Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Resilience", 16x20"

It's been quite some time since I've posted to my blog-- I miss being in touch with you!  For the last month or so, I've been traveling to see friends and family from coast to coast and trying to see as much art as possible at the same time.  I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Chelsea gallery district in NYC, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and finished up with the wonderful "Boticelli to Braque, Masterpieces from the Scottish Museum" at the De Young Museum in San Francisco.  All this art can be inspiring, and it can also be intimidating!

It's actually kind of tough coming back home and facing the blank canvas after seeing so many master works.  After a few deep breaths, I tell myself that even the masters had several "clunkers" along the way-- not every single piece they created ended up in a museum.  Any time I flip through a book of an artist's works, I end up loving a few, and feeling rather lukewarm about many others.  And that's OK!  If I am to explore new expressions, I have to be comfortable with the clunkers that might result as part of the process.

"Resilience" was painted quickly during this intense period of travel and observation.  I decided to leave her rather unfinished.  I thought that if I finished off every bit of the painting, it would loose some of its spontaneity, and I enjoy seeing my thought process under the paint from time to time.

This painting is for sale at the Button Petter Gallery in Saugatuck, Michigan.  Click here for more information.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"Selena", 16x20"

Earlier this month, I had the great fortune of taking a workshop with Daniel Gehartz.  To say that there were a few "Aha Moments" during my time with him would be an understatement!  I especially came away with new understandings about turning form using temperature control and making my portraits more powerful through edge variation and value separation.  I know that's a lot to take in, so I will elaborate on these concepts more in future posts.

Selena came to model for us on the first day.  I experimented quite a bit with "warm and cool" temperatures in this piece.  Notice the warm red tones in the shadow side of her face.  That was new for me.  Dan encouraged us to really squint and see that these tones were actually happening, so it's OK to go ahead and put them in.  

I guess all this squinting and experimenting paid off.  Selena's grandma purchased the painting!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"The Value of Charcoal" 24x20"

Last week, I made a presentation to the Art Association of Elk Grove Village.  They had asked me to demonstrate some methods in charcoal on paper.  I set up a little still life, shined a light on it, and got to work.  As I was drawing, I talked a bit about the benefits as well as the techniques involved with charcoal, and I surprised myself how many benefits there actually are.  Here are a few that popped up as I was drawing:

          It takes color out of the picture.  If you are switching from one genre to anther (let's say from landscapes to portraiture), charcoal allows you to focus on drawing and value (lightness to darkness) without being confused by color.  This can be especially helpful when you're feeling challenged by the subject matter.

          It's easily erased and cheap.  Mistakes can be made and corrected without much fuss or investment.

          It forces you to see in simplified values.  When you are working in black, white and gray, you must make value decisions without the help (or confusion) of color.  Strong values strengthen your art in any medium, and charcoal can help you develop this skill quickly.

          You can take time to get the drawing right.  I spent a lot of time during the demo showing everyone how to measure to get proportions correct the first time.  In the drawing above, I used the base of the pitcher as my guide to measure everything else in the still life so everything was proportionally correct.  Many people resist measuring (I know I used to!), but if just a little bit of time is spent on it, it can save hours of misery later in the drawing, when you ask yourself, why doesn't this look right?

          Edge work opportunities become pronounced.  When two shapes of similar value meet, there is an opportunity for a lost or softened edge.  In my drawing, you can see these opportunities where the bottom of the pear meets the shadow, and where the light side of the pear meets the lighter part of the table.  I could soften these edges like this:

Sometimes I think that the difference between a good painting and a great one is found in the edges.  Charcoal drawings can help us develop that skill too.

          Charcoal can be beautiful!  Here are two examples of exquisite charcoal drawings:

 Armin Mersmann

Richard Young

Makes me wonder why I don't spend more time with charcoal.  It's definitely a medium worth the time!

Friday, March 20, 2015

"The Rancher", 12x16" And A Lesson From Carolyn Anderson

"The Rancher", Ann Feldman

Last year, I took a workshop with Carolyn Anderson, a phenomenal impressionist painter.  I've admired her loose, interpretive style of painting for years, so I was thrilled to be able to see how she approaches a painting.  One of the things I came away with was that sometimes a small brush can be used to add some "air" and mystery to a painting.  Seems counterintuitive, since we are often told to reach for the largest brush possible when we try to loosen up our paintings.  

In "The Rancher", I used a #2 filbert brush (which is pretty darned tiny) for the entire painting, using the point to draw and fill in with scratchy strokes, then I used the side of the brush to flatten out the paint in areas such as the hat.  I call this style of painting "Drawing with Paint".  In Carolyn's workshop, once I started with this style, I couldn't stop!  She would come by my easel and encourage me to pick up one of my other brushes to finish the painting, but I wanted to see how far I could go with one brush.  A little is good, so a lot will be great, I thought…

Here is an example of Carolyn's work.  You can see why I have been so taken with her!

"Girl With Curls", Carolyn Anderson

Monday, March 16, 2015

"Vesna's Daughter", 12x16", And Some thoughts from Qiang Huang

"Vesna's Daughter"

I read in Qiang Huang's excellent blog that he believes that artists tend to group into two categories: still life/portrait painters and landscape painters.  The still life/portrait folks enjoy painting the forms of things, while landscape painters look for the patterns in their surroundings.  When I read this, it was as if a gong sounded in my head-- I'm a form painter, and always have been!

I started to think about other artists through history, and they did tend to settle in one or the other of these two categories.  Qiang went on to say that after an artist has mastered one type of painting, he or she often starts to look for challenge in the other genre.

I love a beautiful landscape as much as the next person, but have had a dickens of a time painting my own.  It's good to know that there is a challenge out there on the horizon, waiting for me to put my toe into new waters.  But maybe not today.  Tomorrow's not looking good either!

Still Life by Qiang Huang

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"Resolve", 12x16" And Inspiration from Robert Henri

Last week I taught a workshop at the Northlight Studio in Arlington Heights on painting the portrait with palette knives.  "Resolve" is the painting that I started as a demonstration and finished in the studio.  Portraits have a way of getting very detailed, and the character of the model can start to drain away as we strive for the perfect likeness.  A palette knife in hand will not allow this to happen.  Color and shape have to be laid in boldly.  The final product can be more a piece of art than just a likeness of the model.

An artist must first of all respond to his subject, he must be filled with emotion toward that subject and then he must make his technique so sincere, so translucent that it may be forgotten, the value of the subject shining through it.” 
― Robert HenriThe Art Spirit

Robert Henri (1865-1929) was an American artist and teacher who was extremely prominent in the Ashcan School of American Realism.  His book, "The Art Spirit" is always close at hand in my studio.  I can open that book on any page and find new inspiration to create art, no matter how flat or lost I'm feeling that day.  Here is an example of Henri's work.  It is evident that he is striving to portray the character of his model much more than concentrating solely on a likeness. This painting captures a feeling I think we all can respond to.

"Dutch Girl Laughing" Robert Henri

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"Deepa/Palette Knife Portrait", 12x16" And Some Upcoming Events

A few weeks ago, I painted Deepa using only one color (Burnt Sienna).  I brought this painting home and decided to add color to it using a palette knife.  Using the underpainting as my guide, I covered the painting again in thick color.  The process was made easier since my values (darks and lights) and my drawing were already worked out.  It was a bit like putting pieces of a puzzle together, and it was actually pretty fun!

I'll be teaching this method at the Northlight Studio in Arlington Heights IL this coming March 6th.  In other news, I'll be giving a demonstration on Painting Impressionistically for the North Area Arts League on March 3rd at the Woodstock Opera House at 7pm.  Admission is free!  I hope you can be there.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

"Early Autumn, Paris", 20x16" And Thoughts on Light With Claude Monet

"Early Autumn, Paris"
The light in the city was much cooler than the light in Provence

"Sunday Morning, Aix en Provence"
I tried to capture the warmth of the sun in southern France

The Impressionists are famous for their attention to the light in their paintings.  A viewer can often tell the season, time of day, and sometimes even the geography of a scene when they look at an Impressionistic painting.  When I was in France, I could see for myself how the light changed when we moved further south.  I tried to convey the difference in the light in the two paintings above.  I even went so far as to put a bit of a blue "halo" around the light on the Parisian sidewalk to make it appear cooler.  In Provence, yellow became a dominant color for the light.

Monet spent close to a year in Rouen, panting the front of the cathedral there at different times of day and seasons.  He set up camp in a women's clothing store across the street, much to the dismay of many of the store's patrons!  He didn't see why a male painter in a women's shop should cause any disturbance for a few months.

Here are three versions of the cathedral, as painted by Monet.  Each one is lovely in its own right, but they convey very different feelings through the colors he chose.  

As a painter, I could take a page from Monet's book and paint the same scene over and over again in different seasons and times of day.  What better lesson could there be in conveying feelings about a scene through color?  

The facade of the cathedral today.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"The Character Portrait", A Lesson From David Hockney

"Focus"Ann Feldman

A friend asked me the other day if I ever find a model session uninspiring or difficult to paint because the model is not what you'd call a "classic beauty".  My short answer is no.  For the longer answer, here's why.

A few years ago, I took an afternoon in Los Angeles to see David Hockney's portrait exhibit at the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art.  At first glance, these huge paintings appeared strong and somewhat characateurish, but as I spent time there, they became so much more.

"Mumby", David Hockney

I could feel the relationship between the sitter and Hockney, and I imagined what it must have been like in that room the day the model sat for him.  Faces were not made beautifully, but I felt that it was the personality he was after, much more than the likeness of the face.

I made a mental note that day that sometimes the most beautiful portraits are much more than "skin deep".  There are indeed many beautiful portraits of beautiful people out there, but a portrait of a beautiful unique character can be much more difficult to achieve, and it may say much more about the model than a simple likeness.

Ever since my time with Hockney's portraits, I approach model sittings differently.  I take a few minutes to observe the model in silence.  I consciously take a few deep breaths and I wait for something about this unique person to introduce itself to me.  I want my portraits to communicate how I felt about the model that day, beyond an accurate likeness.

 "Friendly and Open"
Ann Feldman

Saturday, February 14, 2015

"Signs of Spring", 8x10" and Inspiration from CW Mundy

There are times when a piece of art seems to paint itself without much effort on the part of the artist.  Sadly, this is a very rare occurrence in my life.  In fact, it hardly ever happens, but like the crack of a great golf swing or a perfectly risen soufflĂ©, the rarity of the occasion and the rush of satisfaction I can feel keep me coming back for the promise of more.

This painting did not paint itself.  In fact, there may be five layers of other iterations underneath this one, and I finally decided to call it a day.  I'm not striving for perfection after all, just a comment on something that happened that day with the light or my mood, or perhaps just the glimmer of hope that Spring will come someday soon.

CW Mundy is one of my favorite teachers in the world.  I've learned from him that a painting can be lost and then found many times in the painting process.  The painting below is a landscape that he labored over time and again, yet the final piece is near perfection, with no sign of struggle.  After spending time with CW, I've learned to keep returning to the canvas until the painting says something worthwhile. 

CW Mundy
Creek Bed at Story, Indiana  

oil on linen

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"Deepa, Monochromatic Study", 16x20"

When I only have a few hours with a model, I will sometimes limit my color choices so I can concentrate on getting my drawing and values (darkness vs light) correct.  Yesterday, I used only Burnt Sienna to make a map of Deepa's face and shoulders.  I used a rag to lift out the lighter areas, so there was no need to even add white.  I may decide to let it dry and go back in with color, or I may leave well enough alone and be content with a nice study of a beautiful model.

I will be teaching this technique at my upcoming one day workshop at Northlight Studio in Arlington Heights on March 6th.  If you would be interested in attending, please drop me a line.

Monday, February 2, 2015

"Blue Jar/Winter Day", 8x10" (And Breaking Rules with Picasso)

Pablo Picasso was a prolific artist, both in his art and in his philosophy on creativity.  I've drawn so much inspiration from him when it comes to "breaking the rules" in art.  Here is one of my favorite quotes:

When I started today's painting, it was textbook good, but boy oh boy, it was boring.  I put it in a sunny window to dry, and forgot all about it.  It was THAT boring!  I pulled it out this morning and armed with some Picasso inspiration, I went to work on it again.  I decided to make this painting more about the BACKGROUND than the objects in it.  I threw on paint with abandon and then scraped away with palette knives and a spatula.  Once the rules were completely broken, I felt more satisfied.

"Girl Before A Mirror", Pablo Picasso

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"Flowers and Grapefruits", 20x16"

My obsessive nature is getting the best of me. I repainted my last painting YET AGAIN.  It's heavy from all the layers of paint underneath.  I kept going back to it on my easel, and it just seemed static to me.  It needed life and it needed even more color.  I loaded up my brushes and went at it again.

A new blog follower (Hi Phyllis) told me that an artist friend of hers would share other artists' works on her blog, along with her own paintings.  I love this idea, especially since I often have someone else's work on my mind as I'm developing my own paintings.  Recently, I've been admiring Joan Mitchell's work, and I think it impacted today's piece quite a lot.  Here is an example of her work:

As you can see, Joan Mitchell was an Abstract Expressionist.  She painted nature in such a free and colorful way, I never get tired of looking at her paintings.  She once said, "If I could paint like Matisse, I'd be in heaven".  For my part, if I could take a drop of the excitement and spontaneity of her paintings and put them into mine, I'd be in heaven too.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"Abstracted Flowers II", 20x16"

I don't know about other painters, but I often paint many versions of a painting underneath the final layer.  The painting may appear to be spontaneously done, but oftentimes, there are layers of false starts, frustration, and anguish underneath.

I thought it might be amusing to share with you the underlayers of "Abstracted Flowers II".  Here they are:

 This first version is what's underneath it all!  I started with a glass jar, but the overall effect was too "twiggy" and haphazard.

With the next layer, I brought all those twigs together, but went overboard with the darkness.  I started to paint in some white roses, but it was starting to feel too stiff and formal.

When things aren't working, I grab some vivid tubes of paint and pile it on.  I have to smile when I see the difference between my first and final versions.  I'm in love with color, so I should just follow my instincts in the first place.  I'd save a lot of money on paint if I did.

Friday, January 2, 2015

"Abstracted Flowers", 16x20"

Creativity can be very fickle.

Since coming home from the holidays, I've been in my studio every day, struggling to bring a certain painting to life.  It refuses to budge, and I leave the studio every day frustrated and down.  Seems the harder I try to get this painting to work, the further it gets away from me.

Today, I decided to try a new course of action.  I put the old painting away and took out a floral that I had started months ago but never finished.  I started to paint with happy abandon, and this painting cooperated with me!  It may not be to everyone's taste, but I was able to let the paint flow without over thinking it.  I feel like I'm out of my creative rut, and that is indeed a good feeling.

Monday, December 29, 2014

"English Gentleman", 8x10" (No longer available)

My good friend Jayne brought back a photo from England of this gentleman walking down the street, and I couldn't resist painting him.  She tells me that it is a rare sight these days to see a man shopping with a basket.  I imagined him picking up a few things for the holidays.

I used very thick gesso on top of a hardboard to achieve the textured look of this painting.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Chinese Jar and Grapefruits", 8x8"

Just as a musician practices scales before launching into a complicated piece, I like to practice simple still life setups from life to keep my observation skills sharp.  I always ask myself, what colors do I see beyond the obvious?  Where can I lose an edge or where can I sharpen one?  Is the composition balanced and pleasant to look at?

Every completed painting, large or small, informs the next painting.  Questions or problems that pop up will look for resolution in the next piece.  When the painting is smaller and the stakes are lower, I can explore new territory and push myself a little further.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"Lemons in Southern Light", 8x8"

What has stayed with me the most after our trip to France?  Cezanne's still lifes and his ability to capture color in such a complicated yet seemingly simple way.  I can see his struggle in his paintings, and it touches me.

Detail from a Cezanne still life

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"Where Next, Fifi?", 8x10"

Why are the French so elegant in everything they do?  Even when perusing a tourist board-- they do it with flare.  I should have been photographing architecture, but found myself constantly drawn to the people in France.  And now that's all I want to paint!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Lucille, A Reworked Portrait", 16x20"

Old things CAN be new again, sometimes.  I took this old painting that had been hanging around since about 2007 and threw some new paint at it.  As long as I stayed in the correct value range (light to dark), I could add any colors that I wanted into all areas of the painting.  Here is a closeup of the area on her cheek and neck:

I was able to add notes of purple, green, blue, and orange into this area of the model.  Since each of these colors was the correct value, none of them stood out and away from the others.  Sticking with the correct value actually frees us to experiment with color!

Friday, November 28, 2014

"Fractured Still Life With Limes", 6x8"

Another series of my Impressionism Workshops is coming to a close, which means it's time to try our hands at fracturing some paintings!  You can hear a pin drop when everyone is concentrating on this technique.  It isn't easy, but the results can be surprising and fun.

Next week, for our last class, everyone will be bringing in an old painting that just didn't go anywhere.  We will fling some paint at them and see if we can bring them back to life.  I'm looking forward to pulling some duds out of the closet and giving them another go!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Sunday Morning, Aix en Provence" 20x16"

Aix en Provence was full of surprises.  We were walking along a narrow cobblestone street when all at once, our path opened up into a town square filled to the brim with flower stalls.  The light, the color, and the fragrance caught us off guard.  A few steps further and we were back on the quiet cobblestones again.

Friday, October 31, 2014

"Red Bicycle, Paris", 11x14"

I think I could paint for a year using all the references I got in France over the last two weeks!  I was there with my mom and my niece to study the works and workspaces of the Impressionists.  One piece of information that stuck with me is that the Impressionists were quite scientific about their use of color. Complementary colors were used especially effectively by all of them.

In this piece, I used the complements purple/yellow to mix my grays, and I used red/green for the more vibrant colors.  I hope these lessons stay with me!