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Monday, May 23, 2011

The joy of scales

"One Compelling Note"
Original oil - 6x6"
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Just got home from teaching a couple of workshops on Vancouver Island. In working with 30 students over 6 days, I was reminded of our reluctance to spend our painting time on work that is not leading to a "finished product" - something tangible to show for our time. Coupled with this is the idea that painting is supposed to be fun. Always and only fun.

I find whenever I propose the idea that serious painting requires determined, intensely focused, incredibly challenging hard work, a minority of heads in the room nod in agreement, while most folks start tensing up.

When we are presented with an exercise (or several) that forces us out of our comfort zone, our natural inclination is to run, fast and far. We like to move away from awkwardness, from "looking bad", from anything that has the potential for "failure" built in to it.

The key is to notice that feeling and dive head first into the discomfort, in service of our growth - of moving toward our full potential as artists. We can only get there by breaking this enormously difficult undertaking into its individual parts (drawing, design, shape, value, color, and medium specific technique) and honing each one, so that our wholes become an expression of all that we are capable of.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Carolyn Anderson workshop (part 2)

The two images shown here are detail sections of portraits I did in the Carolyn Anderson (totally awesome!) workshop. I'm showing the close-ups to illustrate what I think was one of the most important things I learned: how to paint soft eyes and mouths.

There is such a strong pull (for me) to carefully draw in the shapes of things and then fill them in. Carolyn likens this to walking down a hallway slamming doors of possibility closed behind you. (I like to call it safety.) But I was there to learn, so when I caught myself doing that in the workshop,  I would intentionally drag off a couple of edges or bring the values really close together where edges met.

 She also encouraged keeping the larger shapes of light and shadow open (not outlined and filled in). In her words "it's important to maintain the integrity of the dimension of the shapes." I had to bend my mind around that one, but essentially I think I got her meaning. In order to create dimension (the feeling of things "filling up space" and having 3 dimensional form, as well as the feeling of the space itself), edge variety is critical (soft, hard, lost - and interesting shape of line when there is one.)

Just a few things to be thinking about once you get past the easy part of getting the drawing, color, and value right. :-)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Carolyn Anderson workshop (part 1)

Oil on linen - 16x12"

Just back from a 5 day Carolyn Anderson workshop in Scottsdale, AZ. It was FAN-tastic! Learned so much - she is funny, direct, wise, focused and wickedly talented!

This painting was actually done outside of the workshop on the second night at an open studio put on by the Scottsdale Artist's School. (If you haven't heard of the school or taken a course there, check it out. They offer workshops by some of the best artists painting in the States right now. It's a top notch venue, and the staff bend over backwards to provide an outstanding experience.)

Okay, it's pretty much impossible to share all I learned as it was fairly intense, but here are some key thoughts I brought home with me. (Look for my next post to see images of paintings that illustrate what I learned between this painting and the end of the week.)
  • Strive to put down each brushstroke with a clear intention.
  • As things are rounding or moving back in space - soften edges.
  • Think of eyebrows as accents on the bottom of the forehead (love that).
  • Painting is a process that continually responds to information - not step by step until it's done.
  • Look at the model and the painting together throughout the painting process.
  • Stand far enough back to see all 4 corners of the canvas.
And a couple of powerful things to contemplate:

"We see not only an arrangement of color and shape - but an interplay of directed tensions." Rudolf Arnheim
(This, once I got it, opened up my ability to see and draw in a whole new way.)

"Paintings are like snowflakes. They are unique because of all the events that are unfolding as they fall to the ground. They are not meant to be a fixed idea from beginning to end." Carolyn Anderson