Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Continuing on with the New Painting

This was the underpainting that I started for the new painting a few weeks ago. Perhaps you remember from my earlier post.
And then I continued on by whiting out the figure with gesso. As this underpainting was in acrylic I could use acrylic gesso. You can paint oil over acrylic, but not the other way around. The figures on the left are photocopies of the drawing. I used them to help me with size and composition.
This was my second painting. This time the background was done in oil so I overpainted with underpainting white. It is oil but dries faster than regular titanium white. It looks pretty bad, but that doesn't matter at this point.
Here I have begun the figure. She looks pretty ghoulish, but I am not worried. She is only an underpainting, I have more layers to go. I am just laying out the colours and drawing to see where to go next.
Now a bit further along. Can you see that I have changed the background? I put a glaze of burnt sienna in oil to warm it up and relate it more to the figure. I have worked into her face to get some sense of her. Next I will start working into her 'hair' and torso. I haven't really worked out the fungus-hair yet so I am a bit nervous about that. I don't know if I need to go back and finish the drawing first or if I should just jump into it on the painting. It will probably depend on whether I feel like drawing or painting when I return to the studio.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Looking at the New Series

The past week I went a bit further on the drawing with the fig tree. (Go here to see the earlier version.) It has been slow going with lots of decisions. Somehow I feel like this drawing is setting the mood for the series, so there is a lot of time spent with me just sitting and contemplating.
I hadn't originally planned on the brown ink wash over the tree. I wanted it to be just drawing. But the tree didn't have enough 'weight' so I took a chance with the wash. I am glad I did. I want it to have a feeling of looming over her small figure.
(It looks yellow because of the light when I took the photo.)
The next day I really felt the need to have some kind of 'overview' of what is happening with the new work. How is my older work that I have already finished to fit in with the new? Which of my finished paintings are part of the new series, and which aren't? I brought a few works that were in my last group show out of the house and into the studio trying to see what fit.

This is what I ended up with. Some of the paintings are finished, quite a few aren't. My experiments and beginnings are in there too. Also a book on Moreau, as I feel a few of his paintings have a message for me right now.

There were two finished paintings that I haven't shown, and four unfinished that don't fit in. Two of these I may finish, the other two I will discard.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Drawing in the Studio

I was drawing in the studio on Tuesday. Most of the day I was working on my drawing of a girl near a huge fig tree. I am using photo references for this, though I have been out drawing in the fig trees as well. Drawing them from life has been really helpful when I use the photos because, as I said in the earlier post, there is so much information missing. In the photos you get no idea of their size or the incredible depth and dimension of these powerful trees. Depth gets lost a lot in photos. I spent a lot of time trying to put back in information that I couldn't see in the photos, places where depth and detail was just lost.
In the afternoon I brought in this vine and was drawing it from life. I noticed, again, how much easier (and more fun) it is to draw the real thing. Everything was there, I could see all the little details, like how the leaves have a tiny notch where they attach to the branch, as well as being able to turn it over to see what is happening on the back.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Don't work from photos

Or I should say, don't work from photos if you have another option.

Yesterday I was reading the blog of a very creative and talented blogger. She had posted a painting that she did of a cup. She described her process, the first step was to photograph the cup. This was interesting, as she owned the cup. I commented with the question "Why not just paint the cup? Why paint from the photo?"

I have nothing against using photo references. I use them when I cannot take the actual thing (usually a person) into my studio. I would always prefer to work from life, but it is frequently not an option.

It is frustrating to work from a photo. Why? Because photos lack information. Colours are different, usually colours are missing. Whole bits of what you are trying to paint or draw disappear into shadow. You can' t see what is happening around the corner, you often can't even see that there is a corner. Volume flattens in too much light. I spend hours in the studio trying to re-imagine all that is missing from my reference photos.

Now granted, the blogger I was speaking of was painting a study. And it turned out okay. Maybe she got what she was after.

But when I asked her why she didn't just paint the cup, she answered that she isn't good enough at painting.

That got me worried.

It is true that when you paint from life you have to convert it from 3-D into 2-D -- but this is a lot of what drawing is. And if you want to learn to draw it is the difference between taking the dead end road or the ongoing journey. If you work from photos to learn to draw and paint, the drawings (or paintings) might look better in the beginning, but you won't get very far. (this is not intended as any criticism of the creative blogger. I am sure she knows what she wants.)

My advice to anyone who wants to advance their drawing and painting skills: Do it from life. Painting an actual teacup will take you further than painting (or drawing) a photo of anything. This is nearly always true, but especially especially when you are still learning.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Beginning New Paintings

I decided to start some new paintings, small ones so that I could begin to work some ideas out. I elected to paint over one of my old paintings that I don't like. I started with sanding the old painting. It's on wood so I can do that.
Instead of painting it over with underpainting white, I thought I would try and use the previous painting for a kind of multi-layered background. Like I might do in my art journal. So I put a glaze of ochre yellow over the top.
While that was drying, I began another work, the same size. I also want to do a multi-layered background on this one, but this time with acrylic. I have put down yellow ochre and a layer of cobalt.
I have added more layers of oil to the first background. It is looking quite dark, and the figure isn't disappearing as I wanted.
On the acrylic background I have done a gesso resist print with a leaf, and then come back with more layers of colour.
Now I start to plan my composition.

I copied my drawing to a few different sizes to try them out on the background. Then I drew the figure onto the background and gessoed it. This is because I want to paint from a white ground.
I used the same compositional tool with the oil background. This time I tried four different sizes. The first one is too small.
This one is too big.
I like this size. Would you have chosen the same one? There isn't really a wrong choice, it just depends on what you want to express.
I liked her better shifted toward the front of the board.

I prefer the acrylic background to this dark oil one. But either one could end up being the better painting, you just don't know.

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Wonderful Jane Davenport

I had a visitor last week to my studio. A special event as I live way out in the hills.And extra special when it is the very talented Jane Davenport, best known for her colour saturated photography of cute bugs on gorgeous flowers. She is also a keen art journaler, painter and drawer, and has a fantastic shop in Byron Bay, Institute of Cute.
Go to Jane's site to see more beautiful photography and her art.
We had a lovely artie visit talking painting, art journaling and drawing. No one understands like another artist.

Saturday, 9 October 2010


Monday I started another new drawing. It began as a study, working stuff out for a possible painting.

I needed some lichen as reference so I brought in the branches on the table. It wasn't until Tuesday that I noticed there were creatures living on the twigs. I think they had been hiding. Poor things, I disturbed their home.
A photo that I was also using as a reference. Fascinating stuff to look at closely. Apparently they don't put roots into the tree. The fungus lives symbiotically, not as a parasite.

I wonder if that will have some kind of symbolism in the new series.
Here is the beginning of the drawing. I came to realize that I want to do it in pen rather than pencil. I think it is now going to go on to be a finished piece rather than a working-it-out drawing.
Wednesday I decided to try the experiments that my mentor had suggested to me. I had already gessoed about ten matt boards in preparation. The boards are relatively small as these are to be quick studies of 20-30 minutes trying different approaches.

As I set out my paints to begin I was beset by self-doubt. "I don't know what I am doing..." and I could feel the anxiety in my gut. But then it occurred to me that I am not supposed to know what I am doing because today I am experimenting! What a relief!
I have begun the first experiment. I am using a gel medium, the medium I decided on when I did my earlier experimentation.
I applied the paint drawing directly around the volume, hoping the brush strokes would help to express the form. It doesn't matter that it looks a mess, I am only evaluating enough so that I have an idea what to try next.
I put that one aside, I stopped for a snack and then began the second one.
I was going to just put the paint down in vertical brushstrokes and then manipulate it. I had to draw the tree in ink first so that I wouldn't lose the drawing. But after applying the paint over the very basic ink drawing, I am intrigued.
I then removed some of the paint with a rag to indicate light behind the tree. That made it a bit more compelling. And I decide that I will save this version as it may lead somewhere interesting, or onto other experiments.
On the third go, I went with line again, but this time I drew the tree with a "color shaper" after I applied down the paint. I like this better than the pen.

I thought I would wait until this one dried and then try adding some tone. But I also wanted to try painting in the tone while it was still wet, so I did a second one with the same method.
Once I got it to where it in the previous one, I started adding and subtracting paint. I like this one the best so far. I like the feeling of form that I am getting. I am not sure if the lines are adding anything.

But I don't need to form too many opinions at this point. The main focus now is just to see where the experiments take me. I want to do many more. As I try things, more ideas come and then I will try those ideas. This way I may end up with ten or even twenty experiments and I can get more of an idea of the direction I want to go in.

This was a lot of fun. I look forward to doing more next week.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Enjoying Drawing

A flower from my morning walk.
A goat drawn from a photo on the internet.
Fooling around with ideas. The first face is imaginary while using a deer photo as a reference. The deerman below is drawn from someone else's digital idea. And the woman on the right is imaginary.
She is mostly drawn from a fashion photo but I changed her around some.

I am enjoying doing more drawings, especially in my Moleskine Sketchbook. They aren't for anything, just fooling around. Open to ideas and solutions.

I think I will go back later and use it as a journal. I will journal around the pictures.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Self-doubt: It Has Been a Hell of a Week

Artist hell.

You already know that I have been struggling with the beginning of my new series.

On Monday I went and met with a precious mentor of mine and amazing artist, James Guppy.

After a cuppa tea and telling him what I am working on, he gave me some advice. It wasn't comfortable but it was valuable. He pointed out that I am still struggling with some of the same issues I was talking about nearly a year ago - but obviously still haven't fully confronted. Issues of technique. He is english and very polite and always gives his advice gently and with respect.

He suggested lots of experimentation. Many quick studies with a time limit of 20 minutes. So I spent Tuesday gessoing cards and rethinking what I want to paint.

Wednesday I got my hair cut (remind me to show you. I have it short, short, short now.)

Thursday I went into the studio and was... crippled by self-doubt. It came in waves. Waves of self-doubt and everything-doubt. It took constant effort not to give in. To ignore it. Not repress the feeling nor debate with the thoughts, but to simply not listen. I still felt the debilitating lack of confidence but I ignored the message. You know what I mean? When your thoughts are telling you that your ideas are stupid. That you will be humiliated.

This is so loud that it has disconnected my ability to evaluate my work. I can't get past it. So I am not trying. I have done my early morning note taking, the way I get messages from my guides. I think I know what I want to paint, so I am just going to go ahead and do it. Not knowing if it is stupid, if it will be crap. Just trusting that my powers of evaluation will eventually return.

I said to a dear friend today. "I think I know what I want to paint, I just don't know whether it is a crap idea. I have this feeling that even if it is stupid, I need to do it."

My dear friend said "you need to follow your soul".
That might be it.