Hello Hiatus

It has been a month or so since I posted here. And a month or so since I was in front of the easel. I did make a couple short-lived attempts and we went plein air painting last Saturday. It has been a forced hiatus due to a death in the family. Life interrupts life sometimes.

And now that I am back it is that time of year to start choosing and prepping work for the summer art season. Small works at the AGGV, Sooke Fine Arts and Sidney Fine Arts. They were all fruitful for me last year so let’s do it again! A new one is the Al Frescoes annual show into which I *think* I will put a couple landscapes. I don’t paint with them often because I work Friday mornings. And those will likely be the only landscapes I show this year. This year is all about the portrait! Both painted and drawn. Big portrait year, this one.

In January I bought and prepped 10, 5″ x 7″ panels and rather randomly started painting these tiny portraits. Randomly, without much intent at all except that I had been doing all those charcoal portraits… these are my favourites:

 

And so, now that life has settled back into routine, in between prepping for the shows, I want to get back into the large charcoal portraits. I just need some subjects to photograph. And time. As usual. Goodbye hiatus.

Work in progress

I recently made an order of paint brushes from Rosemary & Co for my standard long bristle brushes and to that order I added a few brushes that I have been wanting to try. I’ve noticed that some fabulous artist’s such as Colley Whisson use very soft brushes, so I added to my order one brush from each of these lines:

And they changed my world.

All of a sudden my portrait painting stepped up it’s game and I’ve started a series of 5″ x 7″ character studies.

The brushes are AMAZING! It is difficult to explain why… they hold a lot of paint, the paint goes on softly and smoothly and the comber helps to soften edges even more. I use the Evergreen primarily as a background brush right now because it is too large for the details of the portrait. The long flat is my main brush and as I said, the comber is fantastic at creating a random softness between two fields of paint. Oh boy, are these brushes a pleasure to behold. So much so that I had to put in another order. I like to work with 3 brushes of the same type and size so that I have one each for my light, middle and dark tones. That way I’m not wiping the brush in between every change of light.

And the little portraits are so much fun to do. I can complete them generally in 1.5 hrs, which is currently about the limit my focus, free time and energy level allows me. I am using random references from magazines and news stories – just as structural guides rather than portrait references. I find I will start a piece and it just doesn’t feel right so I wipe it off and try another. When they are so small like this, I don’t lose much time or effort starting over – it’s actually a good little warm-up exercise. Then when a piece comes together, the person that emerges tells me who they are. Author, policeman, chef, etc.

I don’t really know where I am going with this series but I sure am enjoying the process and the progress that it appears I am making. I do feel it is leading¬† up to a course I’m taking at MISSA this summer called Charcoal Noir: Creating Compelling Visual Narratives.¬† My hope is that with the work I’ve been doing on these oil portraits and my charcoal portraits will coalesce with the course into a full-on multiple figure painting or drawing. It’s been decades since I created large-scale figurative paintings and I’m curious to see what I will come up with, especially with these miracle brushes!

 

Smelling the Roses

I’ve started to see some rewards for my focus on charcoal drawing lately; I have figured out what my tools are and how to manipulate them to achieve a desired effect (more on those tools in a later post). And while I am not entirely happy with my ability to nail a likeness on every portrait, I am satisfied that I can work a drawing past a failure point (where I would have given up in the past) and on to a successful piece. When I am drawing someone I know, a likeness is preferred but when I’m simply using a photo or photos as a starting point and structural guide, I’m not interested in a likeness.

This weekend I took on the challenge of drawing from an old photo of a friend when she was a toddler.

Sweetheart
Sweetheart, charcoal on Stonehenge paper, 16″ x 20″

I am very satisfied with the drawing itself but when you directly compare the two, it’s clear what needs to change.

Comparison of photo and drawing

Her eyes are too far apart and the shapes are not quite right. Her nose is too large. Her lips are not quite as pursed. The shape of her head is slightly off at the top… I could go on. I may decide to rework the piece and I may not… I don’t want to lose the lovely marks and textures of the drawing. The question is, will I be satisfied in the long run if I don’t rework her?

What’s interesting is that I’ve never done this kind of direct comparison as a part of the drawing process and perhaps it’s what I should be doing. At least until I get better at finding a likeness… much like how I’ve practiced to the point of understanding the tools, perhaps this is just another tool to use to find what I want to find.

Interesting.