Thursday, June 25, 2009

Portrait Of Anne 8th Sitting

Another day and I feel like another futile attempt to achieve what I'm after. I am struggling and getting no further forward. Full of doubt and a deep-seated sense of inadequacy...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Portrait Of Anne 7th and a half Sitting

I wasn't very happy with the painting last session and feeling frustrated I did some work on it from memory afterwards.

Felt a bit more contented but I fear I've given poor Anne a black eye in the process..!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Postcard From MDS - Homage From PJH

Postcard From MDS - Homage From PJH
Oil on gessoed hardboard
This is a small painting I have been working on over the last few days. It is for a calendar and fundraiser auction for the Taranaki Womens Refuge. The theme was to be a Taranaki one and I felt that none of my so called "postcard" paintings - - were suitable. I'd been looking at this postcard reproduction of a rather famous and well known New Zealand painting by my friend and mentor Michael Smither, and I had the idea of doing a painting within a painting kind of thing. I stuck the postcard on my studio wall with bluetac, and put the old bottle with red pencil in front. I've always liked the apparently incongruous, and almost surreal bright red tactor on the skyline, that contrasts so dramaticly with the cold grey Taranaki stones in Michaels painting, and I wanted the red pencil to echo that. The little Walt Disney figurine of Pluto, has already recently found it's way into my paintings. I like the humourous aspect of it, as though he is eagerly awaiting his walk on the beach. Or perhaps it's the faithful hound waiting at his master's feet...? Also, I've always found a slight Disneyish quality in Smither's colours and distinctive hard-edged and stylised forms.

Rocks With Mountain
Michael Smither 1968
Oil on Hardboard

Michael Smither was one of the first real artists I ever met. He came to my very first exhibition I held in the Taranki Society of Arts Brougham Street Gallery in New Plymouth in 1976, and introduced himself, giving me lots of practicle advice and encouragement. For a while in the early 80's I shared studio space with him in King Street and I learned a great deal about painting from watching him working. Never having had the privilidge of going to any art school, I still regard this as the closest thing I've ever had to an art education.

Portrait Of Anne 7th Sitting

Another session yesterday. I started by applying some thin glazes on the left side of Anne's face trying to add a bit of depth to the shadow areas. Then I worked into that, using slightly more impasto paint. Last week I was struggling so much in bad lighting conditions that I turned on an electric light to give a bit more ambient light to her right side, and I quite like it so we've decided to keep it. I've added cadmium orange to my palette. It is a strangely cool orange that I've never been able to duplicate using cadmium yellow and red and as a tint with lots of white it makes a good colour for flesh lit by electric light. The same goes for alizarian crimson or rose madder tints. The left side of her face is picking up the natural light from the windows on that side and I'm using terre vert, raw umber, mars violet and ivory black.
I was still not happy about something and I came to the conclusion I had the eyes too close together. Much to Anne's consternation, I made the decision to scrape out her left eye and shift it over a bit. I'm still not certain it was the right thing to do - I'm not very happy with it at all. Growing pains. In fact, this morning I attempted to do some more work on it, relying simply on memory and I fear I have only succeeded in making it worse. Its very frustrating.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Portrait Of Anne 6th Sitting

The first thing did on commencing our sixth session, was to lower Annes mouth line. I always find proportions the most troublesome aspect of painting from life. I know when there is something not quite right but it takes a while to realise what it is. And of course when you change one thing, something else needs adjusting. The result is that the image grows bigger, (for me, it never seems to reduce in size), and eventually goes off the edge of the canvas in some instances. I recall reading about my favourite artist Lucien Freud, saying that he would rather the forms went off the edges than to have them cramped. In recent paintings I've noticed he even adds another bit of canvas just for a foot or something, resulting in some odd shaped compositions!
It's actually reached the most interesting stage for me, and I really enjoyed this painting session, but I'm still finding it hard going and frustrating. I think it's going well and then at the end of the day I put down my brushes, stand back and I hate it. It is always like this. I walk away miserable with myself. Coming back into the studio is always difficult, and I avoid making eye contact with the painting for as long as possible. But in a perverse way it is motivating. I immediately feel the need to work on it some more. I can see what needs doing. This, in it's turn, is also a source of frustration because of course I can't work on it further until next week when Anne sits again.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Anne's Portrait 5th Sitting

The fifth sitting of Anne's portrait. We did another four hours yesterday and I finally feel it's starting to get somewhere. I reworked much of the face, concentrating on the eyes. It's starting to become a painting rather than just an illustrative picture. We start our session in late morning and the sun moves gradually over Anne's face. There is a lot of reflected light coming in from her left side and from off the floor. If I was being more pragmatic about it, I wouldn't have set it up with direct sunlight and in fact when we started, there wasn't any! My studio space has a lot of windows on three sides, and so it's quite difficult to control the lighting. It's becoming more of a problem to me and I'll have to address it at some stage soon.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Portrait Of Anne 4th Sitting

We put in about four hours yesterday. Started working on Annes left eye, which happens to be her larger one. I've become acutely aware of my own eyes whilst working on this painting. I've become used to working very closely to my painting and looking over the top of my glasses. I am short sighted which means as my eyes age they are actually getting better for close-up work - I have to remove my glasses to read now. So it's been good for the small miniature paintings I've been doing over the last three years or so. However, with a larger painting, and the constant refocussing between observing Anne and working on the painting, I'm finding it quite a strain on my eyes. I've tryed progressive lenses without much success and now I'm tryign the so called mono-vision ie: one lense for long range and another for close range effectively making me one eyed. Everyone has a dominant eye. Just as some people are left handed, some favour the left eye and vice-versa. Supposedly, when you use a camera, you put your dominant eye to the viewfinder. However, I always use my left eye for this. I'm not certain which eye is my doninant one and I suspect it alters dependign on what task I'm performing. So it was difficult to decide which eye I should have as the close range eye and which the long range eye. I think I got it wrong.

When I start a painting, I of course have an idea of the colour scheme I'm aiming for. As I work on a painting over time however, I find that I try all sorts of subtley different hues and tones. It takes a while to work out what key the painting is in. It's very much like the key of a piece of music which can start in one particular key and modulate to another. At the moment, on this painting, I seem to be hovering around the key of cobalt and ochre. Whatever key that is! I'm starting to get a feeling of chromium oxide however.... At present my green is Terre Vert.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Anne Third Sitting

Another day's sitting with Anne's portrait yesterday. It's at the stage where in some sense it seems to go backwards rather than forwards. Readjusting and correcting the relationships between features. Working from life you become acutely aware of how everything changes with the slightest tilt of the subjects head. Anne is a wonderful sitter - probably the best sitter I've worked with! Some people can never relax and squirm around self conciously, however, but with no true self awareness. Anne strikes no poses, in any sense, but she projects an open and honest, natural quality. I want to try and do my utmost to capture some of that quality. Painting from life is all about the dialogue between the sitter and the artist. I regard it as a team effort rather than the cliche artist/model scenario of Picasso's day. This is why I find working from photographs unsatisfying and uninpisiring.

It doesn't show in the photo, but I'm pleased with the warm glowing colour of the chair background. It's a mix of Cadmium Yellow Deep and a natural ochre that I ground up myself. It's going to set off Anne's eyes and blue headband nicely. The brown at the top is an Old Holland colour they call Red Umber. I've never used it before and I quite like it. Quite unlike either Raw or Burnt Umber. It seems more like a synthetic oxide to me but they claim it's natural. I mixed it with ivory black.

I asked Anne to jot down notes of the colours so I could remember for this blog. As with everything she does, she made a very detailed and concientous job of it!

My dog, Fergus, is a jealous dog! He always reclaims the chair after someone leaves. Painting is a lonely activity most times. I enjoy having human company for a change.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Anne - Second Sitting

It was a cold day for our second sitting with a fresh fall of snow on Mt Taranaki. Anne really feels the cold and she was wrapped up in several layers, though I did have a couple of heaters on!

I realised I had positioned the brow and eyes much too high in my initial roughing out so the first thing I did was to remedy this. I deliberately kept that first stage extremely thin and I sanded it down before starting the second sitting. When planning a painting that you know will be worked on in layers it is important to keep the early layers "lean" of oil, otherwise the paint will crack. Especially with paint ground in safflower or poppy oil, which most of it is nowadays.

I was concentrating on the area about Anne's eye's and nose mostly. Anne has a particularly asymetric face which I find interesting. One of her eyes is quite smaller than the other, a fact she finds much amusement in! It's still in it's early stages but I'm happier with the way it's going now.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Portrait of Anne

I did this little study of my friend and fellow painter Anne Holiday a week or so ago and I'm now starting a slightly bigger and more ambitous portrait of her. I prepared my surface by gluing a fine weave linen canvas to 9mm thick MDF. I use a traditional animal hide glue which is put on hot to the MDF board. I then lay the unprimed canvas over this and I iron the canvas with a warm iron to adhere it and smooth out the bumps. When this was dry I trimmed the edges and gave the linen three coats of Liquitex Acrylic Gesso sanding between coats. The dimensions are 400x450mm, for a head and shoulders approximate life size portrait.

Here is the result of the first sitting and it is little more than a very rough idea. I gave the whole canvas a thin stain of yellow ochre and then started drawing with a paintbrush. I initially had the canvas up the other way - it's slightly off square - but I felt it would sit better with it slightly wider, rather than taller. I had made marks on the floor for positioning Anne's chair and my easel to the same arrangement as when I made the small sketch. I want the light to just catch the shadowed side of her face. The direct sunshine was coming in the window and lighting up Anne's bright orange shoes, which was putting me off, so we had to throw a rug over her feet!

Here is my work table/palette. I never seem to have any fixed order with laying out my tints, though it's not quite the chaos it seems! I generally mix up the tints I think I will need with Flake White. I find flake white difficult to get now as it is considered dangerous because of it's lead content, so I grind my own from the powdered pigment. I purchased the last quantity of lead carbonate available in New Zealand, which will last me a while, after that, I will have to find another source. For a portrait I generaly use tints of natural earth colours, raw umber, sienna, ochre, terre vert, etc. I am also fond of the Mars range of pigments, which are synthetic oxides. The Mars Violet and reds, make wonderful violet tones for shadows. I also use cadmium yellows. My blue is either cobalt or ultramarine. I've also started using more black in my palette, both Mars Black and Ivory Black.

Sunday, April 5, 2009