Unlikely Dance: Fresh photos, fresh paint

The Ballyclare Irish Dancers, in the bandstand at Recreation Park
The Ballyclare Irish Dancers, in the bandstand at Recreation Park
Last evening, in the heavy summer heat and humidity that’s settled over the Binghamton area, I photographed a women’s dance group called the Ballyclare Irish Dancers. What fun! It was all I could do to not start jigging myself, though my jigging experience — what there is of it — is in the English Morris tradition rather than Irish. All shapes, sizes, and ages these women were — and all of Irish descent/heritage — and how wonderfully they danced, in their simple dance kits of black knit skirts and tops, black stockings, and Celtic-pattern neckscarves. This is the real stuff, to me — not the costume-y children’s competitions. The joy of dancing was contagious, even in that oppressive air, and I got a lot of material to work with on my next Unlikely Dance piece.

But here’s a dilemma — the current piece on the easel, Beethoven Oaks, is set in Recreation Park (though I photographed the dancers in Gilbertsville, NY), and the neo-classical bandstand is visible in the background. Last night’s shoot was IN the bandstand, and the setting is lovely. So far each piece in the Unlikely Dance series is in a different Southern Tier location — Green Skirt in The Forum, Golden Clouds on the street in Johnson City, Entry Hall in the Phelps Mansion Museum, and Beethoven Oaks in Recreation Park. (See the first three together at the bottom of my Unlikely Dance page.) WHAT shall I do with the Irish dance piece?

Beethoven Oaks, stage 10
Beethoven Oaks, stage 10 (unfinished) – 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas
Speaking of Beethoven Oaks, I’ve been slowed down a bit lately in pulling it together, but I’m very happy with it so far. Hoping to have it finished in time for Binghamton July Fest, July 12-14.

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.

Back to Beethoven Oaks: fun with whites and lights

Unlike Dance: Beethoven Oaks (unfinished) -- 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas
Unlikely Dance: Beethoven Oaks (unfinished) — 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

After a few days off, I’m back into Unlikely Dance: Beethoven Oaks (actually, the least “unlikely” setting in the series so far). Really enjoying playing with the white clothing in the clear spring light — whites are seldom actually white. I’ve used cool colors — cobalt blue, cobalt violet, alizarin crimson, plus titanium white and some cadmium yellow medium to tone down a bit — in the shaded parts of the whites, and sparked it up with a complementary yellow-white mix for the lights. These whites are poppin’! Tree branches are roughed in, to be defined further by eventually painting the sky in between them — meanwhile I’ve begun to establish a bright blue “color trail” amongst the branches to lead the eye back into the center of the composition. I’m trying to paint more in value ranges than in color matches, and so far I like it.

River Willows - 20 x 16 in., oils on canvas
River Willows – 20 x 16 in., oils on canvas

I’ve finished River Willows, but something about it is bothering me. Too weighty, too dark, too something. I may have overworked it.

Once again a “bridesmaid” at the Fine Arts Society Members’ Show, in May I won an Honorable Mention for Dance Study: 2 and 1. It’s a nice recognition nonetheless — and I’m happy for the award winners, several of whom are good friends.

Dance Study: 2 and 1 - 11 x 16.5 in., colored pencil on laid blue pastel paper
Dance Study: 2 and 1 – 11 x 16.5 in., colored pencil on laid blue pastel paper


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.

Unlikely Dance continues, as my process evolves

Beethoven Oaks (finished underpainting)
Beethoven Oaks (finished underpainting) – 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

I’ve got a good start on the next Unlikely Dance piece — the fourth in the series — which I’m provisionally titling Beethoven Oaks. The setting is a Binghamton park variously called “Recreation Park,” “Rec Park,” and “Beethoven Park” (because Beethoven Street runs alongside it); the dancers are sourced from a photoshoot I did in Gilbertsville NY last month. Once again, the dance is in incorrect formation, but I crossed that line again in favor of a lively composition, and I’m quite happy with both the design and the underpainting. It’s been a values-based battle so far, as the lights and darks are complicated in places where they intersect and contrast. The color block-in should be interesting!

Also interesting, to me anyway, is my evolving process of putting these pieces together. For one thing, I’ve changed my palette, in both physical shape and content. I covered the physical part in an earlier post — still figuring out how to best use it, but I really like it.

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

But I’ve also, with the last painting, Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall, added a couple of colors to my limited palette. Influenced by instructional videos from Sharon Sprung, Brian Keeler, and Rose Frantzen, I’ve added cobalt blue and raw sienna (a yellowish brown)… and what a difference they’ve made! Sprung is so right when she says that cobalt blue is not only a beautiful color, but “plays well with others” — so much better in the mix than ultramarine blue. And raw sienna adds so much to depth to fleshtones. I’m not giving up ultramarine (a deep, rich blue which makes a really delicious black, mixed with burnt umber), but I am going to back off on my experiments with yellow ochre; it’s very similar in its pure appearance to raw sienna, but unlike raw sienna it seems to go flat when mixed. In the painting of the piece, I notice I’m becoming more methodical, reducing the intimidation factor: starting with the middle third of the canvas, sitting on my high painting stool, standing as needed to concurrently work the top. Then I move to my low painting stool, to get the area directly below the middle, and finally move to a low chair for the bottom — sometimes even a little paint crate to get right to the very bottom. From each position I frequently stand and back off for the larger view. Rose Frantzen’s intriguing idea of using a large mirror behind me for a quick turn-around doubling of distance from the painting is one I’m intending to try, as well.

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.

Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall finished, Golden Clouds and Green Skirt accepted!

I’ve finished Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall, though I haven’t yet done a “formal” photo of it — glare from the large area of black is giving me some problems. Some last-minute resolutions, such as a cool, thin glaze defining the profile of the central figure, and a more finished rendering of the face — along with the successful re-rendering of figure #1’s face — make me very happy with this painting.

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

And yay! Both of my submissions to the Roberson Regional juried biennial exhibit — Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds and Unlikely Dance: Green Skirt — have been accepted into the show! Now to figure out whether/how to frame them…

Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds; Unlikely Dance: Green Skirt
Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds; Unlikely Dance: Green Skirt – each 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

I’ve also entered — and will enter — a few more biennial competitions; will write more about those as jury results come in.

Here’s the final progression of Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall:


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.

“Entry Hall” progress, and two new landscapes

Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall no. 11
Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall no. 11 (unfinished) – 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

I’ve realized, in looking at my schedule for the summer, that because of the Unlikely Dance series I have very few new small pieces to show. And getting so mentally tangled up in Unlikely Dance is not really good for either the work or me. So I’ve started two small (20 x 16 in.) landscapes, and am working them in around Entry Hall. It’s proven great for the large piece — taking a couple of days’ break from it gave me a new outlook, and I made a lot of progress when I got back into it. And I’ve found a new model reference for face #1 (L-R), which just wasn’t working. I’m just waiting for the overpainting to dry. I think two or three more work sessions should see it finished.

River Willows 03, unfinished, 20 x 16 in., oils on canvas
River Willows no. 03, unfinished, 20 x 16 in., oils on canvas
During drying times I’ve gotten both small landscapes underpainted, and am nearly finished blocking in first colors on the first one, River Willows. It’s referenced from a series of photos I took last spring, along the Susquehanna River around Endicott, NY.

I also have a new taboret and palette! My husband is doing a complete renovation of our kitchen (his wonderful food and cooking blog is Dinner at Leo’s), and he no longer needs either the small pantry drawer unit or the wire kitchen cart so I’ve taken them over, and added a 12 x 18 in. cheap metal picture frame on the top for a palette. The glass in the frame makes the easily-cleaned palette, and I put light grey paper under the glass for a neutral colored mixing surface. The wheeled cart is so much easier than the previous small shelf unit to move from one painting to another. Very pleased!

My new taboret and palette
My new taboret and palette: the diagonal rod across the drawer unit is the leg of my folding easel.


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.

Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall – in progress

Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall (unfinished) - 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas
Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall (unfinished) – 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

I did the underpainting for Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall almost a month ago, while waiting for the block-in of Golden Clouds to dry and working on the smaller, unrelated Puppet Parade. But both of those pieces had deadlines closing in, so they took precedence for a while after this underpainting was finished. In the meantime, I bought a couple of inspiring instructional videos, and both — Alla Prima Portraiture with Rose Frantzen and Painting the Portrait in Oil with Brian Keeler — have affected the way I’m working on this piece. Not that I’m painting the faces in any way like these two fine artists do their portraits; I’m feeling their influences more in the way I’m handling the paint and the values, holding my brushes, and self-critiquing as I go.

Studio assistant Lydia (the kitten) studies my technique
Studio assistant Lydia studies my technique

It’s quite interesting to me how the pieces in this Unlikely Dance series are developing so differently from one another, despite the common threads of size, medium, and theme — I’m learning a lot as I work through this self-imposed assignment.

The dancers in Entry Hall are referenced from my photo shoot of a Scottish country dance group, though of course I’ve changed the visible faces (“borrowing” my niece’s face for the central figure) and placed them in a setting other than the school gym where they dance. To offset the very dark and brown decor of the local museum hallway I’ve set the dancers in, I’m leaning the colors more towards purples and yellows — which do combine to make brown — for some color snap. Pretty happy with it so far!

Here’s the process, up to this point:



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.

Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds – finished!

Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds
Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds – 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

Finished… and being submitted this afternoon to the 2013 Roberson Regional Art Exhibition, along with my other finished Unlikely Dance painting, Green Skirt. No guarantees of a place in this juried show, of course, and it’s impossible for me to be objective about it. As my artist friend Barbara says, we’re always in love with the latest piece. And I do love it, as well as the many friends and fans on Facebook who’ve Liked it. I’m such a sucker for approval.

Lydia
My assistant, Lydia

Getting good photos of these larger pieces has been a real trial — I was afraid I might have to pay a professional to do it (which I’ve done in the past — photographers have to make a living too, but I don’t make a lot of money with which to pay them). Finally I found a place/time that worked — it’s at the top of the stairway to my studio, where at midday or thereabouts there’s even, diffused light coming from the rooms at either side of the landing. Here’s an unedited version where you can see how I’ve set the painting into the center doorway, with door closed:

Golden Clouds, uncropped
Golden Clouds, uncropped

You might notice the small wadded-up piece of paper in front of the painting, which was deposited there by my young studio assistant, Lydia. She’s not the most helpful assistant ever, and can be a distraction at times, but she means well, loves the work, and is very soft and comforting. :)

And now, onward with Unlikely Dance — I’ve got a finished underpainting all ready for the easel. But first, the whole process of Golden Clouds:


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.

A 2013 arts festival, and how it all went down

Puppet Parade - 16x20" in., oils on canvas
Puppet Parade – 16×20″ in., oils on canvas

This is a letter I’ve sent to the festival organization.

Read it as a cautionary tale, as I do — both artists and arts festival organizers may want to take heed.

……………………

To the Arts Festival:

On January 22 of this year I received an email from [your arts festival] director, inviting me to be featured/guest artist. I was told I’d be given a special booth, and my credited work would be used on the posters, ads, etc. Loving [your] festival as I did, I happily accepted.

Only after I’d accepted was I told, during a follow-up phone conversation with the director, that I’d be expected to donate the signature work of art, to be raffled off as a benefit for the festival. Donation of the reproduction rights was not acceptable, she clarified later by email – I was required to donate the original work of art itself.

Some previous featured artists donated existing works, she said, some produced a work especially for the festival. I chose to do the latter, declining to donate one of my series of dance paintings as first suggested. Subsequently I submitted three different digital “sketches” (which entailed several hours of work in themselves), and on February 9 was told the committee liked two of them. I heard no more until a February 20 email informing me that everyone on the committee wanted high school football players in the painting of the [2012] festival parade, but that the director wanted the parade puppets’ faces. So I began painting the option, of the two approved, most clearly showing both the football players and the puppets. A photo I sent on March 4 of the painting in progress was approved (although I wasn’t told that until March 6, and only after I had inquired).

On March 19 I met with the director and another member of the committee, and handed over the finished painting. Both asked for stylistic changes to the artwork – already signed, varnished, and photographed – and I declined, pointing out that if I had donated a piece of my dance art, as first suggested, they wouldn’t have asked for changes — that this was a fine art painting, not an illustration. At that meeting we verbally agreed that, for a minimal flat fee, I’d also do the pre-print set-ups of two versions of the festival poster, the bus poster, and two versions of the ad. I would also be paid for the work that I’d already done as a favor, at a late-night Feb. 4 emergency request, on the festival’s promotional tear-off pad.

The following Sunday, March 24, the director called to inform me of a committee decision that I wouldn’t be featured artist after all — nor would I be assigned the graphic design – because my artwork “wasn’t suitable for their purposes.” However, she added, I could have my painting back. She also said I should bill for the work on the tear-off pad.

It should be clear, in this review, that [your festival] organization has violated standard professional ethics and practices by:

  • informing me of a rather important stipulation (the donation of the original artwork) only after I’d accepted the invitation to be featured artist, and after my acceptance had been announced on the [festival’s] Facebook page.
  • changing a request for a fine art donation into a demand for creative control over a free work-for-hire illustration.
  • committing a breach of verbal contract, in dismissing both my featured artist status and the graphic design work they had agreed on, and
  • failing to communicate in a timely fashion and to answer direct questions from me during the process of the painting, then holding the work to a standard of which I’d never been informed (and still am not clear on).
  • I share some blame as well, in not insisting from the start on a clear work agreement in writing.

    I will not attend [your arts festival] again. Nor will I pursue this matter any further. However, in an effort to save both artists and the organization trouble and confusion in the future, I’d like to suggest the following changes to your featured artist program:

    1. When inviting an artist to be Featured (or Guest) Artist, let them know, in the invitation itself, exactly what will be expected of them. With the invitation, include a clearly written Work Agreement specifying each scheduled step of the process by both the [arts festival] committee / organization and the artist. Any choices the artist must make should be specified as well.
    2. If there is any money involved, specify what and who it is for, how much is budgeted, how it will be determined and paid, to whom and by whom.
    3. If you are requesting the donation of a work of fine art, make that clear and do not treat it as free work-for-hire.
    4. If you are requesting a free work-for-hire illustration rather than a fine art donation, specify how many designs and proofs will be expected during the production process, and when, and what, if any, stylistic and use requirements the work must meet. Keep in mind that you are already familiar with the artist’s style, and that the work will be rendered in that style.
    5. If the artist is also to take on graphic design duties, inform them beforehand of any existing graphic standards.
    6. Be ready and willing to negotiate the work agreement with the artist, and let the artist know that.
    7. Make sure the finalized work agreement has been signed by, and a copy retained by, both the artist and a representative of [your] organization, before any work or exchange of art takes place.

    In addition, I suggest, as a part of the work agreement, a modest but specific stipend, and/or a specific share of the raffle proceeds, for the featured artist. A professional colleague in another state tells me that he helps coordinate an arts festival with a similar featured artist program, and that they consider this sharing only fair to the artist.

    As another colleague points out, the only reputation an artist gains from giving away their art is the reputation for being an artist who gives away their art… thus devaluing their own market. For many of us, art is not simply a hobby or a “fun” pastime. The two-plus weeks I spent on the rejected painting was time I didn’t spend on other pressing commitments.

    Thank you for your time and attention. I have tried to clarify and convey my extreme disappointment in what had been a favorite festival. For my part, I will never again enter into an agreement of this sort without a clearly written work agreement. I hope that as an organization you will do the same.

    I will not be billing for the time I spent on the festival tear-off pad.

    Sincerely,

    Glenda M. Blake / GreenBoat Design

    cc: Broome County Arts Council

    …………………..

    Many thanks and much appreciation to all of the professional colleagues who have advised me on this rather painful issue, and my fond gratitude to all of the friends who have expressed their outrage and come to my defense. — GMB

    NYC – a large dose of inspiration

    Bronze statue of Artemis and a deer - Greek or Roman, Late Hellenistic or early Imperial, 1st cent. BC or 1st cent. AD
    Bronze statue of Artemis and a deer – Greek or Roman, Late Hellenistic or early Imperial, 1st cent. BC or 1st cent. AD – Metropolitan Museum of Art

    Now that I’ve discovered Megabus and Hostel International, I’m going to New York more often. My museum-buddy Judy and I got on an early-morning Shortline on Wednesday this last week, and headed for the Frick to see the Piero della Francesca exhibit. I’ve been determined to see it since hearing about it, and a della Francesca devotee since first seeing a slide of his Resurrection in college art history class. I hadn’t been to the Frick in years, nor to The City much. First we went to the Morgan, at Judy’s suggestion… and Judy dropped her wallet in the taxi, as we discovered after the cabbie had driven away. But as she started phoning around to lock up credit cards, etc., I wandered around the Morgan Library — first, the library itself, and then the exhibit called Degas, Miss La La, and the Cirque Fernando.

    Edgar Degas - Mlle. La La at the Cirque Fernando, 1879, oils on canvas, 46.1×30.5" - National Gallery, London
    Edgar Degas – Mlle. La La at the Cirque Fernando, 1879, oils on canvas, 46.1×30.5″ – National Gallery, London

    Fascinating, and what an inspiration — nearly all of Degas’ working sketches and studies for the painting, as well as the painting itself, were hung together in a small second-floor gallery, along with related works by other artists. Recently I’ve been researching Degas’ working methods, planning to pull together a painting course called Painting Like the Impressionists, and I couldn’t have found a better show if I’d planned for it.

    Piero della Francesca - Virgin and Child Enthroned with Four Angels, c. 1460-70, oil (and tempera?) on poplar panel, transferred to fabric on panel, The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
    Piero della Francesca – Virgin and Child Enthroned with Four Angels, c. 1460-70, oil (and tempera?) on poplar panel, transferred to fabric on panel, The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

    Then it was on to the Frick, and della Francesca. Most of his great works are frescoes (painted into wet plaster walls) in Italy, but he did some work on panel and on canvas, and a few pieces are in the US. It was these latter that the Frick had pulled together. And it was magical. Spell-binding. What can I say? Go see it if you can!

    On our way to a restaurant for an early dinner, Judy’s phone rang — it was her sister in Michigan, who had just received a call from a young man who’d found the wallet on the cab floor! Further phone calls resulted in his promise to drop it off at the hostel for her. He showed up just in time for us to confirm our hostel reservations that night. New York is truly a city of miracles.

    Another of those is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where we spent the entire day on Thursday. I hadn’t been there for several years, hadn’t had that much time there in many years if ever. The Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity exhibit was a stunner, and the huge early Monets were a revelation in bold, bright brushwork.

    Claude Monet - Luncheon on the Grass (left and central panels)
    Claude Monet – Luncheon on the Grass (left and central panels), 1865–66
    Oil on canvas; 164.5×59″, 98 x 86″ – Musée d’Orsay, Paris

    Judy and I lost each other for a couple of hours at the Met, but evening saw us back on the 3-hour bus ride to Binghamton, where my sweetie was waiting at the bus station (having driven us there at ugly-o’clock the previous morning). Have to go back, and soon.

    I rested for a day afterwards, and then painted up a storm yesterday.