Listen to Your Inner Voice

January 13, 2016

I wanted to write a few paragraphs on a topic that I think effects many artists. The topic involves creating art for the sake of art. Creating art period can be a challenge with all of the other demands in life. Too often I get caught up with doing the household chores, walking the dog, making dinner, paying the bills, working my day job, etc, and as a result, my creative artistic energies get drained and inevitably my art production falls to the waste side. I think of these daily obstacles as background noise which can, at times, become excessively loud. The challenge is learning how to synchronize myself to it all.

Another challenge for me is listening to my inner voice. This is the voice that drives my creativity. It is the voice that beckons me to stay true to my artistic vision. It is the honesty in my soul, and the passion in my heart. It is often difficult to hear with the background noise. Sometimes it is heard but ignored.

I know that this can be a common problem for the professional artist interested only in selling his work. Instead of creating art that reflects his soul, an artist will feel the need to paint what he thinks to be a commercially acceptable piece of art. Having done this myself, I’ve discovered that this approach produces mediocre art at best. It is hard to discover greatness in something that doesn’t ignite even a dim spark in my soul. Without the artist’s inspiration behind it, a painting itself is soulless. The process is tedious for the artist and the end result is bland even if the technique is superb.

On the other hand, art that is created in a genuine manner provides a glimpse into the artist’s mind and soul. It is the manifestation of an inspired idea executed through a series of brush strokes. Each mark contributes to the display of the artist’s emotions. The excitement, pain, sadness, or joy that the artist felt in creating the image is then conveyed to the viewer and will touch them on some level. The act of painting is then a heightened experience fueled by desire and passion. This is where greatness in art begins!


Four New Art Classes Being Held at the Artists of Yardley This Summer!

May 14, 2015

Hello friends and fellow artists,

I just created 3 new classes and 1 workshop which will take place at the Artists of Yardley, www.artistsofyardley.org this summer!  I will be teaching an oil painting, color theory, pastel and mixed medium class. If you are interested in any of these topics, be sure to secure your spot now by signing up for them on the AOY website!  Dates, times and pricing for each class can be found under the summer adult art classes link at www.artistsofyardley.org.  Hope to see you there!

The Artists of Yardley is a non-profit organization, dedicated to nurturing the creative spirit of the community by educating and encouraging individuals to experience, appreciate and share in the arts.


How to Achieve Finer Nuances of Color with Section Glazes

January 26, 2015

Please watch this link to see a demonstration where I’m using a variety different colors combined into one glaze.  I use this method often as a finishing layer as it allows me to tone down, brighten or shift my colors.  This is a very easy and enjoyable way to finalize areas in a painting. I’ve tried to pack a lot of information into this short video, but I realize that there is much more that I’d like to cover on this topic. One thing that I didn’t address are the technical aspects of glazing, such as the ratio of medium to pigment, and how the layering effect of a specific color influences another color. I’ve decided to put out a series of video/demos over the next few weeks where I will address each of these topics using both glazing and direct painting techniques as exercises. Enjoy this video and stay tuned for more!  And in the meantime,…happy painting!


Dead Coloring vs. Monochromatic & Grissaille Painting

January 14, 2015

I wanted to clarify some of the terminology I use when describing various stages within my painting process as it can, at times, become a bit confusing. I specifically wanted to discuss my definition of dead coloring and how that differs from a monochromatic or grissaille painting. Often both monochromatic (a mixture of one color with black & white to create varying tints and shades) and grisaille (a palette consisting of only gray tones) are referred to as dead coloring techniques.  However, I find in discussing each technique, that it is important to make a distinction between them to avoid further confusion.  The word coloring to me implies that there is in fact some description of varying hues, regardless of how limited they might be. My dead color layer is usually painted over my tonal depiction, taking the illusion one step closer to a full color representation. Usually I will completely render my detail in the dead color phase. This allows me to easily manipulate the hues in my finishing layers with very thin translucent glazes. Because the detail is rendered to near completion in the dead color phase, I consider this to be one of the most crucial and labor intensive layers of the entire painting process.  Below is a short clip of my palette set up for a dead color painting that I am currently working on. Eventually this painting will be completed with final glazes which I will also record. If you scroll further down, you will find examples of grisaille and monochromatic paintings which I provided in order to show the differences between each technique.

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IMG_2342 “Passages” oil on wood, 2010 If you check out some of my previous blogs, you can read more specifically about my procedure(es) behind the painting above. This shows a fully rendered monochromatic under-painting (excluding the blue background ) created with tints and shades of Viridian Green. With this technique it is very important to choose a dominant color (the color which will be most prevalent in the completed image). thNEFIJ4Q0 I provided this example of “The Adoration of the Magi” by Leonardo Devinci because it clearly shows the process he used to develop his paintings. Here we see a very precise linear drawing on an earth toned ground and the shadows are applied as washes of Raw or Burnt Umber most likely, to bring out the sculptural form. If this had been taken a step further and white had been used in the highlights as either a pure pigment or mixed with the umber, this would become a monochromatic painting similar to the one that I executed above. tumblr_mf17s3bCbU1qzon56o1_400[1] Here we see a traditional Grisaille done by contemporary artist Patrick Byrnes using grays mixed with just black & white paint over an imprimatura. I personally don’t like using this technique for the purposes of an under painting, as I find the grays have a tendency to dull down any colors that are laid on top.  I do however find it very useful when I am preparing a tonal study for a finished piece. I also would recommend this technique to anyone who is just learning how to mix and apply paint in a representational manner.  By eliminating the complication of color and concentrating on only light and dark values, one can more easily observe and manipulate the illusion of a three dimensional form. 


Re-working the Color Nuances with Section Glazing

January 7, 2015

Although I haven’t fully completed my dead color layer in this painting, I couldn’t resist trying out a section glaze to see how it would modify the existing color. As I explained in my video a few blogs back, I have thus far used only earth colors and eliminated bright blues, violets, yellows and reds. Working this way has resulted in an overall warming of the flesh tones as seen in example A below. With the section glazing, I laid down a vibrant Cobalt Violet as a transparent wash over the cheek and stubble area which immediately shifted the color towards a blue-violet and slightly darkened the values as seen in example B. While the glaze was still wet, I worked back into it adjusting details and color nuances with various pigments including General Rose Madder, Chromatic Blue, Persian Rose and Naples Yellow Red. This method of working back into the wet glaze is referred to as a couch as the additional colors have a tendency to sink into the glaze. Moving forward, I will finish my dead color layer and then continue by working my glazes in sections to achieve accurate color hues and tonalities as seen here. I will post a future video showing the process.

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Example A

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Example B

 


Rendering Glass with Charcoal and Pastel

December 9, 2014

One of the more challenging subjects that my students seem to encounter in my still life drawing class is the rendering of glass. I would be lying if I said that this isn’t a challenge for me as well. Glass can be a tremendously complex subject to tackle due to the variants of value tone and color caused by reflections, transparencies and high-lights, not to mention surface details such as stains or scratches on the glass. It is tough to know where to begin when confronted with so much information. Below, I have documented the progress of one of my own still life’s which deals with some elaborate reflections in a glass jug.  One of the first things I’d like to stress, is that it is important for one to establish a fixed point of view each time they observe their subject. This applies to any drawing that is being done from life, but it is especially important with glass. The slightest movement of your head can drastically change every reflection that you see.  Also, remember that anything behind the glass will be visible to some degree.  Keeping the background simple (even a solid color) is a good rule of thumb for a beginner.  In the example below, I have chosen a coarsely textured background which provided a slight challenge but it was still relatively uniform in color and value. This made it easier to distinguish which tonal sections were caused by transparencies, high-lights, etc., and this leads me to the last topic I’d like to touch on – the importance of good lighting.  Multiple light sources will create more reflected light, so try to keep it simple. I recommend using one direct light source. This will provide strong high-lights, which will contrast nicely against the transparency of the glass, particularly if using a dark background.

I’ve chosen to render my subject on toned paper. Because the subject is so dark with limited high-lights, I chose a paper that was just a tad darker than a mid-tone. If the background had been light, I may have chosen a lighter gray or even a white sheet of paper. If the background had been black, I could have gone even darker with my paper tone. The paper here is essentially acting as a toned ground would in a painting. The materials I used for this drawing were white & black General’s charcoal pencils (initially this was all I was going to use, but I so much enjoyed the cool green tint of the glass that I decided to add color at a later stage) soft pastel sticks, pastel pencils, blending brushes and tortillions

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Example A

Step 1.

After establishing the general shapes in line with my black charcoal pencil, I put the strongest lights in with my white pencil. After this step, the gray paper read much darker and made it easier to gauge my darker tones in the subject. While squinting, (I always do this in the beginning because it eliminates unnecessary detail and makes it easier to observe only the most obvious shapes) I blocked in the darkest shapes using a compressed charcoal stick as seen in the middle portion of the jug in example A. I made sure not to press too hard in order to understate my value. I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep values light in this stage. Once you go too dark, it is very hard to go backwards. I then began blending my tones into the paper with a relatively stiff flat brush in order to smooth out my gradations

 

Step 2.

After establishing a good variety of darker value shapes, I was now ready to increase my tonal range by adding more white over my gray tones as seen on the right edge of the bottle next to the high-light in example B. This is something that I usually caution my students against if they are choosing to work in only black and white charcoal. Blending the two mediums together creates a cool bluish-gray value which differs from the gray tone of the paper. Once one has acquired some knowledge of warm & cool grays as they apply to light and form, this type of blending technique can add depth and limited chroma to a black & white drawing. I could have continued rendering the bottle like this and it would have held up just fine as a black & white image, but my desire to explore more subtle warm and cool relationships led me to the following step(s).

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Example C.

Step 3.

There was a unified blue-green tint to the glass and I simply couldn’t resist adding some of that color with my soft pastel sticks as seen in example C. The wonderful thing about pastel is that it can be opaque or transparent depending on how heavily it is applied. As I began adding color I was able to allow some of the grays in my previous layer to show through which ultimately added more depth to the drawing. This step is similar to glazing over a grisaille in oil paint. I stuck to about three shades of green. The degree to which I was able increase my color range was achieved through careful layering. I’ve never encountered much of a problem with the charcoal smearing or blending into the pastel, but if that is a concern, the black & white rendering can be completed and sprayed with a fixative prior to adding color. As I continued working with the pastels, I periodically smoothed out sections of color with blending brushes before adding more color. Sometimes the pastel can become very chalky and particles have to be brushed off the paper before it will accept additional layers.

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Example D.

Step 4.

At this stage I continued working more subtleties and detail into the drawing and I spent a great deal of time evaluating all of my value and color relationships. I began to slowly increase my palette with black, blue, green, purple and brown variations of color. I also began to gradually darken sections. As I continued to explore these subtle variations, I kept in mind that I still needed my value tone to remain somewhat unified. It was  hard for me to judge exactly how much darker I needed to push my values without a background tone, so, with my black pastel stick, I roughly applied a dark, bold tone to the right side of the jug as seen in example D. After taking a moment to evaluate, I decided that this tone was a bit too dark as it didn’t match up with the transparent sections in the bottle. I knew however that that could be easily corrected by blending in some lighter opaque tones with my pastels, and so I continued to rough in the darker tone as a base. I then completely smoothed it out with a wide, flat blending brush so that it would be ready to accept additional layers.

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Example E.

Step 5.

I finished up the background by working in lighter variations of value and color with pastel sticks and pastel pencils. As I did this, I attempted to depict a stucco wall texture which I thought contrasted nicely against the smooth shading in the glass. This process was very time consuming. Once the background was near completion, I re-worked some of the value gradations in the jug, making sure that they closely matched the tones of the stucco wall. I then brought all of the surrounding areas up to completion.

Overall I am pretty satisfied with the result. If I were to do it again however, I would work up the background first.  That would have made gauging my value tone in the glass a little easier. One of the things that I love most about pastel is its range of color. It can be bright and bold or extremely subdued and nuanced.  I often will use pastel as a medium to work out studies for oil paintings, but it can also be used to create a finished rendering which stands on its own as I’ve done here. I wouldn’t use it as a substitute for oil, but it is a great medium to try for anyone interested in making the transition from drawing to painting. No other drawing medium offers the same qualities. It is also less time consuming than oil painting which is an added benefit.


Grey Tone Drawing with Charcoal & White Chalk

October 14, 2014

Below is a photo of a class demonstration that I did yesterday using vine and compressed charcoal, a 4B General’s charcoal pencil and white chalk on Mi-Tientes medium grey pastel paper. I also used several brushes (both rounds and flats) for blending the softer tonal gradations.  Because the white chalk is itself so soft, brushes work very well as blending tools.  Tortillions, because they are harder and more abrasive, tend to lift away the fine particles that sit on the paper and, in a sense, erase what has been put down.  For this reason I don’t usually recommend using them for charcoal and chalk drawings.  With this particular technique, the grey paper acts as a mid-tone for the drawing and much of the initial shading is done in the lightest areas with the white chalk.  As soon as lights are added, the tone of the paper immediately reads much darker. The darkest darks are added selectively towards the end of the drawing process.  If they are added too early, everything else gets keyed down into a much darker value range and the contrasts between the lights and darks become too extreme.  Although this technique can be a little tricky to get used to at first, it is a great exercise to begin evaluating the lights and darks in a drawing as separate parts which require a specific rendering tool. It is similar to painting a grisaille on a toned ground and I would strongly encourage anyone interested in making the transition from drawing to painting to try this technique. Another advantage is the time it takes to finish a tonal rendering with this technique versus the more common usage of a dark medium such as charcoal or pencil on a white sheet of paper. I executed this demo in two 20 minute segments, spending a total of 40 minutes on the entire thing.  I would never have gotten this far if I had attempted to shade all of the subtle gradations of grey tones starting with just the white paper.

One key factor in creating a drawing like this is to use the tone of the paper when needed.  You’ll notice in this demonstration a great deal of the half-tones, shadows, reflected lights, etc. were left untouched.  In many cases just a hint of light and dark value was needed to shift it in one direction or another rather than a heavy application. If I were to combine my light and dark mediums together it would result in creating yet another value of blue-grey which would be considerably cooler than the tone of the paper.  I often will do this when I introduce chromatic greys to my class.  When I begin explaining color, I start with light and dark values and slowly introduce other colors to the palette.  However, for this exercise I recommend not combining any of the mediums.  I will discuss the use of combining different chalks to create chromatic greys in a future post.

gray tone drawing for blog


Dead Coloring Demo at the Fratrich Gallery

October 9, 2014

Below are a few shots of me working in front of the Fratrich Gallery in Lambertville New Jersey where I also show my work.  I have been doing more and more of these demonstrations in order to show people the way that I paint as well as offer my services to the public as both a commission artist and teacher.  At this stage in the painting I am beginning to apply some color, but it is still very limited.  I call this dead coloring which is exactly as it sounds.  The model’s flesh tones are still somewhat lifeless – the concentration is more on light, shadow, texture and form with the knowledge that I will add brighter and more luminous color in the next few layers.  Here my palette consists of only earth tones, (Flake White, Raw Sienna, Transparent Red Oxide, Raw Umber, Chromium Oxide Green and Ivory Black) eliminating purples, bright reds, yellows, blues and oranges.  In order to achieve cool tones I have to use white mixed with my black or green.  I’m using Transparent Red Oxide and white for my pinks and the Raw Sienna acts as my yellow.  Once this dead color layer is complete, I will have a great under-structure to begin glazing brighter, more saturated colors onto.  These final layers of semi-transparent color will, essentially, give the flesh tones a living, breathing quality.  The blood beneath the skin will become apparent as I selectively begin introducing brighter reds and violets to my palette.

This particular method was used by many artists throughout history. It can perhaps be most effectively observed in 17th Century Dutch painting. When viewing the luminous shimmer of a window light cast upon a wall in a Vermeer interior, or the transparency in the shadow on the face of a Rembrandt portrait, or the full splendor of reds and blues which emerge out of the stark background in a floral still-life by Willem Van Aelst, it is apparent that each of these artists utilized a palette of neutral tones first, which provided them with a strong tonal and pictorial structure to build their images upon. Sometimes darker passages can reveal layers of the underpainting – most often in the shadows or background.  But how was such brilliant color achieved at a time when pigments were so scarce?  Each layer of paint was a step in a very methodical system.  Glazes were often laid over dead color as a wash of pure, brilliant pigment.  If, for example, a red glaze were brushed over a gray shadow, the red would retain its full saturation, whereas if it were mixed directly with the gray it would become much duller.  The composition of the painting itself, using this method, is based on a fixed sequence of parts which includes drawing, form and color.  The color in its finality is conceived even in the beginning stages of a painting.  The choices that an artist makes when executing the underpainting supports whatever color or colors are to be added later.  This method of working is similar to playing a game of chess where you have to always plan three or four moves ahead in order to achieve a desired outcome.

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portrait of jim for blog

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I provided this close up to show how I am depicting the minute details of the skin pores, stubble, wrinkles, etc.  All detail in this stage is hyper-focused and will become more subtle as more layers get added.  Because I am using a limited palette, my lights are in fact much lighter than they will be in the final image.  This example clearly shows where glazing will come in very handy.  I am planning to eventually brush a pale, olive-green glaze over the small flicks of light around his jaw which will make the detail less sharp and focused and also vary the color a bit more.  With this technique I am exaggerating the detail first, fully aware that it will become more and more subtle with each layer of translucent pigment.  Another thing that I wanted to point out was the way that I am laying down my strokes of light.  Each mark is descriptive of the form. I am handling my brush here as if I were using a cross contour shading technique with a fine pencil or pen.  I imagine that the marks are wrapping  around the contours of the form, accentuating each plane.

On a personal note, I am planning on doing demos at the Fratrich Gallery on a monthly basis.  Please check out my blog for updates or visit www.michaelfratrich.com!  I’d love to see you there next time!

 


Emily in Flowers Completed!!!

June 9, 2014

Completed at last!!!!! What started off as a study for a life-size painting, turned into a 3 and a half year project which I finished several days ago on the eve of my 37th birthday – a nice little present to myself! Working on this has tested my patience more than any other drawing or painting that I’ve done. I’ve lost track of the hours spent on this, but I imagine it’s close to 7 or 8 hundred. At times I nearly wanted to give up, as the task seemed too daunting, but I stuck it out and kept pushing forward (breaking every now and then to work on other small projects) until finally the finish was in sight. The last couple of weeks working on this were filled with excitement and adrenalin as I saw it all come together.

I still have every intention to revisit this image in an enormous 15 x 6 foot painting but I am going to take a break from it first and do a series of small floral still life’s. Part of what has made this project so time consuming for me is the technique, which consisted of multiple layers. Each section of flowers began with a general light color applied roughly with a medium soft pastel and smoothed out with a small brush. Darks and lights were then worked over this initial layer with a combination of mediums including colored pencil, pastel pencil, charcoal pencil and black ink. The transitions and shading were achieved with blending brushes and tortillions.

When painted, the flowers will have richer, bolder colors, and Emily’s flesh tones will be rendered in neutral warms and cools. I will keep posting updates as the painting progresses which will probably ensue over the course of 5 years or more, being one of the largest and most ambitious projects I’ve ever attempted.

 

emily in flowers 1

emily in flowers 2

emily in flowers 3


Portrait of Jim (Using Value & Color Shapes in the Underpainting to Describe Form)

February 19, 2014

Hello all,

I’m back with some new content!!! After nearly a two year lapse, I’ve rediscovered my voice through video, and was inspired to post this one of my latest portrait of Jim. This is raw, unedited footage of me explaining my process and the technical endeavors that I encounter in painting. Because I work soo slow, parts have been sped up to show more content. I’ve been experimenting with a lot of painting and drawing videos using this wonderful Nikon camera that I got for my birthday, and, hopefully at some point, I will edit these videos and create a DVD series of step by step procedures that will eventually be available to purchase on my website. A few students of mine encouraged me to do this, and I’m so glad they did as it helps me to become a better teacher! This video shows me working out a portrait in, what I call the “dead color” stage. As this piece develops, my colors will continue to shift with cooler glazes. I highly recommend watching the video in full screen version to observe more of the fine detail. Enjoy and happy painting!