Thursday, January 29, 2009

Figure Drawings...Fast and Fun

Last night was one of those nights... I was exhausted, and the first drawing I started (which I will not post for fear that you'll never come back and lose all faith in my abilities) was AWFUL> SO I took a break and moved to a new spot in the studio, drawing Denise from another vantage point - creating the black and white drawing using charcoal and a little water on a gessoed masonite board.
So then I went back to my first drawing, hoping that with the fresh perspective I could solve Still didn't work.
Realizing that I just didn't have the brain power to fix the first drawing, I grabbed another sheet of paper and my nupastels and sat on the floor to draw looking up. Much better. I still have to define a few moments on the face, soften the (too similar) breasts, and maybe add a bit of color to the background.
Bottom line...don't beat your head on the easel - if a piece isn't working, don't waste precious time with the model. Always bring a few extra surfaces, and start something new.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Painting Update...2 Models on Gessoed Surface

I have added another layer or two to this painting. I think that it is almost done. The darker backgraound has created that sense of intimacy I was looking for, but I feel like the skin on both girls could be warmed up a bit more.
I have been using Nupastel to define lines and highlights, and matt medium to lay in transparent glazes of colors - usually the colors are transparent themselves - such as sap green or alizarin crimson, but the last layer I was using a pinkish magenta and a baby blue to create the lavender, which was more opaque, even with the medium mixed in.
All of the texture of the original gessoed layer still shows thru - even more so now that some of the glaze has settled into the crevices. I think it's almost done!
See gesture drawings from this session here
And the previous stages of the painting here

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Advice for High School Artists

Juniors and seniors in high school are asked to make some pretty big decisions about the continuation of their education. For those students who want to pursue a degree in art, I offer some advice on how to prepare yourself while still in high school.

1. Take a broad range of art classes in school. I know that not all schools can offer a diverse range of art classes (I was lucky enough to have sculpture, photography {before digital - darkroom!} painting and drawing, and sculpture). If classes are limited, search for alternative spaces - art museums, private instructors, that offer other choices.

It is important to try as much as possible. Although you may KNOW you want to be a painter, learning to sculpt can help you better understand space. If you want to be a photographer, learning to draw could help you understand value range and the basic elements of composition, line, shapes, etc.

2. Take good care of and photograph your best work. Any school will want to see portfolio examples, and presentation is just as important as high caliber work. Save all of your good drawings and paintings, and mat those that need it. Talk to a local framer and see if you can get a deal as a student on matting some of your pieces.

3. Start attending art lectures or gallery exhibits, and take notes or sketch. As you become involved in an art career, your ability to talk about what is happening in the art world (present and past) will be very important. Listening to lectures on art can help you learn about the work and also how to talk about it.

There is also no substitute for seeing great art in person. While books may have fabulous reproductions, seeing a 10' x 40' painting in person is a different experience than seeing a 3" picture in a book.

4. Do research on the kind of art programs that are offered at the schools you are interested in - do they offer classes that build your basic understanding and give you the tools to become a great artist? Or do they jump into conceptual art the first semester?

This is an important factor to consider. I started at a school where, in the second semester, we were creating large installation pieces. For me, I knew I needed a better understanding of the fundamentals of art before jumping into conceptual work. I switched to a school that offered a solid course load of learning the fundamentals of all genres, and I felt better equipped to find my own voice with the tools I was learning.

5. Learn from a professional in the art world. There are great artists all around you. Many schools encourage art students to develop a mentor relationship with a local artist. I think this is a fabulous idea. Search the Internet for artists in your area, check out their work, and contact them. Let them know that you are interested in becoming an artist, and would like to see their work space and their art. If they cannot commit an entire semester to helping you, perhaps just a visit to their studio and a short interview could give you great insight.

A local artist I know mentors a high school student all year, and then hosts a solo show in her local gallery/studio space. This is an EXCELLENT item for your college application - a solo show!

6. Enter shows. Learn how to fill out an application form, photograph and present your work. Many student shows are free, some may have a small charge. Consider shipping costs if you are applying for shows far away...but there are many local opportunities I'm sure. If you get in - awesome! Be sure to keep records of who juried the show, and get a program if at all possible. If you don't get in, don't sweat it...rejection is part of the process, and let's face it - art is subjective and personal, and one juror's opinion is not the only opinion. But go see the show - see what got in!

Pursuing a degree in art is not right for everyone. But if it is your dream and your passion, then I encourage you to take a pro-active role in making it happen. Just creating great work is not enough - there are a lot of great artists out there. You need to make things happen for yourself. Get your work seen in shows, learn from local artists, and learn as much as you can about all kinds of genres and all kinds of artists, past and present.

If you have some advice for a high school artist, or if you are an artist and have a question, please comment!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

25 minutes or one hour...the good and the bad of drawing a longer pose

The lovely miss Tina was our model yesterday evening at Shane McDonald's studio in Marietta. Anticipating the huge (20!) crowd of artists we had last week, Shane set up our model stand int he middle of the studio, providing a wonderful stage in the round for us all to take advantage of.

Tina was set up in the lovely, semi-reclining pose for our long drawing. I anticipated trying a new vantage point after each 25-minute drawing period instead of drawing from one spot the whole time.

So my first drawing was done very quickly - I blocked in a couple areas of intense reds and oranges, then defined her form with a light grey charcoal line. I then further defined the shadows and high lights with blues and creams, finally going over all the lines with a black charcoal for further definition.

I like the immediacy of this drawing, the layering of color and the ambiguity in the face.

The second drawing I positioned myself at Tina's feet. This is a soft rose colored textured pastel paper (it feels like a fine grit sand the end of the evening I felt like I had sanded off my fingerprints from all the smudging!)

I started with a light charcoal sketch and slowly added darker values to define her shape as well as the cast shadows on the drapery. I changed the position of the feet slightly to create a more pleasing line at the bottom of the drawing.

At first I was able to maintain a nice combination of sketchy and defined moments - and i should have stopped after the first 25 minutes that I sketched on this paper. But I continued after our break - and got WAY too nit-picky. I spent a good ten minutes playing with the light on her nose (someone give me a sticky note!!!) when I should have been looking at the whole lighting scheme.

In the very last ten minutes (thanks Tina for holding the pose!!!) I did add the cast shadow under the knees and defined the elbow and feet more, which did take my focus away from her nose.

So...are longer poses or shorter poses better? There's something to be said for forcing yourself to work quickly, getting the overall impulse quickly and without too much thought. I often love my beginning stages. It's when I have almost TOO much time to work that I tend to get too tight and lose my spontaneity. Becoming good at both is an on-going challenge.

Gesture Drawings

A couple of the gesture drawings from last week's drawing session with two female models. See the painting from the long pose at

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Favorite Part of Obama's Speech

All politics aside, seeing that many happy and positive faces all at once was a wonderful experience. I'm so glad that I was able to witness the historic moments today. One of my favorite lines today...

" What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task."

Barack Obama, January 20, 2009

What an amazing line.

PS...It is also my son Jack's 4th birthday today. I love you, Jack!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Drawing from the Live Female Nude - on a new surface

What a great - and surprising! - night of figure drawing at Shane's on Wednesday. Our ever-growing group (20!) had the extreme pleasure of working with two lovely ladies. They did gesture and long poses together, and the pairing of the two was perfect - "A" has deep, rich brown skin and black, wavy hair. "L" is blond with long, straight hair and creamy skin. I will photograph my gesture drawings and post, those, too!
This was the second week I worked on a gessoed board, and I really wanted to work in several colors instead of just blue (see post After the girls were posed (nice and high up on chairs so our whole group could see - and in a pose that was great from every angle) I started sketching with a red nupastel and a brush dipped in water. After I had my initial lay out I started to slowly add some blues and oranges. I held back on adding black at this point - I thought it would be too dark too soon. (The first photo is how it looked after class)
I have added a few layers of glazing to the piece (acrylic paint and matte medium) starting with a layer of sap green. The pinks and oranges were too intense for me, and I love sap green because it is a warm and transparent color which works great for glazing. I have also glazed some black over the areas of dark blue, and warmed up a lot of the skin tones. I'm pretty happy where it is now...although I am thinking that a darker background could make the pose feel more intimate.
Thanks, Shane for arranging such a great figure drawing session!
And thank you to our amazing models!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Portraiture is Vital

“Portraiture is vital—increasingly so,” says Dan Cameron, curator of such international biennials as Istanbul in 2003 and Taipei in 2006 and newly appointed director of visual arts at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. “We are losing our identities through the bombardment of media imagery. Portraiture shows us who we are and how we feel about who we are: our identities. It’s like a barometer.”


Monday, January 12, 2009

Inspired by Etsy - Pastel Portrait - The Lime Scarf

I love snooping around Etsy and looking for inspiration...this is an absolutly stunning photgraph of a lime scarf created by (click on the photo to see her shop!)

She was generous enough to allow me to use this photo for this pastel drawing. I loved the combination of the model's deep brown hair, her light skin and the lime green of the scarf.

And I do LOVE this was a chance to have some fun with a lot of great undertones in the skin - the reflective colors under the model's chin and on her neck were a variety of lime green and deep fuscia - such a pretty combination!

It's clear that I did not to justice to the gorgeous model...let's face it, she doesn't need any improvement! So why work from such a flawless picture? What could I possibly do that would make my drawing more engaging than the picture?

My goal is, as always, to make something that you want to look at again and again. To create a piece that has a bit of mystery, possibly some secret layers of color, something that will bring the viewer back again and again - noticing new moments of lime green next to the corner of her eye, finding a hot pink high-light in the hair, perhaps noticing for the first time the purple in her shirt.

Thanks again to sanchia...I hope you are inspired by Etsy today :)

Past portraits inspired by Etsy sellers...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Drawing from the Live Female Nude - on a new surface

What a wonderful drawing session we had last night at Shane's studio!!! It was a full house - apparently some of us have made a resolution to draw more in 2009!
We had the lovely Maureen posing for us, and this pose was very similar to the first gesture pose of the evening, so we went back to it for our long pose - due to the size of the group, this pose was great because it sat the model up high, had great lighting, and looked interesting from every angle, all of which makes for happy artists and successful drawings!
I was working on one of the surfaces I prepared earlier in the week - a very economical surface - masonite board primed with gesso. It's actually very textured - my gesso had a bad seal, causing it to dry a little - and making it more like the texture of plaster. So instead of brushing it on, I used a small scrap of mat board (that's why nothing ever gets thrown away - it all has a purpose!) and smoothed the gesso on to the board. I didn't smooth it out too much - I loved the ridges and bumps that were created.

After maureen was in pose, I started with a light wash of blue watercolor to lay out the pose and the proportions. I then used a deep blue Nupastel to gesture and define the form. I kept using a wet brush to soften lines or move the pastel around the surface - painting with the pigment.
The atmosphere was created almost instantly - the watercolors and the washed Nupastels dug into different nooks and crannies of the gesso. I also took out a little bit of sandpaper to sand away any areas that were becoming too dense.

So here's my current I leave it blue or do I change the color with some glazing? At this point, it feels a bit like an "underpainting" - waiting for some colors on top. I played with warmth a little bit on the computer, trying to give myself an idea of what would happen before I work on the actual piece....what do you think? Would you change it?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Learning from the Masters - Louise Nevelson

I was priviledged to work with the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA for many years and with many different groups - girls scout and boy scout troups, classes for artists as young as 4 up to adults pursuing their passion for Art.

One summer there was an exhibition of sculptures by Louise Nevelson that inspired a wonderful week-long scultpure class for elementary school children.

We started each day by visiting the gallery with her work and discussed many key terms - monochromatic, 2D and 3D, relief and scultpure-in-the-round, variety, repetion, and whatever else we were inspired to talk about!

It was great to see her work in person, but as you can see from the images above, you can also learn alot just by looking. We then went to our studio and delved into huge boxes of miscellaneous pieces of scrap wood - trimmings/scrap from the wood workshop, but also found objects from old furniture, kitchen items, boxes, etc.

The students had to create sculptures like Nevelson did - being sure to think about key elements of design. We discussed continuity, balance, variety of size and shape, organic, and viewing our sculptures on all sides to ensure all sides were balanced and interesting.
They did an AMAZING job. After they glued their wooden pieces together, they had to choose one color to paint to achieve the monochromatic, and final unifying, look of Neleson's sculptures.

I had a range of ages and "skill" levels in these groups and they all did an amazing job!

I hope you enjoy this idea - do it yourself! Do it

with your favorite young artist! Search for your neighborhood "wood working" hobbyist and ask for their old will have a lot of fun, and the next time you look at one of Louise Nevelson's sculptures, you may, like I did, have a new appreciation for the level of skill and artistic talent it takes to make a successful sculpture!

The last picture shows a few of the older students with their finished sculptures in the Nevelson gallery.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Learning from the Masters - A lesson Inspired by Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns

I love the work of Jasper Johns - there is a sense of energy and delight in making something old new again. Something familiar now seem more important and fresh at the same time.

You may be familiar with some of his work that has "targets" or his series of flag paintings. I chose the "Numbers in Color" as an inspiration for my middle school students.

What appears to be just a simple presentation of a series of numbers can be delved into much deeper.

From "Modern Art" by Hunter and Jacobson...

"...the artist once again revived the Cubists' use of letters and numbers to tether their art simultaneously to the realities of both the paintings' flat, fixed surface and the temporal, volumetric world outside...The serial also permitted him to build into his picture the element of time, that fourth dimension with which the Cubists so enriched their art, but with sequential numbers rather than multiple perspectives."

This piece opens the doors to many discussions - what is Cubism and Pop art? How do words
and numbers "work" in a painting? Is a painting just a surface or something beyond the surface? What is more important - content or paint application?

You can take these discussions and really try and answer them, or just be inspired by the idea of the grid and allow that to be the first step in understanding his art - by making your own version.

I gridded a large piece of mat board with squares to accommodate a "K". I used a vinyl sticker as my "k", but you can create you r own letter or series of numbers.

Then - have at it! Fill in the squares, paying attention to pattern, texture, color, energy, repetition. Strive to find a variety of ways to present the letter(s) and colors that you are using.

I also overlapped some other numbers and letters, just to make it more personal.

Jasper Johns is a fabulous artist and I hope you check out more of his work!