With Josie, I wanted to smooth the effect in this session. I was not happy with the scratchy marks and the cumbersome execution with the charcoal. I wanted something fresher, cleaner. I looked to my right and I saw one of my super soft paint brushes. To my surprise I just took it and I started brushing the charcoal around. That’s a really bold move when you’ve spent a month working on a portrait and have never done the technique before. I could have lost everything but I got lucky. Actually, after so much study, I don’t know if it’s all just luck anymore! I was able to reconcile some problem areas and add some fresh spontaneity to the background and achieve that flat neat black background that I wanted. About three times I should have stopped and I by the end of the session I had created and lost about 3 completely different drawings. Must work on more control.

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Potato

Getting ready to work the print in the cloth. Right now it appears like a blank canvas but will have a very complex French vine and floral print. The potato came along very easily. The paint tube still needs a lot of work. I am getting faster with my pastels and more confident.

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Sadie

I have been working on my Sadie Valeri Atelier Online projects – more spheres, value strips and a couple block in progression. It was a challenge to get the block in consistent and identical in each stage. What a great exercise, doing each stage from the beginning. I am very much enjoying and learning from Sadie’s curriculum and approach. I also think I finally am happy with my value sphere!

My goal this week is to finish Josie and continue to make progress on the Varo. I have a new block in to do for Sadie and want to start a couple of small graphite drawings as soon as Josie is done. I am not enjoying the charcoal much at all. Also, it poses the same storage and framing challenges as the pastel. I still want to work in oil and graphite primarily. That being said, I am setting up to paint this week so will be focusing on that as well.

A Change of Scenery

Sometimes I need a change, sometimes I get tired of hitting up on my limitations over and over again and I need a shift in scenery, a new direction. I have for the immediate future left studying at the Neoteric, though I will always consider it my art home. Lisa and Matthew are my good friends and said they would continue to come by for the informal crit and coffee. I enjoy that time a lot. They are the first really close artist friends I have made in many years.

That being said, I am now studying remotely/via an online program at Sadie Valerie’s Atelier. It better meets my requirements at this time and the direction is more geared towards still life drawing and painting. The work I have done with Lisa and Matthew has prepared me tremendously for this, though Sadie’s curriculum and methods are QUITE different. I can really see how the Florence Academy of Art informs Lisa’s teaching methods.

The first thing Sadie has me doing is drawing a sphere. I thought that would be easy peasy but she had me redraw it three times. In addition to the sphere beginners in her program start with ellipses, 2D sphere light direction and shadow studies and a variety of value strips using a variety of pencils. After jumping right into figures at the Neoteric this seemed to be going backwards, even basic. I was quite happy though with both the level of personal critique from Sadie and what I learned in the assignments. I am happy to say she let me move on to drawing the steps of a block in and doing one full block in in a simple still life. She did this with the addition that I continue to work on my third sphere and my pencil work on the strips. My pencil work is still a little rough. I blame my camera – heh.This all is preparation for painting in the indirect method that she teaches. It is very much in harmony with how I tend to paint naturally.

So below are my Spheres and misc. work from Sadie’s program. I will post these along the way, and also my own personal work which I am always working on. I want this blog be more about my total art journey and not just the work I do related to an atelier. A little different than the in the past. Cheers!

Art Notes from March – Working on Josie

March 1
Started Josie Reclining
Charcoal on Stonehenge drawing paper
9″x12″

This will be a difficult drawing because the figure plane has very little value variation to give the eye interest. It is very subtle the transitions across the form. The contrast of the image and the expression on Josie’s face are what make this an interesting and beautiful picture to me. The challenge will be to communicate those well in a very small drawing with such light values – in charcoal.

This will be my first real charcoal figure drawing and I just have only a teensy clue as how to proceed from watching Matthew and Lisa. In the figure drawing room I have not even gotten to shadow shapes yet but I have watched them enough to try my hand at it at home.

The key to success will be SHARP SHARP charcoal, a light, light touch and going really slow. I would like to be done with this drawing in a month.

I have taken to sharpening whole boxes of charcoal at a time so when I work I have a ton of sharp charcoals and don’t have to worry about sharpening all the time. It is a relaxing activity sitting at my desk with my materials sharpening my charcoal slowly and one by one. Very meditative. I do my pencils at the same time.

March 6
Initial Block in
Here is my block in and my first crit. Aside from a few measurement adjustments the main gist of the crit was to apply broader comparisons across the form to relate shapes and not just compare and reference areas with things in close proximity. Work across the form.

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March 8
Filling in the main plane
Here I filled in broad areas with a light marks in order to define the form even closer and understand negative shapes easier. This gets to my most challenging area… filling the space with marks. I am starting to understand how to fill in the spaces between the spaces. You fill in the spaces between those spaces. By spaces, they actually mean the valleys of the paper grain itself. THAT was an important revelation I made. Lift out where things get dark then fill in so it looks even. Do this until you get an even surface (I have not yet achieved that here or anywhere yet in charcoal). I am realizing why you must start soooo light. By the time you have filled in every hill and valley of the paper texture you have darkened stuff up quite a bit. If you start to dark that is a disadvantage.

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March 12
Keying the drawing
I love this part – keying in the darks in order for me to be able to navigate the form better. Everything is in service to the form, to understanding the form better, revealing those small adjustments you need to make. I am totally winging it but for some reason getting those spots of dark dark in place makes me really happy. I keep telling myself to go slow. Go slow.

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March 17
Filling in the background and darks.
The main thing that I have to say about session is this drawing and art in general is a process of discovering and then letting go of beauty over and over. I would even go so far as destroying beautf in order to reclaim it over and over. You get your work to a moment where it looks beautiful in youreyes, and you have to demolish it in order to build on it and take it to the next level. It looks beautiful again and then you have to undo it once again – each step building on the last.

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March 20
Starting on the body.
I worked for about 2 hours last night. I feel like I made some real progress on understanding the application of charcoal. My impatience gets the best of me when making the directional marks of the charcoal but in little spaces I’m very good with the light touch. I’m amazed at the way the charcoal respond to almost a breath or a thought. It seems to read your mind. IN the area of the face I am able to control the charcoal very well and I can feel the sensitivity of what I am doing. It feels amazing. The rest of the body looks like a hairy gorilla. I may have ruined a good drawing.

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March 29
Refining the form and the marks
I’m very anxious to bring the drawing to a state of completion but I can’t believe how much harder it is than I thought it would be. I have no idea if it looks like it is supposed to look. If the marks are correct. At this point I am just going with my own instinct and trying to elevate the work so it looks good. I guess that’s what really matters. I would like to do a very traditional classical figure but I’m just not set up to really immerse myself in learning that technique through and through right now. She doesn’t look like a gorilla anymore which makes me very happy. I am starting to work on the background and cloth now, and start shaping the hands.

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I am not going to finish this by April 1 but I am happy that I am close. It will be close.

The (art) week in pictures: February 7 – 14

2/7 – Sunflowers
I painted today. I feel like I keep saying/painting the same thing over and over and over. I go from very being very effective to falling into a primitive idea of painting what I think I see. I gain control and lose control over and over again and that process not only disrupts the unity and confidence of the marks I am putting down but it exhausts me. I have painted these leaves at least ten times and every time I redo them completely. I create something I like and in trying to push it further lose it. I am getting much better about blending my edges really well though, after I have worked on an area and am stopping for the night or until it dries. It makes it much easier to go back and rework the area.

Also and importantly, I have discovered my “painting music”! Choir music! For me, it soothes the mind, raises the heart and steadies the hand. I just discovered some contemporary composers who have composed such timeless sublime pieces as  Morten Lauridsen and Arvo Part. It took my over-simplistic generalizations about the clasical music of this time by surprise. PS. Lauridsen is going to be talking about his music at a community college this week and we are going!

2/8 – Sunflowers
I surprised myself painting today. I worked on the petal part of my sunflower painting. For the longest time I had no idea how I was going to approach them. At first I started with extra care, brushing each petal slowly and very carefully. It was all wrong. I wiped it all out and looked at my brushes. I needed a bigger brush. I needed a bristle brush. I picked up a nice medium round hog bristle. Filled it with paint and then just let go. With the bigger brush I let go of the controls and let my instincts paint for me. I think that in painting our head can get away from us and we lose track of our instincts. Just like we can walk and talk at the same time without thinking about it, when you paint your best you are applying the paint without thinking about the color, value, temperature, textures all at once. Instinct. The process of learning is becoming aware of every little thing but the process of mastering is letting go of every little thing and letting your instincts take over. I know that when my instincts paint I always exceed my own expectation. I match colors and make brush strokes that I never could make if I were thinking about every little thing. Freedom in painting is discovered in those moments of trust that you will make the right mark. If you are really practicing often, seven out of ten times you will make the right mark. The other few times you just correct yourself. Realizing this is causing me to be a better painter.

I look at all the lessons I’m learning and how hard it is and it is such a simple little panting. Here is the Sunflowers so far… now all I need to do is get into the details on the leaves, etc. I am not going to do too much more with the petals.

Sunflowers. Swalton. In progress
2/11 – Josie
I drew tonight for about 3 hours. I worked in charcoal on paper from a photograph. The photo is of a dear friend who modeled for me one night and allowed me to take some photos of her poses. At first I really fought with the charcoal but as I worked, I saw how the nature of charcoal actually lends itself to a very sensitive application. It seems to read my mind simply said. I ended up having a really easy time with it and was really able to focus on the drawing. I made good progress and got a complete block in done. The only problem is now I’m not really sure what to do next as I head into the shadow shapes and starting to examine the shadows. Lisa and Matthew are coming over for critique this weekend. I think I will leave it alone until then. Tomorrow I am going to try to make class and draw from the live figure.

Here is my drawing of Jose so far:

Jose

2/12 – Figure drawing class
I went to class tonight and drew from the live figure for 3 hours. It was the same pose as two weeks ago and the same drawing. I struggled at first because the poste had drifted considerably over two weeks. After I talk to Matthew about it, he said I could either start over or I could re-work and re-block in the figure working up from the feet and legs (which had not drifted in the pose). I chose to stay with my drawing. It was a lot of fun to actually turn the figure around dimensionally in my drawing and by the end of the night I had a successful revised block in. I felt very comfortable drawing tonight. I was able to really feel and see more my growth, drawing from the model used to be such a fight for me, almost painful. Here is my drawing from tonight. I’ll continue with this drawing for the next 3 or 4 weeks, through the end of March.

Here is a snapshot of my reworked block in:

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