Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Week with "Marilyn"**

Platinum Blonde is a 6x6 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

Okay, it wasn’t a week with Marilyn. It wasn’t a week with Michelle Williams either.
And it really wasn’t a week, more like five days, widely separated.
But the open studio model reminded me of Marilyn, same sort of hairstyle and color, that pale, pale platinum blonde.
She wore a dress about the color of her hair and struck a pose that created a foreshortened head and face. (Quite hard to paint. See Artful Definitions.) But I loved the lighting, all that paleness in high contrast. So later after the open studio session, I painted her again. Unlike most of my paintings which are a la prima (again visit Artful Definitions), I kept coming back to this little one and redoing it. This is where the week comes in.
I never quite got it the way I wanted. But I did get closer. Sometimes, it’s good to revisit. This is my lesson from my week with Marilyn.

**For non-movie goers, My Week with Marilyn is a new release about Marilyn Monroe starring Michelle Williams.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Dreams of Sicily"

Dreams of Sicily is a 6x6 oil by Shirley Fachilla

A little less than two years ago, my husband and I went to Sicily. We circumvented the island and also traveled to the interior. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever experienced. It possesses great natural beauty. Its hills, cliffs, beaches, sea are spectacular. And the buildings left behind by the eleven or more invasions and subsequent populations are enormously evocative and beautiful.

This little painting is of some rooftops in Palermo. As you can see in the painting, the weather wasn’t always glorious. But the island always was.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Out of Context...

Girl in the Red Skirt is a 20x10 open studio oil by Shirley Fachilla.

If you’re a politician, being quoted out of context is almost always bad. But usually phrases and sentences which have been taken out of context are those that capture a thought or feeling best. They are the remembered quotes, the sayings which capture important truths, the lyrics that define an emotion.

“Out of context” seems to work in somewhat the same way in painting. Take a thing or person out of context and that thing can become iconic. Velazquez sometimes stripped his figures down to just the figure and its shadow, omitting even a horizon line. The person painted remained a very specific individual and yet functioned also as an “Everyman,” an icon, if you will, of our humanity. Manet who adored Velazquez consciously copied that technique in The Fifer, a work stunning in both its simplicity and emotion.

Every daily painter who paints just a pear and no more, every painter from life who strips away the studio backdrop and shows only the model is using the “out of context” Velazquez methodology. And every once in a while, in the hands of someone like Julian Merrow-Smith or Don Gray, it works as marvelously as it did for Velazquez.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Forecast: Cloudy with a Chance of Deep Fog

Killing Time is a 6x6 oil on panel by Shirley Fachilla.

We make fun of weathermen and their predictions but I, for one, have a much worst batting average of foreseeing the future… at least the future of individual paintings. I’m almost never right about which painting will sell, which painting will be the most popular or which painting will be juried into a show. (See Artful Definitions if you’re unclear about the definition of juried show.)

A case in point is the above 6x6 panel. I thought if any of my 6x6’s had a chance of getting into the California Higbee 6 Squared Show it would be this one. I was wrong. Two others made it but not my nonchalant smoker. Heck, maybe it was her attitude.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Feeling So-o-o Square

Consider the Lilies is a 6x6 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

Small Boat on the Tyrrhenian Sea is a 6x6 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

I’m very happy to report that these two paintings were selected to be in Randy Higbee’s juried 6” Squared Show in Costa Mesa, California.
Why does that make me feel less than cool, you ask? Because to be in the show, the painting had to be square, a small square, 6x6 inches. I think there will be something like 400 6x6’s on his gallery walls.
The rules were that submissions had to be that exact size and representational, no abstracts allowed. But they could be any medium, oil, pastel, acrylic, graphite.
The reception is December 3 and begins at 5; the location is Randy Higbee Gallery, 102 Kalmus Drive, Costa Mesa, California. The show’s up until December 22. This Tennessean can’t be there; but if you’re in the vicinity, I hope you drop by. There should be some tiny gems to see.

I think my next post will be the 6x6 painting that I thought stood the best chance to be picked

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ah, to Be the Center of Attention...

Queen Anne's Lace is a 24x12 oil by Shirley Fachilla.
The little lady in Queen Anne's Lace is an unlikely person to attract notice. There's nothing outstanding about her (except, of course, she seems to lack a nose, mouth and eyes); but none the less, she is the focal point, the spot that commands the most attention.
Painters compose work around focal points; they want to lead your eye there and keep you looking for awhile. Artist C.W. Mundy has several tips for creating a focus; and some of them are at work to make my little lady an attention-getter. But I'll just mention the one that works the best for her. It's her face.
We humans are social creatures who rely upon sight to identify friend and foe and upon faces to read the emotions of our fellows. If there’s a face in a painting, then that immediately becomes where we look the most intently even if that face has no discernible features!
I’m happy to say Queen Anne’s Lace was also accepted, along with my painting Island Music, into Scottsdale Artist School’s juried Best and Brightest Show happening January and February of 2012.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Violinist on Mohegan Island

Detail from Island Music a 24x12 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

In August, my friends and I traveled from Tennessee to Maine and then to Mohegan Island.
Our arrival on the island was confused. We had traveled by boat for more than an hour to arrive at a very noisy, crowded dock. Possibly every vehicle allowed on the island was there, to pick up supplies or drop off things for the boat’s return trip.
We made our way from the dock and clambered up the steep road to the village, backpacks stuffed with our heavy supplies. On that road, we left the noise behind and found instead sweet music and a sweeping view. When I think of the island, I think of the violinist on her hillside with her notes flying across the waves.
Mohegan is a special place.

Jean McGuire’s Entry for the Best and Brightest Show

Time for a Break is a 20x16 oil done by Jean McGuire.

Above is an image of Jean McGuire’s painting destined for the Scottsdale Artists School exhibit. I remember when she did it in Open Studio.

And since my last post, I’ve learned that Abigail Gutting, artist daughter of my blogging artist friend Susan Gutting, will also have a painting in the show.

Monday, November 7, 2011

"The Best and Brightest"

Island Music is a 24x12 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

Scottsdale Artists School calls its exhibit The Best and Brightest. Of course, the name alone is enough to make a participant love it.
And I will be participating in 2012's Best and Brightest Exhibit along with my good friend and artist, Jean McGuire. Back in the early spring we both were students in the Carolyn Anderson Workshop given in Scottsdale. We loved the workshop and loved the school (we already knew we loved Carolyn Anderson).
So when we were invited to submit work for a juried school show, we were delighted. Now we’re even more delighted that our work has been accepted into the exhibit.
My accepted painting is shown above.
I’ll write a little more about Island Music in a day or so. She has a story to tell.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The cost per lb... per piece... per inch

Sweater Girl is a 12x12 open studio oil by Shirley Fachilla.

Most artists price their work by the inch. It does seem quite prosaic, sort of like selling carpet or produce.
The per-inch method is often justified by asserting that larger takes longer to paint and therefore should cost more. Trouble is unless the larger size is really bigger, like a wall-size mural, it usually doesn’t take that much longer.
At 12x12, Sweater Girl is four times the size of a tiny 6x6. But I often labor all day on such a tiny one and when faced with a deadline, finish a 20x24 in less than half of that. So it isn’t the time, it’s just that other pricing techniques make even less sense.
Ask any artist, often one’s best painting takes the least amount of time. And the piece the maker thinks a masterpiece might seem less than wonderful in the eye of another beholder.
To read a very funny essay on the subjective nature of art pricing, visit Canadian artist Robert Genn’s blog, A Rough Day on the Board. It’s so funny but so true lots of readers missed Robert’s tongue in cheek and thought it was fact not fiction.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Do You See What I See?

Sunlit Sycamore is a plein air oil by Shirley Fachilla that turned into an abstract.

I have several artist friends who are abstract painters. One, Barbara Stokes, does beautiful big “abstracted” landscapes. All, including Barbara, start with a mark; they begin with a stroke or patch of color and work from there. They do not try to paint an abstract of a chair, or a tree or any recognizable form.
Sometimes my friends end with a completely abstract work; sometimes they recognize as they paint the suggestion of a landscape or a figure. When that happens, they work toward that vision.
I have tried to paint using their method and failed miserably. I end up just playing around with no purpose.
I must start with the concrete (that chair or tree!) and dissect what I see. I try to break it down into its parts, lose the non-essential, find the underlying design and extract just what made me want to paint it. Hopefully if I have some success, the viewer of my painting will, indeed, see what I see.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Once in a Blue Moon...

Under an October Sky is an 8x10 plein air oil by Shirley Fachilla.

It’s time for the annual Blue Moon event. Blue Moon is a fundraiser to benefit the Land Trust for Tennessee, an organization that preserves and protects the natural beauties of the state. Each year, Land Trust enthusiasts party at Glen Leven, a historic mansion and farm just minutes from downtown Nashville. And for the past couple of years, the Chestnut Group, Plein Air Painters for the Land, participate as well by painting land trust properties and offering them for sale during the event. Part of each painting sale goes to the Land Trust.

The Blue Moon is Saturday, October 22nd. On Sunday afternoon, October 23, the Land Trust will open Glen Leven for everyone to see. Drop by Glen Leven at 4000 Franklin Road, Nashville, this Sunday, see the mansion and perhaps find a painting to take home!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Playing in the Paint

Cold Forest is a 20x20 open studio oil by Shirley Fachilla.

When my daughter was small, I was a preschool teacher for two-year olds. Just about every week, the two-year olds and I would have a gloriously messy painting day. Lately, I’ve had some two-year-old envy. I wanted more playing in the paint and less worry about the outcome.
Surprisingly, C.W. Mundy’s workshop gave me a path to playtime. C.W. makes great use of paint manipulation. His marbleizing, requires a sure hand and knowledge of what you’re about; his tissue disruption mainly requires bravery. [I’ve defined C. W.’s marbleizing and tissue paint disruption on the Artful Definition Page.]
Both work because they’re play-based techniques that let the characteristics of the paint itself produce happy painterly “accidents.”
C.W. advised inventing one’s own paint manipulations. I did a bit of that above. The forest background consists of all the colors used in the painting swirled together, thinned with solvent, and applied to canvas. Then with my trusty paper towel, I swiped in tree trunks and branches. It was a good dose of two-year old fun.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Upside Down World of C. W. Mundy

I took a C.W. Mundy workshop last week right here in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a plein air workshop, Locales were both nearby and beautiful. In addition, the weather was unbelievably gorgeous. As you might suspect however, the subject of the above painting is not plein air. Horses rarely pose to be painted from life!
One workshop day, we went to the gardens of Cheekwood and painted from photos… upside down photos.

It's an exercise sometimes given to demonstrate how important it is to paint shape and form rather than a “thing.” I'd never done this particular exercise. Perversely, I selected a photo I thought would be really hard; I did it because I like horses and wanted a break from landscapes. I drew it and painted it upside down.
I had very low expectations so I was happily surprised to find my upside-down shapes resolved themselves into… horses! There are lots of things missing, reins and wheel axles and such, as well as some angles and values that need adjustment. But they indeed look like horses… who would have thought it!
Well, I guess C.W. would have.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Put on Your Red Dress, Baby..."

Put on Your Red Dress, Baby is a 20x10 open studio oil by Shirley Fachilla.

When we set this pose in open studio, we asked the model to look toward the door as though she had just glimpsed someone entering. This instruction was inspired by Vermeer’s Girl with the Red Hat.
Actually, there is some question whether Vermeer’s figure is really a girl. It seems that 400 plus years ago, it would have been equally possible for a man to wear such a huge, feathered, red hat. And the face Vermeer painted appears neither definitely male nor female.
But girl or boy doesn’t matter. Vermeer captured a fleeting expression of amazed surprise where gender is beside the point. He managed to do it on a canvas slightly smaller than our standard 8x10 inch ones. He did it with fluid brushstrokes and subtle value changes. And he did it with both big and tiny touches of saturated color. There’s a minuscule dot of bright turquoise in the nearest eye and of course, the red of that amazing hat.

All I can say about my decidedly female figure is that the guy at the door better be ready to dance.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Just Imagine...

The Last Time I Saw Paris is a 24x20 open studio oil by Shirley Fachilla.

Was this very dapper gentleman really gazing up at the Eiffel Tower on an early spring day? No, in fact, he was sitting in my Monday open studio studying a spot on the wall and wearing his boater at a rakish tilt. I added the Eiffel Tower after I got home using a bad photo I took in Paris.
The thing I most love to paint is the figure (or figures) in a place. Sometimes I paint the figure in the actual setting in which I find them and sometimes it’s a setting that I’ve imagined. The difficulty with imagined places (or added places) is linking those bits to the person. Often they just don’t make a seamless whole. My bon vivant worked better than most. Of course, that’s why I’m showing it to you rather than one of my many other attempts!
My last post was all about finding the “good” painting within rather than looking to your subject to provide it. I think there are many avenues to that result. And sometimes that path goes through one’s imagination.

Monday, September 19, 2011

In North Light

Detail of In North Light a 20x20 open studio oil by Shirley Fachilla.

If you’ve read this blog for very long, you might know I paint in an open studio each week. The studio is intended for portrait, but I often use it for figure. I also often complain about and protest the sameness of the pose from one week to the next. I can find it quite repetitious.

But as Hamlet said about his mom, “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.” In other words, I need to stop protesting and look to myself to alleviate the boredom.  

Wonderful contemporary painters that I greatly admire (two immediately come to mind, Carolyn Anderson and Dan McCaw) paint the same pose over and over again. Examples here and here for Carolyn and here and here for Dan.

They recognize that they are exploring form and light, shape and line, depth and flatness just as intently as the abstractionist.  They know that it is not the subject but what they bring to the subject that matters. I need to attempt to bring some of that same intensity to my subject, whatever or whoever it may be. The good painting is found inside the painter, not out. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Seven Days in Maine

High Tide is an 8x10 plein air by Shirley Fachilla.
Before I left for Maine with my artist friends, I thought a lot about what I wanted to paint. I’m a big believer in good painting having little to do with subject matter and much to do with what the painter brings of him (or her) self in terms of skill, intellect and emotion. A view of one’s backyard can have the makings of a wonderful painting, just as much as waterfalls, canyons and mountains. The still life painter Morandi proves this with a vengeance.
With that said, there’s something in Maine that can’t be found in Tennessee, something that I very much wanted to paint. I was dreaming of the Atlantic, its waves and color.
In Maine, happily painting at the shore, at high tide, I realized that even if painted everyday, the ocean would present a completely different face each day to the artist. In effect, it would function like Morandi’s bottles and dinnerware, same subject but with endless permutations.
There's a seascape painter whose work I studied before I left for Maine. The Californian William Ritschel painted his ocean, the Pacific sublimely. I find his work to be beautiful, powerful, and like the ocean, endlessly fascinating.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In the Margins of My Mind...

In the Margins of My Mind is a 20x20 open studio oil by Shirley Fachilla.
When I was in school, my notebooks were notable not for the clarity or completeness of my note-taking but for the doodles that decorated their margins.
There were stylized daisies, disembodied eyes, badly drawn cats and dogs, and lots and lots of faces. I drew both male and female faces, almost always young, and always with a romantic look about them that was my attempt at creating beauty.
A few weeks ago in open studio, we had a model with flowing hair dressed quite romantically in white lace; and as I painted, it occurred to me that she might have stepped from the margins of one of my old notebooks… or rather the idea of her might have stepped out (my doodles were never very good). She might have emerged from the margins to remind me of my time-wasting in high school and how it felt to be so very young.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Irene's Road Trip

Once upon a time (that would be last week!), five painting friends and one non-painting husband went to Maine. We packed our art boxes, then our suitcases and boarded the plane for Maine. We had a week of glorious weather, luscious seafood, and a million and one beautiful scenes to paint (we couldn’t and didn’t begin to paint them all).

We were out of touch and happy as clams (so to speak) but then… along came Irene. Our plane back was cancelled (though the airline neglected to tell us so). Our summer place was both oceanside (good) and in the path of Irene (bad). Not wanting to brave the hurricane, we pulled out maps and planned our escape.
Our car left in the dark of night headed north away both from our final destination, Tennessee, (bad) and from Irene (good). Three days later and one rental car more (a meeting with a porcupine and a flat tire made the change imperative), significantly poorer (bad) but still friends (good), we arrived back home.
Pat Mayo, Jean McGuire, Gale Haddock and I would like to thank our dear friend Jean Gauld-Jaeger and her wonderful husband, Chuck, for a grand and glorious stay. Just next time, let’s not tell Irene where we’re headed!

Monday, August 22, 2011

"What... This Old Thing!"

A Trifling Matter is a 20x10 open studio oil by Shirley Fachilla.
Recently in open studio, our model appeared wearing a trifle of a hat. It was inspired, of course, by the beautiful, and now royal, Kate and her wardrobe of completely non-functional, delightfully whimsical toppers.

In addition to satin and net bows, the model’s trifle had a half-veil with dots.
When painting a la prima (definition here), veils are one of those things you add last. You hope you have everything right underneath and you hope that you do the veil part okay, too, because you have one chance. Get it wrong and you’ll have to scrape that part of the painting down and start over.

Did I say our lovely model has a mean streak?

Renoir did just such a veil perfectly.
Sorolla painted a couple of transparent, windswept veils beautifully.
Monti demonstrated why veils add mystery much beyond one’s expectations.
And some glorious ancient Greek sculptor made poetry in motion with his veiled bronze dancer 2,000 plus years ago.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Artful Definitions

A Thoughtful Man is a 24x20 open studio oil. We’ll assume that’s a dictionary on his lap!

I’ve made a new page of art definitions. There’s a link here and another tabbed link directly under the blog header (title to those more bookish).
I added the page for a couple of reasons, both more selfish than altruistic. First, I wanted the option of not defining art terms that I use in a post in the post itself. Second, I didn’t want to assume everyone understood every word as I personally might define it. I do try to stick to universally accepted definitions, but I’ve discovered even the experts sometimes disagree.
In the list, I’ve left out all the isms (impressionism, realism, abstract expressionism… you get the idea). I may add them later. I hope to add as I post. The definitions I’ve begun with are those I’ve used already or think I’ll be sure to use soon.
The definition style is haphazard and informal though the words are, at least, in alphabetical order. Sometimes, I use a sentence as the definition, sometimes a phrase, sometimes an example. Merriam-Webster, I’m not!
I also discovered that some words had to be researched for me to begin to define them. This leads me to think some definitions may be useful or thought-provoking for the painter as well as the non painter. I certainly hope so.

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Belinda's Window"

Belinda's Window is a 12x9 oil by Shirley Fachilla.
This is a Daily PaintWorks Challenge (DPW) that I could not resist. I couldn’t resist for three reasons.
First, it let me paint a window-based still life a la Duane Keiser. Keiser is the artist who began the daily painting phenomenon. During 2004, he painted a small canvas every day, seven days a week and posted it on the web. He no longer paints everyday but he still paints very frequently. And one of his favorite subjects is a simple object placed on his sunny, or sometimes grey-day, window sill. Now of course, hundreds, if not thousands, of painters paint and post as "daily" painters.
Second, this challenge was like a grown-up artist’s coloring book. The challenge was to take a black and white photo and translate it into color. Doing this is a lesson in values (definition here). Values, along with composition, are the foundation of a good painting. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a representational or abstract painter. Your work must have good design and proper values to be, well… good!
Third for me, a from-life painter who teases out color by intense looking, to be allowed to make it up was just too delicious.

P.S. This was last week’s challenge. Click here to see all the other windows. Oh, I titled it Belinda's Window because DPW artist Belinda del Pesco created this particular value lesson.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Impermanence of Art

We like to think of art as forever. In attempts to make it so, we artists often worry greatly about the archival nature of our materials. Is the paper acid free? Will the paint color hold fast over time? Should we use linen or a polyester canvas?
Of course, some artists celebrate art’s very impermanence. Ice sculptures, sand paintings, performance art are all meant to last the moment and no more. The most glorious recent example of artists creating a planned disappearance was the installation of The Gates by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in New York’s Central Park. It lasted 15 days and then was gone.
Some artists sadly create a different kind of impermanence. My favorite Jasper Johns painting, The Diver, is made of a combination of materials, some unknown. How does a museum conserve and preserve the unknown? Then there’s a Joan Brown painting whose paint is so thick that it remains wet inside so that the image will start to slide down if left too long in a vertical position. This is the sort of impermanence that archival concerns are designed to prevent.
Artists (even those who try for the long-lasting) also like to save money. That is why I opted for extremely cheap painting panels when attending Carolyn Anderson’s workshop. I was sure I wouldn’t like anything I painted. I even persuaded my friend to do the same. And then when one of Carolyn’s first lessons was to use quality materials, I squirmed. Later when I actually liked some of my work, I did more than squirm; I was sad.

The two paintings above are from the workshop. They are not the ones I especially liked; they are on especially cheap supports; one even has wall-protectors stuck on its corners. (Do not use this method to transport wet paintings!)
I think I’ve learned my lesson. Art, of course, doesn’t last forever, nothing does. However, I will do my best to make mine last as long as possible by using better materials.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Of Time and the River and the Color Green...

Of Time and the River is a 6x8 plein air by Shirley Fachilla.

As I see it, painting green is really about a painter’s grasp of values (value definition here). Now before my readers who aren’t painters stop reading because this sounds technical and directed only toward artists, being able to paint green well is very much about the vision a painter wants to convey.
Knowing how to paint a spring green, a serene green, a hot summer green convincingly is essential for those of us who use landscape as the vehicle for… well, what we want to say in a painting.
With my little canvas, I was trying for a serene vale of green so I used a lot of cool blue/greens while the river flows deep and warm.
On the technical side, I find two different tube blues rather essential in creating greens; I just can’t make the range of greens I want with less. Lots of painters can, however, including many of my painter friends who live and work and paint right here in Middle Tennessee. If you follow the links above, you'll see paintings by two of them, Dawn Whitelaw and Kevin Menck.

Monday, July 18, 2011

It's Not Easy "Painting" Green!

Alone in Her Garden is a plein air 8x8 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

Kermit, the Frog, knows being green is hard; I know that painting green in a Tennessee summer isn’t easy either!
There is simply so much of it. Keeping it straight in value (see this post for a painter's definition of value) and hue so that you don’t end with a blanket of indeterminate greenery is difficult. It makes me envy plein air painters with beaches, oceans, deserts and/or mountains at their disposal. Of course, there are strategies around the greenery, some more straightforward than others.
The method employed here is one of the more direct. I found some things outside to paint that weren’t green. My focal point is a little statue who serves as a fountain. Her garden was deserted; her water source unavailable. But her surrounds were warm orange soil, backlit shrubbery, and, what, I think, were blooming wisteria vines. She seemed so exuberant in her aloneness and so very non-green I simply had to paint her.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Look Homeward"

Look Homeward is a 20x20 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

I wanted my painting to clearly be one of a cemetery, but I also wanted it to seem a beautiful place and to exude a mood of… well, cheer.

The canvas depicts the cemetery at Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee. Carnton’s owners, the McGavocks, donated the property to serve as a burial place for the hundreds of Confederate soldiers who died in the extremely bloody Battle of Franklin during the American Civil War. [To read a bit more about that battle, see my prior post, here.]
Carnton Plantation has a fascinating history. It was a major player in the fight and in its aftermath. A best-selling novel Widow of the South was written about it. A novel that I found even more interesting and moving, Howard Bahr’s Black Flower also describes the battle and the part Carnton played in it.
The cemetery itself is long, rather narrow strip of land housing row after row of small stone markers, each denoting a grave. The men and boys in those graves were buried far, far from home.

Carnton is hosting an art show and sale to benefit the Battle of Franklin Trust. The Chestnuts, Plein Air Painters for the Land, will have paintings there. My painting Look Homeward will be among them. If you’re in the area, I hope you can come by. The dates and times are: Friday and Saturday, July 15 and 16, 10 to 7 and Sunday, July 17, 12 to 5.
The place is Carnton Plantation, 1345 Carnton Lane, Franklin, Tennessee 37064.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Band of Brothers

Band of Brothers, a 12x24 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

The small town of Franklin, Tennessee was the location for one of the last great battles of the American Civil War. The Battle of Franklin was a horrible defeat for the Confederacy. In five hours of fighting, it sustained 6,252 casualties among them, 14 generals.
During the battle, Southern forces launched wave after wave of frontal assaults upon an entrenched Union line that held the higher ground. First-hand reports say that bodies were stacked like cordwood in front of the Union breastworks.
I find it amazing that the soldiers continued such a hopeless attack. The only explanation I can imagine is that they were indeed a “band of brothers” just as Shakespeare described in his great play Henry V, as Tom Hanks later commemorated in his World War II series of the same name and as go the lyrics of the Confederate anthem Bonnie Blue Flag.
The men who made up the Army of Tennessee were battled-hardened veterans. That day, they fought not for a cause or even for those back home instead they fought for one another. Their loyalties lay with the men to their left and right. They fought for their brothers.
My painting is done from a photo reference of a reenactment at Carnton Plantation in Franklin earlier this year. I used the photo and the place to reconnect with the men and boys who fought so long ago.

Carnton is hosting an art show and sale to benefit the Battle of Franklin Trust. The Chestnuts, Plein Air Painters for the Land, will have a collection of paintings for the event. My painting Band of Brothers will be among them. If you’re in the area, I hope you can come by. The dates and times are: Friday and Saturday, July 15 and 16, 10 to 7 and Sunday, July 17, 12 to 5.
The place is Carnton Plantation, 1345 Carnton Lane, Franklin, Tennessee 37064.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Deja Vu... Again?

A Patch of Flax is an 8x10 plein air oil by Shirley Fachilla.

Tennessee Vines is an 8x10 plein air oil by Shirley Fachilla.

You might have noticed. Artists love to paint the same thing over and over. Sometimes it’s for convenience sake. Morisot, for instance, painted her daughter many, many times at least partly because she was a very accessible model.

Then sometimes it’s a learning experience. Monet painted multiple views of the same haystacks varying the time of day and season to hone his understanding of light on form. Later in life, he painted the lily pads in his pond over and over. This time, it was a test of reality itself. What was reflection, what was actuality? What was water? What was sky?

Abstract expressionists are not immune. Franz Kline painted in black and white for years. He was doing many things in his paintings: studying composition in its essence, playing with negative and positive spaces, testing the creation of form.

If you look at my two landscapes, you’ll see the same house in the background. I haven’t any exalted reason for painting it more than once except like Morisot with her daughter, I like the house very, very much.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Stop to Smell the Roses

Stop to Smell the Roses is a 6x8 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

I’ve been painting soldiers and cemeteries and needed a change of both mood and subject. Let me introduce you to Desi, one of our two cats. Desi is a tuxedo who looks a lot like Dreama Perry’s famous Eddie. But where Eddie has a rugged handsomeness (at least according to said Eddie), our Desi is a goofy beauty with Cleopatra eyes, pink nose and white rimmed ears. The ears and eyes are both larger than the usual cat size.

In my painting, it looks as if he’s smelling the roses. And Desi does seem to love flowers but… sadly, it’s because he likes to eat them.

I’ve included a link to Dreama’s Eddie paintings; you might also visit her blog so you can read as well as look. The adventures of Eddie are addictive.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Charm of the Incomplete

Tied Dyed is an open studio oil 20x10 by Shirley Fachilla.
I intended this post to be about unfinished paintings using as a linked illustration, a specific unfinished work by Berthe Morisot. Despite much looking, I can't find it online. But my search made me realize that much, if not most, of Morisot’s work could be considered quite incomplete.
Please don’t misunderstand. Morisot's paintings are intentionally sketchy with canvas that is uncovered by paint, with lower thirds that dissolve into abstract brushstrokes, or faces and bodies that melt into the background. Morisot meant them to be this way; this is their charm, their resonance. It’s also one of the main reasons the academic establishment so disliked the Impressionists. And its one of Impressionism’s enduring legacies to painters today. Suggestion can be more powerful than polish, the unstated more mysterious and evocative than the explicitly shown.
Biographical note: Morisot was a woman in a man’s world. She was a professional painter when women were supposed to paint as a pastime only and as a painter, she chose to follow the Impressionists, the rebels of their day.
My open studio painting is definitely less finished than my usual for it was done in about half the usual time. But I think I like its sketchiness more than the finish it would have acquired with another two hours of paint!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Gazing at the Goddess

Gazing at the Goddess is a 14x11 oil done by Shirley Fachilla.

This is an unabashed plug for Nashville, Tennessee’s fabulous Parthenon. Located in Centennial Park, our Parthenon is a full size replica of the original, 2,438 year old architectural masterpiece in Athens, Greece… before that original was blown up in 1687.
A couple of weeks ago I watched Secrets of the Parthenon on PBS. It had a brief glimpse of Nashville’s lovely rendition and a lot of first-rate information about how the Athenians put the original Parthenon together. They used visual tricks and refinements that aren’t used today in even the most elegant of buildings. In the fifth century BC, the Greeks managed to build the Parthenon in less than ten years from start to finish. Restoring the Parthenon has already taken about three times that long and is very far from complete. But once done, it will be wonderful thing to see.
Until then and before going to Athens, you might want to visit Nashville’s version or at least watch Secrets of the Parthenon when it appears next on PBS!

My little painting was done several years ago and is of a teenager gazing at the 42 foot tall, gilded statute of the goddess Athena done by local sculptor Alan LeQuire in Nashville’s Parthenon. And yes, the original Parthenon also once had its own 42 foot gold and ivory Athena done by its local sculptor Phidias.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Where the Wild Things Are

Backyard Neighbor is a 7x5 oil by Shirley Fachilla.
Our very small backyard adjoins a small patch of woods. Though it’s small, there are wild things who live there or at least, pass through. Possums, raccoons, pileated woodpeckers, owls, hawks, bluebirds, foxes and once a coyote have strolled or flown out of the woods and into our back yard. We consider them our backyard neighbors. This one lingered long enough for a photo op.

I painted my deer as a part of the DPW weekly challenge. (For a definition of challenge, click here.) This week, the challenge was to paint what’s outside your window. We have lots of windows and I often paint what I see through them. It was fun to do it yet again.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Do We Paint What We Love or... Love What We Paint?

Rupunzel is an open studio 20x20 oil by Shirley Fachilla.
I love to paint rim light. It doesn’t matter if it’s a landscape or a figure, a horse or a house. I seek out rim light en plein air and in open studio. Why do I paint this same thing (though admittedly with different subjects) over and over?
Is it because I love the way it looks and want to explore it or is it because I feel competent painting it? In short, am I painting what I love or do I love it just because I think I can paint it in an okay way?

[Rim light is when an object is primarily in shadow but is outlined in whole or in part by light. Rim light often appears if you paint from the dark side of an object.]
I believe I love to paint it for both reasons. I do think I can often pull it off (perhaps because I paint it so often!). But I choose to paint it because I love the drama it imparts and also the anonymity. Paint something from its dark side and you lose the details. You generalize the specific and play up the contrast. Contrast often equals drama. And lack of detail makes it mysterious. The subject becomes not the exact thing painted but the light itself. The subject becomes light, shadow and reflected light.
I wonder what you, other artists, might love to paint and why. And of course, I wonder what you, art lovers, might love to own!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

No Invitation to the Party...

The Card Players a 14x18 oil by Shirley Fachilla

Some paintings invite you in. There’s a path to walk, a glance that makes you a part of a crowd or an open book to read. Others, however, exclude and instead of offering the viewer a way to become a part of the action, offer a glimpse into a closed world. You’re welcome to watch but not participate.
Watching, of course, can be fun. Cezanne’s intense Card Players don’t invite us to take a hand but kibitzing their play is perhaps more enjoyable than sitting down at the table.
The communion between Berthe Morisot’s mother and babe is a vision of the maternal bond, and Vermeer painting his muse a lesson in visual art.

My card players are part of a closed world, too, each trying her best to outfox the others and with no time for us, hangers-on.

Detail from The Card Players

Monday, May 23, 2011

All Keyed Up!

One of the Domestic Arts a 24x12 open studio by Shirley Fachilla

Yes, my subject looks quite calm, even serene, but her values are all high key. Please let me explain. First a definition of value: in art, value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color without regard to its actual hue. Think of a black and white photo; it’s nothing but value.
The value range here is all in the higher registers to borrow a musical term. There isn’t much dark; it’s mostly medium to light. That’s the definition of a high key painting.
The lightness of high key work often creates a happy, carefree mood. Impressionist Cassatt loved high key as did most of her fellow Impressionists. In fact, the lighter values of the Impressionists may be one reason why most people like Impressionist art.
It, however, is not my natural range; I usually like it darker with more contrast. (Dark with contrast makes for drama, often a very good thing in a painting.) But in this open studio session, I opted for the lit side of the model which was virtually shadow-free. I needed the challenge; I’ve painted the dark side more times than I like to admit!

I couldn’t let a post of a model knitting go by without a link to Vermeer’s Lace Maker bent industriously over her work, a figure with still life, all in less than 80 square inches!

Friday, May 20, 2011

An Old-Fashioned View

Red Clover, Pink Pond is an 8x8 plein air by Shirley Fachilla

My little painting is of an ordinary Tennessee field and pond. It’s different from a hundred other such views only because of the red clover spread out like a blanket on the hillside.

The landscapist, John Constable, also painted ordinary scenes from his own little corner of the world. In fact, his insistence on painting what he saw is one reason he’s now considered one of the greats of landscape painting. In his day, imaginary and romantic views of far-away places (often places the painter had never been or that didn’t really exist anywhere) were standard fare.
Ironically, many of Constable’s paintings now seem quite romantic to us. Whether it’s a double rainbow over Stonehenge or a rickety hay wagon, his paintings can appear rather sentimental to modern sensibilities. But take a look at some of his oil sketches and you’ll see a Constable as fresh and compelling as anyone painting landscapes today.
By the way, there were telephone poles along that road in my painting. I took them out. I can’t decide if I did it because it messed up my composition or because it messed up the old-fashioned look of my view!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stuck in the Middle...

Just a Little Blue is an open studio 20x16 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

For all intents and purposes, she’s smack in the middle of my canvas. Ask any landscape or still life painter; a focal point (i.e. the primary subject is the focal point) shouldn’t be in the middle.

This middle business may be almost always true for landscapes and still lifes, but it isn’t always true for figurative or portrait. If you have a single figure in a symmetrical pose, the figure may work best in the middle.
To create another composition that works as well, I’d have to shift her, crop her almost in half and perhaps leave the other half of the canvas empty. Hmm, then I might have a Degas composition. Very tempting! If you’ve read this blog much, you know I do so love Degas.
This particular subject was inspired by Carolyn Anderson who said that the middle is sometimes the only place for a figure, especially one facing straight toward viewer. (Here are two quite different examples of just what Carolyn was talking about: a Bouguereau and a Chuck Close.)
Though Just a Little Blue isn’t looking at you, she makes up for it by being such a well-balanced girl. And by the way, she wore a black camisole under her white, semi-transparent shirt; it made for an interesting painting challenge.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Things I Learned in Carolyn Anderson's Workshop

Art Deco Girl is a 20x16 oil by Shirley Fachilla
Never shorten a neck… reserve a brush or more for your darks (misplaced white can destroy one’s values)… watch your angles.

Great things to know, but not the most important lessons I took away from Carolyn’s workshop.
For me, the lessons that resonated were:
Light and shadow define our visual reality. Light flows like a river and is the great unifier. Painting isn’t filling in the spaces. There should be a meaning behind each brushstroke.
The important lessons I only partially understand. I guess I’ll be trying to implement them from now on in every painting I do.
Art Deco Girl was painted on the second day of the workshop.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Form of Tribute

Vroom, Vroom Building, a 6x8 oil by Shirley Fachilla

The building has fallen on hard times. Mostly empty and very neglected, it sits on Charlotte Avenue in Nashville, Tennessee and seems to watch traffic vrooming by. But once it was on the cutting edge of design. When it was modern and new, my father spent some hours there. It was probably boring meeting time for he was a district civil engineer for the State Highway Department, and this building was its headquarters.
Now it’s on the list of Historic Nashville’s most endangered historic buildings. I painted it for the organization’s fundraiser, but I also painted it because of my dad, because he loved his job of building roads and bridges. I guess you could call it a tribute to him. Robert Genn did a newsletter about painting as a form of tribute. You might find it interesting whether you make paintings or appreciate them… or perhaps do a bit of both.

Is it too early to send an invitation?

Pieces by (clockwise from left to right) : Susan Harlan, Janet Garner, Shirley Fachilla, Mike Martino and Topper Williams. So many ...