Tuesday, March 31, 2009

BINGO !!! 

It was been a bit tense for me, today. The Pennsylvania Academy for the Fine Arts (PAFA) is holding its Annual Juried Student Exhibition for Continuing Education Students, April 3-24. Most students submit their best work for the show, two submissions max. Of course I submitted the two paintings that I think are my best stuff. That includes a portrait of a black woman wearing tight pants and boots. At 40" x 30", it is the largest painting I've tackled until the course I am taking right now where the whole idea is to make a painting and then scale it up to something very large - a technique that could be used to murals on buildings, if you wanted. The other is a painting of pears that I set up with Cezanne in mind (there is a big Cezanne exhibition at the Phila Art Museum just now): There is no central focus in the painting, you can take any quarter of it and the composition still looks attractive and complete.

Yesterday was the deadline for submissions. Judging was to be today with notification of acceptance by phone, before 6:00pm. For a change, I made sure that my cellphone was charged throughout the day as I went to my painting class and then worked on my 3' x 4' monster taking shape for Ted Xaras' course on "Methods of the Masters." No phone calls came through, even though I periodically checked to make sure the phone was still working OK. But finally the phone rang, about 5:15pm, with the good news that



There will be a reception for the artists and friends this Friday - you can bet that Patricia and I will be there, with bells on. The little plastic glass of wine and dab of cheese on a cracker will taste like caviar.

The submissions:
Black Boots
oil on canvas, 40" x 30"
Spring 2008, for a Portraiture course by Theodore Xaras

oil on board, 11" x 14"
Spring 2009, homework for a Figure Drawing/Painting course by Douglas Martenson

I don't have a picture of Doug Martenson, unfortunately. But I do have a picture of Ted Xaras to share, standing with his wife Judy, and a portrait that was part of a Faculty Exhibition last year. His work is just breathtaking, as this portrait shows:

Monday, March 30, 2009

Three's a Charm 

In my last post I wrote about painting the same model, after about a year. Well, today I went to my class at with Giovanni Casadei, and who should appear as the model but the same woman. So now I have painted her three times! At least, I was working from a different angle this time, and this was a figure class, so she was nude. I'm really trying to use Giovanni's loose and free painting technique, and it seems to be making quite a difference. There is a believable volume and attitude in the painting that I don't think has been there before:

Remember those bananas - yellow on the complementary color, purple? Doug Martenson's homework assignment for this week (due tomorrow morning) was the opposite - to paint an eggplant, as dark as possible, against a yellow background. Here then is the eggplant:

And here is my painting:

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Comparison Over Time 

The Academy provides models on Thursday evenings for students to draw, sketch, paint, whatever. This is not part of any specific course, it's just another benefit of being a student here. I love this school.

Anyway, the model last night was one that I had painted before, just about a year ago, in Ted Xaras' class on Portraiture. At that time we were trying to work very carefully, and I was feeling even more a novice than I feel now. So I was glad for the chance to paint her again to see if the year has made any difference. This time I was rushed - knew that I had only about an hour and a half to complete the portrait - and lately I am trying to work much more loosely. I was working on a much smaller canvas this time. Still, the comparison is really interesting.


2008: 24" x 20", oil on canvasboard
2009: 10" x 8", oil on canvasboard

I didn't realize until I got the small portrait home that not only was I painting her from the same angle (I'd gotten to the session late, and this was the only position I could take), but look: even the lighting was essentially the same. And without realizing it, I chose a very similar background color.

Bottom line? In both portraits, there is stuff that I like, and I still have an awful lot to learn. But I do like the new portrait a lot more. And that is a good thing!

I took two paintings to the juried exhibition at the Sketch Club today - my Night Bus and a painting of cloves from a year ago. But from the other submissions I saw when I took my in, the competition is FIERCE, and they'd already received over 160 submissions. This, on the first morning of the submission dates. I will be very fortunate indeed if anything of mine is part of this exhibition.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Exhibition preparations 

This week I am feeling gloriously overcommitted. There are TWO juried exhibitions that I am working to prepare submissions for, two each. Submissions for both are due this weekend.

Doug Martenson suggested changes on my painting Bananas (which he really liked, at least), and assigned a new homework assignment. Paint a really dark eggplant, using the complementary (yellow) base layer. This will be just the reverse of Bananas, which was yellow on purple. I need to get after all that.

With Doug’s help, we put some important finishing touches (which I extended afterwards) on my Pears. I want this to be one of my submissions, so I have that one in the oven now at 225º to rush the drying process.

Then, I have a lot of catching up to do for Ted Xaras’ course on Methods of the Masters, having missed a week for our vacation in Seattle and Mt Hood. Had to buy a 3’ x 4’ piece of Masonite, mount it on a support frame and give it two coats of gesso, with sanding. Meanwhile, finish the drawing of the intended 3x4 painting using all the assembled sketches and drawings for it to, adding additional details, to the scale of 11” x 17”, get it blown up to full scale at a copy store and finally copy it to the Masonite. All that is due tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I’d asked Guiseppi Casadei to critique my painting Night Bus, which will also be one of my submissions. I was concerned because the central figure didn’t stand out, and I thought maybe I should cut back on the highlights on the face. Guiseppi was exactly on target: The problem was not the facial highlights, it was the highlights on the SEATS that took your eyes away from the main figure. Also, the black rubber seal around the bus windows competed with the figure - better to make it a dark gray. Both these changes did fantastic things. I hope they show on these Before and After pictures:

Night Bus, before

Night Bus , after

On Monday I painted a full figure in Guiseppi’s class. There is lots wrong with it, but I think it is my best one so far., my first one ever. At least the model looks relaxed and her demeanor is believable. All my previous nudes have been rigid or weird, pretty much totally lacking in grace and interest.


Friday, March 20, 2009


Doug Martenson's homework assignment from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) was to paint a banana against a purple background. His object was that we paint a familiar round object with strong color against its complementary color. Also, to use contrast in values to indicate the light parts of the painting instead of relying on white - which would tend to make the painting look chalky and weak.

I was concerned about finding a purple base to set up the painting. But, fortunately, I found an old sweatshirt that was exactly the color of dioxazine purple right from the tube. And as usual, I wanted to paint several bananas rather than a single object. When I got into it today, the painting used an amazingly small pallet - dioxazine purple, cadmium yellow medium, just a touch of burnt umber for darker shadows than result from mixed yellow and purple alone, and a few dabs of cadmium orange and green for the stems. And Doug's point is clear: It is much better to use relative values than relying on white to portray highlights. I rather like the way it turned out.

oil on board, 8" x 10"

Tonight I need to get busy and write a proposal for studio space on South Street. I will be pulling the whole thing out of my head, but you have to start somewhere. So -- maybe space for 5 to 7 artists at 100 sq. ft. each for working and exhibition space, plus maybe 200 sq. ft. for mixed commercial space and group activities like yoga or aerobics or art classes?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Alla Prima Figure 

I arrived back in Philadelphia today, after a totally marvelous 10-day vacation in Seattle with family, including a major side trip to Mt Hood in Oregon for skiing. I can't resist uploading a picture of the assembled family, with a shot of the mountain taken from the road (trail) in front of our cabin:

That's me in the front row, left. What a clan!

Patricia and I took the red-eye flight back to Philadelphia, which was hairy because of its late departure thanks (in part) to the need to de-ice the plane in Seattle. That squeezed our 4:00am connection in Minneapolis, but we made it. Barely.

Anyway, we made the connection, and I had just enough time to get to my apartment, drop off my baggage, grab my other pre-loaded backpack with painting supplies and get to Fleisher in time for my Alla Prima (completing an oil painting in one sitting) Figure Painting class.

We had a new model. Like everybody else, I began by laying out a drawing of the model to paint from. No. At the first model's break, we had a Come To Jesus meeting with Guiseppi. Absolutely, DON'T DRAW! Just start painting! Make mistakes, if that happens - that is how you learn, and make discoveries, and his job as instructor is to help us figure out how to correct our mistakes, or get the effect we want. He is very good on relationships - light/dark, warm/cool, spacial arrangements, etc. Besides, this approach makes painting FUN. Or at least, interesting and engaging.

So I wiped out everything I'd done and started in again. It WAS fun, and my painting of her did have much more feeling and interest than those I've done in the past. There is a lot to learn here, and to get comfortable with. Bottom line - - - What I came up with in a 3-hour class was:

oil on canvaspad, 9" x 12"

Hmmmm: I just checked this post to see how the photos came out, and I am not happy. Blame my photography for the fuzziness in the painting, but the reproduction process for the absence of contrast and lack of blue, esp. in the couch.

Now we'll see how this impacts the other paintings I am doing, and whether my figures do become more graceful and interesting. I do love painting.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

There is also more that I have been working on, of course. In Ted Xaras' course, "Methods of the Masters," we have been making endless sketches and studies of one model in different poses. The goal is to lay out a finished composition (technically, a "cartoon") using 3 different poses, and then scale it up to something very large where it will look, hopefully, like three different subjects interacting with each other. I'm thinking 3' x 4' for the scaleup and wondering how I would even handle that, while he seems to be thinking that that would be pretty small. I feel like I'm getting more than I bargained for in this course.

In Doug Martenson's course on figure painting, he had us doing quick sketches of all kinds for the first few classes. We're painting now, although I still have yet to come up with a finished painting that I like. All my figures are just stiff. No grace or interest. However, several of the side projects involved making charcoal drawings, starting with a neutral gray paper and using only black or white but NOT both for the drawing. There was this interesting model in an open student's session, so I sketched her. In his critique, Doug didn't like it that I had used both black and white for the drawing. I take that as praise, since I used only white and NO BLACK for it, no matter how much it looks otherwise.

It's been a busy few weeks, and I've fallen a bit behind on my blog, between paintings for class assignments and trying to do more on my own. But by now, my copy of Walt Whitman is looking pretty good - I "just" need to liven it up a bit. It still looks a bit drab by comparison to Eakins' original. In spite of that, it actually has an interested buyer, just as it is! What a new experience!

I'm making progress on my "Night Bus to Philadelphia." The watercolor/ink sketch with the rider in silhouette looks a lot better with a dark mat around it. The oil is intended to be the inverse, with the focus on the rider with the background outside the bus lost in nighttime gloom. There are still some adjustments to be made to pull this off, but here they are as of now:

Then there was the homework assignment from Doug Martenson, to paint a pear on a white cloth. This is very similar to homework from his course a year ago, and I am glad to see that there is a marked change for the better in my result now. Actually, the composition I chose is very much influenced by looking at Cezanne - the Phila Art Museum has a fabulous Cezanne exhibition right now, and the thing that hit me, looking at all his famous still lives of oranges and fruit, is that there is no CENTRAL focus in these paintings. You can look at any quadrant or block out any small area of his paintings and they would still be excellent paintings in their own right. So I tried to get that kind of feel in my painting too.

Meanwhile, there is an exciting opportunity to think about, whether or not it actually comes to pass. In Philadelphia, South Street is famous for having gone through the transformation from depressed area to artist colony to boutique shopping and small theatres to high rents and the invasion of chain outlets. Well with out present economy lots of places on South St are closing, throwing fear into the hearts of the other businesses there. And so there is a movement to open those empty storefronts to artists for studios and galleries. For FREE! Well, for the cost of utilities and insurance, but... So, I've been talking to other artists and students, and intend to put together a small group to open one of these places on South St. What a hoot - to have a studio and exhibition space there. Wish me luck on this one - or come on board and lets have a blast!

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