Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Warclub, a painting "work in progress" Day 2

Hi Everyone,
Here are the results of my first day of actual painting on "The Warclub". I thought long and hard about how to approach the finish on this painting. There were many ways I could have gone. One way I considered taking it was to put a full blown background in. But I ruled this out almost immediately since I felt that even a simple setting would have detracted from the strength of the focal point, which is the club wielding mountain man. Then I thought about putting him on a dark background of deep green or some other compliment that would pop him off the background. A better choice than the first, but I ruled this out in the end because it might have been too tranquil a background for this painting. The thing I kept coming back to in my mind is that this is a brutal, almost prehistoric kind of weapon and it required a background with some slashing life to it.

So I brushed on a transparent layer of raw umber and earth green near the figure, then used a brush to fleck and slash it with turpentine. The turp lifted the wet paint, dripped in places and created a wonderful effect of a stone like texture. Just the background that this painting needed to give it some life, but not overwhelm. Everything is loosely painted at this point and nothing is finished. the hands are still only drawings. The subject from which I am painting was wearing a bright blue fabric shirt. Way too blue to be period correct, so I changed it to a buckskin coat and will be adding fringe along his shoulders. Buckskin is thicker than fabric and the folds have to be painted in a more rounded softer manner than the fabric would be painted. I've also added a couple of beaded strips down the front of his coat. This lets you know this is indeed a western mountain man and that he possibly has a native wife somewhere. I will be letting the shadow part of his coat melt into the background colors. This gives it a more pleasing effect and doesn't draw unneeded attention. At this point, I'm just trying to get everything in so I can judge what it needs and can do without. I'm really trying to avoid putting in unneeded details and really orchestrating what I want you to see.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Warclub, a painting "work in progress"

Hi Everyone,
I've decided to do something a little different this time. I've had some inquiries about the process I use on my figurative pieces, so I thought it might be fun to do a post which follows along as I work on a piece. I will take a photo at the end of each sessionof my painting and explain what I've gotten accomplished in each session. I don't know if this piece will be successful, but that's the way it is with every piece that artist's do. There are no guarantees.

This painting will be called "The Warclub". This mountain man is holding a particularly nasty native american weapon called a warclub. We don't know how he came to have it. He may have won it on the field of battle, or just stumbled across it while traveling the wild country. This weapon was feared and was particularly effective in battle. I guess you can see why. It was made out a a plank of wood, two wicked blades stuck out of the side and it was decorated with brass studs, horsehair twine, beads, and at times, feathers.

This is the way I start most of my figurative paintings. I'm using Claessins #166 acrylic primed linen. I tone my canvas with yellow ocher acrylic paint. Not always, but usually. Then I begin to draw on the canvas with hard vine charcoal. I draw lightly at first, but because it's vine charcoal, it wipes away very easily, so corrections are easy to make. At this stage everything is very fluid. One thing I have learned is that a drawing can look just right when you draw it, but once it's framed it can feel off. And if it doesn't feel right, it's wrong. So, sometimes I will do my drawing while I have the frame around it, or sometimes I look at it framed after the drawing is fairly well along. Here is the drawing in the frame to check how it balances. I always try to use the frame it will be sold in. That way there are no surprises.

Everything is loose at this time, in fact I keep it loose for as long as I can.

Here is a close-up of the head. Here you can see that I've kept the drawing to major areas of lights and darks. Why put in all that detail, if you're just going to cover it up in the block in?

This is the end of my first session. The drawing took 1 1/2 - 2 hours and was done at the end of a full painting day, or I would have started the painting.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Sketchbooks, the key to painting better.

Hi Everyone

Occasionally a beginning painter will ask me how to speed up the time it takes for them to paint better. I only know what works for me.... the basics. Everyday I try to set aside some time to draw. There isn't any magic potion for me. I'm a grinder. It doesn't come easy for me and I have to work at it everyday, and probably always will. I don't possess a photographic memory ( at least if I do, I don't remember that I do), so working on finding that shorthand to record what I see, or rather, how accurately I see, is a matter of practice. Of course drawing from life is best, and I do that whenever I can. This sketchbook page to the left was done sitting on a bench at the Lake Harriet Rose Garden, just minutes from my house. But often a hectic schedule keeps me from going out as much as I would like. In that case, I use anything I have at hand to draw from, magazines, books, catalogs, and photos I've taken. I even draw from some of my favorite websites. Since I'm not selling these sketches and am not profiting from them, I'm not infringing on anyone's copyrights.

There was a time, long ago, when I first started drawing that it wasn't much fun. But that doesn't last too long (only about a year I think). Before long, you will see yourself making progress, and the things that you couldn't do become second nature. I read somewhere that most people give up the new things they are trying to do, just before they would make a breakthrough, and so never succeed. But if you stick with it and are kind to yourself, soon you will look forward to your time with your pencil. I'm going to post some pages from my sketchbooks here to give you an idea as to the different things I draw and the goals I set for myself. Almost always these drawings are loose and don't take a lot of time. Some are looser than others. The goal of a sketchbook is to do quick little studies and train your eye to see size space relationships. The goal is not to create finished drawings to sell or hang on your wall. Oh, and remember, you can click on any image you see for a larger view.

The sketches to the left were done to work out the best composition on a painting idea. I do these all the time. 5-10 minutes on these kinds of sketches will save you a lot of false starts on your easel and wasted time. I also do these when I'm painting on location, and I would recommend if you paint outside too, that you give it a try. You will know immediately if your composition is strong enough to support a painting. Also, I do move things around to make a better painting, so this kind of drawing lets you work it out beforehand. I try different layouts and dimensions too. Sometimes your first idea isn't your best and this will force you to try out new looks and get away from your usual solutions.

Same with these quick sketches, just a compositional exercise. Sometimes I will fire off a sketch when I get an idea for a painting, just so I don't forget my idea. "Sunscreen" was one of these sketches. Two older folks getting ready to get into their canoe for a day on the water, take a moment to apply sunscreen to each other. Along the Treeline was another compositional sketch to work out getting the focal point clear in my mind.

This photo had potential for a painting, but was too busy and lacked a place for your eye to rest.

so I did a sketch that added a field at the bottom of the canyon, which solved my problem. It isn't fancy or detailed, but that's not what I needed it for. Here is the finished painting. I used this sketch to refer to as I laid out the underpainting. I only used it as a shorthand drawing.


These drawings, on the other hand, are purely about sketching and training your eye and brain to see size and space relationships. For me this is so very important in my painting. To paint well, you have to be able to see well. If something in your painting seems wrong but you don't quite know what the problem is, you probably have a drawing problem. It doesn't matter how well something is painted, if you aren't accurate in your relationships, you will not be successful. Sorry, but that's just how it is. Being able to draw gives me that ability to see. For me, I make the most progress in training my eye, by doing lots of quick sketches rather than one long labored drawing. I keep a small handheld mirror close by to view my sketch in reverse and make sure I'm on target. Using one of these babies will give you a fresh eye when you've been looking at your drawing for too long and your eye has grown used to your mistakes. Looking at your sketch in the mirror will quickly show you where you've gone wrong so you can correct it. I tend to draw a lot of nudes in these drawings since I find human anatomy to be the most unforgiving subject. If you've gotten it wrong, even just a little, you will usually know it. But don't feel that you have to draw nudes. I draw anything and everything. Whatever I'm interested in, or feel I need to work on is fair game, as you will see.

I'm constantly drawing horses and horse anatomy. I like to paint them and must be familiar with their anatomy enough to get it right. In so many ways horse anatomy is every bit as challenging as human anatomy. Even more so for me, because I'm not as familiar with it, so sometimes the mistakes aren't as easy for me to see.

In my sketches of the stray dog that my parents adopted, I was only concerned with getting his gesture and expression. These were quick and not labored.

I love doing the quick character studies of some of the reenactors I meet at the rendezvous I attend. This carpet bagger had a great look. Again, this is quick and I don't labor to get everything exactly right. I'm much more interested in getting something down quickly and getting my eye and brain to intuitively see relationships, angles, and to simplify values.

More quick drawings, though longer than a pure gesture drawing. Don't get distracted by unimportant detail. Also, start out drawing light enough so that you can make adjustments as you need to. I'm constantly making corrections as I go. Same with painting. Martin Greele says something to the effect that painting is a series of corrections. The same is definitely true of drawing.

This is about as long a pose as I will do in my sketchbooks, probably about 1-1 1/2 hours.

I also like to put multiple images on each page. And I work at trying to make it pleasing to look at as a whole, I guess it's the Designer/Illustrator in me.

Well, that's all for now, I hope this gives you some inspiration to pick up your sketchbook and pencil and dive right in. You won't regret it and your paintings will be much easier for you to do.

Happy painting, Steve