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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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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And Again We Begin!

Happy New Year! This is quite a good time to start blogging again, being that we are starting a new year and I will be starting a new term at the Neoteric. Also, my friend and dear co-student successfully encouraged me to go for it again. Thank you Joel – this one is for you!

I have not been posting because technically I have not gone to class for the last two terms. As I might have mentioned I have a chronic health condition that keeps me from being able to make it to class as much as I would like.

I say “technically” not going to class because while I have not been at the school, the school has come to me. I have been working very hard on projects that my teachers Lisa and Matthew are involved in. They come to my house/studio for critique periodically so that I can continue to grow and stay connected to the tradition and community. They constantly believe in me and encourage me to continue the work. I could not be more grateful.

The last two quarters of last year I spent applying the things I learned in my first year studying on site at the school part time. I work on block ins from art model books and life, am still working on my Master’s copies, I began painting a self-portrait and have three still life paintings in process that were started blocked in and the under-painting and first players done from life and the finishing is being done from memory and photo reference. It is too bad my work space is so small that I cannot leave a still life set up for very long but we do what we must – and I accept that for now, photo reference is necessary.

Matthew has pointed out some of the bugaboos with photo reference that I keep in mind when translating things into paint, such as edges that are unrealistically sharp and a broader area of focus. Photos are more clear and crisp over the entirety of the image, whereas in life, there is smaller clear focal area and the rest sort of softens in our field of vision. So, I attempt to compensate for those things as best I can.

It seems that I have so much work in progress and nothing finished from the end of last year. I could find that discouraging, and be frustrated with myself for taking so long to finish a thing. But considering that I am drinking up every lesson and every mark from each work – I allow myself to take it slowly and be very thoughtful of my marks and efforts. I let myself play some, creating work that I  don’t care to take to completion – quick drawings from life, pastels that take a couple of evenings to do. I recently played with Pan Pastels for the first time using the black and whites to create some value studies. These are works that I either do not save or that never see the light of day. You must allow yourself space to play, to reach out, to gesture, to confidently make marks without the fear of screwing stuff up. I think in the study of classical realism this is really important, at least for me – because the “work” of learning and training the eye can become so contracting and slavish in the domain of the critical mind. You have to let the kids out every now and then or they start to sabotage your efforts, at least for me it’s that way. It took me a while and some tears to figure that out.

Next week I begin classes again at my school, the Neoteric Renaissance School of Art. On site, not remote. I am feeling a little better so I am committing to the classroom again, and also am just trying to really develop more grit so that my life does not pass me by. So, I am back to blogging here and I will leave you with my group of works in progress and a few of my figure block ins. You will see them again, hopefully complete. The Holbein and the Angel Masters copies are taking FOR-E-VER but I work on them a little at a time, only when I feel my eyes and mind are very clear… which is not as often as I would like – thus the slow going on those. I am almost done, so close.

Well, until next time…

 

<Paintings Studies in Progress>

<“Relatively” Quick Block Ins>

<Masters Copies In Progress… still…>

The Art Tree of Knowledge

Hi all — The bad thing about not writing a blog for a long time is that I have a ton of images to share and things bottles up you want to say. The good thing is that I have a ton of images to share!

This has been a hard few months for many of my fellow students and for myself. A few didn’t make it and left the program. That always makes me so sad. I know the feeling because I left the program once but within a few months came back. I think there comes a point where we question the pay off. “It” seems impossible, impossible to make a “good” drawing while struggling with technique and learning to see. Also there is the way that the pursuit of classical realism seems to rain on your happy-art-making parade. I compare it to eating from the tree of knowledge. Once you see what you do not see you can never go back to not seeing it again. Once you realize the level you ‘could’ create at – you have a hard time settling for the level you once created at.

So you are left in this very uncomfortable middle ground of not being able to create at the level you want to create at, and not being able to go back to before you got bitten by the realist bug. It is a painful place to be and the place most people quit at – especially perfectionists, the easily fatigued and those who ride themselves the hardest.

For me, art was once a place where I could excel without really trying to hard. The creative process was always just a joyful, good feeling place to be. After I was out of that ‘making’ space and looking at my work I was always, always dissatisfied. On some level I knew I was capable of better, of being able to create the pictures my mind saw and not just settle for the pictures my ability allowed. When I discovered classical realism and my atelier I understood that there was a way, there were tools to kick up my ability to the level I wanted. I did not realize at first that learning those tools and techniques would be so difficult, and that results would be so slow. I was impatient and in pain actually. I quit. What I discovered was that I could not go back to my old way of making art. I was even more acutely aware that I needed to learn how to see better and to be able to translate what it was I was seeing. I needed to learn the techniques… I needed to give myself time. Most importantly I needed to learn to be gentle on myself in the process.

I believe I will get to where I want to be. I have seen periods of incredible growth followed by what seems to be periods of no growth at all. Weeks of drawing where my ends result looks even more pained than the first week and my paper is shredded under all of the effort.

In the drawing below I compare my last long pose drawing week one with week five. When I first finished I saw nothing better about week five than the first weeks block in. I put the drawing away on frustration and disgust. Taking it out again and looking back, it’s true – the progress was very slow, my technique not refined which resulted in butchered paper… but –now I see the second figure has some much more effective observations than the first. The first is nice and loose, attractive in a generalized, modern way. The second however, is full of hard won observations that create the faint emergence of a form really turning in space. Subtlety to the movements of the muscles moving into each other. It looks more like the real model. I was able to just being to work the inside of the form and outline shadow shapes and that occurred naturally as I worked more and more subtly on the block in. I am slow, it takes me forever to get the block in to where I am ready to move into the shadow shapes, I over work the outline terribly – but I am learning and I see the difference and building on one experience after another. The skill we learn in the learning of classical realism is quantitative and the real necessary tool is patience.

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Anyway, I had a lot to say today so for the rest of the post I am going to just post some pictures of the current status of my work. You can scroll down for comparison. Because I am a part time student at the Atelier I am moving slowly through the work. I know that if I could focus full time like they do at the Florence Academy where my teachers are from that I would move forward comparably to the students there. I accept the slow process because I accept my limitations. In fact, accepting yourself is the biggest secret ingredient to being able to sustain study in classical realism. Accepting where you are at when you are struggling as well as really accepting your successes.

Two hour live figure block in:

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Cast Drawing week three – just really starting working with the values.

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My Holbein Master’s Copy – moving to more subtle movements in the block in.

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My Angel Master’s copy – just now moving into the shadow shapes.

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There was an incredible painting workshop with our painting teacher Matthew Riggs a couple weeks ago and I am going to share some of that work in a separate blog post.

Finally once again my favorite quote about the study of classical realism from Atelier Founder and Art Educator Sadie Valerie: “…art is the kind of hard work that brings you to the bleeding edge of your ability and makes you stare hard at your limitations.”

The study of classical realism really takes courage and patience. Give yourself a break and be proud of every effort you make. I’ll hang in there if you will!