Friday, February 24, 2012

Master Study Exercises - Study Four

Gregory Manchess, also referred to me by my mentor, is a master of both color and  brushstroke. Ryhythm and timing, conveying emotion through brushwork and achieving a balance of concept and aesthetics are essential components of his technique. This has garnered prestigious assignments from an ever-widening list of clients. His art has highlighted covers for Time, National Geographic, Atlantic Monthly, and the Major League Baseball World Series Program; spreads for Playboy, Omni, Newsweek, National Geographic, and Smithsonian; countless advertising campaigns and book covers. For Federal Express he created five paintings for display in the company’s corporate headquarters, which were then reproduced and distributed as posters and greeting cards. He has also illustrated movie posters for Paramount, Columbia, and Disney; conceptual work for The Chronicles of Narnia. His portrait of Sean Connery was used as the defining climactic moment in Warner Brothers’ Finding Forrester.

His work has also been recognized in the children’s book market. His first book, To Capture The Wind by Sheila MacGill-Callahan, was published in 1997 and nominated for a Caldecott Award, followed by Nanuk: Lord of the Ice, by Brian Heinz, released a year later. His second collaboration with Heinz, Cheyenne Medicine Hat, a story about wild mustangs, was released to wide acclaim in 2006. Other books include, Giving Thanks, 2003, The Last River, 2006, and Magellan’s World, released by Mikaya Press in 2007. He has just completed a lavishly illustrated book of 5 classic Robert E. Howard stories with 60 paintings. A black and white version was published by Del Rey in 2006 and a full color limited edition is forthcoming from Subterranean Press.

Widely awarded within the industry, Manchess exhibits frequently at the Society of Illustrators in New York, where he has won a gold and four silver medals. The Society of Illustrators in Los Angeles awarded him two silver medals and a Best in Show Award. His peers at the Society of Illustrators in New York honored him with the coveted Hamilton King Award in 1999, based on an artist’s career accomplishments. The following year they awarded him the Stephan Dohanos Award for the best illustration of the year by a member.

It is easy to understand why Manchess is so well received and awarded lucrative illustration jobs. His sense of composition, paint handling and color are all superb. For my demo exercise, I chose a nice little profile, and thought it would be a challenge to paint that hand near the mouth. It wasn't nearly has challenging as I thought it was going to be, but maybe some of that has to do with the fact that I've been studying artistic anatomy (again) since last fall. Studying or refreshing myself with all the bone and muscle structures always helps with bony landmarks to know where to place those notes of color so they read correctly.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Master Study Exercises - Study Three

My mentor sent me a list of influential contemporary artists to explore. In her words, "Some of them are about color. Some are about paint quality. Some are about composition. Those elements should be in important in ALL your new work, including your portraits that you want to include in your MFA work."

Here are her suggested artists:

Trisha Adams, Vadim Zang, Yana Golubyatnikov, Diedeker, Sandra Flood, Katy Schneider, Wayne Thiebauld, Mary Beth McKenzie, Irwin Greenburg, John Howard, Gregory Manchess, Ying Liu, Michael Hussar, David Shevlino, Ramona Youngquist, Darrell Hill, Ann Gale, Skip (Malcom) Liepke and Joseph Lorusso.

Out of the entire list, I was drawn to a couple people right away and for the same myriad of reasons Chris suggested.

Out of this list, my first choice to study was Sandra Flood. I just love her portraits, the muted palette with just notes of vibrant color. Her portraits have emotive qualities while still being subtle. Her influences are Egon Schiele; Lucian Freud; Degas; Motherwell; Whistler; and Antonio Lopez-Garcia.

The particular painting I studied is titled "Blue Amy" 12x12 oil on linen. It is actually much more colorful than her other ones, but I also thought it would be very was!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

In the technique of Donato Giancola

During my visit, my mentor had me watch the technique of New York illustrator, Donato Giancola. Donato spends his time initially doing a highly rendered drawing of his illustration. Once he is completely satisfied with the drawings and has all the values and subtleties to his liking, he then photocopies the drawings onto Strathmore 500 series Drawing 1 ply paper. The rationale to this approach is so that he does not need to then worry about ruining his original drawing should a mistake happen in the painting phase. This technique also lets the artist print out multiple copies of his or her drawing and then experiment with many different color combinations with each one. Unless the painting is going to be extremely large, he mounts the paper onto 1/4" masonite boards using acrylic matte medium as the glue/sealant.
So, in order to try out this method, I first have to get a finished drawing ready to be transferred. Luckily, I met a man willing to help me with my artwork. His name is David and he has NF1. David lives in the Netherlands and I happened to meet him online through Facebook. Because NF is not a disease, but a genetic disorder it is not something that only concentrates in certain geographical areas. NF is worldwide in distribution, affects both sexes equally and has no particular racial, geographic or ethnic distribution. Therefore, NF can appear in any family.

I had asked David if he could have someone take a few photos of him for me to use. Not only did he do it, he had about twenty taken and had them done and sent by the next day. He is just a real blessing, since lots of people with NF don't want to talk about it and some even refuse to have their pictures taken.

I finished the drawing this afternoon, so now, I will need to go find some masonite boards for the backings of the transfers. I don't have anything drawn in the background because I plan on having all that just done with loose paint without a predetermined outcome. I now need to go have the photocopies made. I think I am going to try a smooth finish to my paper when I transfer it. I'd like to do at least four different versions with four different color methods in mind.

In order to mount this drawing, I need to wet the paper first to get it to expand before applying the 'glue' to the panel/masonite and back of the copy. Then roll out the paper with a rubber printers roller. The idea is to squeeze out most of the excess medium but leave enough to work as a glue. This also means, I need to go buy a rubber roller! I will update again as soon as I have these transferred!

With a little help from my husband, all my boards are cut to the right size and I was able to transfer the drawings and get them all secured and mounted without bubbling or rips. I had to stand up on a chair in order to take this picture. (I think every real artist studio should have a Hot Wheels race car track in it too along with a broken florescent light fixture.) 

I originally had planned on doing about three or four. Somehow I accidentally stumbled up the properties of the number 6. According to the Pythagoreans, 6 is a perfect number and symbolized beauty and high ideals. So, since I am questioning beauty as I explore these portraits, why not paint David 6 times with 6 different color treatments. Well, we'll see how it goes. 

So, I decided to paint the portraits in complementary color pairs. Pairing of the portraits seems to just be natural, or I have been reading too much about the pairing of chromosomes lately, but either way, it seemed to be the way my brain was wired to do this. For each pair, I tried to use the base background color as the base color for the skin tone and then to use the complement for the shadow areas. Doing the Manchess exercise right before this definitely loosened me up as far as brushstrokes are concerned. Plus, doing this technique does help alleviate the pressure of messing up the drawing underneath. I knew at any point if the painting was going terribly, I could simply paste a new drawing down on the board and start over. 

Here are the color complement paintings. I am going to try to do something to those borders, but I am not quite sure yet what. I am thinking simple color strokes that are found on the DNA chromosomes would make for interesting graphics around the edge. (Again, please excuse my camera and we can all be thankful I am not working on a MFA in photography): 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Maternal Gaze - Part 2

Rather than adding onto my original post from earlier this month, I am going to just make this own separate post and see how it develops from this point forward. After reading and writing about Robert Henri, and taking all the advice from my mentor, and doing some color studies, I thought I would try and get some color into this painting and mostly into the child's skin. I'm enjoying the results so far. I plan on still working on the bedspread. I had originally thought to do something with chromosome colors or DNA markers, but I think just a normal representational bedspread is enough. Not every element has to have symbolism, most of which would be lost on the viewer anyway. I'd rather concentrate on the true purpose which was to try and paint a child with the viewpoint of a mother's view late at night while the child is sleeping. I know I am not the only mother who goes in at nights and watches my boys sleep. I sometimes watch them for a few minutes. Then I will get them out of the entanglement of sheets and re-tuck them into bed. I always whisper "I love you" in their ear and kiss their cheeks.

The first area that was really lacking any color was the face. As my mentor mused earlier "Beige..and beiger". So, I wanted to get rid of that and, just have some fun. My thought is, if I ruin what I've done so far, then "Who Cares". I also am reading Hawthorne on Painting and Robert Henri's The Art Spirit. Both advise only one brushstroke per load of paint so the brushstrokes can remain pure and juicy, instead of scrubbed and muddied. Now, I've known that for years and I tell my students to quit trying to get 5 or so strokes out of one load of paint and yet, I've been guilty of doing that myself. So, this time, I only allowed myself one stroke per brush load. I also worked on the bedspread because I found the stripes on the sheet to be irritating. Eventually, I just painted over them. I had made those stripes up to create visual interest, and I may go back after I am done painting the folds on the sheet and put a pattern on them, but I am not sure.

Finally...I painted in the pattern on the bedspread and finished the sheet and pillow. My camera tends to wash out the colors, but this gives the basic idea for now. I was told a long time ago that it takes two people to paint a picture. One person to paint it and the other person to take the paintbrush away. I'm leaving this painting alone now for awhile!

Master Study Exercises - Study Two

For my first exercise, I picked Nathan Fowkes, an artist of whom I had always admired. This time, I wanted to discover a new artist. Not only am I making a study of another painting, but I am also widening my knowledge base of the artists currently working and producing work I admire.

Back in 2004, I took my first workshop offered through the Scottsdale Artists' School. The workshop met in Old Lyme, Connecticut and was a plein air painting event. The school had about fifteen or so P-A-P-A members at the event who were there to do demonstrations in the mornings and then instruct the students in the afternoons. I loved it, learned a lot and really enjoyed watching the painters approach landscape painting differently. However, the lodging, the workshop itself and the transportation all added up very quickly for me. So, this trip was a splurge, a gift to myself. Later, in 2006, my work was accepted into their "Best and Brightest" competition held in Scottsdale, Arizona. After that show, I promised myself that once my children were raised (I was pregnant at the time with Fred so I was really thinking down the road) I would make sure to attend a week long workshop every year, even if it was not through this particular school. I believe every artist needs at least a week long retreat to get away from work, family, social obligations and the daily routine of life and just concentrate on making art.

Knowing that I will someday partake in doing this workshops again, I periodically peruse the workshops and all the instructors and narrow it down to which workshop I would attend if school suddenly called and said "You've won a free workshop...everything is paid for, come right now!" I know, it's quirky, but it does sometimes lead me down interesting artistic tangents of ideas for classes, interesting artists to explore, possible workshops and books to look through. I also like to call this time "research" even though it's more like indulging in eye candy.

In order to find my next artist, I scrolled through their instructor list looking for an unfamiliar name and I came upon an artist named, Michael Malm.

I really enjoyed his painting of the two figures on the rowboat. It reminded me of the Thomas Eakin's "The Champion" painting; only for the content, not because of the color palette. It made me smile. The Eakin's painting was on the cover of my American art book back in college. Michael's painting is much more colorful and painterly than Eakin's and it seemed like a good challenge. Not to mention, I was pretty certain that was pthalo blue, a color which I never use. I thought, it's probably time to give that a try.

I went through his website, looking for images and content. He frequently uses the Georges de La Tour motif of not showing the candle and having the figures backlit around it. I've always like that in paintings, adds to the drama and narrative of the scene. I mostly enjoy his figurative works, but decided to try my hand at copying the painting that first grabbed my attention. I also read through his artist statement and particularly liked his last paragraph which reads like this:

"I am motivated by life and God's beautiful world around me. When I get bogged down in the studio, and lose the vision of what I am trying to do, I have found that getting outside to observe things as they really appear in first person away from the computer screen, or working from a live model is always so refreshing. I am always amazed at just how rich and beautiful the colors of nature around us really are. It is easy for me to forget when I fail to observe life more than the monitor. The most effective education for me comes from observing from life."

I believe this to be very true. There are times that it is just invigorating to paint from life, whether it is a model or from nature. It's nice to get out of the studio and away from the monitors. It's also nice to slow down and enjoy what is all around us and take the time to actually look at it.

I spent this evening finishing this one up. Just little touches here and there trying to match it the best I could. His original is much bigger than 9" x 12" so I think the copy would be better had I done it larger instead of trying to use little brushes to do all the work, but this study is mostly for color exploration, so I'm not too worried about details.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Master Study Exercises - Study One

My mentor recommended that I try doing a few master studies to be able to problem solve color mixing issues. It was hard for me to think who I would use to create a master copy from. The truth is, I think I do that exercise fairly well when it comes to paintings with definite edges and subdued color. So, I thought I should challenge myself and pick someone who was known for color, loose brushstrokes, and was alive and working today.

I then remembered Nathan Fowkes. Nathan taught at the school I attended in Los Angeles, and at the time he was working on color keys and background paintings for DreamWorks Studio. He was fresh off of working on the Prince of Egypt, a movie in which I admired the background paintings more than anything else. In fact, I remember watching that movie and falling in love with the paintings behind the animation, which prompted me to buy the Making of the Prince of Egypt book.

I always admired Nathan's work, but never got to take any of his classes, nor did I ever get the chance to meet him. I thought I would look him up and see if he was still painting. And, yes, he is still very active and doing amazing work. So, I sifted through his blog to find some very loose paintings, that were still very colorful. In essence, I was looking for something that would be very difficult for me to emulate. He didn't disappoint. Here I am so far on this study. I had to stop in the middle of it and get my boys ready for bed, then I went back downstairs and kept working. I think it's getting better, but I plan on working on it some more tomorrow.

I got up this morning and kept working on this color study. It is very hard to get that same level of brushstrokes when I'm not using the same brushes most likely, but at least the colors are getting there. I think I am done with this one.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Influence of Contemporary Art and Suzanne Anker

I have been reading articles written by Suzanne Anker and looking through all of her artwork:
Suzanne Anker's Artwork

Ms. Anker is a visual artist and theorist working at the intersection of art and the biological sciences. Her books include The Molecular Gaze: Art in the Genetic Age, co-authored with the late sociologist Dorothy Nelkin, published in 2004 by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Visual Culture and Bioscience, co-published by University of Maryland and the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. Her writings have appeared in Art and America, Seed Magazine, Nature Reviews Genetics, Art Journal, Tema Celeste and M/E/A/N/I/N/G. Her work has been the subject of reviews and articles in the New York Times, Artforum, Art in America, Flash Art, Nature and has been cited by Barbara Maria Stafford, Donna Haraway and Martin Kemp in their texts. She has been a speaker at the Royal Society in London, Cambridge University, Yale University, the London School of Economics, the Max-Planck Institute, Universitiy of Leiden, the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum in Berlin, the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, Banff Art Center any many others. Chairing SVA’s Fine Arts Department in NYC since 2005, Ms. Anker continues to interweave traditional and experimental media in her department’s new digital initiative.

Malignant Nerve Peripheral Sheath Tumor
This prompted me to spend two weeks studying MRI scans, tumor stains and chromosome detailing. The first image is an example of a malignant nerve peripheral sheath tumor and similar to what I have been looking at. When just looked at without knowing what it is, it just is a series of biomorphic blobs swirling around each other, creating interesting patterns. The tumor is of course, the big one in the mid to upper left part of the picture plane.

David - NF1 - Netherlands
I have done about 7 watercolor portraits of people with NF since my return from Boston. The one I am uploading is the one I just finished of a man with NF who lives in the Netherlands and granted me permission to use his likeness for my MFA explorations.

On my Many Faces of NF page, I paint any person with NF who will donate to the Children's Tumor Foundation or NF Inc. or their local NF Chapter. So, these portraits are simply my way of saying thank you to all those who continue to raise awareness about NF.

I am now trying to widen the scope of the portraits to start making them read as an entire visual unit. I was struck by how my portraits "read" when they all are condensed into little thumbnail size pics on Facebook. I liked the idea of seeing so many people at one time, rather than just an isolated portrait. So, I am going to start playing around with this idea and quickly did this little sketch of what it might look like to start incorporating the two elements.

The preparatory here to the right  is just one idea to try and visually unify the portraits I've done while still making them visually interesting and not necessarily blatantly about NF. The thought is to print out real prints on photo paper and somehow paint these bold patterns over the top. I'm not sure I want quite this many faces as it seems to get a little cluttered, visually. After I did this sketch, I realized that I do not like all the white space going on in the background either. And I would rather the portraits look a little more organic than solid rectangles.

I have been working with this idea and using my prep sketch as a starting point. I got 5" x 7" prints made of my portraits and adhered them down onto an acrylic still life painting. The painting was done on masonite years ago and I had always thought it was just mediocre, but had never bothered to work on it anymore. It seemed like the perfect ground to paint over, but instead of applying gesso over it, I prefer painting over old paintings because they provide interesting background elements. The initial board looks like this. If you look closely you can see the drapery and cow skull in the background. It took some time to just layout the photos and wait for the sealant to dry. Once it does, I will start painting over the whole board.
I let it dry overnight. Then I then took mostly alizarin crimson, permanent rose, and dioxidine purple with lots of titanium white as well to start painting the malignant nerve peripheral sheath tumor. I chose seventeen faces to be in the background, partly for design purposes and partly because NF1 is located on Chromosome 17. As evidenced by the glare from my camera, it's is very wet. I will wait about a day before I go back and put in finer details of the white and dark areas of the cells.
I spent this evening, painting in the white parts and taking the tumor red blobs over at least one eye for each individual. Besides being a design element, optic gliomas are expected with people who have NF. Optic glioma is just a fancy way of saying a tumor on the optic nerve. Most of the time the tumor will just sit on the nerve, but if it crawls its way down the nerve to where both eye nerves cross, it can lead to blindness. Sometimes that can happen and sometimes the tumor just sits on the nerve and doesn't do anything, similar to a mole. It's there, the doctors can see it, but if it's not growing or moving, they leave it alone.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Maternal Gaze - Part 1

It is not accidental that I am painting Henry in snowflake pajamas. He dreams of becoming a weatherman someday. I rather like the idea of "un-finishing" this painting. I do not know what will become of his dreams. I'd rather leave these spaces unresolved, formally speaking or perhaps leave them more impressionistic. I am going to do my best to not render the entire painting and let some of my artistic voice shine through.