Portrait of Hannah from Sketchy

Hannah W from Sktchy, 14x11” oil on Arches Oil Paper.
Hannah W from Sktchy, 14×11” oil on Arches Oil Paper. 

Learning to paint (well) for me means a constant but gradual process of 1) learning from my mistakes and 2) having “layers of the onion” lifted from my eyes until I at last can see something that was previously mysteriously hidden from me. (You can see the reference photo for this painting on Sketchy here.)

This painting taught me once again how much harder painting can be when you don’t start with an accurate drawing, as you can see in the video below of all the steps I went through, from quick sketch in gouache—horrible, threw it away—to going directly to drawing with paint and then correcting, correcting, correcting. I use Procreate on my iPad to layer a tracing of the photo over a snapshot of the painting in process to see where I’ve gone wrong and then correct it in the painting.

Video of painting and correction process
Hannah Portrait Painting and Correction Process

Getting the drawing right and capturing a likeness can be as “simple” as recognizing the big shapes, contours, divisions of space and observing where things line up with each other. Getting the values right can be as “simple” as observing where the light comes from, how it lands on the large and small planes of the face or any object, and asking myself where the darkest and lightest areas are and how this plane compares. Getting good color “just” means accurately observing the overall and predominant range of colors (saturated or grayed, warm or cool) and then asking is this the spot “warmer or cooler, more or less saturated, lighter or darker.”

I can ask myself these questions over and over, but until yet another layer of the onion is lifted, I just can’t see the answer. When that happens my brain tells me it’s too hard and just jumps ahead with a lazy guess, which then sets off another round or layer of correction, correction, correction. But I do learn from my mistakes and each next painting is an opportunity to put what I learned from them into practice and hopefully remove one more layer until at last I will be able to truly see!

Oil Portrait of Baby Toa; Painting with Joy and Freedom

Portrait of Baby Toa, oil on linen panel, 10x8 inches

Portrait of Baby Toa, oil on linen panel, 10×8 inches

I really enjoyed making this painting of my friend’s grandson Toa. The biggest challenge was working from a cellphone photo taken in a carseat in the dark where his skin looked dark and bright orange. Fortunately I was able to see some other snapshots with better skin color.

I’ve been taking a new approach to painting; focusing on the joy of creating and letting go of the internal “committee” that demands perfection. I have accepted that my work will never be perfect and that perfect art bores me anyway. A bit of wonkiness, even in a portrait, is ok with me, if I feel I have captured the spark of the subject. I’m painting for myself; if it pleases someone else too that’s a bonus, but not at all a requirement. Giving myself this freedom has completely changed my life.

Below are my initial sketches, a picture of the setup with the photo, and an early stage in the painting.

From Veggie Porn to Bad Begonias

Veggie Porn, oil on Gessobord panel, 8x8"

Veggie Porn, oil on Gessobord panel, 8×8″

I’ve developed the goofy habit of storing my leftover cucumber in the bell pepper half when I prepare a salad. It always makes me laugh so I decided to paint it. My sister called it veggie porn. I hope it makes you chuckle too.

I’m trying out a new format for my blog posts, a simple list with images of what I’ve been working on, successes, challenges and what else is going on in the studio and my life. Theoretically it will mean less writing and more frequent posting. So here goes…let me know what you think.

CHALLENGES: I’ve been struggling with composition, discovering half way through a painting that the composition sucks and the painting will never be an enjoyable thing to look at.

SUCCESSES: I finally got the willingness to begin all paintings with some thumbnail sketches. I realized that COMPOSITION is simply the structure that directs the eye around the painting, creates a feeling of action or stillness and (if done well) delights the eye. Two of my favorite painters, Susan Jane Walp and Giorgio Morandi use composition in unexpected ways, and both delight the eye (or at least my eyes) whether they are following or breaking the “rules” of composition or making their own.

LETTING GO OF A BAD PAINTING: This one started off really happily but ended up in the trash, after scraping and redoing it over and over until I killed it so dead it couldn’t be revived. I just felt there was too much red, that it was too “hot” somehow. A friend suggested adding black. That was the final nail in the coffin. I’m not sure why I’m even sharing it at all.

FAIL: Bad Begonias, oil on panel, 10x8"

FAIL: Bad Begonias, oil on panel, 10×8″

SKETCHES: I try to do a sketch from the SKTCHY App at least weekly. Here is a recent one.

Isabel T, from Sktchy photo reference, graphite, 12x9"

Ms. I. T, from Sktchy photo reference, graphite, 12×9″

WHAT I’M READING: “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.” Great book about how our devices and apps are designed to keep us using them. I waste way too much time web-surfing on my phone. This book gave me some tools for changing my habits along with a good talking to! I think it’s a must-read for parents especially.

WHAT I’M LISTENING TO: Ed Sheeran and Alicia Keys on Amazon music, which I like much better than Apple music. (If you’re interested, here’s a link to  Amazon Music Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial)

Figs on a Grey Plate

Figs on a Grey Plate, oil on Arches Oil Paper, 9x11"

Figs on a Grey Plate, oil on Arches Oil Paper, 9×11″

My fig tree is supplying me with figs that are delicious to look at and to eat. I’m working on simplifying my paintings, aiming from strong values and composition, and trying to stop at “good enough for jazz.” This is so much more fun than trying for perfection and ending up with overworked instead. This painting is available on DailyPaintworks here.

Below are the steps in the progress of this painting and below that some bonus fig Read More

Ay Chihuahua! Creating Color from Black and White

Chihuahua: Make color from B&W: Gouache, 8x10"

Chihuahua: Make color from B&W: Gouache, 8×10″

When the Sktchy (see previous post) Weekend Art Extravaganza inspiration was to make a color sketch from a black and white photo I found the photo below and couldn’t resist putting a little color in this little guy’s life. I used to make fun of Chihuahuas, comparing them to rats (which can also actually make good pets if you don’t mind the smell). But after a couple of friends adopted chihuahua mixes, I have come to really appreciate their funny and quirky personalities.

B&W Photo Reference

B&W Photo Reference

Some Sketchy Sktchy Fun

Candlelight, Gouache portrait for Sktchy, 10x8"

Candlelight, Gouache portrait for Sktchy, 10×8″

I so enjoy the Sktchy App where people post their photos, artists post their sketches of the photos and everybody is so positive and encouraging. Each weekend Sktchy hosts a Weekend Art Extravaganza or “WAX,” which is a cue or art concept to inspire artists to apply to their sketches. Last weekend it was “Candlelight.” I found the inspiring photo below on Sktchy and used it for this painting.

Photo reference for candlelight

Photo reference for candlelight

Do join in on Sktchy if you have an iPhone and want practice drawing people (and their pets and home/cities) from all over the world, all ages, all lifestyles. It’s so much fun!

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