Portrait with Chairs, Part 1

Here's a portrait that I'm currently working on...

Oil on panel, 24" x 20"

Oil on panel, 24" x 20"

I've been using M. Graham's Walnut Alkyd Medium through out this painting and really enjoy it. It feels like straight linseed oil under the brush. 

During use  Graham's W.A.M. is a very slick and flowing medium. It sets up almost as fast Natural Pigment's Balsam Essential Oil medium. This due to a lack of a balsam component in the medium. It dries with a fare amount of gloss but not quite as much as a Balsam based medium. I'd call the finish "Semi-Gloss". When I paint with this particular alkyd medium I've been adding about 1 part spike oil to 6 parts Graham's. My thinking is this small amount of solvent will help to facilitate fusion with previous layers as Graham's W.A.M contains no solvent on it's own.

I plan to explore a few of the alkyd mediums on the market. On the next piece i work on I'm going to give Galkyd for Gamblin a try. 

 

Compass and Divider Method of Measurment

Here's a small painting of my friends backyard I'm working on when I can get over to their house .

I decided to use this painting to demonstrate what tools I'm using to measure a scene as I set the drawing for a painting. For portraiture I use what's called a "proportional divider" to check my proportions and to double check as I work. A proportional divider lets you do a variation on the "sight size" method. The difference with a proportional divider is that your drawing doesn't need to be one-to-one as with sight size. I also sometimes use a standard Staedtler drafting compass because I can use the graphite tip to mark but then things must be one-to-one. A lot of artists use their paint brushes held out at arms length to check proportions. The problem I encountered in the past with all these methods is that they require you to keep your arm at a set distance from your body while you measure and then exactly repeat that distance every time you measure. The standard way around this is to keep your arm locked straight out. Even locking your arm out there is a little too much wiggle room for me. I now use a homemade tool or ruler to help. Recently I came across a video of Antonio Lopez Garcia painting outside on James Gurney's blog using a similar solution to this problem so I thought I would share how I use this method.

In the video Garcia is using what I think is a modified ruler to keep a compass at a set distance from his eye. He places one end of the ruler on his cheek and the compass on a block of wood glued to the ruler. This eliminates the one remaining variable you have when holding a measuring device at arms length... head and neck movement. When I made measurements just holding my arm out I found that I would sometimes catch myself leaning in with my neck towards my proportional divider and thus change the measurement by changing my angle of view in relation to the divider. Make this error enough times and your careful measurements don't really matter anymore. The "ruler" method gets around this problem incredibly well by locking the distance between your eye and the divider or compass. It's so accurate that if your support (canvas) is big enough you would start to get distortions as you moved towards the outer edges of the support (to get around the distortion to would have to construct a larger, slightly more complicated device and then always measure when looking from a set point in space). To visualize this distortion imagine a photo taken with a wide angle camera lens. I noticed a small amount of this distortion on the red wall in my painting although I was far enough away and the panel is small enough that you don't really perceive it in the image. In the past I was always surprised to see this distortion effect in some of Antonio Lopez Garcia's cityscape work. Normally you only see this effect in paintings when the work is based on a photo. Once I started using this method myself I now understand where the effect comes from in his paintings.  Below are some images of how I use this method and the current painting I started using it. I'm using a ruler to show how you can do this with tools most people have:

Place the ruler against your cheek. The distance the compass is from your eye should be roughly the same distance you naturally prefer to stand from your support while working. For each painting or drawing you must maintain the same distance from your eye you began with. I'm using the hole in the ruler to place my compass in the same place each measurement.

Place the ruler against your cheek. The distance the compass is from your eye should be roughly the same distance you naturally prefer to stand from your support while working. For each painting or drawing you must maintain the same distance from your eye you began with. I'm using the hole in the ruler to place my compass in the same place each measurement.

Match the width of your compass or proportional divider to the width of the object you want to draw. Place the compass on your drawing or painting and mark your measurement. Here I'm using a painting as an example of how I take a measurement.

Match the width of your compass or proportional divider to the width of the object you want to draw. Place the compass on your drawing or painting and mark your measurement. Here I'm using a painting as an example of how I take a measurement.

There's a lot unfinished but I had a much easier time with all those roof angles than I might have had. For every painting or drawing I find it best to pick an "anchor" point and base all other measurements off that one point. In this painting the top right corner of the red wall was my anchor point from which I checked all other measurements against.

There's a lot unfinished but I had a much easier time with all those roof angles than I might have had. For every painting or drawing I find it best to pick an "anchor" point and base all other measurements off that one point. In this painting the top right corner of the red wall was my anchor point from which I checked all other measurements against.

This painting is on an old panel that I had laying around the studio. I'm not the biggest fan of painting on canvas anymore. I've grown to prefer primed panel. This started off as an experiment so I thought I would use one of my old canvas panels. Now that I'm in the middle of the work I really like it and wish I had used one of my non-canvas panels. I'll post updates as I work on it.

Update- It doesn't look like I'll be able to finish this one as my friends will be moving from this house...

Radiolab "Colors" Episode

I'm a big fan of listening to talk radio while I work in my studio and one of my favorites is a show called Radiolab. Radiolab is a great show that focuses on exploring the world around us. They have a very unique way of putting a show together. Lots of amazing sound design. I can really do this show justice describing it. I'm posting this because one of their recent shows was something every painter should listen to. They covered the topic of Color. You can go to their website or iTunes and find their entire catalog. IT IS FASCINATING!!! Take a listen:

It you want to have more fun after listening to this try this: Farnsworth Color Test. This directly relates to one of the segments in the show. I scored a 4 the first time. I got annoyed with that and took it again, taking more time, and got a 0!

"M in Profile", Finished!

I't been forever since I posted an update on this painting. I had to work a bit (non-painting work) at the end of the year THEN my girlfriend and I moved to the West Coast! We drove and that took a while and we have been staying with friends while we apartment hunted. I've been doing a lot of Plein Air work in the meantime. I thought I should take a photo and post it. Here's the painting:

Oil on Panel, 16" Diameter

Oil on Panel, 16" Diameter

"M in Profile", Part 2

I've been a little negligent posting updates for this paintings progress. To make up I'm going to put up all the stages I've yet to post in this one update. It's the second pass on the Red Umber underpainting then the transition to color. I also made some composition adjustments and an additional hair piece. I plan to also add some sort of collar element:

1st pass. Lead White & Burnt Umber Warm.

1st pass. Lead White & Burnt Umber Warm.

2nd pass. Lead White & Burnt Umber Warm.

2nd pass. Lead White & Burnt Umber Warm.

3rd pass. Full color.

3rd pass. Full color.

4th pass. Full color.

4th pass. Full color.

As you can see in the last two photos I prefer to leave the hair at a rudimentary stage until I'm farther along with the skin that way I can work back into the skin with transparent hair edged. The skin is about 90% done and I'm sure I'll see more things to tweek as I bring other areas into further completion. Some of the subtle overall color differences have more to do with the photos than differences in the stages. I don't think I'll do an underpainting like this again. I prefer an ebauche style wash-in. However, I'm very happy with my mediums. For this painting I'm using:

Plain old Lineseed Oil!

For oiling out and to add transparency to colors I'm using Oleogel from Natural Pigments.

"M in Profile", Part 1

Recently we've had some remodeling happening in the apt and it's prevented me from working on a larger paintings. In order to work while the construction goes on I've started a smaller head-and-sholders profile. I'll be doing this one under natural light by the window instead of using my lights. Here is the drawing I did in preparation:

17" x 14", Graphite on Strathmore 400 paper

17" x 14", Graphite on Strathmore 400 paper

I took this drawing and blew it up at Kinkos to the size I thought would work for the painting (If you do this run a test piece of paper through the scanning machine to make sure it doesn't leave marks). It's about 3" from her chin to her hairline with over all dimensions around 10" x 10". The painting I wanted to be  just under life size. The blow up seemed to work when taken to around 5" from chin to hairline. The painting should end up about 15" x 15" at that proportion.

Study of Feet

Here is a little compilation drawing study I recently did. I was able to do a little work on the study over two days when Melissa was free. About 3 feet a day. Rim shot! This was a fun way for me to addressed value problems and form problems on the same drawing. It also marked my return to my preferred drawing medium- Graphite. I find I fight charcoal where as graphite just feels like an extension.

24" x 18", Graphite on Strathmore 400 paper

24" x 18", Graphite on Strathmore 400 paper

Griffith Observatory Landscape

I'm back in New York and have been for the last two weeks. I had to go back to work the day after I returned so I could feed myself and pay my rent. That has occupied my time recently. I was able to get some painting in today and I'll post that when I'm done. I'll also be posting the last entry in my series of the painting I was doing in Adrian's class in the next few days. For that one I just need to take a high quality photo. Anyways, here is something I did in my free time towards the end of my stay in Los Angeles:

14" x 11", Oil on Panel.

14" x 11", Oil on Panel.

I painted this landscape for the couple that was renting us a room. They were super accommodating of my painting and I thought they might like this. It's of the Observatory at Griffith Park back in Los Angeles. I hadn't been doing many landscapes in NYC... It's pretty hard to find outdoor painting spots in New York that aren't Central Park or Prospect Park. Both parks are great but they are full of people and I spend more time talking than painting. It's easier to find less crowded places in Los Angeles and you can range out farther using a car. One of the few pluses for a car in LA! As far as this painting goes this one came out pretty good considering I've been neglecting my landscape painting. The only problem was having to take the photo with my phone since the real camera and computer had to gone back to NYC with my girlfriend. I have another landscape I'll be posting soon.

Adrian Gottlieb's Class Day 8

So, the Verdaccio stage is coming along pretty good. Over all, I'm fairly happy with it. I just continued to work on balancing out the values and have started to address bringing up the highest values according to my guess of where the painting will sit once the glaze has been applied. I'll need to work on the hands and the edges over all in the next 2 classes. I also added some darker background values to match her up to the relationship I see when looking at our model and to delineate some of the compositional notes. Here's where it sits so far:

5th Pass, Verdaccio with full color elements

5th Pass, Verdaccio with full color elements

There is one major disappointment with the class thats developed and that is that Adrian will need to leave the country for a few weeks so the last 2 classes will finish up once he returns. Since I am visiting Los Angeles from NYC it means I will miss these 2 classes because of the need to return for work. For the painting... it means with some planning I can finish the Verdaccio but and do the final glaze. I will not be able to paint in the robe and background in the time that I have. That's not the end of the world for me. I will have accomplished what I came to learn.

Adrian Gottlieb's Class Day 7

This past class I started in on the main Verdaccio. I actually got a lot accomplished. Enough that in the next class I should be able to finish laying in and be able to spend the rest of the day and next few classes fine tuning. The "color" we are laying in is actually just a warm color (sinopia) and a cool (chrome oxide green) color that I spoke of in the color study phase. These colors are relative complements and allow us to model the form in chroma as well as value but in a way that is less complicated than full color:

4th Pass, Verdaccio

4th Pass, Verdaccio

This layer will optically interact with the glazed layer that will follow to produce a full color flesh tone. The interesting thing is that if you get the values correct and really get the form to turn correctly it reads as correct skin tone even though it's missing small parts of the spectrum. This just goes to prove how important value is above everything else for things to read as "realistic" in a painting.  I found this really interesting and is something for me to think about. As I stated in my previous post- The shadows under the hand, chin and behind the ear, the flower and hair are all painted full color direct method.

Adrian Gottlieb's Class Days 5 & 6 plus Extra

I ran out of time between posts working on another painting and didn't get a chance to update. So... for the last 2 classes I've been working on the Piambura stage of Adrian's Verdaccio method. Adrian also likes to book extra days with our model to get more time in. These days are uninstructed and happen when a few of us have days that line up.

For the beginning of the painting Adrian likes to tone the canvas to match the shadow value as close as possible. I prepped my canvas outside of class a few days before day 5. I spent the 1st half of class day 5 transferring the drawing to the canvas. After lunch I started on the Piambura. It's basically white used to model the flesh form. I got a decent amount done but had added too much zirconium dryer and my paint began to tacky up and went down blotchy. If you look close you can see the Raw Umber oil stick I used for the transfer:

1st Pass, Piambura

1st Pass, Piambura

I spent Day 6 fixing the blotchyness and then balancing the major passages. Adrian rightly pointed out that she was over modeled in a few places. I have a tendency to do that here and there in certain places so I'll be incorporating some methods to help me keep on top of that in future paintings. On the extra day I finished up the Piambura and also added the flower and the beginnings of the hair. she really started to take on some form after this class:

2nd & 3rd passes, Piambura with direct painted flower

2nd & 3rd passes, Piambura with direct painted flower

Next class I'll begin on the main stage of the verdaccio. I might also work on aspects of the clothing and background as needed. A new experience!

Adrian Gottlieb's Class Days 3 & 4

Our 3rd day in class was pretty straight forward with regards to anything new. I got my color study to a place that I'm pretty happy with. I added the details to our models kimono and made over all value adjustments. The robe had some shadow problems (It was about 1 1/2 value steps too bright) that I brought into line. Adrian mentioned this right after I had mixed up my color to make the adjustment so that was reassuring to know I had the right idea. I also played with the back ground to even out the composition. Adrian rightly pointed out that it was too centralized with in the triangle created by the sleeves and her flower. The lines are good to lead you too her eyes but there was was no entry point into the over all composition. I made some adjustments to the chroma and value of the curtain in the background. It's hard to get a feel for it in the photo but there is now a diagonal of brighter curtain running from the upper left-hand corner to the lower right-hand. You will also notice I added a neutral edge color wash around the study. This was to help reduce the distraction of the bright white edges while I made final value adjustments.

I was pretty excited going into day 4 of class. Adrian took us through his glazing process. Glazing is one of the vaguest areas of oil painting for me. I've had no real training in glazes and only a "book" understanding of how it can be accomplished. There have been several times in recent paintings where, despite my lack of working experience with them, I KNEW these were scenarios where a glaze would be the way to go. So I was pretty excited about this class day in particular.

First thing that morning Adrian walked us through how he prepares his glazing medium and also several other painting mediums. The main painting medium he uses, and through shear dumb coincidence is also one I've been using. It's available commercially, in a very high quality version, from Natural Pigments called "Balsam Essential Oil Medium". Adrian makes a glazing medium that he's developed himself specifically for the painting method he's teaching us. His glaze actually dries completely by the next day allowing you to add any direct painting you might feel will benefit the final painting. So... in all farness to Adrian... if you want to know how to make his medium you'll have to take the class... Next he walked us through how he actually uses his glaze. It's not as straight forward as I had expected. For our models skin tone we're glazing Indian Yellow and Rose Madder. Once we settled on the color combo to use we applied the glaze to the color studies we've done. It took all of 30 seconds to apply the glaze. It was also necessary to thin the mixture down to arrive at the proper transparency for correct chroma. Too raw and our paintings would have looked like a nuclear girl. Too thin and it would have been a mess. He also let us use his prepared glaze in class since we didn't have anything made up on our own yet. We'll be making our own glazing medium for our final paintings. Here is the day 3  color study side by side with the day 4 glazed final color study:

3rd Pass, Oil Color Study

3rd Pass, Oil Color Study

4th Pass, Oil Color Study with Glazing applied

4th Pass, Oil Color Study with Glazing applied

If you compare how the skin tones relate to the flower you can really see (as best as is possible on a computer using photos) how different she looks glazed and unglazed.

After the Adrian gave us the glazing run down and we had glazed our studies we started on our drawings. These are done to the size of the finished painting as we will then transfer this to the final toned surface of our paintings. I've never been a big user of drawings up to this point for paintings but I can see the appeal. You really get to work out the proportions before you touch the painting. Adrian has us using charcoal. I've always been a graphite person but why not. Here is my drawing as far as I was able to take it in class:

Charcoal on Strathmore 400 paper

Charcoal on Strathmore 400 paper

Adrian voiced some concerns that her near hand is too small. I'll need to check that in class next week. I did take both this and the study into photo editing software and overlayed the drawing over the study. I played with the transparency of the drawing so I could check the proportions of both against each other. The hands are the same size in both so it tough for me to say till I do some measurements in next class. I also want to fine tune her expression. So far so good...

Adrian Gottlieb's Class Day 2

Here is my study on Day 2 of class with Adrian. I was much faster with mixing out my Chromium Oxide Green and Sinopia strings this class. Once I had those ready to use I started laying in color. Incase I've forgotten to mention in my previous post about this class and method, the skin tones are the only part of the painting treated differently than in more common direct painting. You can see the more porcelain quality of the skin more readily now that I've laid in the background and clothing. Those two elements were mixed and laid in as I want them to appear. Adrian emphasised that the skin at this point in the process should be several value steps lighter that you want for the finished piece. The reason being that the following layers are glazes, so as color is glazed in the over all value will drop down. I'm also bringing the value of the clothing down 1 value step with the thought that once the skin drops down it will maintain a nice balance. Next class I'll add the final details to the clothing and try to get the skin to sit at the proper value.

2nd Pass, Oil Color Study

2nd Pass, Oil Color Study

There are several reasons for the studies in this class. First is that it allows for practice of the technique before you commit to the final painting. Second, and more common across various approaches, it allows you to adjust the composition and tune into the subject matter. I'll be able to make adjustments at this phase that won't be possible on a final painting. If you look close at this study compared to the 1st day you can see that, on Adrian's recommendation, I extended the edge of the frame on the right side to minimize the emphasis of the sleeve. I might bring in the left side. I'm playing with how to impart some the feeling that she might move as she places the flower. So far it fairly pleased with it. But I am saying this having not glazed in the later colors... We'll see!

Adrian Gottlieb's Class Day 1

Didn't have time after class yesturday to post but I think I'll till wait the day after anyways from here on out.

So, as I said the class is with Adrian Gottlieb learning his Verdaccio painting method. As I suspected before I started this class it goes against may natural impulses for how to construct a painting. BUT I took this class to expand my understanding of painting methods. My current method makes use of an ebauche then a full color painting using opaque hue value strings that are neutralized and thinned as needed. Adrian's method is to use a very specific underpainting for skin tones made up of a mixture of Chromium Oxide Green and Sinopia (his choices for these 2 colors are currently available from Blue Ridge). These two colors are then mixed into 2 "strings" (my names for these color rows not his). The 1st string is based on the coolest flesh midtone, so it ends up with more green. The 2nd string is a version of the 1st with more Sinopia. There is only enough of a difference to generate a cool and warm version of almost the same color. These two colors are then each mixed towards a high value with white and towards a low value with black creating the "strings" I was speaking of. You end up with 9 or so piles for of the two colors grading from lightest skin tone to darkest. So that's 2 SEPARATE rows of about 9 piles each. Anyone familiar with Munsel based closed palettes will find the layout idea familiar. This system is used only for skin tone on the first layer. From here we'll see where the class goes. My suspicion is that this layer accounts for the majority of the modelling in the final painting. It's my understanding there are following glazed layers that lay in color in a very systematic way. The final result being very luminous as the layers visually enter act with each other. One of the main differences that results compaired to a more familiar direct painting method is that Chroma is not the major focus. He seems to be aiming for more of a finely controlled value range and the resulting shimmer from the layer interaction. It's quite nice to look at and I wonder if it's possible to arrive at with a totally direct painting method... Here is what I was able to accomplish:

1st Pass, Oil Color Study.

1st Pass, Oil Color Study.

We learned the basics of his method and started color studies to work out compositions this Thursday. He gave us an overview for a while then we started mixing out our Ch.O.Gr. and Sinopia strings. This took me a while as I wanted to get the premix color and grading of the rows right. This only left me with about 2 1/2hrs to paint. Hopefully I'll be faster next class. Adrian is also a great guy so the class will be hard but pleasant.

In Los Angeles for a Painting Class and a New Blog

I've only been painting in oil and figuratively for about a year and a half after a 10yr break from "art" so this blog will record my studies and experiences painting. Art school and it silly ideas-over-methods approach means that you have to be pretty lucky or have a great teacher to learn anything about your materials and how they truly work by the time you graduate. Essentially art schools turn out the equivalent of a car mechanic who can drive a car but has no idea what makes it move. This is why the art supply biz can charge so much for materials and why most art world magazines are like reading enigma code. Adrian's class is the part of my studies to learn both about painting methods and how my materials work. Adrian and a small contingent of figurative painter have started small classes and Atelier programs around the country. In these programs there is almost no critique of you work on a "concept" level. All discussion is focused on the very real methods for replicating 3 dimensional objects on a 2D surface and the methods and materials to accomplish this. Much of this information began to be lost with the rising popularity of expressionism (despite most of these early expressionist painters having had true training). Schools started to become generalized and the focus shifted from a methodical materials training to theoretical discussion. If you are interested in this type of study just google "Atelier". There are now many Ateliers in Europe and the US now although not all of them are on the up-and-up.

I'm in Los Angeles for a class with Adrian Gottlieb for the next 2 months. I'll be painting a lot while I'm here so I'm pretty excited about this trip. I've got Adrian's class (who seems like a great guy judging by his emails so far) and I'll be doing a lot of Plein Air work. Hope you enjoy this blog and my work as they develop.