Another chance to paint with me…!

ExplOilPainting110114

Exploring Oil Painting

Mondays, November 3 through December 1

1-4:00 p.m.

Explore the fundamentals of oil painting in a fun and casual setting with artist/instructor Glenda Blake. Together we’ll paint from a still life in the classroom, learning as we go about composition, underpainting, light, shadow, and color. If you’ve always wanted to paint in oils, now is the time! If you have painting experience already, come to learn new techniques and gain confidence – there’s always something more to learn! Please bring a portable floor easel if you have one (available on loan from the instructor, if you don’t) and a work apron, and/or wear older clothing to paint in.  Classes will be held 5 Mondays, 1-4:00 p.m., November 3 through December 1.  There is a limit of 10 students per class.  A one-time $15 fee is required to cover supplies.  To sign up, stop by the circulation desk at Your Home Public Library, 107 Main Street, Johnson City, NY.

I love teaching this class — please join us if you can!

My painting class: I’m loving it!

Some of my students in Introduction to Oil Painting, at Your Home Public Library
Some of my students in Introduction to Oil Painting, at Your Home Public Library

What a wonderful time I’ve been having, teaching Introduction to Oil Painting at Your Home Public Library in Johnson City, NY. Originally a class of ten students, one failed to show from the first day, and another dropped out after the first day, citing time conflicts. The remaining eight have been enthusiastic and eager to learn — even the more experienced artists among them — and so positive about my teaching. For my part, I’m feeling like I really do have a lot to give when it comes to painting, and that I’m balancing the talk/demo/work factors pretty well.

What I’d like to do better, if we run this course again (and with a waiting list of five more, for this course, I certainly hope we do!) is the still life set-up. I placed the light badly, and made the still life too complicated — a visually busy drape, no backdrop, a difficult glass jug, and rather uninspiring artificial fruit and flowers are not best for beginners, I think. The trick is to build the still life in such a way that it can be put away for a week and then brought out again, since the room is used for other functions in addition to my class. I think also, if I can enlarge my collection of student easels to ten (I borrowed some table easels for this go-’round), I’ll set up the easels on the floor with legs extended, rather than on tables. They’re not tall enough for standing work, but table easels are awkward to reach and interfere with sight lines to the still life.

A student's-eye view
A student’s-eye view
The still life set-up
The still life set-up

Nevertheless I’m really impressed by some of the work coming out of this class, and just delighted that I’ve had some influence in these productions — and I do love sharing what I’ve learned.

After a period of frustration, I’m also coming along well with the commissioned dance painting — I’ll show that in stages after it’s finished, or you can Like my Facebook page (see the lefthand column of this page) to follow along!

Paint with me!

Intro to Oil Painging

Introduction to Oil Painting, with Glenda Blake

Mondays, July 28 – August 25, 1 – 4:00 pm

$15 for five 3-hour sessions

Learn the basics of oil painting in a fun and casual setting with artist Glenda Blake. Together we’ll paint from a still life in the classroom, exploring composition, under-painting, light, shadow, and color mixing. If you’ve been puzzled by books on painting, this is an ideal time and place to ask questions. If you’ve always wanted to paint with oils, now is the time! Please bring a work apron and/or wear older clothing to paint in.

Classes are on Mondays, July 28 – August 25, 1 – 4:00 p.m. There is a limit of 10 students per class.  A one-time $15 fee is required to cover supplies, which are provided.  To sign up, stop by the circulation desk at Your Home Public Library, 107 Main Street, Johnson City, NY.

Call YHPL at 797-4816 for more information, or contact me.

I’m so looking forward to teaching this class!

Study oil painting with me at Your Home Library

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a notice that an artist and teacher I know was offering an introductory drawing course at Your Home Library, my hometown library here in Johnson City. Soon after, I stopped in at the library to inquire as to whether they’d like to offer a course in painting: it seemed that they would!

Your Home Library, Johnson City, NY
Your Home Library, Johnson City, NY

Andrea Tillinghast, the new library director is full of new ideas, and was excited about adding a painting class to the library’s growing list of course offerings. She graciously showed me around the building. It’s beautiful, a historic building from the late 19th century with additions from the early 20th, and what a lovely second-floor classroom space it features. Originally built as a dining room, with a large original kitchen attached, it features a wealth of windows. (Unfortunately, the building has no elevator, so the classes are will not be handicapped accessible.) Now the questions are scheduling, and whether the space is viable for a late-spring/early-summer class. The one window-mounted air-conditioning unit in the room needs to be adequately wired before we can find out.

Andrea has verbally approved my proposed course budget and, I have to admit, I’m eager to get this project in gear, to start teaching. I’m delighted that, as the local community college offers fewer and fewer non-credit art courses in favor of job-skill and professional certification training, local libraries are beginning to pick them up. As the forms of literacy change from hard-copy to electronic, what a wonderful form of human face-to-face knowledge-sharing classes like these are for libraries.

To learn when my course will run, please click the “Follow” button in the right-hand column, and I’ll let my followers know as soon as Introduction to Oil Painting at Your Home Public Library is scheduled. Or “Like” my artist page on Facebook (left-hand column), and I’ll publicize it there too.

In the meantime, I’m going to be visiting the library more often. I hope you will too — and ask about my painting course while you’re there!

An emerging new process, and The Joy of Dancing

KwanYin and Chrysanthemums, 20x16 in., oils on canvas
KwanYin and Chrysanthemums, 20×16 in., oils on canvas

Two weeks and two days ago I had eye-muscle surgery. Nothing scarier for an artist than eye surgery, except maybe encroaching blindness. I’ve had this wonky left eye, which tracked upward and to the left of my right eye, since I was a kid. All along there were murmurings about the possibility of corrective surgery, but as time went on either the opthamologist was discouraging it or I was avoiding it. Prism arrangements in my glasses lenses brought the disparate images together, until recently. My optometrist encouraged me to see a specialist about the surgery — for real — because the maxxed-out prisms were no longer adequate to the task and he was concerned that my right eye would lose sight to the dominant and errant left. I’d already lost some depth perception, and had a growing cataract in the right eye. So I did it. Quite a do, and I’m still recovering. My eye is still not tracking quite properly all the time, but the surgeon said it would take six weeks to heal so I’m still hoping it’ll all straighten out. Meanwhile the cataract in the right eye has grown significantly in density, so that’s scheduled for surgery in May.

Hasn’t stopped me from painting, however — in fact, I’ve been quite productive. In my last post I talked about a paint-together still life session with Mary Robertson and Jan Wood (just before my surgery), and I’ve finished the painting I started that day, Kwan Yin and Chrysanthemums. Using a process new to me, I painted in semi-transparent glazes (mixed colors thinned with oil/resin medium) over my initial underpainting, saving the lightest lights and darkest darks for last. I love the result. So I started another — Henry and Rebecca — and have worked on a couple of earlier underpainted pieces, Demeter and Rebecca.

Demeter 04 -- almost finished!
Demeter 04 — almost finished!

 

Rebecca 03 -- progress!
Rebecca 03 — progress!

 

Henry and Rebecca 02 -- first color glazes
Henry and Rebecca 02 — first color glazes

These last two had given me problems due to my use of Turpenoid Natural for thinning the paint in the underpainting, but they did finally dry and I’m quite pleased with their progress. I’m close to finishing Demeter, thanks to a lovely paint-together session at Mary’s studio today.

This painting in transparent layers over a show-through underpainting has intrigued me for some time, and although I’d tried it before, to a limited extent, I’m finding it really freeing as an overall technique, That, plus saving the lightest lights and darkest darks for last — a lesson from John Singer Sargent — and I’m in a whole different ballfield than before: one I like a lot.

Meanwhile, my first long drive alone since surgery was the hundred-mile trip to Ithaca and back, to help take down the Joy of Dancing exhibit at the Tompkins County Public Library, where my Unlikely Dance series was the cornerstone. What a wonderful space, and wonderful show. My thanks once again to Sally Grubb, Scottish Country and contra dancer, exhibit coordinator at TCPL, and curator of this show. I got some photos before we disassembled it. A wonderful review of the show is here.

Re-entry!

Still Life at Mary's studio
Photo of still life set-up at Mary Robertson’s studio

It’s been one heckuva winter. Felled by first one virus and then another, I’ve been doing pretty much nothing for about two months while it snowed and froze outside. Still have the residual fatigue and cough, but last week I started painting again, thanks to my artist-friend Mary Robertson, who invited me to a still life session at her studio a few blocks away.

Cutler Maples_03
Unfinished, stage 03: Cutler Maples, 16×20 in., oils on canvas*

I’m not happy with the underpainting I did that day, but the activity has spurred me on to work more on a figural landscape I started last summer, which has been sitting on a shelf in my studio since July.

And that’s what I worked on when Mary came to my studio this week. Painting is such a solitary occupation, it’s great to occasionally have someone nearby to bounce things off of.

Study for Demeter 01
Unfinished, stage 01: Study for Light Within/Light Without: Demeter, 16×20 in., oils on canvas*

I’ve also done a couple more underpaintings for 16×20 in. oil studies for another large-ish series of 24×30 in. pieces, this time underpainting in burnt umber rather than cadmium red. I wasn’t sure at first what the unifying series theme would be, but as I worked in Photoshop composing the pieces, it came to me that all the pieces are explorations of interior figures in indoor light modified by outdoor light from windows. The figures are variously live or statuary. The series is tentatively titled Light Within/Light Without.

Rebecca_01
Unfinished, stage 01: Study for Light Within/Light Without: Rebecca, 16×20 in., oils on canvas*

But the first two underpaintings are not drying, and I’m wondering if that’s due to the citrus-based solvent I used for the first time, Turpenoid Natural. Has anyone else had this problem? I’ve learned, since buying it, that citrus-based solvents are actually more toxic than plain old unscented mineral spirits. I use solvents only on underpaintings, so toxicity’s not a major concern, but after this first experience with TurpNat I’m switching to the mineral spirits. In the meantime I’ve tried spraying the first piece — Demeter — with touch-up/damar varnish, which I’ve read somewhere will help it dry. If it works — fingers crossed — I’ll try it on Rebecca. Any advice/suggestions welcome! [UPDATE: I’ve done some online research, and sure enough artists are complaining about excessive drying times when Turpenoid Natural is used as solvent or medium in a painting. An advisory group on art media suggests using it for only brush-cleaning. And the damar varnish has just lain sticky and wet over the wet parts of the Demeter underpainting. Looks like a re-do on these two pieces.]

Have to take it slowly still, but it’s sure good to be painting again.

*”Like” my Facebook page at left, for access to the ongoing progress on these pieces — see my photo albums for each piece as it develops.

The Unlikely Dance series: finished, and soon to be shown!

Unlikely Dance: Roundabout - 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas
Unlikely Dance: Roundabout – 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

Finally, I’ve finished the Unlikely Dance series — and what a journey it’s been: a year and a half of learn-as-you go planning and painting! Except for the first one I’ve started each piece with a growing sense of confidence, only to be waylaid by an obstacle or three in the form of illness, competing time demands, technical issues, composition, lighting, line…

In the case of Unlikely Dance: Roundabout, the first issue was naming; I didn’t have the piece finally composed when the call came for a list of exhibit information. Knowing at least what dance figures I was using, I called it “Unlikely Dance: Velveteen,” for the velveteen waistcoats the figures wear. But, unhappy with the provisional visual context, I decided to change from Cutler Gardens to a shoot in downtown Binghamton’s courthouse square, and settled on the new traffic circle as an unlikely — and visually interesting — dance site. The light was wonderful, and shot specifically to match the angle of the sun in the original photos of the figures. So I renamed it “Unlikely Dance: Roundabout,” for a nice dance-like reference. That caused some confusion about the exhibit name… but all is well now, and the show is scheduled to open on First Friday, November 1.

Skintones palette for Roundabout
Skintones palette for Roundabout – warm lights and cool shadows

On the painting end of things, the primary challenge of this piece was the composition, which proved to be overly heavy on the right side. The angles of the figures #2 and #3, the mass of the neoclassical bank building on the right, and the unstable curved line of the traffic circle’s edge all conspired to rotate and lean in that direction; I actually found myself tilting my head when I looked at it. The darker buildings and the cloud formation on the left were meant to counterbalance that effect, but they seemed to be outweighed.

Fortunately, a darkening of left-hand elements, a lightening of the right-hand elements, a few added or revised stabilizing vertical elements (the bank window, the central figure’s spindle, the end of the cloud formation, a subtle color trail in the sky) worked pretty well without spoiling the dynamics. It’s all a lot easier to say than it was to do, but I’m happy with it now.

So: the exhibit! The culminating show of this grant-funded painting project will be in the gallery space at the Broome County Arts Council, 81 State St., Suite 501, in Binghamton. Along with the complete series of finished paintings, I’ll be showing studies and preparatory materials with each piece. Read more about it here!

Now I have to get all those smaller materials matted and framed — and in some cases, ready to show — and get print-quality photos of all the paintings in the series, to post for sale in my online shops in time for the show.

Here’s the progression of “Roundabout” as it went together:


………………..
The “Unlikely Dance” project was made possible by a grant from the Artists Fund of the Community Foundation for South Central New York, facilitated by the Broome County Arts Council.

Down to the wire with Unlikely Dance

Unlikely Dance: Confluence, 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas
Unlikely Dance: Confluence, 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

My Unlikely Dance grant period is over on November 1; today is October 2, and I have one more painting to do. Yes — it’s deadline time again. In fact, I have a solo show of the completed grant-funded Unlikely Dance series OPENING on November 1 (details on that to come). That means I really have to have this last painting finished by the 24th so it’s dry when I hang the show on the 29th and 30th. Yikes. Work steadily, and hope that everything comes together well — that’s my plan.

It’s the second part of that plan that didn’t work on the piece I just finished (above), and I blame the Pre-Raphaelites. You know the Pre-Raphaelites, that super-sincere, uber-romantic, technically amazing group of 19th century English artists? I’ve loved them since my college days, when my second-generation abstract expressionist instructors were horrified by that forbidden love. I wrote papers on the Pre-Raphs. I collected books on them. I hung prints of their works on my walls. Meanwhile, over the last 15 or 20 years, they’ve become enormously popular in the mainstream. Oh, it’s gorgeous, schlocky stuff, and I still love it. But it’s not where I’m going with my own work. What happened was, after I’d done the underpainting of Unlikely Dance #5 – Confluence – I was unsure of how to proceed with the foliage of the tree, both on the trunk and over the figures. So I pulled an art book from the shelf to consult… a book called “The English Dreamers,” a collection of Pre-Raph and related works.

I’m so easily unconsciously influenced by others’ work I love — it amazes me sometimes. It just happens, somehow — images come off the ends of my brushes, with no conscious thought of the original on my part, that reflect some art I’ve recently seen. (Take for example the Della Francesca-looking face, far right, in Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds, which appeared just after I’d seen “Piero Della Francesca in America” at the Frick.) So Confluence turned itself into a Pre-Raph imitation: pretty, detailed, and without visual impact of any kind. I loved it — until I suddenly hated it.

I despaired. I combed the internet for clues. I discussed on Facebook. But in the end, I went back to Degas, and then, for some reason, to John Singer Sargent. I own books on Degas, but not on Sargent, so I went to the public library and borrowed a couple. I’ve seen and admired more of his work recently, thanks to a Facebook page called I Require Art, but knew little about him except that he was American, turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th), and had painted Portrait of Madame X, that wonderful profile portrait we had to learn in art history. He was a master of “bravado brushwork,” (his idol, Diego Velazquez, was, as well) and that’s what I was after. Degas was never as consistent as Sargent, so I spent a couple of days perusing Sargent… and it worked. As I posted on my professional page on FB, “Confluence 18 – finished at last! John Singer Sargent certainly had a thing or two to teach me, this time around. Clarified the light source, punched up the contrast, simplified many elements, changed a head. I could go on…”

So now I’ll go on. Here’s what got straightened around:

1. In the first place, I’d made a composition with four equal figures, and that’s a no-no. Three, yes. Five, yes. Not four. I realized that in my previous paintings of four figures, I’d singled out one in some way, so it read as three plus one, rather than four. How to do that here?

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, by John Singer Sargent 1882
The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, by John Singer Sargent 1882

After a couple of days with my library books, I turned back to Sargent’s portrait of four young girls — The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit — and noted how he’d not only singled out the sitting figure for that necessary “three-plus-one” compositional effect, but also set them in varying degrees of light , with one girl barely visible in the shadows.

2. I’d gotten far too detailed and democratic with the tree on the left, and it was a distraction. So I painted a dark glaze, made with a brownish “mother grey,*” over the tree trunk, and then over the foremost figure, which overlapped the tree. This solved the problem of visual clutter, of singling out one of the four figures, AND of the next —

3. My light source wasn’t clearly defined. I had light falling on the back of the left-most figure (#1), on the backs of the two right-most figures (#3 and #4), and on the face of the second-from left figure (#2). The face of figure #4 was also in multi-directional light, and I had dappled light falling through the foliage onto the grass.

My current palette, clockwise from left: titanium white, cadmium yellow light, cadmium yellow medium, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, cobalt violet, ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, viridian, sap green, burnt umber, burnt sienna, raw sienna
My current palette, clockwise from left: titanium white, cadmium yellow light, cadmium yellow medium, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, cobalt violet, ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, viridian, sap green, burnt umber, burnt sienna, raw sienna. *Mother grey is made up of all of these colors mixed together. This preserves and promotes color harmony within the painting.

With the dark glaze on the figure #1 and the tree, one of my light sources went away. With a change of head on figure #4 and a diminution of highlights in the figures’ black dresses, the light became more defined and less ambiguous. And with a slight shading of figure #2’s face, that ambiguity gave way. I also gave the piece more contrast, mostly by making the darks darker — divisions between rocks, the underside of the waterway under the bridge, and the barely-visible rocks under the water on the right.

And I think it all worked. I have impact. I have definition. And I have two weeks left to paint Unlikely Dance: Velveteen! I can do it.

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.

Carousel Day, Two Biennials, and another Unlikely Dance finished

Unlikely Dance: Beethoven Oaks
Unlikely Dance: Beethoven Oaks – 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

Got a lot to catch up on, here!

I’ve been back to the Roberson Regional twice, but both times was so bowled over by the art I neglected to take photos. I didn’t win any awards, but I’m honored to have work in such a superb show. That’s award enough! The show runs through October.

July 27 was Johnson City Carousel Day, my village festival — instead of setting up for on-the-spot portraits, which seem not to be very popular anymore (I made a living with them when I was in my early twenties), I worked on a demo painting… between tying things down and retrieving things the wind had blown down.

Working on Cutler Maples at Johnson City Carousel Day. Photo courtesy of Darlene Clark Photography
Working on Cutler Maples at Johnson City Carousel Day. Photo courtesy of Darlene Clark Photography
It was a lovely day despite the wind, and again I won two prizes, one each for booth presentation and for my artwork. The demo painting was a lot of fun — I do enjoy teaching, and there was lots of interest. The kids were wonderful — full of questions and very impressed. Some said, “I want to paint too!” so I had to explain that these were grown-up paints, and not safe for kids to use. I’m so grateful for the help and good company of my friends at the next-door FASST (Fine Arts Society of the Southern Tier) booth, and of course for my sweetie, Leo, who fetched and carried and helped put up and take down the tent.

Spurred on by the submission deadline for a themed FASST exhibit at the Broome County Public Library, I finally finished Unlikely Dance: Beethoven Oaks on July 31… JUST in time. In fact it was still a bit tacky in spots when I dropped it off, despite having a fan on it for 48 hours, applying a hairdryer, and using a ton of Liquin drying medium in the last paint applications. It looks marvelous on the wall of that cavernous room. I had to remove it for a day to photograph it for printing, for a customer’s gift request (after editing the heck out of an on-site photoshoot and ending up with an unprintable image).

AND… today I received word that two of my paintings have been accepted for the Northeastern Biennial, in October! They’re Princess Royal and Puppet Parade. (The acceptance of Puppet Parade in particular is a sweet vindication, for me.)

PrincessRoyal, PuppetParade
Accepted for Northeastern Biennial Twenty Thirteen: Princess Royal and Puppet Parade, each 16 x 20 in., oils on canvas


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.