Archive for December, 2014

Assessing a Year’s Progress

Monday, December 15th, 2014

My goal for this year has been to complete 100 paintings, 10″x14″ or larger. It seemed to be a stretch to try to complete so many, but I decided that with discipline I could produce an average of two paintings each week.

141107w Solomon's Glory

The strategy seemed to work fine for the first few months, but I knew the proof would be when I took any travel time into account because sometimes I wouldn’t be able to work on any large pieces for an entire month at a time. Would I be able to make up the difference? It was definitely a consideration and a concern. So I revised the goal from producing only two paintings to producing three or four each week, while at home in my studio, to make up for the expected travel interruptions. And that would not include any smaller paintings, travel sketches, or studies I’d be doing besides. My work was cut out for me.

By the end of March, I had 27 acceptable paintings of the allotted size, so I was somewhat ahead of my quarterly goal. A month of travel in the spring provided material enough to meet the 50-count mark by the beginning of July, and actually put me slightly ahead of the game.

A major summer trip again gave me plenty of fresh subject matter to work from, but that and another, shorter jaunt, set me back on actual production for the 3rd quarter. By the end of September, my count was at 63; I was short a full twelve paintings, and the possibility of yet another major trip was on the horizon. I buckled down, scrapped the further travel plans, and tried to stay focused.

In the process, I wasn’t just trying to churn out numbers of paintings; I was working to continually improve the quality, hone my skills, and stretch my boundaries. I was acquainting or reacquainting myself with less familiar mediums—casein, oils, and graphite—as well as my older stand-by mediums of watercolors and acrylics; studying to teach as well as to learn; and always, always striving to become more knowledgeable and more skilled.

By the end of November, the larger pieces, including “Solomon’s Glory” (#141107w, shown above), numbered 84, theoretically still within striking range of my goal. And the total of inventoried pieces (which don’t include innumerable little preliminary studies) came to almost twice that number. So although it’s questionable that I’ll actually meet the 100-count goal for larger pieces before December 31, I am satisfied that 2014 has been a successful and productive year. Fortunately, the journey can be as wondrous as the destination.

I wish you all a safe, successful, and productive 2015.

Getting to Know an Old Friend…the Pencil

Monday, December 1st, 2014

The study of art is a never-ending challenge. There’s always something to learn, explore, improve, or build confidence in. This fall I’ve been working toward portraiture. I don’t feel as though I’m really there yet. It involves too many elements that I’m still trying to learn, not the least of which is pencil drawing.

You might think that should be easy, since most of us were experimenting with pencils before we ever started school. Even aside from getting the proportions of the subject correct, drawing demands knowledge of the materials and what they can do. Unfortunately, because I took pencils for granted, I had pretty much ignored the need to thoroughly familiarize myself with them. Drawing also requires lots of practice, but I haven’t taken enough time for that kind of practice in the past.

141021 Tibetan Youth 2

When challenged by a friend to use pencil to recreate an image he had shot while on a recent trip to Tibet, I dug out some 6B pencils (the softest and darkest of my stock), as well as a few slightly harder ones—4B and 2B, and began playing with them to figure out their capabilities and limitations.

I studied the planes of the face I was to copy, and considered what the unusually strong shadows might be concealing. The shapes of any features are always individual to the specific subject, and I knew that if I got the value shapes correct, the portrait would succeed. So my focus was on accuracy of value, shape, and proportion.

Then I unearthed some old black and white family photos to see how closely I could copy them in both line and value. The exercise was humbling and showed me how much work would be required to hone those basic skills.

It took several attempts—some more successful in representing their subjects than others—before I managed to come close to successfully drawing my friend’s challenging subject. I made the mistake of undertaking one study not on a smooth-surfaced paper but on cold-pressed watercolor paper, which has a noticeable texture that interferes with the continuous flow of a pencil line. As you can see in the image above, the paper’s texture made it difficult to achieve the edges and values I was striving for.

141021p Tibetan Youth 2

Rummaging around in my supply kit, though, I came across a tortillon–a rolled-paper smudging stick, which I applied vigorously. It served to fill in the white dips of the paper, to provide transitions from one value to another, and to allow me to make subtle value changes that I’d fought for unsuccessfully before. With a few corrections and refinements, the drawing, “Tibetan Youth 2″ (#141021, above), was finally completed.

Meanwhile, my study of portraiture has barely begun…