And now for something completely different

October 29, 2010

study of Jake, pastel demo, about 4x5 in.

Jacques from Annecy, France - demo in oil, about 8x8 in.

Coquin, another dog I met in France, demo in pastel 6x9 in.

another study of Coquin, acrylic on paper, 5x7 in.

I rarely paint animals, but do enjoy putting them in urban landscapes. I try to capture their gesture rather than every hair and whisker. I approach them the same as I would any other subject, looking for the darkest values first, and working through all the middle and lights to create an underpainting upon which to add color. Fur has so many colors in it, white is never just white, nor black just black, there are so many hidden colors and textures.

Painting a subject that is different from what you normally paint gives you an opportunity to try something new, a chance to experiment. It’s refreshing to draw or paint something different, even if it is just for practice.


What color is that squash?

October 25, 2010

Pastel demo, acorn squash, 5x7 in. on toned Wallis paper

This is a little demo I did last week for my pastel class. I wanted to show how to look for unexpected colors. We know the squash is yellow, but what color are hidden in the shadows? In the stripes? In the dark areas underneath and objects around it?

Being the squash is yellow to begin with, odds are it has purple tones in the shadows. Choosing the complement (opposite on the color wheel) as a starting point is usually a good place to start when creating a shadow color. In this case, I’ve used a violet pastel that is a little on the red side, and combined it with the yellow of the squash and a hint of violet blue to cool it down a bit. In the orange areas that are in shadow, I’ve done the same thing only used just the violet blue and a redder, cooler orange than on the stripes that are in the light.

Because this was just a demo, I blocked in surrounding areas with color as suggested by the objects surrounding the squash, some dark green from another squash, some blue from the table cloth, and some orange from a pumpkin. Simple exercises such as this are helpful in training your eye to see color variation. Color variation is one of the most important concepts in painting, it helps to keep your painting from looking flat and monchromatic, while adding depth and interest to shadow and light areas alike.


Same Subject – 2 Interpretations

October 20, 2010

Rockaway Road - pastel demo on Wallis paper toned with yellow ochre, 9x12 in.

Rockaway Road, pastel demo on cobalt blue toned Wallis paper, 9x12

Here is a good example of how the background color of a pastel painting can change the mood and tone of the finished piece. Actually, the background color influenced my color choices in both of these demos. I did the one on the yellow ochre first, playing off the color of the paper with violet-blue shadows on the road and in the darks of foliage. The lighter colors in this version are not quite as autumnal or vibrant as in the second, they are more subdued and the overall feeling is one of warmth and sunlight.

The second painting uses the stronger oranges and rusts against the blue background to make a bolder statement. The overall tone of this piece is cooler, a bit more woodsy and very fall like in feeling. I had not intended to do two demos of the same subject, however my workshop students were quick studies and finished the still life set up sooner than I thought they might, so I decided to introduce the landscape and a bit of abstraction. These were both done as a means of demonstrating how to use a reference photo purely as a departure point rather than something to slavishly copy. Always think of your painting as something new, not a copy of something that already exists in real life, or on paper.


Shadows & Scaffolding

October 17, 2010

Shadows & Scaffolding, NYC - oil on canvas, 10x14 in.

This started out as a demo, but has turned into a “real” painting. There is something intriguing about scaffolding and I have decided to build the theme of my solo show in spring 2011 at NJ Visual Arts Center around it as a subject. That might seem like an odd choice, but to me, the properties of the subject transcend the subject itself. Scaffolding is also a good metaphor for an armature, or structure, and the theme of my exhibit will be “Loosely Structured”. I chose that title for the show because I firmly believe that a good painting must be built upon a solid but flexibly/temporary structure. That is how I view the under painting, the part of the painting that I consider to be the most important. Without the structure of the under painting, a piece can easily fall apart. Yet, as the painting progresses, the under painting disappears, just as scaffolding is removed once construction is completed. So, there will be quite a few more of these forthcoming.


Visual Ideas

October 12, 2010

Scaffolding - Harrison St., NYC, pastel study on toned Wallis paper, 12x16 in.

This is a study for a larger piece I plan to do either in acyrlics or oils, have not decided on a medium yet. I am doing a series of scaffold paintings for a couple solo shows I have next spring. Why would anyone want to paint scaffolding? Well, I can only answer for myself, I am drawn to it because it creates depth, scale and exaggerated perspective and because the geometric shapes formed by the struts and beams carve up the composition in a really interesting way. In other words, I am looking at the scaffolding purely for its visual components, not as a narrative subject. Doing so opens up the field of subject matter because we are not constrained by what will tell a good story. In other words, “what” you paint does not matter, as long as it has visual components that create balance, harmony and interest in the composition. This is more of an abstract approach to composition and subject, it is not better than a more formal, traditional style of composing, it is simply different.

The important thing when choosing a subject is that it motivates you to paint it. Whether you are trying to tell a story, or communicate an abstract visual idea such as movement, rhythm, energy, etc., you should know what your message is and identify a subject that will help you to convey it. For example, my work is all about spontaneity, movement and energy–the urban landscape provides me with elements that suggest these concepts visually.

It is so important to choose your subjects and to work from your own reference materieals. Only then will you be communicating YOUR ideas or telling YOUR stories, not someone else’s.

Note: This painting was created with pastels, if you would like to learn how to work with pastels, I am offering a workshop this coming weekend at the NJ Visual Arts Center. Intro to Pastel will be held on Sunday, October 17 from 10 am to 4 pm, registration fee is $100. Call the art center at 908-273-9121 to register or visit their website for more info.


A nice surprise

October 9, 2010

7th Avenue Storefront, oil on canvas, 9x12, received the F. Ballard Williams award at the Salmagundi Club of NY Fall Auction Series Exhibition

I just found out last night that this painting received an award in the Salmagundi Club’s Fall Auction Series Exhibition. Awards are always a nice surprise, I never expect to win anything, I think doing so just sets you up for dissapointment. Also, when it does happen, it’s even better because it is unexpected.

I was not going to put this piece in the exhibit–my paintings almost always sell in the auctions and I really was not sure if I wanted to let it go just yet as it is a favorite. But now I’m happy I entered it as it received some recognition in the show which contains work by some of the finest artists in the NY Metro area.

I have two other small pieces in the show, the auctions are held on the following dates: October 15 at 8 pm, October 24 at 2 pm and October 29 at 8 pm, all auctions take place in the main gallery at the Salmagundi Club, 47 Fifth Avenue, NYC. For more information or to place an absentee bid, call the Club at 212-255-7740.


No Rulers Allowed!

October 5, 2010

SoHo at Sunset (Steps & Scaffold), NYC - oil on canvas, 11x14 in.

Invariably when I bring in an urban landscape, someone in class will ask me if I use a ruler or t-square on pieces like the one above–NEVER! If I used a ruler or a straight edge, my lines would be perfectly straight and the piece would lose it’s painterly, spontaneous feeling. The reason this piece works without using a straight edge is because of the perspective, lines don’t have to be perfect in order to make correct perspective, they can “wiggle” a bit as brushstrokes as long as they are heading in the right direction–in this case toward a singular vanishing point.

The best way to learn perspective is to draw from life whenever possible, only then will you learn to look for the vanishing points and know which type of perspective (one, two or three-point) to apply. However, you don’t need to memorize a lot of rules, learn the basic concepts and look for them in the elements you draw, eventually you will just “see” the perspective correctly and automatically draw things as they appear in 3 dimensions.

The above example is a perfect case of one-point perspective. In this week’s classes, we will practice learning to see the correct perspective by working on an urban landscape similar to the one above.  Bring in your own reference photos or work from the one I do in the demo, but leave the rulers and t-squares home! 😀