Pastel Workshop – NJ Visual Arts Center August 8

July 30, 2009

Apples & Brass Teapot, pastel

Working in pastel, students will learn to create expressive paintings with an emphasis on staying loose and painterly. Demonstrations will illustrate the important concepts of value, color theory and composition, as well as technical aspects of working with soft and hard pastels. Students may work from the still life provided or from their own reference materials using still life, landscape or abstract themes. All levels and styles welcome, class runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on August 8, registration fee is $90 for members, $120 for non-members, call the NJ Visual Arts Center at 908-273-9121 to register.


Demo from oils workshop last night

July 28, 2009
underpainting (burnt sienna + turpenoid), plus some dark values

underpainting (burnt sienna + turpenoid), plus some dark values

Here is the first pass of the demo painting I am doing in my 4-night workshop at Somerset. This stage shows the composition worked out and values mapped in on the underpainting. I began putting in some of the darkest darks (cobalt + burnt umber). Tonight I will become more focused on color and will demonstrate mapping in the middle value and darkest colors working with a limited palette.

More progress on this latest one…

July 26, 2009
work-in-progress, oil on canvas 16x20

work-in-progress, oil on canvas 16x20

This is moving along very smoothly and rather quickly even though it still has quite a ways to go. I can tell it will be one of those paintings that retains its spontaneity and conveys a sense of confidence. Hesitation is something to be avoided when painting, put down confident brush strokes and your painting will exude confidence. There is nothing worse than a finished painting that looks “unsure” of itself, as if the artist were not confident of their ability to put the paint down the way they wanted to. Confidence comes from practice, from knowing how form, value and color will interact and using that knowledge as a tool to make your work say what you want it to say. There is no getting around it, the more you practice the stronger (and better) your work will get.

Start of something new

July 25, 2009
the beginning of a new painting, value study and colors mapped in, 16x20 oil on canvas

the beginning of a new painting, value study and colors mapped in, 16x20 oil on canvas

This is the beginning of a new painting, the under painting (value study in burnt sienna) and color map layer have been laid in. Next I’ll go back to the darkest darks and begin working with a more opaque layer of paint.

This is the same area as the last painting I did, it’s 10th Street at West 4th in the Village, same time of day as well (early morning). The lighting is intriguing in that the foreground is primarily in shadow and the buildings off in the distance have the morning sun hitting them and making sort of a glow. Also was drawn to the reflection in the puddle on the sidewalk, which is a fairly bland large area that is broken up with just the right amount of interest by the puddle.

Still Life Composition

July 24, 2009
compositional study of white and metallic objects, acrylic & pastel on paper

compositional study of white and metallic objects, acrylic & pastel on paper

The still life is an excellent subject for practicing proportion, perspective and composition. This is the demo from my Expressive Drawing class last night, a set up of white cardboard boxes, metal cans and a baseball. The white surfaces and dark greys of the metal create excellent models for practicing value ranges. In setting this up, I purposely mixed up the objects to create a rhythm of darks and lights throughout the set up. Setting up a still life can be thought of as composing in 3-D, if you arrange the objects so there is a balance in the set up, you have a better chance of getting a balance in your drawing.

I always begin with an object that is central to the composition, in this case the can in the front. First I drew that in with a light wash of black acrylic: top ellipse first, center line, bottom ellipse then connect the verticals. Once this object is placed, all the surrounding objects are mapped in the same way, using the first object as a proportional benchmark. I always block in these forms as if they were transparent, in other words draw the whole object even if it is behind another object. These construction lines won’t be noticeable in the finished drawing if you do them lightly and spontanteously, and if they are visible it won’t matter because they will be part of the drawing’s structure.

I think of the objects purely as geometric forms that I can use to divide up the space to create a balance in the composition. Therefore it doesn’t matter to me if some objects run off the page as the tall box in the background does. I also use negative space in the background and shadows to further create balance, the composition is not restricted to the “objects”, instead it encompasses all of the visual elements that fall within its boundaries.

My next step is to begin working with values to create depth and dimension. I start with the darks, then work through the medium and light values. For this piece I used a 1″ flat brush and a 1/4″ wedge, nothing else. Focus on the major value forms and block them in, smaller details go on top of these. For example, the ridges in the cans are implied by highlights and darks placed on top of the larger area of medium values placed earlier.

As with any drawing or painting, work the entire composition to the same level of completion instead of finishing one section (or object) at a time. This will create a more unified, cohesive drawing.

Last of all, and perhaps most important, be confident when placing your lines and forms. Use the side of the charcoal or a flat brush to block in forms. Develop a quick, confident stroke, try not to be tense or tentative. Do some practice warm up exercises before you begin your drawing, gestural studies or repeating forms such as handwriting practice exercises are great for this purpose. Do a series of repeating ellipses to get the rhythm of making a perfect ellipse in one pass, or a series of verticals, etc. This type of practice will loosen your hand and allow you to paint/draw in a more relaxed way. Also, try to remember that this is only practice on a piece of paper, no harm is done if you make a mistake. Try to enjoy the process rather than look at it as a skill to be mastered quickly.

The above techniques will be featured in my upcoming August weekend workshop at the Salmagundi Club of NYC, visit the Workshops & Classes page for details.

Putting more life into your drawings

July 23, 2009
charcoal on newsprint

charcoal on newsprint

A variation of the study I posted yesteray, this one in charcoal. I did this as a demo in my Expressive Drawing class. The class is for all levels and is especially focused on painters who want to build their drawing skills (or students who prefer drawing and want to be more spontaneous with their work).

One of the things that I find to be most useful is to draw with the charcoal turned on its side, it forces you to stay loose and avoid detail early on. You can always add as much or as little detail as you need later, but first you have to get the shapes and proportions of what you are drawing right.

Students sometimes ask me if I ever use grids, I don’t. Grids are a mechanical/technical means of transferring an image (typically a photograph, but they do sell ones that are view-finder types that you can use when working from life). Relying on grids does not help to build your skills in accurately observing form and proportion, only practice will do that. To practice, allow yourself the opportunity to just focus on one skill at a time without the pressure of having to produce a perfect drawing. Start with the basic form and proportion of one object, don’t expect your first pass to be perfect, especially if you are a beginner, don’t erase every line that is wrong, let them show and re-draw what needs to be re-drawn. Once you have your first object drawn in proportion to itself, use it as a guide for the other elements in your composition. Get everything blocked in and in correct proportion before you begin working on shading. Getting this first step right is the key to a successful drawing. It takes time and a lot of practice, but if you take 15 or 20 minutes a day to do some small studies, you’ll see results pretty quickly.

All of the above methods plus much more will be covered in my upcoming Expressive Drawing workshop at the Salmagundi Club in NYC on Aug. 15 & 16. For more info, visit the Workshops & Classes page.

More drawing with pastel

July 22, 2009
unfinished study, pastel on newsprint

unfinished study, pastel on newsprint

This is an unfinished study from a demo I did in a class last week. I like unfinished work, especially when you can see the “skeleton” underneath, things like center lines, value studies, the outlines of forms that have been blocked in. There is something about the roughness and exposed quality of an unfinished piece that conveys so much about an artist’s process. I enjoy looking at sketches more than I do finished paintings, they seem more personal and revealing.

This was done with hard pastels (NuPastels) on newsprint, about 18×24. I began with the value study in burnt sienna, and covered some of the brass jug and apples with a layer of color before I abandoned this. I thought about finishing it but decided since it would only sit in a portfolio in my studio that I’d leave it as is, and the more I look at it, the more I agree with that decision. I often leave more to suggestion than other representational artists do, my goal is always to put in only as much information as is necessary to convey an image. Underworked is always better to me than overworked.