Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Women In Hats with Flowers Revisited...

Behind the Flowers is a 24x12 oil done in open studio by Shirley Fachilla.
[For my other woman in a hat with flowers, please visit this post.]
I found this particular hatted female quite appealing to paint because I loved the monochrome nature of her. Her dress, flowers, table, her very skin were all variations of one warm neutral color.
Going with one predominate hue in a work (a monochrome) is one way to set a mood in a painting. (In prior post, I wrote about setting a mood by using high key-values.)
The moody James MacNeill Whistler often painted using variations of one color. He did rich nocturnes, awash in mystery and deep, cool blues or purples. He did painting after painting of women wearing white and surrounded by white backgrounds, very ethereal, very pristine.
Cecilia Beau used monochrome as well. She did it because it not only set a mood; it also made those beautiful portrait faces of hers stand out. Her gorgeously painted heads would be the warmest, highest chroma spots in an expanse of gray or even lavender.
Now after writing all this about mood and monochrome, I really can’t say what mood is set by my painting. Perhaps I could say mysterious… just what is she watching so intently from behind those flowers?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Skimming the Surface of Things...

Pocket Venus is a 12x9 oil done in open studio on prepared cardboard by Shirley Fachilla.

The surfaces we use to paint upon are hedged around with rules. There are so many in part because our paints are quite destructive to those surfaces. Over time, oil paint is corrosive; put it on unprepared canvas or paper, and the oil will one day eat it up.
Because we, artists, want our work to last, we usually try to use properly prepared surfaces and materials. But not always…
Leonardo de Vinci was notorious for breaking most of the rules with disastrous results. Just take a look at his peeling Last Supper. (He was trying a new fresco technique.) He ignored the rules because he was always experimenting. Constable at times painted on the back of accounting paper because he thought the work was just a study and of no account (pun intended). Other artists have ignored them because they were broke. Cardboard and paper are almost always cheaper than canvas or linen.
And then sometimes artists use unconventional surfaces because we really, really like the way they work. Cardboard is a rich, warm, midtone brown, a delightful color to paint upon. Both cardboard and paper absorb oil from the paint and by doing so produce a wonderful soft matte finish… never shiny.
Did Degas and Toulouse Lautrec use oil on paper for frugality or because they simply loved the surface? Don’t know. I do know that many of their works on the wrong surface still exist, quite beautifully I might add, either because curators are adept at preservation or perhaps because the rules have been overstated. 
Breaking the rules… it’s just what we artists sometimes do! 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Give Me an Outline of That Proposal...

"Contour" drawing from life by Shirley Fachilla.

My illustration is not exactly on point. She did begin as a contour drawing done from life, but I had too much time before the next pose was struck so I added a bit of line shading and corrected some of my lines by drawing over. Nonetheless I think it conveys the general notion of contour drawing, a concept introduced to me by Peggi Kroll Roberts.

(I did not attend art school so there are many techniques and skills I’m still discovering.)

To do a proper contour drawing, the artist simply follows the contour of the figure, no shading, all line. When it works, the artist ends up with an understandable drawing, i.e. first, it’s identifiable as a person; second, the position of that person in space makes visual sense; third, there is a feeling of volume and mass.

Normally, contour drawing is not an end unto itself though there are exceptions. Unlike other gesture drawings that are often framed and hung, contour drawings usually remain exercises or studies that form the basis for other works.

Why do them? To train your hand and eye to work together, to work without conscious thought. Ideally when contour drawing, you look at the figure and almost never at your paper. (You don’t go back and shade or correct!) I found using a pen made me commit to my line rather than treating it as a gesture drawing. 

Because I see mostly in shape rather than line, I expected to hate contour drawing. But actually I love it despite my less than elegant results! 

This blog almost never discusses drawing again because I tend to see shape rather than line. But for some exquisitely beautiful work you might visit pages devoted to Jean-Antoine Watteau or Gustav Klimt. Like Van Gogh, they were excellent draughtsmen, each in his own very individual way. Van Gogh set out to teach himself to draw, but that’s another story, and I’ve already wandered from my initial subject!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Are You Ready Yet?

Slow-Poke Cowpoke is a 14x18 oil done from life during the Peggi Kroll workshop by Shirley Fachilla.

I’ve heard it often and I’m sure you’ve heard it too… you learn when you’re ready to learn and not before. This little maxim, of course, applies to everyone, not just to artists. But it seems especially germane when applied to the lessons one hopes to learn in an art workshop.
It helps explain why some workshop experiences are pivotal and others not so much. For me, my Carolyn Anderson sessions were pivotal. I was ready, not just for her insights into skills and techniques but also for her philosophy of art and “visual language.”  
I was ready for Peggi Kroll as well and didn’t even know it! Yes, I was excited because it concentrated on the figure and yes, I was thrilled because I would see her very distinctive technique in process. But that’s not what I was ready for.
I was ready to hear, really hear about value, about limiting value, about value massing and about using only high key value to make a statement. Finding out about notan from another great teacher, Dawn Whitelaw had been part of my preparation. But mostly my prep was spending time painting and thinking about how and what I was painting, not working slowly (because I don’t!) but painting thoughtfully.
I’ve discovered that it’s good to be just a bit of a slowpoke myself! 
[For the meaning of notan, value, high-key and value massing, please visit my Artful Definitions.]

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lighten up Already!

Some Light Reading is a 14x18 oil done in plein air by Shirley Fachilla.

Impressionists were noted for making happy paintings filled with color. They have been praised for the joy and beauty of their landscapes, for their luscious harmonious colors and the freshness that just pops off the canvas. 
But as painters are fond of saying, [Impressionist] color may get the credit but value does the work.
Impressionism conveys such joy and light because the Impressionists painted in a high key. Their colors seem so clear and beautiful; their work so fresh and sunny in part because they used a light and limited value range. There are very few darks in most Monets. He is a painter of light in quite another way than that other more recent guy!
For the above painting, I used the Peggi Kroll Roberts technique to value shift to a lighter and thus more cheery value range. Another plus: it’s not only a way to make things happier, but it also works to suggest the look and feel of a sunlit outdoor world... which is quite probably why the Impressionists chose to lighten things up!
[Please see “high key” and “value” in Artful Definitions for a better appreciation of this post.] 

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 ...