Indirect Painting (phase 2)

September 17, 2018

As promised, I’m sharing the progress of one of my very talented students. This painting continues to become more and more life-like as details are added. In phase 1 we see a good description of form, however the face still lacks that spark of life. She seems more like a statue. In phase 2 we begin to see that soulful expression emerging with the subtle addition of a highlight in the eye. Other details have been tweaked as well to bring out more contours in the face. The lips have also been touched with a few highlights making them appear moist. Each of these subtle touches gives this portrait a living, breathing presence.  Now it is about more than simply modeling form. This is where the painting slowly starts taking on a life of it’s own.

It’s pretty remarkable considering that this is the student’s first oil painting ever. Once the tonal layer is finished, colors will be added in opaque and transparent layers which will continue to refine and enhance the existing detail.

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Phase 1

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Phase 2


Indirect Painting

September 14, 2018

Hello all,

I wanted to post the work of one of my students who is developing her “dead color” layer for a portrait. This is her first oil painting ever! We worked for several sessions on the drawing using the sight-size method. Then we transferred the drawing to a pre-toned wood panel using the cartoon method. Now she is really starting to develop her sculptural form with carefully mixed variants of light and shadow. All of this will serve as a foundational layer for which to apply color over. She is doing great considering that this is her very first oil ever!

What works so well with developing a painting this way (especially for a beginner) is the attention which can be devoted to each step. If we take a look at each skill, we can break it down into the following order:

1. Linear Drawing – the ability to develop accurate shapes in line which relate to one another. This allows for one to make important decisions about their relative proportions, as well as emphasize shapes in their compositions before they even touch the paint brush. Artists who are academically trained spend a lot of time drawing. Drawing is a great tool for developing quick studies for paintings, making compositional decisions or it can be done with the intentions of transferring it to the surface in which the painting will be created. Linear drawing is a fundamental skill which anyone can develop. All you need is a sketchbook and a pencil!

2. Value Application – the ability to recognize relative values in order to establish a sense of light and shadow. The description of value as well as value transitions has many purposes. It is the easiest way to recognize form. The transition between the edge of a shadow and the light can describe the surface of a plane. A rounded plane for example will have a gradual transition from light to dark whereas a form where two flat planes come together will display a sharp contrast between the light and dark side without any transition. Value can be used as a compositional tool as well. Value Contrast or Value Emphasis is one way to create a focal point.

3. Color – the ability to observe and apply color in order to enhance the form, atmosphere, mood or composition of a particular subject. Color is perhaps the hardest skill of all to master. Color has so much nuance, boldness, harmony, etc. The way in which an artist uses color can reveal a lot about him or her. In observational painting, the main objective is to be able to recognize a color’s appropriate Value, Hue and Chroma. Once an artist is able to do that successfully, than he or she can make educated choices to enhance various aspects of the painting.

When painting indirectly, it is very helpful to limit the Chroma as seen in the study below. In so doing, this reduces the subject to gray tones, which helps in observing the play of light and shadow. This painting is in the Value Application stage. Colors will be applied next and will continue to enhance the illusion of form. I will post more photos as this painting develops.

If you’d like to learn about techniques like this, please visit http://www.riverafinearts.com and check out my classes.

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Portrait study in the “dead color” layer

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What Secret Tools Did the Old Masters Use

August 13, 2018

What makes the Old Masters work so impactful and timeless? What was their secret? Did they have a magic medium that infused their colors with light? Were their handmade brushes designed to produce the life-like texture of porcelain, flesh, foliage or any other subject which they painted? How could their drawings be so flawless? They HAD to have somehow traced their images, right!? These are all questions which many artists (including myself) have pondered at one time or another.

I’ve spent the past 25 years or so, studying the techniques of the Old Masters and have discovered that all of their skills combined is what makes their artwork so incredible. It is not the result of one thing. First they mastered drawing. Then they mastered creating the illusion of light and shadow with pencil or charcoal. Then they learned how to create the same illusion with paint. Then they explored color and color relationships, which resulted in creating the illusion of light, space and atmosphere. Each part was mastered at a specific stage within their pedagogy. As they began to develop their “artistic vocabulary” their work began to take on a realistic representation of whatever subject they were trying to portray. Therefore the portrayal of any subject, can only be realized as a direct result of the level of mastery of each skill which comprises an artist’s personal language.

The good news is that ANY of these skills can be learned. Mastery, however only comes with practice. I’ve spent many years learning about AND practicing each of these skills, and have developed exercises which will allow anyone else to learn them. I’ve researched the pedagogical systems which were used to train artists attending the ecole des beaux-arts in Paris during the turn of the 19th Century. This system produced some of the most successful realist artists in history.

My goal, as a teacher is to raise that veil that conceals those pedagogical systems. This is something that most art schools WILL NOT teach, and it leaves so many young, aspiring artists who are interested in improving their skills in the dark. I also want to destroy the idea that these techniques are a thing of the past. As a contemporary artist, it is important to understand that the history of art can teach us a great deal, as long as an artist maintains a fresh outlook. It is incredibly foolish to think that he or she can’t benefit by studying the techniques of our predecessors, in the fear that it will make his or her work less original. It isn’t the technique which makes a work of art original or unoriginal, it is the idea or lack thereof. What one chooses to do with their art language is what makes their art phenomenal!

I offer many classes, both privately and through non-profit organizations which can be found at http://www.riverafinearts.com. If you are interested in learning how to take your art to the next level, I know that I could help. Please feel free to visit my site http://www.riverafinearts.com, and take a look at what I offer.


How to Move Your Audience With Your Art

July 30, 2018

Hello all,

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about making art that is true to ones soul. What do I mean by that exactly? Not compromising the integrity of the work to please the masses. You see, I do a lot of portrait commissions, and have recently had a frustrating experience with a client. Without going into too much detail, I’ve had to make numerous changes to my rendition of her in order to appeal to her sense of vanity.

Now, I firmly believe that making art which moves others requires the ability to tell a compelling story. It also requires for an artist to know EXACTLY what story he or she is trying to tell. My style could be categorized as hyperrealism. My art language is one which focuses on replicating the details of my subjects with a sense of heightened clarity. I enjoy discovering the subtlest of nuances that are present in everything, however great or small. Some would say that my focus on such minute detail is somewhat obsessive, however, this is my style, and, in general, the trademark of the hyperrealist movement. The client I mentioned above, after having seen my work, commissioned me because she loved the “life-like detail” (her quote) portrayed in my work. Long story short, I ended up changing her portrait so many times, that I now feel it no longer resembles her, nor does it represent MY style.

I tell this story because I believe the first thing that an artist must have is the desire to express themselves honestly. The artistic alphabet must be learned in order for an artist to develop his or her unique voice. Music is another language which requires an alphabet. A musician speaks to his or her audience through an arrangement of harmonic sounds, whereas a visual artist speaks by using lines, shapes, edges and colors. Through these grammatical forms of visual expression, an artist’s style emerges. Although the personal choices may vary drastically, the means by which imagery is created requires a knowledge of the same basic alphabet. Only by mastering such an alphabet, can an artist than truly express his or her story on a canvas, or piece of paper. When this is done well, the idea becomes universal and transcends the language barrier.

I recognize that my experience, unfortunately is something which happens a lot with commissions (especially portrait commissions!). Knowing this, however, doesn’t diffuse the aggravation of having to change one’s style to please a client. I’ve thought a lot over the years about how I can avoid this. Be honest in the very beginning. Do preliminary studies for the client to approve. Send them frequent updates. None of these things however helped me in this instance. Because of of this, I am seriously questioning my future as a portrait painter. In the very least, I am going to have to write up a contract which specifies rules to help me avoid constantly reworking a painting in order to satisfy the whims of a finicky client.

A great work of art has soul. When we see a drawing or painting which stops us in our tracks, and we are compelled to stare at it for a moment or two, in that moment, it has grabbed a hold of OUR soul. We recognize something in it, which is powerful and we are lured into a world that speaks of something greater than the trivialities of every day life. It tells us something that we can’t put into words. Perhaps it reminds us of a moment, or experience within are own life where our emotions overpowered us. Any strong emotion that we’ve experienced, whether it be love, anger, joy, fear, sadness, etc., has a way of overshadowing us. Our most profound memories are embedded in our subconscious mind, and when we least expect it, they sneak up on us. A skillfully painted masterpiece has the ability to remind us of such a moment. When that happens we suddenly feel, standing in the middle of a museum or gallery, something deep in the wells of our soul. That my friends, is the alluring power of art at its best.

As an educator, I try to teach the “visual alphabet” to my students, so that they can imbue their artwork with powerful emotion, and, in so doing, touch others. However, if any artist should choose to do commissions, I would strongly advise that they be wary of their clients. Once the integrity of the work is compromised, one can easily loose sight of their expressive language. Don’t allow a client to censor your vocabulary. You will regret it if you do. Art should always come from the heart. When you are not being true to yourself, you run into the danger of creating mediocrity.

 

 


Bouguereau Copy for “Secret Techniques” Class

April 10, 2017

I am going to be teaching another “Secret Techniques of the Old Masters” class this Spring at the Artist’s of Yardley, http://www.artistsofyardley.org. I always get such wonderful results from my students when I teach this class. Over the course of six weeks, I will cover specific steps within a pedagogical system, which will help to unveil the secret methods employed by the Old Masters. What made the works of the Old Masters so stunning is not a mystery; it is simply understanding the specific steps within their system. Students begin by selecting the work of an artist whom they admire, and then create a solid proportional drawing which will be transferred to their paint support. The student may choose to do a direct copy, or create their own work using the same technique of their chosen Master. In this class each student works at their own pace, taking as much time as they need for each step. once their drawing has been transferred to their support, they follow a strategic method of layering their paint, usually beginning with very limited color, and gradually increasing their palette with each additional layer.

Below is a Bouguereau copy that I did as a demo for a previous class. I left each layer in an unfinished state to show each specific step. I hope that anyone reading this who is interested in learning these methods will consider signing up for this class. To do so, please visit http://www.artistsofyardley.org and click on the adult classes link. If you can’t make it to this class, be sure to check my website, http://www.riverafinearts.com for future offerings.

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Mixed Medium Work in Progress

March 31, 2017

I have recently become fascinated with exploring the labyrinth of detail  which exists in objects small enough for someone to hold in their hand. By narrowing my focus on the intricacies of such objects, I am able to truly appreciate the complex universe that exists within an “ordinary” thing. In my scrutiny, I discover that, what may in fact seem ordinary, is anything but.

The image below is a detail of a work in progress. It was created using a combination of mediums including pencil, ink, colored pencil and pastel on a sheet of vellum paper. This is part of a series which deals with pastries/treats that evoke memories of childhood.

The drawing is a true-to-life-size facsimile of a frosted donut with sprinkles. By rendering my subject in its exact scale, the illusion of every subtle nuance, from the shininess of the chocolate frosting to the cylindrical shape of each sprinkle, becomes more convincing. This is a common practice in the tradition of Trompe L’oeil art. I am, however considering the possibility of an oil series where each image is recreated on a format which is larger-than-life; perhaps large enough to cover a coffee table. What would happen then?! I believe when an ordinary subject is seen on such a scale the mundane becomes sublime, and the subject itself is elevated (literally and figuratively) to something much greater than life. Please stay tuned for updates on this piece and others like it. Also, be sure to check out my new website, http://www.riverafinearts.com to see even more of my artwork.

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Drawing with Vivid Color (taking realism to the next level)

March 28, 2017

Hello all,

I finally set aside some time to write a new post. Over the last few months I’ve started a new series of trompe l’oeil still life’s and I’d like to describe a little bit of my journey. This series is very exciting for me, firstly because the images are tied to my favorite genre of art (trompe l’oeil) and secondly because the tools that I’ve used has changed my perception of what can be achieved with a drawing medium.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve always been a practitioner and avid admirer of traditional realism. The 17th Century Dutch period is perhaps my greatest area of study. I love the depth and richness of color that the Dutch were able to achieve with oil paint using a precise layering technique which included under painting and glazing (I’ve written many blogs specifically about this). Recently for me, however, it has become difficult finding time to paint (my work schedule has been keeping me away from the studio) and so, I’ve begun to experiment with a combination of dry mediums, determined to simulate the luminous color effects of an oil painting. After a bit of experimentation, I’ve discovered an approach combining hard pastels, colored pencils, various blending tools and a limited amount of ink which renders effects strikingly similar to an oil. I’ve applied my knowledge of painting indirectly (starting with the lightest color first and gradually adding darks) and have documented the results of my latest piece which I’ve posted below along with brief descriptions of each step.

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The leaf above was sketched out lightly with a hard 2H pencil. A layer of yellow was then roughly applied with a hard pastel and smoothed out with a semi soft brush (this removes the excess powder which builds up on the paper). As with painting, I try to think about working from light to dark. This gives the final color a luminous glow. I then began to add the intricate network of detail over this initial layer as seen on the right side with finely sharpened colored pencils (mostly Derwent and Prismacolor). As I slowly built up my darks, I also increased my detail. I switched over to a mechanical pencil to emphasize sharp lines such as the cast shadows of the veins. There are a limited number of colored lead sticks available for the Staedtler Mars mechanical pencil holder. I used brown and black. If the contrast needed to be increased any further, I used a .005 Micron black ink pen.

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A classic Trompe L’oeil image must include a drop shadow. This creates the illusion that the object is “popping off” the paper. I rendered this shadow seen on the left side of the leaf with various grades of pencils. I started with a 2H and then B and finally a 2B. Each layer was smoothed out with a tortillion prior to applying the next layer. Because the leaf was a warmish color, the pencil tone appeared cooler by contrast. I decided to further the warm/cool contrast by adding a final faint layer of dark blue directly over the gray pencil tone with a Prismacolor colored pencil. I also enjoyed the contrasting edges; the sharp edge of the leaf paired against the soft edge of the shadow.

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To finish this drawing, I simply continued building up my darks and increasing my detail with the mediums specified above. I am quite pleased with the result. I am planning to do quite a few of these and will be sure to post them as I go so be sure check back periodically.