Tuesday, November 11, 2014

More Sketches of my Mother

I had a discussion with someone about these paintings I've been doing of my Mother. I was asked why do I paint these pictures of her in her old age. It was suggested that I look for photos of her when she was younger and use those as reference.

My response was;

1- I paint these pictures of her when I visit her. Its a way of passing the time with her when she is at an age that I'm not sure if she recognizes me, not all the time anyway.
I help her with her food, I play her music and as she listens I sketch her and try to talk to her at the same time.
Painting her is an experience for me. It is just as much a memory, a good one, as when she was younger.

2- I find her just as lovable and worthy of painting in her old age as I did before.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Start Is Just As Important As the Finish

One of my biggest weaknesses is that I tend to rush to a finish. A long time ago an instructor asked me if I was trying to finish an oil painting in one sitting. It's taken me a long time to learn that a painting or a drawing needs to be built on a strong foundation, that what I'm painting needs to be carefully examined or all the drawing errors that I glossed over in the start will reappear and weaken the final image. Most of the important work is done at the beginning of a painting.

I made the pencil drawing (above left) with the intention of painting over it in gouache. I took the time to carefully map out where the lights and darks were to be placed. I scanned the drawing so that I would not lose it, just in case I need to start over on the painting. With the drawing scanned I thought it would also make a good under drawing for a digital painting. I opened the file in Sketchbook Pro and painted the monochrome self portrait above.

The painting went very smoothly because I already mapped out  and planned in my mind how I was going to paint the portrait. The time I took to make that careful drawing in the beginning carried me through the entire painting.

Bellow is a YouTube video I made showing and explaining how I made the digital portrait.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Advantages of Working In Gouache

Gouache is a medium that goes back a long way. The watercolors that were painted by Durer were actually done in Gouache which is opaque watercolor. The medium was used to illustrate manuscripts in the middle ages. It has been used by just about any artist you can mention,  Fran├žois Boucher, JMW Turner, George Innes, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, etc. When you hear the term body color (which was used in a great deal of studies by the painter Peter Paul Rubens) it is actually gouache the artist used.
I like the medium for several reasons.
 It is more forgiving than transparent water color. I also love working in transparent watercolor but sometimes I would rather work with the advantage of building the image without worrying about leaving areas white and dreading that irreversible mistake.
Because of its opacity I can build the image in the same way I would paint in oil but without the solvents and without the long drying time.
It's an easy medium to travel with. The set up would be the same as transparent watercolor.
You can read up on the history of the medium by clicking  here
There are some great examples of Gouache paintings at this link
A lot of golden age American Illustrators also used gouache. It would be a good idea to research those illustrations to examine how they used the medium and what is possible with it. Steven Dohanos and Harry Anderson are two illustrators who used the medium often.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why Drawing The Same Subject Never Gets Old


I filled up most of my sketchbook with drawings of my Mom. I don't get tired of doing them because  I try to make each one better than the last. Each time I draw her represents another chance to go at it again and get it right. I don't see myself getting tired of drawing her when There is so much to get right. It's always about making a better drawing. 
 Maybe I need to try to do a bit more, introduce some color or try to get more of the room she is in. But there is so much to get out of drawing her head. The expressions on her face, her hair, learning to simplify the drawing. Choosing only the lines  and marks that can give the image meaning. Its not just about the subject but also how you communicate visually  what and how you see. That way the drawing becomes more of an experience if I can just communicate those things I mentioned in the drawing.
Pursuing those things can take up many sketchbooks and never get old.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Drawing A Personal Subject, My Mom

A few times out of the week I visit my Mother, after taking care of her needs I sit down for a while and sketch her. When I was younger, in high school, my Mother would sit down and rest from her busy house work and pose for me. I wish I kept all those sketches of her, though I have a few from those days. Other family members posed for me too ( I use to draw my brother as he slept in the bed across from me), but Mom posed more often and she still does.

The drawing never gets boring, even if its a similar pose or angle, I try to improve from what I did last time. Sometimes I'm surprised that somehow there seems to be something sad about the drawing and I don't know if that's more her or me. One time, though, she surprised me. My Mother is now 91 years old, her eye sight is all but gone, she see's very little out of one eye and the other she is blind. She has dementia so her memory seems to come and go and I can hardly understand her speech. Sometimes I can catch a few words so I know there is meaning behind what she say's. But she surprised me once as I was drawing her, she looked straight at me and said, "Hey. What are you doing?" and then she began to laugh out loud!. I wish I could've froze that moment and drew her laughing, would have been like one of Rembrandt's final self portrait where he painted himself in his old age laughing- as my teacher Irwin Greenberg put it, He laughed as if to say he took the worst that laugh could throw at him and he won, he made to his old age unbroken.

For these drawing's I continue to use the water soluble pencil along with a water brush. I have a raw sienna, sepia and black pencil. If I want to add color I use a small travel set of watercolors. These are the things that I take with me everyday to sketch on the train ride to and from work and whenever I see an opportunity in between and after that time.

Bellow is a sample of one of the sketches I did of my Mom, this would have been around my senior year in high school or my first year of college.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Don't be Afraid To Mess It Up

It really helps to not be afraid to mess things up. I did my best not to worry and splash paint around- it did help to have a strategy though. I made a careful drawing and then went to bed for the night all the while plotting at how I was going to paint the picture.

I enjoyed pushing the water around, applying a cool blue wash over the warm colors of his face, deepening the dark areas by applying washes of color. It turned out to be fun because I wasn't afraid to mess it up and have to throw it away.

Not that there aren't still some things that bother me. I should have placed the figure better on the paper so that his left elbow doesn't run off the page and I'm not sure about the rendering of his left hand. But overall I'm pretty happy with the painting.

Another painting I did recently was a landscape. I took my brand new pochade box outside. My son Jason came with me and painted alongside me. Initially I liked the painting but as I began to live with it I kept wanting to change things in it. One morning I woke up and looked at it and began applying paint with a palette knife. I decided that I did not like the painting as it was so I was either going to make some bold changes or throw it out. Again, just not being afraid to mess it up made all the difference.

Detail of landscape painting.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sketching With Watercolor Pencils

“Get the few main lines and see what lines they call out.”
Robert Henri

Lately I’ve been sketching with these water soluble pencil’s like a kid who discovered a new toy.

I like being able to work back and forth from a watercolor wash to putting some pencil lines back into the drawing once it dries sufficiently. All though once in a while I render a bit more than I think I should, working this way is helping me to work quicker, jotting down only what is important. Sometimes I rework the drawing a bit later on but what I actually start out with is a bit of a line drawing with some wash, the drawings of my Mother (on the left and below) I have a little more time to work on. The quote by Robert Henri above is a handy reminder of finding and starting with the  few important lines, getting down what is essential first. The watercolor pencils help me to put these things down quicker.

“The sketch hunter moves through life as he finds it, not passing negligently the things he loves, but stopping to know them, and to note them down in the shorthand of his sketchbook.”
Robert Henri