Essay on Composing Pictures

(Almost) No pictures this week, but lots of words.  My two CF card readers both died on me, so I can’t transfer my camera photos to the computer.  Luckily, I had on my mind that I should write something about the workshop I took last month with Paul Ingbretson, on the subject of Composition . . . of paintings, of course, but I decided that the material applied equally well to photography.  So I use the word “picture” throughout the essay.  At the end, for purposes of illustration, I’ll include a painting that I corrected a few weeks ago at Paul’s recommendation.  Yesterday, Paul met with us again to see what, if anything, we had retained from the workshop, so this is a good time for me to review and reconstruct my thoughts on the subject of composition.

I have written this up not from the outline Paul gave us, not from the notes written up by a former student of his and handed out at the workshop, not even from the notes I produced myself (radical happening, that–I never take notes).  No, this is mostly a mergence, a convergence, of what I absorbed from what Paul was trying to get across plus a few elements from my own experiences.  I hope it makes sense and somewhere in the prose produces a lightbulb of understanding for someone, an understanding that had not previously existed.

Composition of Pictures in a Nutshell

(Thoughts after taking workshop on “Composition” with Paul Ingbretson)

 The composition of pictures involves the harmonization of elements with respect to:

Arrangement/placement of shapes/objects

Color (hue—red, blue and yellow) given to the shapes and the background

Value (light, dark, all gradations in between) given to the shapes and the background.

 

The goal of good composition is to achieve Unity AND Variety—and to help get across the idea or mood that the artist wants to express.  It is VARIETY that makes the picture interesting, but UNITY is necessary to create harmony, loveliness, and the chosen mood.

Beginning with your choice of a subject and your selection of elements to incorporate in your picture, you are making compositional decisions. What colors, for example, and why?

 

ARRANGEMENT

After choosing a subject, and after selecting the objects or elements (or shapes) that you wish to incorporate in that subject, your next task is to arrange those elements or objects so as to distribute them in the picture harmoniously and interestingly.   Your decisions will have to be informed by the colors and values of the objects. Therefore, you have to be thinking about all three major concepts—arrangement, color, value—at the same time.

[Arrangement choices while painting en plein air in a landscape do exist, albeit limited by reality]

Rules: Create overlaps; avoid tangents. Avoid same sizeness of objects or distances between them. Avoid boring!

Placement of the arranged object(s) within the picture frame  involves cropping the picture for best effect—should the center of interest be in the middle, up, down, right, left, etc.?   Consider zooming in, or out.

Subtopic: LINE

However, the most important effect of arranging  is the line or lines that will be created thereby—of the objects AND the values (see below). The dominant line or “thrust” may be symmetrical or asymmetrical, simple or complex, straight or curved; can form a geometrical shape like a triangle or circle, or can meander, like the letter “s”. The dominant line had better not be boring!  Subordinate or counterlines add interest as well.

[One of the few rules--to be broken at your own risk--is: Do not place an interesting element close to the edge of the picture where it might distract from the intended focal point.]

Rule:  For the sake of unity, patterns need to be repeated, but for the sake of variation,may not  be duplicated exactly.  Patterns need to harmonize with one another.

 

COLOR

The initial selection of subject and objects/elements already goes a long way toward determining a color scheme.   However, you will need to think about a dominant color, and make sure that the placement of that color will unify (harmonize) the picture.

[Outdoors, the dominant color is blue. We don’t “see” it because our eyes seek out the reds and yellows.]

Weaving or spotting of one color throughout the picture tends to unify the picture. Discordant colors, like discordant music, if used, can succeed only if they are well placed and mean something. Background color is critical to harmonize the picture and to set off the subject.

Although one primary color should dominate throughout the picture, variations on the other two primaries should be represented. A monotone is (usually) not very interesting. That is not to suggest that any of the colors need to be high in chroma. Subtlety can be more fascinating than stridency.

If a color is used only once in a picture, that object tends to stand out in importance. Even if subtle variations of the color are “smuggled” elsewhere in the picture, that singular object will remain the most important one in the picture.

Rule of threes: repeat a particular color three times (in three different places) and repeat pattern three times (but don’t duplicate!)

VALUES

The distribution of values in a picture creates abstract patterns that intrigue the mind of a viewer. The eye jumps to an area of high contrast, or to the lightest area in the picture.

Silhouettes are example of extreme values—light and dark with little mid values.

Spotting of values (lights or darks) may create or support lines.  Hence the compositional element of “Value” is actually a subtopic of Arrangements.  Perhaps everything is a subtopic of Arrangement and we circle back to the concept that composition means Arrangements–of shapes, lines, colors and values?

 

MOOD

The mood of a picture is the narrative that the artist wants to express or explore. All elements of composition must be geared to serve the mood.

The End.  For now.

The corrected painting I have to show you is an example of the importance of color and the rule of avoidance of a singular color.  You have seen this painting several times before, as I struggled with colors and values in an effort to “make it work”.  The basic layout was pleasing to me, so I could not figure out why I was not totally happy with the painting.  Paul told me why.  Here is the most recent but not final version of “Three Turrets”:

Three Turrets, v1.3

Three Turrets, v1.3

Here is the latest, corrected version:

Three Turrets, updated

Three Turrets, updated (from the porch of the Currier Museum’s art school)

Do you agree that the added patch of green in mid left harmonizes the painting with the previously singular patch at bottom right?

Aline Lotter is currently exhibiting:

at the Hatfield Gallery and the East Colony Fine Art Gallery in Manchester (both are in Langer Place, 55 S. Commercial St., Manchester, NH); at the Bartlett Inn in Bartlett and the Bernerhof Inn in Glen; at the Red Jacket Inn in North Conway; at the law offices of Mesmer and Deleault at 41 Brook St in Manchester; at the Manchester office of Congresswoman Carol Shea Porter; two paintings are hanging at the Bedford Library as part of the Womens Caucus For Art exhibit “Summer Bounty”;  a single painting is on view at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester for the summer; and at her studio by appointment (email: alotter@mac.com). You may also view paintings with prices and order prints at my Fine Art America page. If the painting you are interested in is not there, or if you prefer to bypass that experience, you may contact me using the private feedback form below. If you want to add a public comment to this blog, go to the bottom of this page where it says “Leave a Reply”, and enter your comment in that box. I love to get public comments, so don’t be shy!

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Garden Magic

I get so caught up in my narrative blog content that I always forget the marketing bits, where I would be announcing I got into this show or that, and sold this painting or that.  Such a waste of those small, ephemeral moments of triumph!  Meanwhile I’ve been moaning about failures.  Wallowing in failures.  I hereby resolve hereafter to “accentuate the  positive,” starting right now:

  • My painting of “Margaret and her Nook” has been published in an online mag called “Art and Beyond”; here is the link to the magazine; you will need to click forward to find my page.
  • 5 of my paintings were accepted in the “Healing with Art” exhibit at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Manchester.  (reception Tuesday Sept 9, 5:30-7:00)
  • My painting of “Fur” has found its forever home, after being on exhibit for only a few hours at the Bedford Library.
  • My painting of “Willow Path in Winter” has been accepted in the annual JPOS (Jamaica Pond Open Studios) exhibit at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston.   Reception Thursday Sept 18, 6-8.
  • My application to apply to the Copley Society in Boston has been accepted–allowing me to apply for Professional Artist Membership, which requires a long checklist of images and written materials that I need to produce before a January deadline.  Checklists?  No problem for a former tax lawyer.

Listing the good things maybe once a month will at least boost my spirits, even if it doesn’t have any noticeable effect on sales.  Sales are the ultimate boost in spirits.  Nothing says “I love your painting” quite like the handing over of real money in exchange for the painting.  One of my teachers had a standard reply to anyone who said “I love your painting”: . . . “It’s for sale.”  But we can’t all buy all the paintings we love.  I know that all too well.  So it’s OK to keep telling me when  you love my painting even if you can’t buy it.

So, down to the real business, that of creating beautiful paintings, maybe to sell.  I spent two afternoons last week in a garden full of little nooks and pathways and whimsey.  This garden is hidden behind an ordinary house in an ordinary neighborhood.  It was created by colleagues of mine, a photographer/painter-husband/wife combo–although credit for the garden has to go principally to the husband.  The wife, Dee Lessard, paints beautiful still lifes but has little experience with plein air painting (or gardening).  Her husband, Guy Lessard, was pretty pleased to find Dee and me at our easels in his garden, immortalizing  the beauty he had built.

Magic Garden No. 1

Magic Garden No. 1

If you follow the path marked by the stepping stones, into the darkness beyond,  you come upon a pool full of dappled sunlight and brilliant koi.  I longed to see (and paint) a figure leaning into her reflection here.  But saving that one for when I have a model, I chose this simple scene that melds so delightfully a  half dozen different plant varieties.  I completed this one in a two-hour afternoon, just before the skies opened up in buckets of water.

A few days later, we went back out, Dee to continue working on the one she had started and me to find another magical place.  No. 2 is to the right and down a slight slope from No. 1, looking back at another path to get to the koi pond.

Magic Garden No. 2

Magic Garden No. 2

Guy rescued the little church birdhouse in an antique store with steeple intact.  But adverse elements had obliterated the steeple over time, so I was painting what could have been a New England meeting house when Guy came over and requested that I add the steeple.  I was only too happy to oblige.

For both garden paintings, I had started with a surface toned dark, mostly with burnt umber.  Very little of the toned surface still shows, but where it does, it enhances the contrast that makes a painting interesting.

Aline Lotter is currently exhibiting:

at the Hatfield Gallery and the East Colony Fine Art Gallery in Manchester (both are in Langer Place, 55 S. Commercial St., Manchester, NH); at the Bartlett Inn in Bartlett and the Bernerhof Inn in Glen; at the Red Jacket Inn in North Conway; at the law offices of Mesmer and Deleault at 41 Brook St in Manchester; at the Manchester office of Congresswoman Carol Shea Porter; two paintings are hanging at the Bedford Library as part of the Womens Caucus For Art exhibit “Summer Bounty”;  a single painting is on view at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester for the summer; and at her studio by appointment (email: alotter@mac.com). You may also view paintings with prices and order prints at my Fine Art America page. If the painting you are interested in is not there, or if you prefer to bypass that experience, you may contact me using the private feedback form below. If you want to add a public comment to this blog, go to the bottom of this page where it says “Leave a Reply”, and enter your comment in that box. I love to get public comments, so don’t be shy!

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New (to me) Teacher: David Curtis

Yesterday Bea Bearden and I drove down to Gloucester, Massachusetts, to attend a plein-air-with-figure workshop in a garden attached to the home of David Curtis.  Although David, as we are encouraged to call him, is an anointed master painter (member of the Boston Guild of Artists), I had not been acquainted with him, his work, or his teaching before Friday, when I got the call from Bea and signed up for the workshop.  I feel extremely lucky to have got the opportunity.  For the past few years, I have not been signing up for plein air workshops (unless they involved the figure somehow).  I’ve taken so many plein air workshops in my short career as an artist, and done so many plein air paintings, that I had begun to feel I could not learn anything new.  (“Know it all” syndrome.)  Besides, it is the figure that I wanted to concentrate on now, so that’s where my workshop budget went.  However, in one casual Sunday afternoon (three hours) David Curtis conferred upon me new insights into plein air painting.  The kind of insights where you might say, oh, yeah, why didn’t I see that before!  Maybe you did see it, but I hadn’t, not consciously at least.

Here are my two favorite insights:

  • First:  On an overcast day (that’s what we had yesterday), the light comes from overhead, not at any angle.  Hence the tops of flowers, e.g., are catching the most light.  Duh! you say?  I know.  Obvious when you think about it.  But I had never thought about it before.
  • Second: Did you notice, in the Sargent exhibit at the Boston MFA a few months ago, that there were very few skies showing?  The absence of sky, usually the lightest element in a landscape painting, allows there to exist in the painting a different lightest object–one not at the top of the painting, which is, after all, a damn awkward place to suffer a focal point (unless you are focussing on clouds).  From this opportunity to create a lightest spot elsewhere on the canvas comes  the power to be unusual, to be dramatic,  to capture the viewer.  We all want to capture the viewer, and hang onto her.  Now we have a new tool–eliminate the sky as an element of the scene.

We were a group of nine students in Gloucester, all quite accomplished painters.  On the way home, Bea and I congratulated ourselves on the fact that we held our own in this company.  We will join them again for two more Sundays later in August, and I am so looking forward to it!

Due to the speed with which I work, my painting was completed within the three hours of the workshop.  Even better, it is one with which I am very happy.  The flowers gave me the opportunity to paint just the kind of landscape that I like best, and the lovely model with her coral dress and orange-red parasol were a feast for the eyes.  Thank God I brought my cadmium orange and cad red light.  And my perylene red and quinacridone magenta.  All were needed for the many reds and pinks in this painting.

Did you speak?

Did you speak?

I made sure that my angle on the stone cupid showed off his best side too.  Can you tell that the flowers inside the ring of granite stones are impatiens?  The dabbing technique to simulate flowers and leaves is something I adopted back when I was first studying landscapes with Stan Mueller, and he encouraged it.  It’s not something I can always work into landscapes vistas, and maybe that’s why I prefer not to do vistas.  I began this painting with a burnt umber ground, applied to cover up the Campobello Island seascape underneath.  (I’m getting more and more ruthless in my painting demolitions.)  The dark ground helped me speed toward completion.

Today I worked on another portrait of my daughter Nancy.  The Group (Monday Life Group) agreed that we wanted to paint the blue patterned kimono that she uses as a coverup between poses.  My parents had brought this kimono back to me from Japan in 1966 or thereabouts, and after five decades  it is finally coming into its own!  However, it was not possible to deal with the pattern in the time given to us.  Moreover, the wet blue paint did not allow for adding fresh whites and pinks where needed.  So this is a Work in Progress.

Nancy wearing a kimono

Nancy wearing a kimono

After the kimono dries, I will add the patterns using this photo I took with my phone.

Nancy in the blue kimono

Nancy in the blue kimono

I don’t know if I really missed the tilt of her head as much as the photo suggests, but someone did tell me recently (Paul Ingbretson, I believe) that we humans have a hard time overcoming an innate desire to untilt heads.  I have noticed as much in myself before, so I was trying extra hard this morning to counter that tendency.  Sigh!  Regarding the size of her irises, that was a deliberate decision to exaggerate them in order to get across how one perceives Nancy’s eyes.  They come across as large.

Last week Nancy had posed for us nude, but wearing quite a deep tan–from walking the dog, she claimed.  Her droopy eyelids of last week caused me to bring her a large iced coffee this morning in the hope that we not get the sleepy look again.

Nancy wearing a tan

Nancy wearing a tan

I almost want to hide this one from you, because I feel I butchered the nose.  Still, it’s interesting as a study of skin tones.

Aline Lotter is currently exhibiting:

at the Hatfield Gallery and the East Colony Fine Art Gallery in Manchester (both are in Langer Place, 55 S. Commercial St., Manchester, NH); at the Bartlett Inn in Bartlett and the Bernerhof Inn in Glen; at the Red Jacket Inn in North Conway; at the law offices of Mesmer and Deleault at 41 Brook St in Manchester; at the Manchester office of Congresswoman Carol Shea Porter; two paintings are hanging at the Bedford Library as part of the Womens Caucus For Art exhibit “Summer Bounty”;  a single painting is on view at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester for the summer; and at her studio by appointment (email: alotter@mac.com). You may also view paintings with prices and order prints at my Fine Art America page. If the painting you are interested in is not there, or if you prefer to bypass that experience, you may contact me using the private feedback form below. If you want to add a public comment to this blog, go to the bottom of this page where it says “Leave a Reply”, and enter your comment in that box. I love to get public comments, so don’t be shy!

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Fast or Slow, Which Works Better for Me?

You could rightfully assume that when I turn up on the web after a longer-than-two-week hiatus, I’ll be accompanied by a raft of new paintings.  Sorry to disappoint.  Although many hours in the past 17 days have been spent on various kinds of art-related activities, painting actual pictures was only a smallish part of it.  One workshop with the accomplished portraitist Mary Minifie produced a single portrait (representing three days of labor), while another three-day one with Paul Ingbretson on composition produced nothing but horrible practice scribbles.  Even worse, last Monday’s session with our lovely preggie model was lackluster, the result not as appealing to me as my first painting of her.

One saving grace: as a small favor to me, my friend Arthur offered to sit for me to do his portrait, and I managed to turn that into a big favor.  Immediately upon viewing the painting after the first sitting, his mom declared herself a buyer.  And after the second sitting, my model asked me to do another one for him.  Although I wasn’t timing either session, I think the first sitting lasted about an hour and a half, and the second about an hour.  Hence:  24 hours on a Margaret produced with Minifie versus 2.5 hours spent on Arthur winging it on my own.  Both paintings are 11×14, so there was no size differential.  No surprise–Arthur’s portrait looks rough while Margaret’s looks delicate.

Arthur

Arthur

Margaret July 2014

Margaret July 2014

Mary Minifie started with the selection of clothing and background.  The goal was to enhance the beauty of our model’s skin tone, and also to create a pleasing composition, in which color plays a major part (a point that got made again in the second workshop).  That took one hour.  I thought then that it was an outlandish amount of time to spend on the selection of drapes to form a background, but looking back, I appreciate its importance.  My photograph of the painting, even when adjusted, may not convey the right color impressions over the internet, especially when the actual hue, value and intensity had been so carefully calibrated.  When you look at the completed painting, can you appreciate the rightness of the color of the background?  What about the color of her shirt?  What about that bit of white in her bodice?  The shirt, by the way, was painted with a lapis lazuli from Michael Harding that I found in a batch acquired through eBay.  So beautiful–the blue used by Vermeer, before ultramarine was invented.

The next big chunk of time was spent on Mary’s demo of, and our attempt to duplicate, the egg approach to portrait painting.  We first tried it on a small 5×7 panel, then on our big panel.  The basic idea:  paint an oval in the shape of the model’s head matching the tint of each area of the head and neck, gradually increasing the detail as we decreased the patch of skin being matched in paint.  In theory, the features start to emerge.  Attention is also given to her pearl earring, her red hair ornament, and her hair itself.  Margaret was much better at holding her pose than Arthur, of course.  In theory, the better painting should result from this approach.

However, I am happier with my portrait of Arthur.  It reminds me of a tour de force by Rose Frantzen titled “Portrait of Maquoketa”.  Maquoketa is the name of her home town in Iowa, to which she had returned after a period of trying to “make it” in the Big Apple.  She set out to paint all of the Maquoketa residents who were willing to sit.  You really should visit this page where the story and all of the portraits are kept.  In the meantime, enjoy this cover of her book, which contains all 180 of the portraits and a clever flip-book effect in the corners, whereby you can watch a painting in progress.

Frantzen book cover

Frantzen book cover

Frantzen’s method is called “alla prima” because the paintings are completed in one sitting without any kind of underpainting or academic preparation.  Alla prima (or almost alla prima in “Arthur”‘s case) suits me better than the classical approach mastered so well by Mary Minifie.  Alla prima is something I can do now, whereas the more academic method would take me years to master, and I don’t have that kind of time left to me, unfortunately.  Although I expect to live to be 100, I’m not sure I will be able to paint until 100.

Aline Lotter is currently exhibiting:

at the Hatfield Gallery and the East Colony Fine Art Gallery in Manchester (both are in Langer Place, 55 S. Commercial St., Manchester, NH); at the Bartlett Inn in Bartlett and the Bernerhof Inn in Glen; at the Red Jacket Inn in North Conway; at the law offices of Mesmer and Deleault at 41 Brook St in Manchester; at the Manchester office of Congresswoman Carol Shea Porter; two paintings are hanging at the Bedford Library as part of the Womens Caucus For Art exhibit “Summer Bounty”;  a single painting is on view at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester for the summer; and at her studio by appointment (email: alotter@mac.com). You may also view paintings with prices and order prints at my Fine Art America page. If the painting you are interested in is not there, or if you prefer to bypass that experience, you may contact me using the private feedback form below. If you want to add a public comment to this blog, go to the bottom of this page where it says “Leave a Reply”, and enter your comment in that box. I love to get public comments, so don’t be shy!

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Hands and Feet

Last week, I hadn’t done much new in the painting department, so I looked for a topic that I could discuss using past doings.  I came up with “hands and feet”, and even got started with this text.  But then my computerized photo library went kerfluey, and as you probably know, kerfluey computers tend to soak up all available time until they are fixed.  “Fixed” has still not occurred, but in the meantime I found the time to produce new art–because I sent the recalcitrant Mac Mini to the geniuses at the local Apple store.  Luckily, I was in a position to repossess an iMac I had loaned to a granddaughter–I am very much into Redundancy, and it has worked for me.

So I will complete what I wanted to say originally about hands and feet, and seque into a somewhat more moments issue, one that has less to do with drawing and more to do with an entire approach to painting.

This will not be my first discussion of hands, but I am shocked to see that it has been so long since I first addressed that subject.  I thought maybe 18, at most 24 months.  But it was over 45  months ago!  See that earlier blog from October of 2010 here. My overall strategy when trying to depict hands and feet with paint is to first swipe in the larger shape and then try to array the fingers and toes with quick, unlabored strokes.  If the strokes work, then I push the paint around a bit, add light and dark values, toying with the elements–before wiping them out and starting over.  If the first strokes don’t work, or the toying with them loses the first good strokes, I don’t give up hope.

[Not giving up is the most important part of painting.  Eventually, if you keep trying, it comes together, more or less.  Mine have come together before, so I know the next one will too-- eventually, as long as I keep trying.]

Let’s examine a few efforts:

Large quickie of a pose

Large quickie of a pose

These are perfect examples of what I always TRY to do–get the shape and size correct, let my strokes suggest fingers if I am lucky.  Below are some hands I had been working on the last two weeks–first are the “draft” ones, then the finished ones:

Detail, Week 1 of Pose

Detail, Week 1 of Pose

DSC_0007

After second week, I’m not exactly proud because there is little improvement.  Sometimes that happens too–I keep trying to find the magic, and I keep getting the pedestrian.

Take a look at yesterday’s hand:

29 Weeks

29 Weeks

As I worked on her hand, I was consciously applying what I knew I was going to write about in the blog.  We can only speculate whether that helped.  I painted that hand at least five times, not changing anything really, just varying the contrast, the values.  But I did that very same thing to the entire body.

This was a first-time model, recruited by one of our regulars when she learned that we value the opportunity to paint a pregnant woman.  We have her for next Monday’s session too, but I think I am content with this effort and so plan to work on a portrait next week.

I set up the lighting for “29 Weeks” to create maximum contrast between the light hitting her directly and the shadows behind her.  But even while planning to paint a “light and shadow” version, I was pondering whether I am more attuned to “local tone” painters, as one of my DVD experts, Quang Ho, terms it.  Van Gogh, for instance.  Van Gogh paints relatively flat colors, representing the actual color of the object without showing the effect of light or shadow.  To separate elements one from another, he often outlines them in a dark line.  To create texture and interest in large shapes, he makes patterns.  No gradation, no atmospheric perspective.  Here’s a good example:

A Meadow in the Mountains Le  Mas de Saint-Paul 1889Paul (1889), by Van Gogh

A Meadow in the Mountains Le Mas de Saint-Paul 1889Paul (1889), by Van Gogh

Imitating Van Gogh gives me a instantaneous rush of pleasure–it could be the thick paint, the permission to abandon shading, the richness of color.  Whatever, I feel good even when the painting turns out not so good.  Achieving a quality result result after hours of laboring over the core shadows, the half tones, the reflected light, etc, etc, leaves me with a feeling of accomplishment, but no real “high”.  As I painted “29 Weeks” I was thinking about that even as I painted light and shadow.  Maybe, for next week, I should try the Van Gogh approach and see how it comes out.  And see if it gives me a “high”.

Aline Lotter is currently exhibiting:

at the Hatfield Gallery and the East Colony Fine Art Gallery in Manchester (both are in Langer Place, 55 S. Commercial St., Manchester, NH); at the Bartlett Inn in Bartlett and the Bernerhof Inn in Glen; at the Red Jacket Inn in North Conway; at the law offices of Mesmer and Deleault at 41 Brook St in Manchester; at the Manchester office of Congresswoman Carol Shea Porter; two paintings are hanging at the Bedford Library as part of the Womens Caucus For Art exhibit “Summer Bounty”;  a single painting is on view at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester for the summer; and at her studio by appointment (email: alotter@mac.com). You may also view paintings with prices and order prints at my Fine Art America page. If the painting you are interested in is not there, or if you prefer to bypass that experience, you may contact me using the private feedback form below. If you want to add a public comment to this blog, go to the bottom of this page where it says “Leave a Reply”, and enter your comment in that box. I love to get public comments, so don’t be shy!

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Two weeks of earnest painting

You know what I just realized?  Painting from photographs is way (I mean WAY) easier than painting from life.  Obvious?  Not until now.  Until I painted the Haitian boy carrying the bundle of sticks (see here),  I had not painted from a photograph for so long that I had forgotten what it was like.  I don’t remember thinking it was easy.  But then came the Haitian boy, and I just popped it out with hardly any effort, followed by a pretty decent cat portrait.  Then yesterday, after painting two successful landscapes from photographs, after being dissatisfied with two plein air efforts, it hit me.  Wow!  I’ve been doing all this the hard way.  The hardest way!  No wonder it has been a bit of a struggle.

On the other hand, I suspect that past struggles to paint from life are exactly what made painting from photographs seem easy.

I will show you first the stuff painted from life, then the recent landscapes from photographs.

Extended pose, green

Extended pose, green

This large (20×16) figurative work is unusual in that the model (yes, Becky) is standing and we had close to three full sessions of three hours each to work on it.  This was the last pose from the open studio course I  took with Deirdre Riley.

Extended pose, red

Extended pose, red (12×9)

Yet another seated pose of one of my all-time favorite male models–so I tried to Think Different, but Better.  We had two of our unmoderated Monday sessions for this pose, so I tried to get the drawing perfect, and apply the paint with gusto.  Towards the end, I wiped out the left hand (appearing to our right) and started it over after asking him to spread that pinky finger the way I remembered it originally.  Good decision.  You even get a feeling for his finger pressing into his flesh.  (By the way, because of my request, our model traced his fingers on his thigh so as to ensure consistent finger spread between breaks–I call that Above and Beyond the call of model duty!)

After the Monday morning of figure painting, I indulged in a Monday afternoon of landscape painting.  I went intending to paint a barn, but found myself seduced by a massive tree and the lavender stones at its base.  After about an hour and a half, I had the canvas covered, mostly in green and more green.  Horrible.  Yesterday I took it in hand and glazed it over in darker shades to alleviate the poisonous green.  Here is the Before and After:

Poison! (wip)

Poison! (wip)

Cured!

Cured! (12×16)

I hope you feel as if that branch is reaching out to grab you.  Takes me back to my childhood obsession with the Oz books, in which grabby trees were pretty common.

Wednesday I met up with colleagues (Fran, Cindy, Bea), whom I had last summer dubbed the Cornwall Four (here) because we were drawn together by the workshop “Inspired by Cornwall” last summer, given by Cameron Bennett.

We were in the woods next to Dorrs Pond, on a path trafficked by dog walkers, joggers, distracted school children, disabled adults, delinquent teens, delightful immigrants–and I was accessible to all of them.  My chair was uncomfortable–I had to lean forward to paint, and my back could not take it.  Enough of excuses.  I just felt dull about the whole thing.  So yesterday, I tried to pizzazz it up.  Mostly a matter of spreading darker colors over most of  it and lighter colors where I remember the light being.  It satisfies better, but I don’t think it is going anywhere.

A walk by Dorrs Pond

A walk by Dorrs Pond (11×14)

All that straining and effort to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.  What a contrast to the next project.  It all started a week ago Friday when Sharon Allen picked me up for a jaunt up North.  It was raining, but we were hoping that as we got father north, the sun would appear.  It didn’t.  But we were on a mission:  To paint or photograph the barns of Madison, New Hampshire.  Our effort was part of a larger event organized by the Friends of Madison Library, a fundraiser in which our paintings would eventually be offered for sale, commission to the Friends.  So we drove around photographing five barns that are part of the event, and whose owners didn’t mind having artists set up painting on their properties.  We didn’t encounter any such thing, nor did we ourselves try to paint in the rain.  Sharon had brought a tent for us to paint under, just in case we were overcome by irrational desire to paint through the rain.  Instead and more sensibly, we photographed madly, even through windshield streaming with water.

So Thursday, with my dissatisfaction with the two plein air paintings painfully in mind, I decided to tone my canvases in burnt umber.  Start dark, I  strategized, and then block with in the lighter values.  It worked!  (Chorus of hallelujahs)

Madison Barn #1

Madison Barn #1 (11×14)

Madison Barn #2

Madison Barn #2 (11×14)

I used acrylic paint for the layer of dark.  New puzzle.  Do I report the media for these two paintings as “mixed”?  Some of the dark acrylic undertone definitely shows up in the finished painting.  But if I had started on a canvas that was primed in white acrylic, and left some of the white showing, I wouldn’t call that mixed media.

Aline Lotter is currently exhibiting:

at the Hatfield Gallery and the East Colony Fine Art Gallery in Manchester (both are in Langer Place, 55 S. Commercial St., Manchester, NH); at the Bartlett Inn in Bartlett and the Bernerhof Inn in Glen; at the Red Jacket Inn in North Conway; at the law offices of Mesmer and Deleault at 41 Brook St in Manchester; at the Manchester office of Congresswoman Carol Shea Porter; a single painting is on view at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester for the summer; and at her studio by appointment (email: alotter@mac.com).

You may also view paintings with prices and order prints at my Fine Art America page. If the painting you are interested in is not there, or if you prefer to bypass that experience, you may contact me using the private feedback form below. If you want to add a public comment to this blog, go to the bottom of this page where it says “Leave a Reply”, and enter your comment in that box. I love to get public comments, so don’t be shy!

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Afterglow; Exhaustion

My show was Sunday.  Many of you remembered that, and succeeded in getting there, for which I am most grateful.  Others of  you may have tried to come, but gave up when you couldn’t find a parking spot.  If so, I apologize.  I never thought to check my reception date against the schedule for the Fisher Cats games.  I won’t ever overlook that detail again!  [Fisher Cats is the name of a AA minor league baseball team, farm team for the Toronto Blue Jays; its stadium is pretty close to the building where East Colony Gallery lives, and its parking lot becomes a Fisher Cats parking lot on game days.  The building owners tried to save us prime spots in the front of the Gallery; unfortunately, the normal signs there declare "Do Not Park", so, in the absence of guidance, people were probably afraid to park there!]

Nevertheless, we had a decent turnout for our party, and I got to reconnect with some people I had not seen in a long time.  Alas, I did forget to take pictures, but this was because I was too busy talking, so that was a good thing.  Usually, at these shindigs, I am too shy to engage people in talking about my paintings.  Having people there whom I already knew was such a blessing!

Meanwhile, I had an extremely busy week of painting:  five-day workshop with Sean Beavers on figure painting; one night class with Deirdre Riley on the same subject; two paint outs, one in Exeter, New Hampshire, and the other in Goffstown.  And the Monday life group met as usual  yesterday morning.  I’m sure it was good, in the abstract, to be painting so much, but it may not have been beneficial for the output.  I was spreading myself too thin, especially as exhaustion began to take its toll.  I must accept the fact that, at my age, I can’t keep performing day after day at the same high energy level.

The workshop paintings fared better than the landscapes.  For Sean’s class, we had one model in the morning, doing one pose all week; and another in the afternoon, doing his same pose all week.  Two completed paintings emerged, plus one half-done portrait:

Figure and Detail

Figure and Detail

After spending three days on the figure, I developed an urge to paint the model’s portrait.  Since I had space on the same piece of canvas, and needed to fill that space with something, my decision to lay it down next to the figure was a no-brainer.  Only problem was, I was really too far from the model to paint a decent portrait.   I couldn’t see any nuances in the facial features with my uncorrected eyes from a distance of 15 feet.  Moving my easel was not an option because (a) I would have obstructed views of the artists on either side of me, (b) my spot was my spot for the afternoon painting, and that would have meant two moves, and (c) let’s not kid ourselves–this is only for practice.  The fact that I ended up doing close to the same thing for the afternoon painting just means I’m consistent.

Competing Lights

Competing Lights

For this pose, Sean set up a spotlight with red cel in front of the model, and one behind the model with a blue cel, emulating sunlight.  The effect was quite dramatic.  Fun!  I spent four days on this painting, and so had only one day to fill with a practice portrait:

Portrait version

Portrait version

Again, my inability to see detail that far away, and the shortness of time remaining to me, meant I could not produce a finished portrait, but I got the big pieces right.  Sean was actually impressed!  But bottom line, the face in my figure painting is more interesting that this “forced” portrait. (To me.)

The paintout on Saturday in Exeter ended with a wet paint sale to benefit the American Independence Museum, which had organized the event.  We had a gorgeous day.  Every other day last week it rained at least a little bit.  My goal for this event was to paint something pedestrian but so well that someone would want to own it.  I failed.  Not in the pedestrian part but in the wanting part.

Exeter River with Japanese Maple

Exeter River with Japanese Maple

I’m not sure the name of the river is Exeter.  I got many complements on the beauty of this painting, but no one wanted to own it.  For the second one, I went even further Out There–Ashcan School?:

Municipal Parking

Municipal Parking

This painting quite simply failed to be beautiful for some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on.  (If I could have identified the failing, I would have fixed it.)

Winding up the week, yesterday I did a figure in the morning and a landscape in the afternoon.  Both will be getting more attention–we will repeat the Monday pose next week.  Same is true of Deirdre’s class from last Tuesday.   And the landscape, well, you’ll just have to wait for that report because, with luck, I shall have time during the week to bring it to a new level of Van Gogh-ness.

Aline Lotter is currently exhibiting:

at the Hatfield Gallery and the East Colony Fine Art Gallery in Manchester (both are in Langer Place, 55 S. Commercial St., Manchester, NH); at the Bartlett Inn in Bartlett and the Bernerhof Inn in Glen; at the Red Jacket Inn in North Conway; at the law offices of Mesmer and Deleault at 41 Brook St in Manchester; at the Manchester office of Congresswoman Carol Shea Porter; and at her studio by appointment (email: alotter@mac.com).

You may also view paintings with prices and order prints at my Fine Art America page. If the painting you are interested in is not there, or if you prefer to bypass that experience, you may contact me using the private feedback form below. If you want to add a public comment to this blog, go to the bottom of this page where it says “Leave a Reply“, and enter your comment in that box. I love to get public comments, so don’t be shy!

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