Sunday, February 28, 2021

Painting class, progress report #1

Patti Mollica, the author of "How to Paint Fast, Loose and Bold", offers an on-line class of the same name through the Winslow Art Centre. We are now half-way through the four classes, and I thought I would post an update here.

I am a real newbie when it comes to figurative acrylic painting, so I'm finding there's a lot to absorb.

Mollica's style is all about exuberant colour and energetic brushstrokes, but the basis of her approach to composition is quite technical. Whether she begins with a photo or from life, she translates her image into a value study, reducing the subject to three or four values of dark, medium and light. She transfers her value study to her support, using charcoal, and then mixes and applies paint, always keeping in mind the value of the chosen colours. Being able to rely on this structure allows her to be more expressive with colour and  application of paint.

Above is one of ten photos Mollica provided for our first efforts.

I cropped the image a bit and converted the colours of the photo into a value study, using black, white, and a neutral gray. At this point, the artist has the option of deviating from the original, to make a successful design. For one thing, it's important to have some imbalance. It would be rather boring to have equal amounts of the three values: one should dominate. Even more important is to have enough information to allow the viewer to decipher the subject. Above, the cylindrical nature of the solids are conveyed by means of highlights, credible shading and shadows, and small details that reinforce the perception of solid shapes. 

Another consideration is to establish a focal point, and use a dramatic contrast of value to establish that. Where is the eye drawn? (Often it's to a figure.) Can that focal point be strengthened by directional lines in the composition?

This value study is then transferred to a substrate, using charcoal to indicate areas of light, middle and dark values. Paint is then applied on top of the charcoal drawing.

Above is my first effort, 12" x 9". I decided the image needed to be cropped more closely, and used a 10" x 10" format for my second effort, below. 

I also applied green paint to the panel as a first coat. This "underpainting" peeks through and makes the painting more interesting, especially if its colour is the complement of the subject. 

I think the shadows need to be softened in the image above. Perhaps the instructor will offer some other advice, as she provides support on the class message board and during class time as well.

Here's another still life subject that I worked with:

Notice that in my value study I've transposed some of the values. The highlights are important details, giving information about the shapes of the solids as they are struck by the light.

I used an underpainting of turquoise for this one, though it's not as evident as I would like. Again, I think the shadows should have softer outlines.

When choosing our colours, it's important to be conscious of their values. If I need a dark, it's important that what I mix reads as a dark, to reinforce the composition. So by putting a dab of the paint on our "value checker", we can get a better sense of whether it suits our needs or not.

Mollica is an advocate of using as big a brush as we can handle, to allow for expressive brushstrokes. So far I'm being too careful with mine. Her palette often becomes tainted with colours transferred in the process of applying paint. This is all to the good, according to the instructor. Again, I'm not working loosely enough to accommodate this approach, but it's something I will try to put to use in my next assignments.

Below is a value study of a third photo provided by the instructor. Perhaps something more challenging for my next efforts?

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Dabbling in figurative imagery

I have signed up for an online class with the Winslow Art Center. The class is called "Paint Fast, Loose and Bold in Acrylics and Oils", and will be given on-line by instructor Patti Mollica, for four consecutive Wednesdays. 

I never took a painting class while pursuing my BFA. For one thing, paint was expensive! Another factor was that the style of painting being championed in my program did not appeal to me. "Les Plasticiens" painted in a style described as "rigorously hard-edged and abstract" and they held sway over the painting department at the university.

an exhibition of "les Plasticiens"

I've dabbled a bit in watercolour and explored abstract imagery in acrylic, but this will be my first experience with figurative painting in acrylic, and I thought I should do a little warm-up before the start of class.

I began with some travel photos and a still life, trying to match the colours in the photos. I found an app called Rapid Resizer that helped me to enlarge the image to the desired size. The app converts a photo into a line drawing and, using some antique carbon paper from the days when I had a portable typewriter, I was able to get the basic shapes and perspective in place.

sketch #1

sketch #2

I set up some still life tableaus and worked from those photos as well.

sketch #3

At this point, I realized that I wanted to do more than just reproduce photos. I wanted "the hand of the artist" to be evident in the sketches. More energy, more pizazz.

I thought back to my cityscapes in cloth, and how I had transformed my photo images by imposing my own colour scheme on them.

sketch #4

Then I noticed a Vlaminck post card that was pinned to my studio wall.

Le Restaurant de la Machine a Bougival, 1905

The bold palette appealed to me.

sketch #5

On further reflection, I decided that the success of Vlaminck's palette depended on many small areas of colour, rather than large blocks of colour. I've noticed the same phenomenon with patchwork quilts. I chose to work from a photo that had more small shapes.

sketch #6

I looked more closely at the Vlaminck street scene, and saw that his brushstrokes added to the vigour of the image. The brushstrokes were not visible on the buildings in the far distance, but became larger moving towards the foreground. I made an attempt to introduce some texture to the foreground of the scene.

Another Vlaminck postcard suggested a still life subject, using a similar palette.

Vase bleu avec fleurs, 1906

I set up a still life of flowers in a vase, and painted the subject.

sketch #7

How to proceed? Would it have been better to paint the background first? Perhaps I will learn some of these basic skills in my upcoming class. 

To complete the exercise, I took my cue from the Vlaminck and painted in a similar background.

sketch #8

Clearly I have a lot to learn, and I may decide that figurative work is not for me. But at least I am somewhat warmed up for the first class.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

A Close Read of a Cubist Masterpiece

The New York Times publishes an occasional series of "close reads" of iconic works of art. Most recently, "Still Life with Table", by Juan Gris, was chosen as a subject for exploration.

If asked to name the most revolutionary new artistic medium in 20th-century art, would you choose Cinema? Video? Installation? Writer Jason Farago suggests it might well be Collage. Readers learn about the impact of collage as a medium, and what the use of glued newspaper had to say about the explosive influence of journalism on French café society.

What is real and what is false? Wood-grained paper purports to represent a wooden surface. And the content of these same newspapers: true or false?

Farago refers us to the impact of African sculpture, with its shattering portrayal of three-dimensional space, so different from the classic perspective of European traditionalists. The painted landscapes of Cezanne are cited as an earlier challenge to the accepted view of reality.

The fascinating analysis, with its many supporting illustrations and close-up views, is well worth a look.