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.

Painting large, then and now: a bit of history

Stage 7 – color block-in, of Unlikely Dance: Dark Angel. To see my progress all in one space, “Like” my GreenBoat Gallery page on Facebook (see right-hand column), and click Photos / Albums to find my “Unlikely Dance: ‘Dark Angel'” album.

I know I painted this large when I was college, too many years ago. I still have a couple of those paintings, as evidence that I did.

But it sure seems like a new experience now. After college — and a couple of feints shortly thereafter — I didn’t paint for something like thirty-five years. I was too “busy” with full-time-plus jobs in graphic design and communications, and all the unexpected dips and turns of an interesting life. I didn’t even draw, for several years, until a life crisis drove me into non-credit classes and I got my art jones back. That led me into some heavy-duty drawing as well as teaching in evening classes, and from there, feeling socially and artistically isolated after a move to New Hampshire, I moved into tight, surrealistic colored pencil work. It wasn’t until I put together a composition — for another colored pencil piece, I supposed — from a dream image, that I realized I needed to paint again. The dream image was of a woman holding a paintbrush. As I transferred the composed image to good rag paper, I suddenly asked myself, why would I render this image in pencil? So in 2009 I found a painting class right across town at the wonderful Currier Museum of Art in Manchester. And I lucked out with instructor June Latti, a fine impressionist painter and mentor. She not only taught me a lot of technique, she knew just when to push at me, when to encourage me, and when to leave me alone. I still miss her guidance and friendship, but am so grateful for the time I had as her student.

Since then I’d been painting no larger than 18″x24″ (which was as large as I ever got with my drawings as well) until this grant opportunity came along.

"Dark Angel" in progress in my studio
“Dark Angel” in progress in my studio
And here I am, struggling to cover, to render, and to consider all at once what seems to me a huge canvas (though I know I once painted even larger). I’ve had to reconstruct my easel, down-sized two years ago to accommodate the low ceilings of my home studio, and for the most part give up my painting stool to stand, so I can frequently move back for a full view of the painting (June would not have approved of the stool anyway).
cake-carrier palette
My cake-carrier palette; waxed with a cheap candle before I deposit paint, it cleans easily, and meanwhile keeps the paint soft and workable for days. For a buck from the dollar store, or four bucks (for a slightly larger surface) from the remainders store, it works far better than the much pricier flat palette keeper I bought at the art supply store.
I may have to go back to a larger palette size, though I’m not sure that regularly clearing my cake-carrier palette is altogether a bad thing. So, pushing my boundaries? You bet I am! Sometimes it’s tough getting started, but it’s surely become another fascinating journey.

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.

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.