Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Painting a Head Study, Part 6, Final

This was the last day to work on this project for my class. If you are just joining in, the other postings are here:
Part 1, which dealt with griding, drawing and the rub out under painting stage.
Part 2, which included premixing a flesh tone palette and storage of paint;

Part 3, in which I explored oiling out, and the pros and cons of working from photographs

Part 4, a session of discoveries and surprises.

Part 5, noticing color shifts and tips for accurate drawing. 

I worked on this with the class, on the upper lip, lips and neck. I knew it wasn't going great. I was having trouble with the chin and the shadow under the chin. I demoed for about an hour, then turned them loose on their own work. It's amazing how tricky it is trying to explain what I'm doing, answer questions, paint, see, all while trying to stand to the side so they can see.

A few days later back in the studio I could see that I had shortened the model's chin.
So I used one of my favorite tricks, flipped it upside down and got medieval on it. About 2 hours later I considered it passable.
There are so many things I could keep working on, more subtle corrections to the drawing, softer transitions between shadow and highlights, reflected lights and shadows, and the PEARLS!

But alas this is just a study, and it's time to move on. This was the first head study that I've ever done from start to finish with a class and it has been a huge learning experience for me.

I'm so proud of the work they have done. For some of them this is the first face they've ever painted, some had never picked up a brush until a few months ago, some have only been painting abstracts or impressionistic work until taking my class in the past few months.

We have all been "lingering in the uncomfortable zone" where real learning takes place and it's been a blast! With their permission I'm sharing a few of them here. Their work is in varying stages of finish.
Dru Griffith

Ira Turner

Janie Chambers

Laura Nigg

Paul Brooks

Suzette Shell
Jamie Wilson
My favorite part is that they all look different, they all have their own voice that is coming through and I encourage that. The basics are the same no matter the style. Value, color principles, edge control and accurate drawing are important fundamental skills that can be built upon.

If they master these principles, they may choose to discard them later to embrace another style. If they do so it will be because they choose to and not because they are limited in their knowledge and skill.
My philosophy is that these are tools for the tool box and the more you have the easier it is to create the vision in your head.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Painting a Head Study, Part 5

This is my fifth installment, thanks for hanging in there! If you missed any of the others, here are links for the first 4.

Part 1, which dealt with griding, drawing and the rub out under painting stage.

Part 2, which included premixing a flesh tone palette and storage of paint; 

Part 3, in which I explored oiling out, and the pros and cons of working from photographs

Part 4, a session of discoveries and surprises.
In this session I painted the right ear, the cheek, earing and finished up the nose. 

As always, I made corrections to the drawing as I painted. The ear and the side of the face were still too wide.

A few things I noticed and tried to capture:
~a pink color in the cheek, and a more golden color lower on the jaw

~nostrils are a mixture of umbers and permanent madder deep and there always seems to be light shining through the nose that keeps it a warm reddish color.

~there is a beautiful, warm light reflected off the cheek onto the underside of the nose on the left side of the face.

~I stopped painting before I got to the edge of the lip since I didn't want to demo for too long. I like to stop for a session in the interior of a form rather than at the edge of the form. I don't want a build up of paint on the edges of things like lips.

~it's best to soften all edges at this stage and spend a good deal of time moving paint back and forth at edges. Soft edges visually turn in space. 

~the paint is a little choppy on the middle of the cheek but it does let you see the direction of the brush strokes. I generally brush across a form to describe the mass.
A few tricks to help with accurate drawing:
~Turn the painting and your photo reference upside down or on it's side to see it with a fresh eye. For some reason that helps to see things in shapes rather than as an eye or a nose and for that reason you can see it more accurately.
~Look at it in a mirror. I have a small, hand-held mirror that I glance at over my shoulder, or I haul it in to the bathroom where there is a large mirror.
~See the painting reduced. A student gave me a reducing glass but you can also take a picture of it and look at the reduced version. Even a phone camera works for this.
Till next week when I hope to finish this up!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Painting a Head Study, Part 4

This is the fourth in a series I'm doing with my oil painting class on Tuesday mornings. If you are just now joining in check out:

Part 1, which dealt with griding, drawing and the rub out under painting stage;

Part 2, which included premixing a flesh tone palette and storage of paint;

Part 3, in which I explored oiling out, and the pros and cons of working from photographs.
I worked on this about 45 minutes in class, then continued working on it another 2 hours after I got home. 
A few surprises and discoveries happened this session.
Discovery # 1:

Last week I had worked on the forehead and one eye in class. Normally I work on both eyes simultaneously, but in the interest of not demoing too long that's how it worked out.

Turns out -- not a good idea, it's far too easy to get them looking googley. (official art term). Initially, after my 45 minutes painting in class, I had one too low and one too high, slightly, but in a face that is a significant error. Without time constraints I try to do the initial pass on the face in one day.

Discovery # 2:

I'm constantly trying to figure out better ways to teach what it is that I do. During class last week I noticed a common error. I found myself saying repeatedly, "Your shadows aren't dark enough" as I went easel to easel. It must be something I wasn't getting across. The search for a solution led me to a slightly revised palette.
I initially mix up the most chromatic mid-tones that you see circled here, then add white to each color string to create at least 4 values (follow the down arrow).

My method up to now has been to just have a big pile of darks in the lower right of my palette that I will mix these mid-tones with for my darkest flesh areas.

After seeing my students struggle a little bit with this I decided that the colors strings should continue on to include the darks (follow the up arrow).

After seeing this I'm surprised it hasn't occurred to me sooner, it seems so obvious. I was doing the mixing of the dark colors more by instinct than by method. This is going to work so much better, for me and for my students!

The important thing is to mix from the mid-tones to the dark and the mid-tones to the light. The mid-tones do not include white. 

Once white is in a color pile I do not use it to make a dark, I consider it contaminated. If I want a darker color I go back to the original, unpolluted color, which I think of as pure color.

This is the best way I've found to keep flesh tones from being chalky and to have nice clear transparent shadows.

Discovery #3:
Apparently keeping your painting in a plastic tub with a lid will slow down drying time, who knew? This was yet another obvious thing I hadn't thought about before in terms of painting.
When I oiled out the part of the painting I'd done the week before, it was still wet and the forehead smeared. I looked at my class and said, "What the bleep?" After a week it most definitely should have been dry.

After a little discussion, we decided that it was the Rubbermaid container, a homemade wet canvas carrier, that I carry paintings back forth to class in. I had not taken the painting out during the week. Mystery solved.

I'm learning so much from my students and am grateful to them every week for helping me make these discoveries!

I've written before about the necessity of mistakes in the learning process. Maybe it helps to think of them as discoveries. Relish them and recognize them as the stepping stones they are.

They will get you where you want to be and if you're like me it's simply better. Not much of a finite destination but one heck of a journey!

I invite you to checkout the catalog for The Expedition and Beyond, a group show I'm in next month at Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. Enjoy.
The Expedition and Beyond
58 pages, published 1 MAR 2012
The Expedition and Beyond- Work by 13 artists, introduced through the Women Painting Women phenomenon of 2010, who continue to be challenged and inspired by each other. They come together once again in a show at Principle Gallery, Alexandria, Va, April 2012. Foreword by John O'Hern, American Art Collector, Santa Fe editor.


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