Friday, March 29, 2013

Kick Back

8x10 inches, oil on paper

This past week I've been in spring housecleaning mode, at least in my studio.  I signed up for an art workshop with Robert Burridge, for the end of May, and I was taking stock of my materials so I don't end up purchasing supplies I already have.  One thing led to another, and I went on a binge of ripping old watercolors I disliked up into some small standard sizes, and covering them with gesso.  

So then I had a pile of 5x7 and 8x10 inch gessoed watercolor papers, and I thought I'd give a go on one of my little vintage photos that I compulsively purchase from my local consignment place.  The original photo of this man, kicked back on his wooden chair, appealed to me, even though it was very grainy and dark.  I think of this as jut a sketch, and if I tried it again I would darken the lower part of the painting more.  But this isn't a huge painting on canvas, and it is what it is.  I like the muted colors and the way the windows frame his upper body.

It may start getting harder to be upstairs in the studio.  At last the snow is starting to melt, and I hear robins in the trees and sandhill cranes flying overhead, making their strange calls.  Pretty soon I'm going to need to migrate outside as well.

Happy Easter to everyone.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dorothy and Marion

I've been working this winter on a series of 8x8 inch paintings adapted from either vintage family photos from some I purchased from a local consignment shop.  This one, Dorothy and Marion, comes from a photo at the shop, from an estate.  There were lots of pictures, all carefully labeled.  I bought a couple because I liked the poses and the fact the people were local, but I was saddened that these pictures were orphans.

In the original the two young women are standing in front of some trees on a farm.  I took them out of context, and focused on their expressions and posture. This is the first painting layer, after I prepared the canvas board and drew out the figures.

I've done several of these paintings, and each time I like the individual steps along the way, and am almost sad to see each version be lost with the addition of the next layer of paint.  The burnt sienna makes the figures pop, and made it easier to fine tune some of the lights and darks.

The challenge here is the decisions I have to make about skins tones and clothing colors.  The girl on the left was dressed in white, and the details were mostly lost in the over exposed original.  So I simply guessed, and made up what I could not see. I made the shirt o the girl on the right blue, just because it was dark enough to set up a contrast with the lighter clothing, and also it looks good with the reddish orange background.

 And here is the finished painting, with gold leaf applied over the reddish background.  I left the shadow uncovered to anchor the figures and to let that burnt sienna show through as a complement to the blue shirt.  I'm sorry the gold leaf doesn't show particularly well in the photo.  I like the textured reflective effect, which reminds me of religious icons, very much. 

So, all I have left to do is to cover the back side to made it look acceptable on a tabletop easel, and it will be ready to go to the gallery.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


The inscription on the back of this small photograph was "Agnes."  I found her in a box of my grandmother's photos, and I think she was a girlhood friend from Spokane, the a vivacious young woman who died after falling on a tennis court and hitting her head.  I have always liked her pose here, with rolled stockings and a parasol, and sassy shoes.  So, I decided to try and paint her for a series of featuring people from vintage photos, and gold leaf.

 The first step was a gesso an 8x8 inch canvas board, draw the figure, and then start establishing the lights and darks with graphite gray acrylic paint.  Then I blocked in the background with burnt sienna acrylic paint.

Since my reference photos are black and white, part of the fun is making decisions about colors.  I decided that girls back in the early 1920s would not have wanted much of a tan, or else why carry a parasol?  Certainly the accessory is a nice way to frame the face, but I also think it was for keeping the skin protected.  So I decided to make her skin tones quite light.  My original conception of bathing costumes of the time was that they were like cars - always black.  But when I found old swim suit ads online, I discovered they came in all sorts of colors, red, pink, blue, green.  So I chose a yellow-green color that would compliment the reddish underpainting of the background.

The last step is to add the gold leaf by applying an adhesive that is very much like rubber cement, then adding the tissue thin metallic material.  I intentionally left bits of the underpainting showing through for contrast.  Unfortunately the nice texture and shine of the gold doesn't photograph very effectively, but I am always excited to get to this stage.

The steps are to coat the entire painting with an clear semi-gloss acrylic, and to cover the unattractive back side with wallpaper, so that the painting can stand on a easel or be framed.