Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Penguins Finished

"Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow..."
                                                                                                           - Kurt Vonnegut

The point at which we left off on the last post.

When last I left you, the penguins were taking shape and the boulders were starting to look more like the boulders in South Africa, but the clock was still ticking away. The worst thing was the more and more I looked at the piece, the more that the lone penguin with his (her?) back turned was bothering me. Hmm.

The joy of acrylics - you can paint over what you don't like!

I decided to eliminate the lone penguin. Luckily it made a very interesting shadow in the rock instead. I continued to develop the boulders and remaining penguins. 

Spot the lone penguin now.

After nearly three days straight in the studio, I was feeling like I might just finish this painting in time to enter it in the show. I put it aside and went frame shopping. Our one and only local arts & crafts store just happened to have a bunch of wooden frames on clearance and I found the perfect one. But you'll have to wait until the painting is done to see it.

Done, right? Wrong!

At this point I was convinced the painting was complete. I loved the rock textures I had created and I felt the penguins looked good enough to pass inspection by an ornithologist. I framed the painting and entered it in the show on time and sat back and waited for the judges to do their thing. Turns out I didn't even merit an honorable mention.

After the show, I shared the painting with a couple of artist friends of mine with much more success under their belts than I. I knew I could trust them for an honest critique. What could I have done to improve the painting? Every single one of them said, "Darken the area behind to penguins."

I took the painting back into the studio and as I was clearing off my desk to get back to work on it, I found my original colored pencil value study. It had the area behind the penguins darkened.

The final FINAL painting.

I don't know if I had stayed true to my original value study if I would've won any prizes at the show, but certainly I would've entered a much stronger piece.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Tulips and Creativity

"There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted."
 - Henri Matisse         

My models

I've been having fun finding quotes for my posts since I started adding them a while back. This particular one really spoke to me. I find that once I've completed a painting or drawing I end up thinking what's so special about that? There's nothing unique about it. I haven't created anything new. It looks like hundreds of other paintings or drawings of that subject. There are people that would argue it is unique because each person is different therefore each drawing must reflect that difference. I can see that to a point, but my yearning is to create something that isn't subtle in its uniqueness. It'd be nice to create things that make people stop for a minute and really look at the piece instead of just thinking, "Oh another ________."

Mood lighting for my models. I like the effect.

I bought this bunch of tulips simply to bring a little cheer into our house. I put them in a vase and placed them on a table where their color compliments our living room decor and I can easily see them. The more I looked at them and admired them the more I wanted to draw them.

Tulip sketch

And so I settle down to draw tulips and this is all I come up with. Special? No. Unique? I think not. It's just a random sketch of a tulip. It is not particularly insightful or creative. It makes me restless and frustrated just looking at it. Why is it so hard for me to think outside the box as it were? These tulips are beautiful and I love their shape and velvety petals. I've been feasting my eyes on them ever since I bought them. So why doesn't my experience with the tulips, my feelings about the tulips come across in the drawing? Probably because, as Mr. Matisse would say, I first have to forget every other tulip that was ever painted.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Penguins - WIP

"Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision
and its ultimate expression."
                                                                               - Isaac Bashevis Singer

My lovely models from the Pittsburgh Aviary

This new project was a little daring; I had a week to complete a painting (a good painting), from start to finish, for a show. I'd already finished and tossed a completely different painting that refused to cooperate and now I had to come up with a better idea in a lot less time. I was scrolling through my archive of reference photos and this group of African penguins caught my eye. There was something appealing about their comical, somewhat confused postures and I really enjoy working in a limited palette. Nothing else was inspiring me so I decided to go ahead with this idea.

Detail from value study in colored pencil.

I did a value study first, but as you'll see later I didn't stick to it faithfully and ran into some problems because of it.

I decided to alter the penguin group a bit. In the photo, they are too evenly spaced apart so I clumped three of them together and then turned the fourth penguin away to create a bit of a story ("Do you know where Joe's going?", "No, do you?", "No, I don't know. Do you know?", No I don't.").

Laying in the basic placement and values

One of the challenges I ran into with this painting was that African penguin habitat looks a lot different than what my reference photo showed. I've never been to South Africa where these penguins (sometimes called jackass penguins) are found, but a quick survey of Google Images showed scenes of warm-colored, rounded boulders and strong sunlight. My photos were of pale, angular rocks and diffuse lighting. This is what I get for arbitrarily choosing a subject at the last minute. But it really wasn't that big of a problem - layer by layer I started to round off the rocks and warm up my colors.

Adding more detail, layer after thin layer.

Painting the rocks became downright fun. I would dribble watered-down acrylic on the canvas and then tilt the board in one direction and then another to allow the paint to make random designs, giving the effect of texture and varying color in the rocks. I started thinking about how perhaps I should start a whole series of rock-based paintings and I began to dream of visiting the Canyonlands in Utah. So many rocks I could paint... But the calendar was keeping me from daydreaming too much, and I still had to find a nice (and affordable) frame!