Measurable Improvement

61b436fa47273fe1e06a3ec413be2536.cacheYou know what they say, practice makes perfect better.

I started my next painting yesterday at Brushworks. This one is a plaster cast (taken, one assumes, from a statue of some kind) of one quarter of a face. It contains the eye, cheek, and eyebrow.

It’s really quite similar to doing a still life.  The difference here is one of focus.  In still life, you’re interested mostly in composition.  There are also questions of color, shape harmony, negative space, etc.

Casts, on the other hand, are all about value.  (insert Barenaked Ladies reference here)  My own value scale is pretty tight, particularly in the mid tones.  This means that I have a tendency not to make the steps in value in my paintings large enough, resulting in a flat-looking, boring image.  Since the cast is white, all you have to worry about are the values as shadows proceed across the surface.  This ability to focus will be very useful, I think.

0572293a70fe5b392d2f1cc2c4b0c6c3.cache Yesterday I did the initial charcoal drawing.  Once again, I learned fun new things.  My charcoal is way too soft and dark for initial underdrawing; vine charcoal is on my shopping list for the future.  I have definitely gotten faster at the initial drawing.  I’ve also gotten far more accurate.  When I did my first sight-size drawing for the still life with vases, I had to redo almost every measurement by the time it was over.  This time, I really only had one set of measurements that were off, and the most complicated part (the eye) was fine after the first try.  I’m pretty proud of myself.

Next week, I should start putting paint on the canvas.

It was a good week to paint

Another week, another layer of paint.
This week the focus was on the background. My original thought was to use a looser style with more visible brush calligraphy in the back. It would evoke the complex texture of the background (a sort of shiny, embossed fabric) and add visual interest.
Unfortunately, in practice it ended up passing “interesting” and moving into “busy and overwhelming” so I had to smooth out the transitions.
However, it wasn’t a total waste. I think I managed to turn a lot of the sharp crease-like value changes into a more gentle roll feel. I also fixed my darks so they were more in line with the rest of the background.

I also got some very nice glow in at the edges of the picture (not that visible in this photo) using Daniel Green “golden ochre” painted thinly wet-into-wet into the green.

Obligatory school pride/socialization plug – if you are interested in art, you should come take classes along with me at Brushworks. 🙂

Patty also hates me and wants me to be poor – she told me about a sale on that same Daniel Green paint for up to 85% off. That’s $10 for a tube of Cadmium Red, instead of close to $50. I should probably scoot out there this weekend and see if they have any Ultramarine left – I’m getting really low. Not to mention that the more I use my M. Graham and Winsor-Newton paints, the less patience I have for the stiffness and lack of staying power from my Winton tubes. 🙂

This is my first WIP photo taken using my new phone. It works well. It’s nice to have a camera that’s worth a darn in my pocket. I might be able to start taking more snaps. 🙂

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Hues are weird. The lure of private lessons. Optical illusions

As usual, Thursday night this week was my art class at Brushworks.  This is week #3 of the new painting, and I got to put some paint on the canvas.  The smaller of the two ceramic pieces was really difficult to get quite right in my drawing.  I think it is just that a small error is a much larger % of the total size of the piece, and last week when I got around to that, my arms were tired and kind of shaky.  but on top of that, it’s very shiny.  The lights reflect off it.  The other elements of the composition reflect off of it.  It really takes an effort to look at it, and not the false contours that the reflections can create.  I am thinking this will be a fun challenge.

This was my first time using straight paint as the first layer.  For my first painting, I used extremely thin paint mixed with turpenoid for an imprimatur.  This time we forewent imprimatur and just went straight to paint.  That, friends and neighbors, kind of sucks.  There was no hyperbole involved when Patty told me to “scrub the paint into the canvas.”  It took me most of an hour to get one thin coat of paint on an 11×14 canvas (including color mixing time.)

Color mixing was interesting tonight.  The large vase is a horsehair raku piece, so most of it is gray.  Patty told me confidently, “Start with burnt sienna.”  The mind boggles.  However, burnt sienna + a ridiculous amount of white + a smidgen of blue later, and voila!  Pretty much dead on for the lightest colors on the thing.  It also happens that Patty’s own still life has a background with similar colors to mine, and in the midst of mixing her still life, she had my proper color.  She was using M. Graham viridian green and titanium white.  I have those colors!  Only, not really.  I have W&N Winton “viridian green hue.”  It looks pretty nice alone.  It’s even interesting with yellow.  However, it becomes a bizarre and unnaturally bright/saturated color when mixed with white.  Adding some crimson to key it down didn’t really work.  I ended up with a gray that was still too bright.  Patty, always a gracious teacher, shared some of her viridian with me.  Grumbacher in this case, but still an actual viridian rather than a hue.

Luckily, my darling wife and several of our darling children were already in St Paul so I asked them to head to Wet Paint and pick up a tube of M. Graham viridian for me.  I really like that paint.  I started off just impressed that there was a line of professional grade paint that was similarly priced to the student lines.  Then I used it a bit and became pleased, and now I am creeping up on downright excited.

Last night was unusual for one other reason:  Everyone else from class was either out sick or out of town.  It was just me and Patty.  In other words, a private lesson.  That was really cool.  I had her attention whenever I needed to ask a question, or found myself at a loss as to where to proceed next.  I definitely understand why people pay a lot of money for 1-on-1 art instruction.  If I had more spare cash, I would consider it myself.  I also got to watch a bit as Patty painted.  Just standing there and watching her, and asking the occasional question, is almost a lesson in itself.

I think I am really going to enjoy this painting.  It has the makings of a serious challenge, and also a platform from which to learn a variety of techniques.  The combination of materials I’m painting is going to tax my ability to draw transparency, reflection, fine detail, texture, and light.  I absolutely expect it to suck when I am done, but I bet I’ll be a much better painter.

Learning to set up a still life

My latest adventure in art, at least at class, is a still-life painting.  There is a lot more to creating a still life composition than I really understood before.

Negative spaces are a subject that I don’t think enough about.  This is not just true of still life, but also of all my paintings.   Repetition is helping me remember to consider it.

I took a whole mess of things, because I wasn’t sure what I would need, or how much.  I ended up just using two objects.  They are both ceramics made by my lovely wife.  They ended up set up with an almost guitaresque negative space between them, and a triangular formation between the tall vase and the short inkwell.  Then we added some folded cloth for another triangle and some contrast.  I quite liked it, in the end.  That took about an hour.

Once the still life was set up and taped down, we marked my viewing point and the location of my easel, and I started drawing.  I am doing a “sight-size” drawing, which is a new experience for me.  It involves standing back from the subject and measuring it with a stick or other viewing aid, then turning to your canvas and making a note of where the measurement would be placed.  Then you walk up and mark your measurement.  Rinse, repeat, double-check.  Eventually you (theoretically) have sufficient guide marks to begin drawing the parts of your still life.  In my case, they were largely off, and I had to redo them a few times. 😛  But in the end I had the contour of the large vase done.  Next time around I can start on the smaller piece and the fabric.  Then, I will use carbon transfer paper to move it onto a canvas.

I’m quite enjoying myself.

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Creativity Cabin Fever

I feel like I have some sort of creativity cabin-fever these days.

I really want to get creative, but at the same time I am restless and fidgety.  On top of that, I am easily distracted by brainless things.  These two things do not conspire to cause me to get a lot of work done.

If you add to that the fact that my house is a four-kid madhouse with constant lightsaber battles being waged by the five year old, and middle- and high-schoolers doing papers, you can see where I might be running into issues.

I wonder if a change of venue might help.  My desk, where most of my writing and graphics arts work goes on, is in the office.  That’s the social center of my house most days, as all the adults are computer geeks.  I also know every little distraction that’s available to me, there.

For sketching, I could take a physical notebook and do my sketching that way.  For writing I could do the same, or take my laptop somewhere new.  Even a different room might help.  Heck, I could set up my laptop for use with my digital tablet and do the same.

It’s probably a good idea, particularly for sketching.  There are just a lot more subjects available out and about than can be shoehorned into my computer room.  What I need more than that, I think, is to develop some discipline.  To that end, I have come to a few conclusions.

  1. My standards have been too high.  It’s okay if I don’t get a whole chapter or scene written, or a whole drawing done.  It’s still better to have done something.
  2. I should do a little something every day, even if it’s not part of a larger project.
  3. I have the desire and inspiration, but now I need to focus on the craft of writing and illustration.  That means the heads-down work of actually making things happen instead of waiting for my muse to fart rainbows on my head or whatever she does.
  4. I cut myself too much slack.  I gave up too quickly on the Project 365 challenge.  I will not make it happen if every little thing becomes an excuse not to do the work that day.

Wish me luck.  I haven’t decided yet if I want to use this space to update my progress and lack of same.  I think it would get a bit too repetitive and dull in short order.  Maybe I will do weekly summaries or something.

I am indebted to Cory Doctorow for his essay, “Writing in the Age of Distraction” over at Locus Online.

Progress abounds on Celerity

I have been doing a lot of writing on Celerity for the past two weeks.  I believe I am approaching the climax of the story.  I have filled an entire 100 page notebook with the script, and started #2 tonight.

Levi, the artist, sent me some preliminary art for the first scene tonight.  It looks really good, and I am really excited.

Hopefully we will have enough to put up some teasers or something at the Celerity website soon.