A fine first class in Exploring Oil Painting

Session 1 - Exploring Oil Painting, 7-20-15
Wish I’d photographed the underpaintings later — what a strong showing.

The conditions were not perfect — a scorching hot and humid day, so the blinds were closed, limiting natural light; the window-unit air-conditioner making that low humming noise that makes chat so difficult — but what a strong group I gathered for this rendition of Exploring Oil Painting at Your Home Public Library014 The underpaintings were wonderful, and everyone was so helpful in helping me clean up at the end. There were lots of questions, including a request towards the end for a full critique. I did my best in all of this, and in return got hugs, thanks, and promises to come back next week. I do love teaching this class. It’s so varied in enrollment, and filled with people who really want to learn. I do my best to oblige. Thank you, YHPL, for this teaching opportunity! And thanks to the students, who continue to challenge me, and grant me such rewards.

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:


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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.

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.