Starting the painting of the Unlikely Dance series: “Dark Angel”

"Dark Angel" cad-red underpainting
“Dark Angel” – 30×48″ cad-red underpainting, ready for painting

I’ve spent the last few months gathering material and composing for Unlikely Dance, and finally, a week or so ago, I put brush to canvas to begin the series with “Dark Angel.” Or should that be, “Unlikely Dance 1: Dark Angel”? Guess I’ll make decisions on naming protocol later — first, the painting.

This was the third composition I’ve built for the series, but finally all that back-pressure from queued-up images pushed me into action. So I tinted the 30 x 48″ canvas with thinned cadmium red acrylic… and then came the holidays. The tinted canvas sat on my size-adjusted easel as Yuletide and New Year’s came and went,

Our dog Luna
RIP Luna, 1999-2013

with family dinners and friendly get-togethers. Then I started the cadmium red underpainting (see my painting process, for a further explanation of the red underpainting), only to be held back by unhappiness with my rendering, and then knocked on my backside by the illness and death of our cherished dog, Luna.

But now I’ve finished the underpainting, and tomorrow I’ll start laying in colors!

On the faces and identities of dancers: The issue of permission to use individual dancers’ images in my paintings proved problematic for a while — getting signed releases is a cumbersome process, and one dance organization wouldn’t agree to my asking for releases at the entry table. But I was photographing a crowd, and taking hundreds of photos with no idea which ones I’d use, so approaching photographed dancers “later,” as was suggested, simply wasn’t practicable. In my informational handout for dancers I promised to change all faces. The problem with that is that I inevitably paint likenesses of the faces in front of me, whether I mean to or not. In the past I’d tried replacing faces, in the compositional stages in Photoshop, with faces from stock (commercially released) photos, but finding appropriate faces in similar lighting circumstances was a terrible and tedious chore, and not always successful. And now I no longer have access to a stock photo service. So I came up with the idea of lighting a mannequin head and photographing it at the proper angle. After spending some hours shopping online for mannequin heads, my gaze fell on my little poseable 12″ Art S. Buck drawing mannequin, a little-used gift from my prescient niece.

Drawing mannequins
“Artemis” and “Arthur” are my models

Sure, it was grey in hue, and a bit discolored from time spent in a sunny window, but easily positioned, easily lit and photographed, and once in Photoshop, easily colorized to whatever hue I needed. A little experimentation proved it easy to to manipulate the features and expression with Photoshop tools, easy to silhouette and drop into the composition… and in fact, positioning the mannequin’s body like the dancer’s also helps me to understand what was physically happening under the clothing. So I immediately ordered the male version as well — using grant funds I’d intended for live models — and I have my faces, as well as my models “Artemis” and “Arthur.”


The “Unlikely Dance” project was made possible by a grant from the Artists Fund of the Community Foundation for South Central New York

To follow my progress in Unlikely Dance, just click on the “Unlikely Dance” link under TOPICS, on the left of any page in this blog.

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