Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Revisiting Vintage Family Photo

12x24 inches, oil and collage on paper

This is a work in progress, something quite different from my usual approach to painting from old candid photos, much brighter, more stylized.  The original photo is of my grandmother, Bernice Tess, and her good friend, Elizabeth Thompson. I have several photos of them and their families together at the beach, hiking, on driving vacations and so on.  But the picture of Liz and Grandma reclining by the shore has always tickled me.  My goal here was to drastically simplify the image, play with patterned paper for their blankets, and use color for decorative effect, rather than try to imagine what the actual scene might have looked like.  I still need to paint over patterned paper at the bottom, and add shadows under the women, and I am still trying to decide whether or not to define their faces more.  Right now their indistinct faces appeal to me.

However it turns out, I'm having fun.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Community Figure Drawing

The one area where I have learned to work a bit larger comfortably is at my summer session of figure drawing.  This summer it seems like nearly every Monday evening featured thunder storms, some of them memorable, so I missed a couple for those, and last week I had a senior moment and drove the twenty or so miles to the session only to discover I had forgotten my drawing materials.  Duh.

But the week the weather was fine, and I loaded the car early in the afternoon so there was no forgetting.  Our model, Will, is very easy going a comfortable, and all went well. 

I usually do ll the shorter poses on Canson "Biggie" sketchpads with charcoal.  I like the short poses, which allow for variety, and lots of practice. Also models can hold more interesting poses for short periods of time, unlike the longer poses which need to be something a person can hold for 20 or more minutes.

The last poses of the evening are a little longer, 20-40 minutes.  I don't especially want to work on this sort of sketch more than twenty minutes, just because by that time I am usually getting tired, and I am not interested in tremendously detailed drawings.  There are a couple artists who campaign for the longer poses, so at the end of the evening I just leave early.  This time I rather liked my pencil drawing of the model, though one hand never was resolved in the time allowed.  Still - I enjoyed the session.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Not So Big

So, I swore I'd work larger, and I lied.

This afternoon, after some chores were out of the way I sat down in the upstairs studio and looked at the bigger-than-usual abstract on the wall, looked at a pile of 5x7 inch pieces of "old dog" watercolors that were torn up and gessoed, and decided I wasn't in the mood for abstraction. I wanted to see what I could do with an old photo I bought at the consignment shop last spring.  A new dog from an old one.

I enjoy working from old photographs, like the chance to really examine them, find the parts that speak to me, and see if I can make an interesting composition.  What I found most touching in the photo was the joy I imagined I saw in the dog, standing on his hind legs, his head inclined toward the man.  I did a little study on tracing paper, and taped it into my notebook, making an effort to simplify and combine shapes.  I wanted the finished painting to be more abstracted than it ended up being, but unlike some of my recent efforts, it didn't hurt my eyes.

Maybe I'll try it again later, only larger.

Or not.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Thinking Big - Er

It's funny how circumstances can conspire to point a person in a new direction.  I have always liked abstract art, admired the ambiguity, the boldness, and the grand scale of paintings by people like Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn, Franz Kline, or Helen Frankenthaler.  Last winter and early spring I found myself reading books about Abstract Expressionists, and my fascination increased.  So, I decided to take a chance and sign up for a class in abstract painting taught by Emmett Johns, at the Peninsula Art School in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, two hundred miles north of my home.

I had admired Johns' paintings for years, and over Memorial Day weekend I dropped in to his studio to look at his work again, chat with him, and get a feeling for what a class with him might be like.  I felt optimistic after that, and went home to read, gather together materials and make arrangements for the four day class.  It was last week, and I am recovering nicely, thank you.

Emmett Johns is a fine painter, and an amiable man.  Peninsula Art School is a well appointed facility, conveniently located 10 minutes from my brother and sister-in-law's house, where I get to stay and socialize.  The class was comprised of a good mix of men and women, a range of ages, and as far as I could tell, all people of good will.  However, at the end of four days I had a pitifully small pile of pitifully small nonrepresentational abstract work - far less than anyone else.  This is not me being self-deprecating. I speak truth.

What happened?  I am still mulling it over, and have lots of questions.  Am I just too timid?  Are the physical movements too unfamiliar to me, working on a much larger scale?  Am I too parsimonious, too cheap with my materials?  Am I disoriented by an unfamiliar environment with people talking around me, my paints and brushes hiding in new places?  Is it a combination of all these factors?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.

I should know by now that I process and implement ideas incrementally, often over months and even years after a workshop.  It has happened before, and probably will again. But still, I felt bad, like I made a bad showing.  Gotta get over that, and gotta play more with working larger, even if it means working on the basement floor sometimes.

These are a few photos of Emmett going to work on a demonstration piece, painted with acrylic, on a large piece of rag board (mat board).  The final piece looked nothing like what I thought it might, and was more attractive than my photo indicates.