Monday, January 28, 2008

No Cameras Were Harmed In the Making of This Piece

Rather than employing it as a supplement to active, conscious seeing, they used the medium as a substitute, paying less attention to the world than they had done previously, taking it on faith that photography automatically assured them possession of it.
Alain de Botton

I had spent three days last winter, making sure the same morning light passed through our deck door (the setup was on the floor), in order to paint them. This watercolor went to a group show with very strict size limits. Zillions of other pieces, not bigger than 90" in perimeter shared space with these pomegranates. However, at the show many assumed I had used a reference photo. Maybe I need to start placing a comment with the title and dimensions, "no cameras were harmed in the making of this piece."

There is a time and a place for reference pictures in everyone's oeuvre. In my case, I don't use them when the subject is accessible enough, stable enough, to withstand a couple of days of scrutiny. Too much is missed. Color in all its glory, and the "air around it," to use someone else's phrase.

On the other hand, give some of us a palette and a bit of time and the lure of all that detail and sensory overload will lead to seductive tangents. The inclusion of detail where none should have existed may become a detriment for the overall impression the painting makes. The choice is ours.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Two Looks At Inspiration

Inspiration Point is a rather beautiful (and conveniently located) part of Tilden Park. A friend from figure drawing class and I went at 9:00 AM on a blustery morning, and climbed up a steep little hill next to the main and paved path. I was going to take my oils, but it was just too cold to sit there for hours. I took watercolors instead, and a Lanaquarelle pad that is 16 x 20." As it turns out, the sun played hide and seek for a while and this helped me fight the wind chill (I was wearing neophrene gloves and many layers). I don't know why I don't remember that folding chairs don't work on hills (Karen my friend was sitting comfortably on the ground). An easel is what I should have taken, as the wind kept destabilizing my pad.
The sunnier view is of Mount Diablo, and the darker one is of Tilden looking south. The straight line near the top is the actual Inspiration Point parking lot. It looks like we did a lot of walking, but we did not!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Painting Altars

I intended this painting as an homage to my uncle, who passed away recently. A middle school teacher, my dad's brother was a beloved figure of my childhood. I was the eldest grandchild, and benefitted early from our conversations. He had the ability to listen to children as if their opinion mattered, and made his contributions in ways that could be understandable to a child. All of his life he wanted to play the guitar, and took up intermittent studies whenever time allowed. I never saw him get upset at anyone, in fact, he has a very positive disposition that made others seek his company. That's how I remember him.

This is one of the windowsills in my studio, and the seven objects are placed on top of the only bookcase. The unopened bottle of rose we bought at Domaine Chandon, in Napa. I took the grapefruits and pomegranate from our fruit basket, and the candle was given to me by a colleague when I worked at Sacramento State University. The black curtains were sewn by my mom because sometimes the blue window light interferes with paintings I have started indoors. I finished it two weeks ago.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Winter Still Lives

Last year I started a tradition of painting a few still lives indoors, between December and March. Our winter is very rainy, and here on the hills between El Sobrante and El Cerrito, it gets foggy too. All of which makes working outdoors unpredictable. So I turn the focus inward and work from my imagination, from dreams, or from something I can place indoors.

I seldom have the patience to find a decent composition, a skill I need to work on. But something I've realized is that it takes me an average of two hours to paint each object in a still life. This oil is 24 x 36," a manageable size. Still lives beyond these dimentions pose other challenges and as a result take more time.

Instead of cotton duck, the support is engineered birch. I am enjoying painting on this surface, but had to switch to sable brushes so that I would not end scraping 30% of the paint surface with each stroke of the hog bristles.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Background

Sometimes I am more interested in what's happening behind the scenes than in the foreground. I think it has to do with the need to feel some kind of release after my attention has been focused on rendering accurate depictions of a model or object. I did a series of ink drawings in our figure drawing lab (this is the best one) showing what I can see beyond the model, and they were fun.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Safer Oil Painting

Turpentine is banned from most collective painting spaces and classes, even with good ventilation. Turns out that they cause headaches, exacerbate respiratory issues in most people, and if rubbed onto your skin while cleaning brushes, you can end up with contact dermatitis. We don't even know what long-term exposure to it may cause.
Oil paints, while fume-free, should be treated as hazardous chemicals. No one wants to absorb cadmium, titanium or lead through their skin while cleaning brushes, or breathe its dust (if making your own pigments).

All of this has led me to adopt safer ways to paint with oil. I have an exhaust fan in my studio, but I seldom use anymore because I clean my brushes with linseed oil (surprisingly, it takes about the same time it takes with turps). An added advantage has been the cutdown on ferrule corrosion. I save the used linseed oil in cans and dispose of it as hazardous waste. I wear latex gloves throughout the entire process, until I wash the oil off the brushes with soap.

If I want diluted pigment, I use stand oil. In fact, I've been experimenting with a very oily and color saturated first layer. Subsequent layers are less fat and influenced by the fast-drying stand oil on that underpainting. I can usually paint over this first layer the following day. Here is a painting I did over two days in this manner. As with most of my models, this was all the time I had, about six hours.
David Rourke has excellent advice and many more ideas on safer oil painting techniques.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

More Figures

These are more figure studies from last year. A group of us, six to be exact, is meeting at each other's studios while the Richmond Art Center is renovated. Our lab will start again February 6. These are watercolors, but in a much smaller format, about 16 x 20". I've reduced my palette to three colors: Burnt sienna, cerulean blue and yellow ochre. I've been making a line drawing first with walnut ink and a bamboo pen. These are 20 minute scketches.

At Last

HP "fixed" my laptop, or so they say. The truth is, I am tired of sending it out for repair (yes, I fell for their extended warranties). I keep getting it back in the same state, minus my software, which I have to re-install. The screen went black sometime in November, almost two years after I bought it. So, for more than three months I've had to do without it while HP pretends to restore its original brightness. I can see the screen now, but the light is still dim, and the brightness controls have been disabled.
Oh well, enough complaining. I just felt I had to explain why had I not posted in such a long time. I can post from anywhere really, but my laptop is the one with Photoshop. Here's a couple of life drawings I did around that same time (November 07). I have been rotating between watercolor, ink, acrylic and charcoal, and I am now using a relatively small format, although it does take me the same time to complete a drawing.