Saturday, March 28, 2015

Poppet Goes to Atlanta

I've been doing a lot of this lately:

...because last week I received some fantastic news: my recent painting, "Poppet," will be traveling to Atlanta this year as a finalist in the Portrait Society of America competition!

"Poppet," 20x30", oil on panel, 2015

Incidentally, "Poppet" features the same model that appeared in my last PSoA finalist painting.  Maddie is my blue ribbon model.  It's funny to compare how different the colour fields in these two paintings are.  Maddie's hair has darkened a bit in the past two years, but I went ahead an exaggerated the reddish notes in there too.

"Glad the Birds Are Gone Away," 18x32", oil on panel, 2013

Today I pick up the frame for the painting and tomorrow I will build a crate.  The journey to Atlanta is long and FedEx is dysfunctional, so I will need a head start of several weeks to ensure my painting arrives in time.

Like I usually do, I took a gazillion photos while I was working.  Below is the work in progress.

As usual, I started out with a drawing to work out my composition.  This time I used graphite and white chalk.  The graphite was a real struggle on the grey paper, and in this shot the darkest darks are a bit reflective.  Maddie is wearing a fantastic, military inspired silk blouse from Victorian times and the empty-eyed doll is straight from your worst nightmares.  I can't put the original reference photos online (I don't have permission from Maddie's parents) but in them Maddie is far more upright.  I stooped her over, head forward and arms moved in.  The difference is subtle, but the result is a pose that has more tension.  I was thinking about Lucas Cranach the Elder's beautiful princess portraits when I was doing this.  You know how he always forces a lovely slouch into his sitters?

"Portrait of a Young Girl," Lucas Cranach the Elder
The next step was a vellum colour study.

I knew I wanted a dark, warm painting.  I hanker after simplicity and at this early stage I really wanted to get away with a runny umber wash background.

Next, a head study.  This took a couple of passes and has a rougher finish than my normal work.

After all that prep work, it's time to finally start having fun.  Confident in my colours, I dived right in.  After toning the panel with umber and transferring my drawing, I started cherry picking all the fun parts.

Some people have asked me if this is window shading (also known as "tiling," it's an approach whereby the entire painting is brought to a finish piece by piece).  I'm definitely not a window shade painter.  I believe in working all elements of a painting to a finish together, leaving room for serious revision if necessary.  I would have massed in the background and the coat first, but I wanted to have a transparent effect in those areas.  Everything that is painted here is still a pass or two away from being finished.  I like to build up accuracy, and texture, stage by stage.

The hair, however, was taken to a near finish.  I couldn't resist playing with transparency here too, and multiple passes would have killed the effect.  In fact, this whole painting was a flirtation with transparency, umber, and, as you will see later on, Velazquez Medium.

I finally felt ready to lay in the background.  Backgrounds are hard for me.  They seem too simple, so I begin to over think them.  And yet, if I intentionally under think them, they end up being rotten.  I laid one down, hated it, and wiped it.  Part of the problem was that my umbers (Cyprus Umber Dark, French Umber, Cyprus Umber Warm) were drying so rapidly that by the time I had finished laying in the background, the paint I had laid down first was already sinking in.  It was impossible to work the background as a whole.

A couple days later I went back and LOADED my paint up with linseed oil.  This time the paint stayed glossy and true to value and I had a large window of time in which to work it, go make myself some coffee, come back, hem and haw, and rework it some more.  The trick was to introduce some green into the background, which, incidentally, was the exact solution I used in Huntsman and Herdsman.  And it was only at this point that I realized I had lapsed into the same colour field as that other painting.  So much for a bold new direction.

With the background dry and safe from the heel of my hand, I went into the face for a second pass.  I start off by laying in broad sweeps of colour, and then refining.

The eyes above aren't great, but I try to leave them for the very final pass.  By then things have gelled in my head and they come easily.  I figure it's twice as much work to nail the eyes in the second pass as it is in the third pass, so I just do what comes naturally.

Remember how I said I got all flirty with Velazquez Medium?  I haven't used it much in the past.  Usually I put a big dollop of Impasto Medium on my palette and I use that to beef up my lights when I want an impasto.  However, since I've become an unofficial Nat Pig spokesperson and field emails every week asking me about their various products, I felt inspired to give Velazquez Medium another whirl after a blog reader had emailed me with questions that I couldn't answer.  Velazquez Medium and Impasto Medium are very similar.  Both act like collagen injections in your paint, but, Velazquez has a stringy, goopy consistency to it.  I wasn't expecting to find a huge difference in the handling, by the time it had been mixed into my paint, but there was a distinct personality to it after all.  It drags out really beautifully and tacks up on itself nicely.  Plus, since it's stringy, you can make the most incredible filament-like highlights.  You'll see what I mean in my buttons down below.  At the moment I have a preference for Velazquez medium, but Impasto Medium is still a totally awesome product.  In fact, I can see how some people might get frustrated by using Velazquez medium for the wrong application.  I was using it to pick out the highlights in a model's eyes the other day and the paint just wanted to act like a piece of string.  All my highlights were noodle-like instead of perfect pin-pricks, so I can see myself keeping Impasto Medium handy.

Below is the result of a glorious play day with Velazquez medium.  Know this about me: I have been struggling for YEARS to paint with body.  It was so thrilling to paint this.

The doll presented an opportunity for more fun with Velazquez medium:

And finally, that silk blouse.  There was no way around putting butt in chair and working at it bit by bit, super slowly, with a good audiobook in the background.

I warned you about the buttons.  This was the very last thing I did on this painting and it was that last little detail that made it all come together.  The little highlights on the buttons are brought to you by Velazquez Medium.  If you enlarge the image you can see the stringiness of the paint and how it adds a glittery effect to the highlights.  Yum.

A couple of close ups:

Why is the painting called "Poppet"?  There's no complicated back story or poetic inspiration this time.  Maddie is growing up quickly and I wanted to get in at least one more painting of her as a child.  Soon she will start looking teenager-ish, egads.  "Poppet" is a term of endearment for a small child, and at one point meant a small doll or effigy resembling human form.  From it we get the word "puppet."  The well-loved doll in this painting is ratty, worn out, and on it's last legs.  It will soon be time to put it aside.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


A new alla prima Icarus painting is up for auction:

This one is a society finch.  The dimensions are 5x7" for easy framing, and as ever, it is painted on dibond.  The auction can be viewed here.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Formula for Success

Well, I am beginning to find a fairly accurate formula for which of my works sell more than others after all these years.

However, don't be fooled.  I enjoy painting either of these themes and may eventually combine the two into paintings of sexy mountain men with painted faces holding a Victorian shotgun.  But for the time, I am leaning towards simply expanding my series of woman with painted faces.  The model for this piece is Kate's sister Jill, who, as a plastic surgeon doing her residency, has plenty of down-time to model.  I tried to document more of the beginning stages of painting, which I tend to forget to do, hence why Kate's step by step typically kick mine in the proverbial groin.  The painting needs perhaps one more day of work from the last documented image. 


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oh Really? Creepy Dolls Don't Sell?

I heard from one of my galleries that "Poison" has sold.

Everyone--artists, galleries, and laypeople alike--have ideas about what's "sellable" and what's not.  There are certain things that we take for granted are going to be a hard sale (for example creepy dolls), and things that we take for granted are going to be an easy sale (pretty young women looking all pretty and young).  Even I had thought that the above painting, in spite of its bantam weight price tag, would be a struggle to sell.  It just goes to show that you can't know what will sell and what won't, so it's important to just paint what you want to paint.  At the very least, even if the painting doesn't sell, you will satisfied with being true to your artistic vision.

I'm a sucker for making unsellable paintings.  I mean, I made this unsellable painting too.  Creepy doll missing an arm, again with the bird wings, ratty quilt, obscure symbolism.

Oh but, wait, it sold too.  Perhaps it's time to launch a series dedicated to dismembered dolls with bird wings?  The painting above is called "Icarus Ascending."  It is 27.5x17" and was painted on one of my home prepared dibond panels.  The influences that inspired it come from all directions and can be read about in the PDF below if you're interested.

The only really new thing about my approach with this painting is that I tried out the use of a grid to get the set up drawn out.  I assembled some very large stretcher bars, carefully marked off ticks along each side, and strung the stretcher bars with thread to make a grid.  I hung this up in front of the still life set up and drew a grid on my drawing paper too.  It went very quickly--about five times a fast.  And I can say that with authority because I actually had to draw this exact set up twice--once in my old home studio, and then again when I packed up and moved into my temporary studio while our new studio was being built.  It was a pain to have to disassemble and restart a still life, but it gave me the motivation to come up with a better way of drawing out a large set up.  Small ones are easy, but I find large ones just drag out.  Of course, the grid is just there to help.  It's not the boss of me.  After plotting out the set up I had to take the grid down and give the whole drawing a critical look compared to the set up.  Following a grid mindlessly can lead to stupid mistakes.

Below are some in progress shots.  My temporary studio was my parents' basement, hence the concrete walls and dim lighting.  It was kind of hard to get any work done while I was there because it was so easy to just wander upstairs and sit down in front of the wood stove and have my parents pour hot chocolate into me.