Friday, April 29, 2011

Does Tradition Trump Creativity?

Today has been an interesting day for the argument of "Traditional vs. Creative" for me.  Like millions of others, I started this morning extra early, setting my alarm to wake me for the Royal Wedding.  I know I could have watched it a million times in re-runs (it's on again right now!) but there's nothing like seeing it as it happens.

I was giddy with the anticipation of the wedding dress.  A modern, stylish bride, any designer at her beck-and-call, ready to design what would become the most iconic wedding dress of the century.  In my head there was an asymmetrical neckline, innovative pleating, a nod to the past while looking at the future. When I caught the first glimpse of the dress, I couldn't help but feel disappointed...hadn't we seen this before?  I wasn't the only one who felt that seconds twitter was abuzz with references to Grace Kelly's wedding dress.  (PS...I thought she looked gorgeous!  Just not what I expected...and I totally understand her design)

That was about all I had time to watch before mom duty took over, and after getting the kids off to school and a short visit to the studio to take care of some portrait work, I headed into Atlanta to visit the Portrait Society of America's Conference.  I was eager to see what was new in the world of portraiture - what was deemed the best of the best.

Of the top 15 works represented at the show (some works are only shared during a slide show lecture)  many were very traditional oil portraits, reminiscent of many of the portraits you would see in galleries around the world, including a portrait of a religious figure (stunning for it's drapery, detail, and the quality of the skin.)

But the pieces that held my attention, the pieces that went beyond impressing me to inspiring me, were decidedly not traditional.

This self-portrait by Evert Ploeg was just fantastic.  Decidedly direct and un-adorned, the artist is posed just stepping out of a long shower, as evident in the foggy mirror which has been half-wiped to reveal half of his figure, just the top of a towel wrapped below his full stomach.  I only mention "full" as a description because I took great notice of the reflective light under his stomach and chest - it was so important.  When I was staring at the portrait, it didn't occur to me to think "oh he needs to do more sit-ups!"  which is really funny because...a few moments later I got to meet Mr. Ploeg in person!  And one of his first self-depreciating comments was "I should have done more sit-ups, huh?"  I re-assured him that it was a non-issue.

I thoroughly enjoyed talking to Evert for a few moments, telling him how much I enjoyed his painting - the way it made me want to paint, how I loved his pallette, his use of that slate blue square to balance his warm fresh from the shower skin on his face.  He shared with me his genuine shock that his painting was selected, seeing that it is very different from the traditional portrait styles and subject matter that the PSA seems to favor.  To me - that was exactly the reason it needed to be in the show!  

And that got me thinking about tradition again...can traditions of style, a desperation to hang onto the classics, be stifling creativity?  Are we occasionally trapped in a desperate attempt to "appease the masses" that we deny our true desires and tendencies to speak in our own voice?

I do not want to discount tradition, I have seen too many artists completely skip the LEARNING process - how to draw, how to paint - before jumping into styles of their own, yet not having the (painting and drawing) language to express themselves effectively.

I also want to mention one of my other favorites from the show - this portrait by Rose Frantzen.

Forgive the poor picture...I wish you could see the quality of the light she captured!  I could have stared forever at the colors she found in her subject's hair.  I could feel the temperature of the cool air under the shade tree, knowing the warmth of the sun was a few steps to the right.  

The subject matter, like Ploeg, was not monumental nor traditional.  But human.  I love the relationship between the wife and husband seated behind her.

I hope you take a minute to look thru Mrs. Frantzen's website - she captures the most amazing light quality in her portraits.

So how can I bring my two synaptic misfires together? Traditional wedding trumps individuality?  A quest to please the establishment squelches artistic expression?  I'll have to share my latest wedding portrait and see if this helps...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Custom Portraits are leaving the studio

It's been a busy month full of portrait work!  I usually enjoy sharing progress on my blog...but some of these were surprises and I didn't want to take any chances posting them too early.

At the beginning of the month I had a line up of portraits in progress....

A couple pieces have still remain, but this portrait of a lovely older couple has been delivered to the UK.

And just yesterday the husband surprised his wife by bringing her to my studio for the big reveal of their family portrait

It was entertaining to watch her wandering around my studio with the look of "why is my husband taking me to a gallery full of nudes?" to "oh my gosh that's US!"  

A fun day for me :)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Spring Cleaning! Original Art on SALE

It's spring...time to clean out the studio and get inspired by the changing season and create new work!  I have just marked down a number of beautiful figurative Art in my Etsy Shop.  Take a look...pass it along...enjoy!


Monday, April 18, 2011

Favorite color, favorite flower

I love working in the garden in the spring, before there are too many bugs, before the sun gets too hot, while the ground is moist and ready to be worked.  I love the idea of Potential - a seed that can grow to a sunflower, a vine that can climb a trellis in a single season, a bush that is ready to burst forth with dozens of blooms.

One of my favorite vines is a Clematis.  I have been trying to cultivate several different ones in my backyard for 5 years now.  On the advice of an old friend, I have been patiently waiting for them to take hold - "first year to sleep, second to creep, the third one to leap"

Well this one has LEAPED!  It's my favorite color, periwinkle blue (or purple, depending on your perspective!)

I have it in a spot that makes it very happy.  The roots are low, below my deck, and remain shaded thru out the day.  But the trellis gets at least 6 hours of sun, which the vine and flowers thrive upon.

While my mother was visiting I was explaining the good fortune of the spot and how happy the clematis is there.  She replied "Sure - hot head, cold feet"

I nodded my head, while suppressing a grin.  Now I know why the clematis is really my favorite flower...we have the exact same personality.

Hot head, cold feet.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Figure Drawings in Pastel and Charcoal

We've had a spectacular line up of models in the studio the last few weeks, and I am just now getting around to photographing and sharing some of the drawings.

A couple of new pastels on colourfix paper...

This pose was about an hour and a half...with lots of breaks so the model could regain feeling in her arms.

A 45 minute pose with no breaks, a beautiful arch to her back, and I love the foot tucked into the fold of her knee.

Vine and compressed charcoal, about 20 minutes.  I didn't want to over-work this loose drawing, so I did a second one from a different view.

And a 20 minute charcoal from the male model - great twist in his back!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gotta share these beautiful figures!

This past week I have been working a lot with acrylic paint, enjoying the brilliance and quickness of the media, yet also feeling some frustration as they keep drying so quickly.  I spend so much time mixing, and re-mixing as the first one dries, and less time painting.  I actually just got out my water soluble oils, hoping to get back to the flexibility of oils in some way.

Seeing beautiful paintings like this, that really embrace everything oil paint can do, makes me want to get back into the media even more.

Please check out Costa Dvorezky and his work.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Learn, forget, re-learn, repeat.

Last week my children had (another!) week-long break from school.  Luckily, two things happened during this time off...the sun was shining and grandma came to visit, doing lots of babysitting and allowing me to continue working on the full list of portrait commissions waiting in my studio.

We were treated to an especially lovely day on Thursday, with the sun shining and the temps right around 70 for most of the day.  Anxious to enjoy the gift of the day, we packed a lunch and headed to our spot on the lake, preparing for a brief visit - the water is probably only about 40 degrees!

I am one of those mom's that cover her kids head-to-toe in swim shirts and sunscreen, tolerating teasing from my siblings "you are such a worrywort! so overprotective!"  Yet this was our first trip to the sand and sun for the year and it was just warm enough to be outside, the water was still freezing, how long would we really be out?  Sunscreen was applied, but barely beyond the shoulders, and Jack ran up and down the cool sand without his swim shirt.

Much to the surprise of my mother and myself, we were still at the beach three hours later, our arms a crisp red and our feet just starting to darken and burn.  Gathering up the kids, who were goosebumpy from the cold water but delighting in sand castles and surfboards, we finally called it a day and headed home.

For three days after we could barely move our shoulders and were rarely seen without slathering aloe over ourselves and the kids.  I was beside myself with frustration at my ignorance, my forgetfulness, and my lack of "mom-sense" - how had I just sat there in the sun for three hours and let my kids crisp?!?

Why didn't I insist on the swim shirt, the full-body spray of SPF 50, the sun hats?  Did I forget what 3 hours of clear sun can do to our skin?

Today in the studio I was faced with another instance of time wiping out years of practice and experience.  I am working on a family portrait (it's a surprise or else I would share!) and I am faced with combining a couple different photos into one in order to capture everyone's likeness as requested by the client.

This is a problem that I am just now remembering facing a few times before - there are references photos of some the subjects in focus, but other reference photos are blurry.  Some of them are in full color, others are in sepia tone.   My goal - my job - is to bring all of these different sources together seemlessly and cohesively in one family portrait.

I know I can do it, and I know HOW I can do it, but I got so far into the painting without considering this issue that I ended up with three figures that don't belong in the same painting.  I have to un-do several hours of work in order to bring the faces together.

Spending several hours in the sun without considering the consequences of skipping the sunscreen, stepping back from a painting and realizing that you have created three separate paintings within one.  Lessons learned, forgotten, and re-learned.  

But you know...these things happen, and getting over it, gathering ourselves up, applying a salve and working our way thru it...that's what we've got to do.  And tomorrow is a new day in the studio, and I will fix that painting! (Plus, my red legs are finally better, so now I can shave that weeks' worth of hair and start fresh!)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Eyes - Details from some of my portrait work

I was in the mood to share some eyes...I don't know why.  I guess part of it is the fact that I really don't think the portrait is "done" unless the eyes are right.  The eyes are so important - a little too far apart, or a highlight in the wrong spot, and it can throw off the whole face.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

New Watercolor...

I was recently commissioned by a fabulous collector to re-visit a series that I created last year.  A number of female nudes in a Citrus color palette that were designed specifically for the beautiful renovation of Brennan's Restaurant in Houston, TX.

My client had several favorite features from the first series...the softness of the facial features, the amounts of oranges and yellows present in the palette, the flow of the figures and the drapery.

She had asked for only one piece, but because I was working with watercolor, and a specific pose was not set in stone, I decided to work on three pieces at once - allowing her to chose which one fit her vision best.  I was so pleased that not one, but two of the pieces captured her heart and found their way into her home.

The third piece is also lovely and I have just made this Original Watercolor available in my Etsy shop.

I hope that if you ever have a vision that I can help create, you contact me as well!