Monday, December 26, 2011

Playing with pastels

Round Chair 16x20 pastel, copyright 2011

As promised, here's a look at my play with the new pastels.  This was a fun one with no expectations going into it.  The goal here was just to experiment and see what would happen with new pastels and a new surface.  The pastels are Sennilier half sticks, a set of 80 landscape colors.   I've used them before as I also have a set of 40 random colors, but it's nice to have a larger variety.  Sennilier makes a total of 500 colors, though I'll have to win the lottery before purchasing the full set.  They are very soft in texture and flow easily over the paper but also break easily - one has already been dropped and broken.  But that's okay, it still works!

The paper is black Canson pastel board, coated with Colourfix pastel primer, 16x20 in size.  The board has a large tooth to it and the primer has a very fine texture - the combination works very well for lots of layers.  And I worked in a lot of layers.  In a few places I blended and/or took off pastel with a paint brush.  I also blended with my fingers.  At one point I lightly sponged the surface with a wet rag then moved the damp pastel around with fingers, coating it with more pastel after it dried, which made an interesting texture on the wall behind the chair.

I'm pleased with the results, these soft pastels are perfect for large areas with minimal detail.  Combing them with a harder pastel, and a bit of fixative between layers, should work well for me in a larger format.  This is the first time I've worked with the Canson paper/pastel primer combination and the first time I've worked on a black surface, and I like how deep the darks can get.  I think it will all work quite well for me.

Happy Holidays

Hope everyone's holidays have been as joyous as mine.  Nothing beats spending time laughing and loving with family.  Mine was very good to me in the gift department as well.  I received a brand new set of 80 landscape Sennilier pastels and have played with them a bit already.  The results will be posted in the next day or so.  I also got a wonderful book, the companion to an exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.  All pastelist are big fans of Degas, as he was instrumental in elevating the medium as a serious art form.  Although I didn't get to the actual exhibit, the book is the next best thing, offering insights into his thought process and including rarely exhibit pieces from private collections.  I'm really looking forward into curling up with it and a cup of tea.

The Dayton Daily News also had a brief article about the upcoming Life Drawing exhibit, and included a quote from yours truly.  I also sent in a photo of one of my pieces, but that didn't seem to have made it into the paper.  It's an uphill battle for attention for small art centers, and for emerging artists such as myself, so I was happy for all of us.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Blank Slate

The three unfinished paintings hanging on my walls taunting me are now two.  Not because I finished one, but because I white washed it.  I had spent hours and hours on it, and it was nearly there, or so I thought, but never quite right.  Those are the hardest ones to fix.  One of the others has a lot of potential, but the mistakes are very obvious.  The other really has nothing wrong with it, it just needs to be finished. It's the ones that are almost there that are the toughest because while you know something is not quite right, you just can't put a finger on it.

So there it hung.  I still like the idea and subject matter, round hay bales sitting in the summer sun.  But it was flat, lacking dimension, and last night I had the sudden realization that the fault lay with the composition, which could only be corrected by starting over.  Before I could second guess myself, it came down off the wall was coated with white paint.  It's a hard thing, to learn how to let go and move on when things aren't working, but I know it was the right thing to do for this painting.

After that liberating decision, I did a few quick sketches, thinking of ideas for another pastel.  Between a cold that won't go away and the holidays it may be a while before I get to it, but maybe if I put the thought out there to the universe (or the cloud anyway) it will happen.

Value Study, Round Chair 5x7 graphite pencil, copyright 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

Third time's a charm

Early Morning Frost 12x9 pastel, copyright 2011

This one is from the same spot and the same sunrise as the previous two landscapes, but looking in the opposite direction.  Despite the resentment of this night owl for having to get up at this hour, it really is a magical time.  In particular I have a fascination with watching the shadows on the trees slowly slide down to the ground as the sun creeps over the edge of the hills behind our house.  Every clear morning it's the same, yet somehow different.  I've tried to capture that a bit of that idea here.  While the previous pastel was all about the light, this one became all about the mood.

As a historical aside, nearly two years ago I painted this same barn.  It amazes me how much progress I've made since then, and I get exciting thinking about how much better I can get.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Portrait attempt

Study of a Redhead 12x16 pastel, copyright 2011

Wow, portraits are hard!  This one started out as a portrait of my daughter, based on a sketch done during Life Drawing last week.  After hours and hours of working, erasing, and reworking, I finally gave up trying to make it look like her.  The only thing I kept was the hair.  I wonder if it's easier to do a portrait of someone you don't know as well.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Life Drawing sketch

Bookworm Sketch 11x14 charcoal pencil, copyright 2011

This week I was happy to return to the Life Drawing session after a long absence.  It was a special session for me since my daughter agreed to sit as the model - her boots and long red hair were quite the crowd pleaser.  Unfortunately I discovered that I was rather rusty and that I had brought the wrong type of paper.  I started with a charcoal pencil, hoping to get lots of detail, but the tooth of the paper is too rough and I tried too hard to force it.  This was the best of the three sketches.  I may rework it a bit to fix some proportion issues, especially with the left arm.  One other sketch was in pastel.  Her enviable hair turned out well but the face definitely needs work.  I'll post that later if it turns out.  

FYI, next month the Preble County Fine Arts Center will be featuring A Year of Life Drawing, an exhibit of sketches, drawings, and perhaps a few paintings from artists who have participated in the Life Drawing sessions.  I will have a few pieces in the exhibit.  It will open on January 4, with a reception at 2pm on the 14th.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

One sunrise, but not the same

      Sunrise, First of December 6x6 oil, copyright 2011

December Sunrise 12x9 pastel, copyright 2011

A first for me, two different paintings from the same reference photograph.  The first was just a quick study, painted the same day I took the photo.  It came out a bit softer and more muted, in part because I was spent perhaps 15 more minutes on it than I should have, and was starting to make mud.  I stopped when I realized it, made a few corrections then quit.  The second one I finished just yesterday, and perhaps overcompensated a bit for the earlier painting's softness, though the colors look a bit too saturated on my monitor.

Looking at the two of them together, I can't decide if one is really better than the other as both capture some aspects of the mood of the moment.  I'm not sure if it's the media or light in the studio or my subconscious that made them so different.  It's an exercise worth trying again with another photo.

Edit:  The pastel image has been revised, and is now a bit closer to the real thing.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Inspired by O'Keeffe

My annual three birthdays and a holiday in the same week is done, so now I'm just trying to get back into a routine of sorts.  Today seems like a good time to squeeze in a painting - the sun is actually shining after days and days of the cold dreary downpours that make November such a cheery month here in the Midwest.  When I stepped outside this morning, there was a thick layer of frost over everything, so I ran back in to grab my camera.  Much to the dog's annoyance, I stopped and got a few photos during our walk.  The light was excellent as the frost and sunrise turned everything soft grays and blues and pinks.

Before my crazy week hit I was able to do a quick pastel study of the deer skull I pointed out in the some-day studio photo.   If you read the comments below you'll see that I decided to take up the challenge of painting in the style of Georgia O'Keeffe.  Not sure if I accomplished that, but it was enjoyable to "research", flipping though books and web sites.  By the way, Sue Pownall, who urged me on in the challenge, is an excellent artist as well.  You should check out her fascinating blog, she's quite the traveller and is currently residing in Oman.  And she has a sketch of a skull too, if you are into that sort of thing.

Study of a Deer Skull 12x16 pastel, copyright 2011