Sunday, July 27, 2014

Art: Portrait Of Julie With Blue Background.

Portrait of Julie with Blue Background (Oil on canvas board, 9x12").

Here are some process shots.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Art: Thoughts, In Shadow.

Thoughts, In Shadow (Oil on canvas board, 9x12").

In my reference photo, the model had the majority of her face in shadow and I thought it would be an interesting challenge to render the shapes.  I ended up creating a lost edge between her face and the hair, but found that creating a small temperature difference (warm in the face and cold in the shadows) provided enough information to get the features to read better.  I then played with the hair and background -- pushing and pulling each -- until I found a balance that I felt was effective in creating a mood.

Here are a few progress shots.  The outline was painted with a combination of red oxide, ultramarine blue, and alizarin crimson.  In the second shot, I had the face more rendered than the final painting, but found it distracting, and ended up scumbling it out to create a lost edge with minimal detail.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Painterly Observations From The Sorolla Show.

The Joaquin Sorolla exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art is one of the best single-artist shows I've ever seen. Mind-blowing.  I've been four times and plan on going more until it disappears in a scant two months.  I highly recommend seeing the show if you get a chance.

I learn a tremendous amount from observing the work in these shows, and am always curious which elements get absorbed and infused back into my own work.  Thus far I've done three small pencil studies in a Moleskine sketchbook.

Here are some observations of Sorolla and the show from a painter’s perspective.

- Intriguing Portrait Compositions.  

When painting portraits, the convention is for the figure to occupy the full frame of the canvas.  Interestingly, Sorolla broke this convention in several pieces by placing heads near the center of the canvas, leaving the figure enveloped by a large portion of the background.

Joaquin Sorolla, Portrait of Ralph Clarkson, 1911.

Joaquin Sorolla, Portrait of Charles M Kurtz, 1909.

The portraits are effective and charming, but what was it about these men where Sorolla thought their portrait would be better served by having them surrounded by so much background?  Was there something meek about their personality?  Which leads to one of the more curious placements... that of President William Howard Taft....

Joaquin Sorolla, Portrait of William Howard Taft, 1909.

If you want a person to appear authoritative and important, you paint them filling the frame, possibly even overflowing it.  You may angle the perspective to look up at the person.  Which is why it's fascinating to see the robust Taft appear diminished.  What was Sorolla's intent in having so much background hover above, in effect, surrounding and suppressing the figure?  Especially considering that he was painting the sitting President of the United States. One would think that his composition would evoke power. The President's direct gaze and smile make him appear casual and gregarious.  Was Sorolla trying to add some humanity and approach-ability to how Taft would be perceived?  Compare this work to one painted by Anders Zorn with Taft in almost the exact same position.... but the President fills the frame and directs his gaze off-center.

Anders Zorn, President Taft.

- He dictates what's important.

Try to look at anything other than his wife's eyes....

Joaquin Sorolla, Clotilde Seated on a Sofa, 1910.

Sorolla has wonderful skill in directing the viewer's gaze.  He does this with a few techniques.  First, he relies on contrast.  Viewer's eyes immediately seek out areas of high contrast.  By framing her face with dark background and hair on top, and surrounding it underneath with the bright dress and sofa, he drives focus to her dark eyes.  Secondly, he makes sure nothing competes with her eyes.  The sofa is a muted yellow color.  Her lips are desaturated and light in value -- he didn't give her ruby red lips which would cause the viewer to fluctuate between her lips and eyes.  I was told by an art instructor: "You got to choose between promoting the lips or the eyes.  Otherwise they compete and neither of them look remarkable."

Sorolla lets you know what's important.

Wandering through the exhibit, I constantly observed how he placed light objects against dark to create contrast.  In his painting, Senora de Sorolla, his wife's features radiate when juxtaposed against the black dress.  It may be my favorite painting in the show.

Joaquin Sorolla, Senora de Sorolla, 1906.

And if he doesn't want you to care about an object, he makes sure you don't by not painting it.  Take a look at Taft's left hand in the painting:

While you can tell it's a hand, it lacks definition and detail -- almost to the point of looking unfinished.  It remains abstract because he doesn't want that to be your point of focus.  Look at the other hand at the same height.  He wants you to look at the fist.  It has detail and is surrounded by dark shadows to promote contrast. Value wise, the hands don't vary much.  Detail wise, they're treated differently.  A quick aside, look at the stroke of red underneath his pointer finger on his right hand.  He's the master at reflected light.  It makes a large difference in how that hand is perceived.

To emphasize the face and features, he de-emphasized clothing by painting the folds and drapery with flat strokes using only two or three values.  He didn't want them to compete with more important elements.  The clothes aren't busy.  He insinuated folds without heavy rendering.  He does a dark stroke, a light stroke, and a medium value to blend.  If you squint, clothing appears to be composed of two values.  It could be rendered in black and white.

In his self-portrait, observe how he renders the folds of his jacket with broad, simple strokes.

Compare that to how the artist, Michael C Hayes, treats drapery.  Michael heavily renders fabric to enhance the look, intrigue, and drama of his pieces.

Michael C Hayes, Death of Arthur.

- The Elusive Jawline

Jaw lines -- particularly on females -- are difficult to paint.  There's little room for error since a bad shape will change a person's identity and too strong a line can give a female a masculine quality.  I noticed on Sorolla's paintings of women that he painted their jaw lines with very soft edges and a constant value.  He would then add a single tiny straight dark line across one part to demarcate the change in form.  Very effective.  I used this technique on my recent painting of Samantha.

Bryan Tipton, Portrait of Samantha III (Close-up). 2014.

- Affection

Two of my favorite paintings in the exhibit are those of his wife, Clotilde.

Joaquin Sorolla, Senora de Sorolla, 1906.

Joaquin Sorolla, Clotilde Seated on a Sofa, 1910.

Looking at these paintings, I sensed that Sorolla had strong affection for his wife by the way he portrayed her.  He captures her presence.  And I like how she gazes back at him with a look of, "I love you and I'll hold still... but I kind of want this to be over."

- The Hazards of Green

Green -- especially Viridian or Pthalo -- is a dangerous color to use in flesh tones as it can look out of place or make a person appear sickly.  However, Sorolla used it beautifully in some of the mid-tone transitions when he painted people in ocean scenes.  It created color harmonies between the people and the water.  Look for strokes of green in his flesh tones when he transitions from dark to light values in his sea-based figures.

- Show Lighting

My only criticism of an otherwise incredible show is the lighting.  Each painting has a direct spotlight focused on it and due to the light's angle and heavy lacquer on the work, the reflection off the paintings is so strong that it's nearly impossible to view the painting when standing in front of it at a medium to close depth.  To see any detail you have to stand to the side which makes viewing the paintings awkward.  I'm not sure how to solve it except for changing the angle of the lights or adding diffusion.

- Book

The book, Sorolla and America, is a great companion to the show.  The reproductions are true and all the paintings are in there.  But there's nothing like seeing these paintings in person.

- Favorite Paintings

My five favorite paintings in the exhibit are:
  1. Senora de Sorolla
  2. Clotilde Seated on a Sofa
  3. Chandler Robbins
  4. The Peppers
  5. The Blind Man of Toledo

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Art: Portrait of Samantha III.

Portrait of Samantha III (Oil on canvas board, 9x12").

A few close-up views:

Over my studies, it took me a while to realize how desaturated flesh colors really were.  I used complementary colors and Gamblin's Radiant Blue to grey-down colors and preserve the quality of the mixtures.

It has been a while since I've painted a portrait.  I was pleased with how this turned out and surprised myself a bit.  It feels "painterly," which is a quality I love.

Here are a few process shots.  I drew the outline in a mixture of red oxide, alizarin crimson, and ultramarine blue.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sketchbook: Zara In Robe.

Zara In Robe (Ballpoint pen, watercolor, and gouache in Moleskine sketchbook).

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Art: Fade Into Blue.

Fade Into Blue (Watercolor on watercolor paper, 10x14").

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Sketchbook: Zara Facing Wall.

Zara Facing Wall (Pencil in Moleskine sketchbook, 5x8").

Sketchbook: Amy With Dress.

Amy With Dress (Ballpoint pen on paper, 2x6").

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sketchbook: Neanderthal Skull.

Neanderthal Skull (Felt marker pen in Moleskine sketchbook, 4,5x5").  I sketched this at the San Diego Museum of Man.  They have a great collection of evolutionary skulls.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sketchbook: Two Drawings Of Women.

I've been playing around with materials -- experimenting with metallic leaf and letting the watercolor do its own thing.

Tamara (Watercolor in Moleskine sketchbook, 5x8").

Jen Pregnant (Ink, acrylic, casein, and imitation gold leaf in Moleskine sketchbook, 5x8").

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Art: Portrait of Samantha.

Portrait of Samantha (Oil on canvas, 9x12").

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Art: Waiting.

Waiting (Oil on illustration board, 15x20").  Available until 4/1 at Chicano Art Gallery in San Diego.

A few close-ups:

This was my second entry in the No Place Like Home group art show.  Its creation was due to a timely series of encounters.

First, I caught the Richard Diebenkorn exhibit at the Palm Springs Art Museum. I'm not particularly fond of abstract art.  To me, it exclaims, "I Can't Draw!"  But I found myself riveted by Diebenkorn's work. I understood that despite his abstraction, there's a draftsman at work. He knows how to draw.  His choices are actual choices, and not due to a lack of technical proficiency.  I became enamored with his layering of paint, heavy texture, and how he chose to render objects. My favorite piece was Knife In a Glass.  I stood in front of it for fifteen minutes and returned to it often while wandering through the exhibit.

Richard Diebenkorn. Knife in a Glass. 1963.

In many of his paintings, he toned the canvas with a solid color -- often red.  That background became an essential part of the painting because it peeked through the subsequent layers and provided a counterpoint. I loved his brushstrokes and how he let the blue undertone filter into this painting, creating harmony with the color of the knife.  While not true, the knife's handle felt like it was rendered in two brushstrokes.  The hilt of the knife was composed of a thick dark gob of paint that arose from the canvas. The highlights on the glass were pure white paint draped on top.  The application of paint on this painting was incredible.  It created interest.  I studied it closely, and every time I returned I noticed something new.

A week later, my wife and I walked through the San Diego flea market, and I caught this birdhouse sitting in the middle of random ephemera.

I felt enamored with its shape and how the light struck its surface to create dramatic shadows.  While at the flea market, I bought a birdhouse for five dollars.

I brought the birdhouse home and wondered where it would hang.  What location would make it attractive and safe for birds?  Would a bird ever find sanctuary there?  Once I hung the birdhouse, it would just sit there waiting.

As for process....

I applied four layers of gesso to the illustration board.  I prefer using illustration board over other surfaces.  It is light and thin which makes it easy to store.  The surface is smooth and I can adjust the texture by varying my gesso application.  It absorbs paint at a rate that works well for me.

I sketched the general outline of the birdhouse in pencil and then toned the entire board with Gamblin's cadmium red light, knowing that parts of the red would poke through the canvas.  The red was transparent enough that I could still see my drawing.  Using a palette knife, I loosely began covering the entire board with paint, feeling my way around, pulling and dragging and scraping and changing angles.  I applied thick dabs of paint to create peaks, much like I observed on Diebenkorn's paintings.  I used a brush only where appropriate.

I reveled in the looseness, spawned by a synergy of events.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Art: Life Is Elsewhere.

Life is Elsewhere (Ink on paper map, mounted on Masonite, 12x18"). Available at Chicano Art Gallery (San Diego) until April.

In January, I was invited to participate in a group art show with the theme, No Place Like Home.  The only requirement was that each piece had to contain a house.  The house could be any size, shape or design. Without impetus to work large or develop fully realized pieces, I spend my time working on studies in sketchbooks or on newsprint.  This opportunity arrived at a perfect time.  It gave me motivation to create large, completed pieces.

I enjoy working with a constraint.  It provides a challenge and funnel to channel ideas.  However, I struggled with the house theme and am unsure why. I didn't want the house to feel forced.  It had to appear organic. But after a few weeks of having "house on the brain," I erupted with all of these ideas.  I wasn't sure if any of them would work but I ended up developing six pieces with different styles and ideas.  It was fun to explore. Two of the pieces were included in the show, with the piece above, Life Is Elsewhere, being one of them.

When I look out the airplane's window, I find myself constantly wondering how my life would be different had I grown up in the locales revealed below me.  Would I be essentially the same?  Wildly different?  Would my life be better?  Worse?  What experiences would I have had?  I'm fascinated by the concept.

There is a quote by Arthur Rimbaud: What a life! True life is elsewhere. We are not in the world.

This became the basis of Milan Kundera's novel titled, Life Is Elsewhere.  Another novel called, Prague by Arthur Phillips, developed a similar concept.  The idea is that we think our life would be better if we only lived over there.... or people in this other place are having so much more fun than I am.  It's that something is better somewhere else.

I decided to explore this in my piece.

I purchased a paper map of the United States and mounted it to Masonite using matte medium.  It becomes an adhesive when paper is placed on top of a wet layer.  When applied on top of paper, it dries clear and can be used as a base for either water or oil based mediums.  I started by airbrushing white ink on top of the map.  Coincidentally, this made it appear as clouds, very similar to when I fly in a plane and look out the window.  Little patches could be seen here and there.

I won't go into reasons why I added and arranged the specific elements as I did -- that will be up to the viewer.  But to explain the technical process... the figure was hand-drawn on tracing paper and transferred to the map using carbon copy.  I tried drawing on the map directly in pencil but it was too faint to read.  The carbon copy method allowed me to perfect the drawing on the tracing paper and transfer dark lines to the map.  I inked the figure using a Winsor and Newton Series #7 brush.  I airbrushed white ink over top to soften the edges.  I cut a template for the golden symbols and airbrushed them using Daler-Rowney Raw Sienna acrylic ink.  I went back over them with a brush using opaque Gold acylic ink.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Art Show: No Place Like Home (3/15).


I'll have two new pieces at the No Place Like Home group art show opening this Saturday (3/15) in San Diego's Barrio Logan neighborhood.  Stop by to see some great art, say hello, have some beer, and listen to some tunes.

Chicano Art Gallery - 2117 Logan Ave. #1, San Diego, California 92113