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Monday, October 17, 2011

Expanding on Pencil

For manyrecent  months I have focused on pastel.  This is because I was working on paintings for my SAA application and I believed that pastel was my strongest medium that photographs well.  But I have been wanting to experiment with mixed media based on graphite drawing because I think that drawing is my real strenghth.

So now is the time!  It happens that our art club is having a show in January which we're calling 3D and 3X3.  It's primarily a 3D sthow, but to be sure that we have art to cover the walls we are also including "3X3 collections" - sets of nine 8"x8" paintings by the same artist in the same media centering around a single theme.

Last year I did owls in colored pencil and they turned out pretty nice and sold well.  This year my theme is "a dog's love is steadfast" and I'm going to experiment with mixed media based on drawing.  Here is my first try: "a dog's love is steadfast in the exuberance of youth."

I began with a graphite drawing I did back in August.  It's on Stonehenge drawing paper and is all .5mm HB lead.  My first step was to seal the drawing front and back with Krylon Workable Fixatif.  I had a 8"x8" piece of 1/2" MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard, available at the local home improvement store in 2'x4' sheets that I cut on the table saw) that I sealed with spray primer (another home improvement store purchase).

I attached the drawing to the MDF with acrylic gel medium and when it was dry I turned the piece face down and trimmed the excess paper away with a utility blade.  So far, so good.

My idea was to add color with very thin washes of Liquitex Soft Body acrylic.  The problem was that there was a working time of exactly zero!  So there was no chance to soften edges or do any wipe outs.  I tried dampening the surface furst with clean water which yielded an extended working time of perhaps 1/2 second!  After laying in Dioxazine Purple washes in the shadows, then a Cadmium Yellow wash over the entire dog, followed by a Burnt Sienna wash in the mid tone areas, and a Burnt Umber wash in the shadow areas, I gave up on the washes.  I think I would have proceeded further, despite the non-existent working time, except that a distubing speckled pattern was beginning to emerge.  I think (not sure, though) that it resulted from an incomplete coat of fixative on the back of the drawing resulting in uneven absorption of the gel medium.

So I switched to colored pencil softened with Gamsol applied with a q-tip.  This worked fairly well, but now I was into an oil-based medium.  Despite that, I cautiously added a very few highlights with white acrylic.  I painted the edges of the MDF with brown acrylic and applied a "finger rim" around the edges.  This is a technique I learned so long ago in china painting.  You dip your finger in gold lustre and run it around the rim of a plate giving a nice even edge that you could never get with a brush.  But in this case, I dabbed my finger unevenly along the edge then quickly knocked down the blobs with a quick swipe of a clean fingertip.  This gives the uneven edge that you see and which I like.

To seal the piece, I coated the front with retouching varnish.  For some reason, it really soaked in and in the process gave a nice translucent look.  I'll paint the back with acrylic then seal the back and edges with acrylic varnish.

I'm pretty happy with the results with a few lessons learned for next time.  Next time, I will also use a 2B lead for darker darks.  And I will also leave brighter highlights at the acrylic wash stage.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Taking a Squirrelly Break

I got an e-mail from Fire Mountain Gems asking for a donation of a handmade bead for their charity drive supporting breast cancer research.  Now that I'm collecting feedback before the final push on my SAA paintings, it seemed like a good time to take a break from the painting and get out the polymer clay.  And here's the result!
They're both really pendants rather than beads - a little too big for just beads.  But either one would be appropriate for the donation.  The one on the left is the one I'm sending in.  The hole runs horizontal through the upper chest.  I've added a dangle of a Swarovski pale lavendar pear shaped pearl which nicely picks up the mica sheen on the squirrel's fur.  The other one I'll keep for myself, so of course I had to made her into a fairy.  Her wings are polymer clay finished with mica powders in interference gold, green, blue, and violet with a final dusting of very fine glitter.  It will be fun indeed to make her into a necklace.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Adding a Background

There were some changes that I wanted to make to this painting.  When I went back and looked at it the calves looked flat to me.  So I did quite a bit of work on both of then adding value contrast.  I also removed his rear ear and horn.  Despite the fact that they matched the photo, they just didn't look right to me, so out they went!

Previously, it wasn't as clear as I wanted it to be that he has his nose tucked into her neck.  I think that now shows better.

But one of the biggest changes I made was to the background.  Before, the upper part was just plain dark green with a little mid-green mottling.  I felt that I needed a real background, but not a complicated one.  So I drew on my memory of the hills around Livermore and this is what I came up with.  A bonus is that the blue of the sky repeats the blues in the halters which pulls the painting together better.  The background is quite loose which I think is fine since it's quite a ways in the distance.  The only thing I might change is to refine the light shapes on the upper edge of the left far hill.

The fog coming over the hills is a bit cold and gloomy so I brightened the cows and hay immediately around them.  I'd like to suggest sunlight falling on them, but I don't think I have quite succeeded with that.

Adding Perspective

I asked Shelley to take a look at this painting and what bothered her was a lack of perspective.  It's far too late to put the floral pattern on the lace in perspective, but there were still some things I could do.  My main goal was to flatten the floor and to do that I lightened it at the top and graduated the tone downwards.  I also darkened the curtain behind Phreddee to suggest that it is tilted more to the vertical. Tilting this part of the lace vertical also means that the pattern is not out of perspective. By darkeneing the lace further on the left side of the painting, and particularly around Phreddee's tail I think I reduced the tendency for the eye to travel to the tail and then out of the painting.

The worst perspective problem now is the two rose petals on the left.  I may or may not do anything about that.  I can correct the one on the carpet but correcting the one on the lace is next to impossible because it would involve redoing the lace which I just don't think I can do at this point.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Phreddee Gets His Fur Done

I thought I was done but now that I look at the photo I'm not so sure.  Obviously I want the focal point to be his face but that's not where my eye goes.  Instead, it travels to the spots with the greatest contrast - the tail against the curtain, and the chest.  And what's worse is that the dark tail leads my eye right out of the photo.

So I can think of a few solutions.  One would be to darken the upper left and left side of the background.  The other would be to crop some of the tail out.  Here's the cropped version.
The cropped version works better but I like the wider one better.  Hmmm.  I'll do some darkening and then see.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Working on Phreddee

I'm thinking I may very well crop off some of the left side but I still need to add rose petals to the left.  Perhaps I can tuck one in the fold of the lace.  I haven't yet finished the second coat on Phreddee's fur but I see that I need much more contrast and depth in the light fur.  It's only value differences in the light stripes on the legs and head that will make them look round since the darks are so dark.

I also need to add shadows on the lace curtain which will be a challenge.  Can't wait to get back to it tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Working on the Lace

The lace is in, Phreddee the cat has some fur, and the rose petals are brightened up (but not enough yet).  So next I'll turn my attention to Phreddee which will be a lot of fun - what I've been waiting for, in fact.  Oh, and then there are the rose leaves and stem.  That green is important to pick up the green in Phreddee's eyes.

The carpet was quite tedious, but I believe that the patience required to add layer after layer of dots pays off.

To do the lace, I first finished the carpet and glazed over the curtain area with cream.  Wherever the curtain folds over itself I added a second pass of glazing to represent the two layers of fabric.  Then it was on to the pattern.  I outlined all the flowers and leaves with pretty hard pressure, then filled in with lighter pressure leaving the vein areas untouched.  With the sharp edge of the pastel I laid in rows and rows of cross-hatching to represent the loose weave of the fabric, then added random dots to try to suggest a little more of the lace detail.  Working on such a fine subject with the thick pastel stick is frustrating since I'm such a detail person.  So I had to keep reminding myself that in the end the lace curtain would be part of the background - not the main area of interest.

With the focal point of Phreddee's eyes being so far into the upper right corner, I have a little bit of a worry about the composition.  After all, this flagrantly violates the "rule of three."  (Rule of Three: imagine dividing the image in thirds with both horizontal and vertical lines.  The focal point should be on or near one of the intersections of these lines.)  To me, rules are guidelines and not laws.  And I'm hoping that the secondary focal point of the torn rose will balance things out.  As I look at this photograph, I'm thinking I need more petals trailing off to the lower left.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What Was I Thinking?

"What was I thinking" may very well not be a unique title for my posts as I often wonder that at some point in working on a painting.  But, really, what was I thinking when I decided to put Phreddee (the rosarian) on a draped lace curtain?  Well, all I can do is forge ahead, try my hardest, and hope for the best.

My process so far has been to block in the colors of the roses, then block in the brick red around the roses and cat, add the texture for the carpet, glaze the beige over the curtain, then begin to fill in the curtain detail.


A few months ago I saw a fascinating show investigating the brain power of octopi.  And they sure have it!  There was one scene in the show - too complicated and off the subject to describe here - that I don't think I'll ever forget.  In fact, I can "play it back" for myself now as I think of it.

Being always on the mental look-out for ideas for extravangant beading pieces, it seemed that an octopus could make a focal point for a pretty cool necklace.  And yesterday was the day that I was inspired to sculpt her.  She was pretty challenging.  And much of the detail - the suckers on the tentacles - it turns out that you can't see anyway.  But that's OK since I may very well make more for other purposes where the suckers will show.

But now I'm not so sure what I'll do with her.  She's rather large (she's on an 8" tile in the photo) which isn't a problem in itself for a necklace.  But the tentacles are probably somewhat fragile.  So for a necklace, I should have cut them in sections then reassemble the sections on the beading backing.  I could probably still cut them with a jeweler's saw but it might be risky.  So I tried to think of other ideas and all I could come up with was the lid of a decorative box.

The items around her are the things I had that might look good with her in the beading.  The little sand dollars and the sharks' teeth are fossilized, as are the split and polished ammonites.  (I remember collecting these sharks' teeth on family vacations in Florida when I was a kid so many years ago.)  I also have a Roman coin that I bought on eBay but I forgot to put it in the picture.

I'm not ready to start the beading yet since I still must decide what I'm going to make, so I'll just ponder things for a while.