Friday, March 29, 2013

Portrait Society of America results announced



 I'm sure you've all seen quite enough of this painting, but guess what?  You're going to see a whole lot more of it!  I was notified that I have been selected as a finalist in the Portrait Society of America's International Portrait Competition!


So far it looks like my buds Mia Bergeron and Terry Strickland are in with a Certificate of Excellence.  Meanwhile Marina Dieul, fellow Canadian is also a finalist.  Represent!  I'm also pumped to see that Gregory Mortenson, Stanka Kordic, Alicia Ponzio, and Lynn Sanguedolce have been recognized.  I'm still waiting to see who else is in.  I briefly entertained the idea of posting everyone's paintings up here, but let's face it: Matt Innis does a much better job at that and fifty percent of our traffic comes from his site anyways.  But let me say that I will be very, very humble showing my work with the other finalists, and I might bring a curtain or something to drape over my piece.  Or a large indoor palm tree that I can put in front of it.

While you're still here, I never did explain what I was trying to do conceptually with this painting.

When I first got going in my art career I asked my cousin to let me paint her two girls as a prototypical portraiture piece.  I wanted to take portraiture commissions and I needed to have an example to show potential customers.  I completed the painting and started putting it out in the art world.  What I wasn't prepared for was the feedback.  It varied, from strangers crying in my booth at the Toronto Art Expo, to people gushing over how well I captured the girls' innocence (that's between you and your therapist, I guess), and one person in particular completely gutting the painting in front of an auditorium full of people and declaring the painting was emotionally cold, I didn't have enough life experience yet to know how to paint, and my choice of artificial light was ill-judged (I used natural light).  It was really bewildering, and the feedback was so varied I couldn't take anything useful from it.


As soon as I finished the painting, I wanted to do another of the two girls.  Unfortunately, they lived in BC and I lived in Ontario.  And besides, I was starting to become known locally as a painter of cute little girls and it totally wigged me out.  The thing is, I don't like painting kids because I'm drawn to cuteness or "innocence."  I like painting kids because when I look at them I see a glimmer of the adult in them, and I think that's pretty cool.  Kids are capable of sophisticated thoughts and feelings.  They aren't simply sweet.  Kids can be nasty, and cruel, and they can be absolutely allergic to hypocrisy and have an inborn moral rectitude that rivals that of grown ups--all at the same time.  Like adults, they can have a multitude of mutually exclusive qualities.  They can be clever, and whether or not they're more clever than average, they are learning about the world at a frantic pace and it's fascinating to watch.  Childhood may be one extended loss of innocence, but it isn't really any loss at all to shed that over-touted quality.

Now living in BC, I felt like I was ready, maybe, to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to reclaim this theme, if I could call it that, and put it out of the reach of interpretation.  I had spent many years thinking always in the back of my mind how I could paint kids differently so that people didn't go "Awwwww," when they saw the painting.  I don't want people to be reminded of their own kids or grandkids when they look at my paintings.  I want people to be reminded of themselves back when they were germinal beings in the process of being shaped and polished by the world.

Finally something clicked with me.  Narrative is great and all, but mood is more important.  Narrative entertains, but mood engages.  Mood is also irrefutable.  You can read into a narrative with your own emotional interpretation, but mood tells the viewer how to feel.  The mood of music--melancholy, epic, happy, romantic--is unmistakable, although the lyrics can be interpreted differently depending on who's listening.

"Thistles and Thorns" is a mood painting.  I have had feedback from about fifty people now and not a single one has said anything about cuteness or innocence.  The feedback I have been getting through facebook and the blog has meant the world to me.  Thank you everyone.

The title is now "Glad the Birds Are Gone Away," taken from a line of a Robert Frost poem that I felt had the exact mood of the painting.  It's also a tribute to the birds that never made it into the painting.  Although I finally decided they wouldn't fit, I originally planned to have some birds in the grasses.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Master Painter of the World," you say?

I received an uplifting package in the mail the other day: a box full of the April/May issue of International Artist, in which I have a page.  It couldn't have come at a better time, either.  My soul is being slowly, steadily crushed by my current painting project.  Not only is it enormous, and full of parallel lines and dastardly not-quite symmetry, but it's about as easy to photograph as Bigfoot so I have been unable to exorcize this demon by posting about it here on the blog.


I would have settled for "Pretty Good Painter you Probably Haven't Heard of," but "Master Painter of the World" is perfectly acceptable too.  I feel like I need a heavy belt with a gold medallion the size of a plate set into it.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Thistles and Thorns II

I finished "Thistles and Thorns" this week and guess what: it has neither thistles nor thorns in it, so I will have to come up with some other title for it.  I'm thinking, "Under the Mountain" or something like that, but maybe that's just because I've been perusing Yuqi Wang lately and I'm in love with his mysterious, lost-in-translation titles, like "The Autumn of Mountain," "The Girl in Dress of Miao," and "A Girl With Black Eyes."

Last time I got all crazy on y'all about Orange Ocher by Natural Pigments.  I just want to say that I don't think it really matters what colours you use, period.  I watched Yuqi Wang do a sublime portrait with some terrible, terrible tubed teals and violets and what have yous.  And he did it with the cheapest freaking brushes I have ever seen.  But I like Orange Ocher, and if you all want to harass Natural Pigments to re-issue it, that benefits me, so have at it.

After slapping in that moody, dark background and the black cloak, I was left feeling like her face was too light.  I have a tendency to bump the skin tones too high in key.  So I experimented with darkening the face in the head study.  That's another reason why studies are great.  They can be the guinea pigs for your inhumane painting experiments.


Much better.  By the way, now is a good time for me to mention that I am using Rosemary mongoose brushes for the first time.  Holy schiznet.  They do all the painting for me while I do other things, like sort my recycling and check for puppy videos on youtube.  I know a poor workman blames his tools, but a dumb maxim says stupid shit.

Hair!


All just Orange Ocher, Bone Black, Lead White and a teensy bit of French Burnt Sienna.

Here is some more work on the hand.  I haven't done anything interesting, but just so you're not all surprised when you see the finished painting and there's a hand in there:


Now with my head study as my sherpa, I reworked the face in the painting proper.



Fun times!  Feeling good!  Uh-oh, there's an itty-bitty smudge of something on my magnificent head study!  No prob, Bob, I'll just wipe it off with a bit of OMS...


 FUUUUUUUUUUUUUU...dge.  Yeah, completely destroyed my head study.  I dealt with it like a mature adult and curled up on the floor for an hour, where Dave found me and had the good sense to leave me alone.  After finishing the face that day I turned the painting to the wall and pinned a sign that said "NO LOOKING" to it.  When I felt my resolve slipping, I moved it to the guest room.  For a week I didn't look at it.

When I got back to it, I did another pass at the hand:


Which brought me to this point in my painting:


In every painting I have a moment where I have to face my greatest fears.  In this painting, my bed-wetting experience was resolving the transition between foreground and backgroung, ie, painting the lake edge grasses.  I hedged my bets by oiling in with some Oleogel in case I needed to wipe everything off after my first attempt (I did).  Then, I began noodling away.



I was relieved when it worked.  I was also pleased with how the colour of the grasses echoed the colour of her hair.

Let's not forget the fur of her cloak.  The fur is actually black, but I preferred to make it brown, using the collar of another jacket as a guide.  Again, echoing some of the colour in the grasses.


And now let's finish this beast off with some more grass, a bow on the hat, and a lining on the cloak:


SHA-BLAMMO!  I'm happy with it.  I feel like I've made strides with my figurative work, and that this is a strong start in a new theme.  But my happy fuzzy feelings were a little dampened when Dave, in his backhanded compliment way, said that it's my best painting and he wasn't really into my other figurative work.  It kind of reminded me of when I got my hair done and instead of saying that it looked nice, he said it looked "SO much better than BEFORE."  And what does it mean when you ask to borrow your husband's black mirror and he lends you not his second best, but his third best mirror?  And are all injustices equalized when you break said black mirror by stepping on it?  And while we're asking the important questions, who put Brian McKnight on my iPod, because that was really embarrassing when it started playing while I had company over today?