Thursday, March 15, 2018

Crowdsourcing Titles

I'll be the first to tell you that I am terrible at coming up with titles for artworks.  Just look at my current series of charcoal and pastel works.  They have titles like "Amy #14", "Troy #3", and "Jennifer #6".  Almost as bad are my landscape paintings: "French Broad River Rapids".  Not much there to inspire your curiosity, is there?  I have, on occasion, come up with some pretty good titles, but by and large, I don't.  Most titles are a descriptive word or two, and that's it.

Recently, I completed a new painting and could not come up with a decent title to save my soul.  Calling it "Astrid #1" just seemed wrong.  So I decided to ask the world for recommendations.  And the world responded.  Here's the painting:

So what would YOU title it?

I got lots of suggestions.  Most of them were about as bad as my own ideas. "Weary Woman", "Lost in Thought", "The Striped Chair", "Contemplating the Dreams".  None of them came close to the idea of the young woman that I had in my head while this painting was in progress.

After this had been going a while, somebody piped in with the question, "what did you decide?"  I thought about that for a while and finally decided that was the painting's title.  "What Did You Decide?"  It's perfect.  This young lady is looking directly at the viewer, so there's some kind of interaction ongoing.  From the pose, she's at ease: no woman would adopt such an unselfconscious position with somebody she didn't know.  And the question could go either way: she could be asking it of the viewer (you), or you could be asking it of her.  Whichever version you prefer, it reinforces the direct communication with her that is apparent from the pose and gaze.  Perfect.

Actually, many of the best titles for my paintings have come from other people.


This painting is an update, of sorts, of Michelangelo's Pieta.  I was stuck on that title until I asked the owner of the gallery where it was exhibited, and without a second's hesitation, she said "Lament".

Saddle Up

My initial thought was to title this one with the man's name.  Real original, huh?  But I asked him what he thought and he immediately said "Saddle Up".  That was what the Marine sergeants in Viet Nam said when it was time for the squad to move out.  "Saddle up, ladies!".


I had finished this satirical painting and was casting about for a name.  An artist friend took one look and suggested "Pleasantville".  Perfect match.

Okay, now for one of the very few examples of a title that I came up with, all by myself, that I think is pretty good:

You Don't Understand

That's part of the theme of the painting, obviously, but a descriptive title wouldn't cut it.  Speaking from personal experience here, the deployed guy doesn't understand everything that the wife/girlfriend has to deal with while he's gone, and she has no clue as to what he has to see and do every day.  And you, the viewer, don't understand what they're going through, either.

So, artists: how do you title your artworks?  Have you tried crowdsourcing ideas for titles, and if you have, how did it turn out?

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Jason & Sarah Wedding Painting: It's A Start

On Saturday, I started another wedding painting.  This was for Jason and Sarah, a wonderful couple who wanted a painting of their ceremony.  More specifically, Sarah wanted a painting of the moment they started back down the aisle as a newly married couple.  This young lady had a very clear idea about the artwork that she plans on keeping for her entire life!

The wedding was held at The Ridge, which is an outdoor venue in Madison County, northwest of Asheville.  This is a spectacular location in the North Carolina mountains.  I gotta say, I was skeptical of the choice.  I mean, early March in this area is still winter.  But we were lucky: clear skies, slight wind, and temperatures in the low 50's - chilly but not cold.  I went out for a reconnaissance mission a couple of weeks in advance so I'd know where it was and to start thinking about how to compose the painting.  I also ran a recon mission to The Venue in downtown Asheville, where the reception would be.  The managers and staff there were great to work with and we quickly determined where I would set up and paint during the reception.

On the Big Day, I loaded up all my stuff at the studio and headed down to The Venue to set up.  Then it was back to the studio for a quick change to wedding-appropriate clothes before driving out to The Ridge.  I hooked up with the other staff and event people and got ready for the ceremony.  I had my camera with me to take a ton of reference photos to paint from later.  The ceremony itself went fairly quickly (fortunately so, since the temperature was starting to drop) and was quite beautiful.  So how many reference photos do I need to make one painting?  In this case, 228.  You can never have too many references.

The moment the ceremony was over, I hightailed it back to The Venue to get started.  The first thing to do was to go through the photos and identify the ones I wanted to use.  I found one primary and a couple of alternates for Sarah, and one primary and a couple of alternates for Jason.  The primaries were the ones that had the figures in the most expressive positions, while the alternates had specific details that I wanted to use.  Sarah and Jason's primary photos were different, but they were taken only a second or so apart - things change fast when the subjects are moving!  In addition to these reference photos, I wound up using quite a few others for various elements: the sky, distant ridge lines, flowers, bridesmaids, grooms' men, and so on.

So once the reference photos were selected, it was a matter of putting something together on canvas.  I approached this in pretty much the same way that I approach any alla prima painting: find the focus, go for the big shapes, and get some feeling or expression in it from the beginning.  Leave the details alone.  The difference between a studio painting and a live wedding painting, though, is that I'm doing all this with 150 people coming by to see how it's progressing!  That may sound stressful, but it's actually a lot of fun.  This was a very lively crowd and they had great responses and inputs.  And, as I heard later, I was all over SnapChat, with everybody snapping photos and posting them.

I painted all throughout the reception until it ended and everybody was shoo'd out the door.  Then it was time to pack up and take everything back to the studio.  I went in to the studio on Sunday to put everything away and get a clear look at the painting.  Actually, I think it was a good start.  So here 'tis:

If you click on the image, you'll see a larger version of it.

Now I have two to four weeks of work ahead of me.  I'll refine Sarah and Jason quite a bit.  Jason's head needs to shrink, for example.  The trick is going to be in developing the painting while not losing the liveliness of the brushstrokes and getting bogged down in detail.

I want to give some credit to some amazing professionals.  Mary of Mary Bell Events was the wedding planner.  This young lady was ORGANIZED.  As an old Navy guy, I really appreciate good organization, especially for something as complex and important as making sure a wedding and reception are successful.  Mary made sure this one went off like clockwork.  Trust me, that doesn't always happen.  I can't recommend Mary highly enough.  

The Ridge and The Venue, both owned and operated by Marta Santamaria, also did a great job.  They were very easy to work with and very professional in everything they did.  And they seemed to enjoy the wedding and reception almost as much as the guests.

Rachael of Rachael McIntosh Photography did a great job photographing everybody and everything while remaining low-key.  She and two other photographers were everywhere.  They knew how to work with the subject to draw out their unique personalities, while ensuring they, themselves, were never themselves a center of interest.  Take a look at Rachael's website - they take some beautiful pictures.  I'm really looking forward to seeing the ones from this wedding!

The band that played at the reception Cashmere, was amazing.  They played from 7 - 11 pm straight.  No breaks, and they were ROCKING the whole time.  I was bouncing along to them and I wasn't even in the same room!  They are definitely a high-energy band that knows how to get people off their chairs and onto their feet.

So, yes, I had a great time this past weekend.  And I'm going to be spending a lotta time in the studio over the next few weeks to get this painting done.  Stay tuned for updates and images!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Painting from Photographs

For many painters, working from photos is a touchy subject.  There are many purists who totally reject the idea of using photos at all.  For them, working directly from life is the only way to paint and using photos is cheating.  At the other extreme are those who copy photos directly.  Those artists are either photorealists, whose work is painstakingly detailed, or they're inexperienced artists who just copy what's in front of them.  The inexperienced artists have good intentions but don't have the knowledge of what works and what doesn't in a painting.

I'm in the middle.  I use photos as reference tools and find them useful, but they can't provide everything I need to make a good artwork.  I love working from life, but there are things that working from life just can't provide, either.

So let's look at what a photo is.  A photograph is a moment in time, as seen through a single lens and recorded on film or pixels.  It's a mechanical image.  A person can adjust what the camera sees and how it sees it.  The camera then records what comes through the lens.  The camera has no thought, no selectivity, no judgement.  To it, a pixel is a pixel is a pixel.  A good photographer, however, can make those pixels speak volumes.  I have a nephew who can do amazing things with cameras, and his photos are true works of art.

Most photos aren't.  Most are snapshots or other visual notes.  I use my cameras to take a lot of visual notes for future use.  Clouds, fields, tree lines, horses, people floating down the river on inner tubes, rock walls, old wooden floors - these are things that nobody would ever want to frame and hang on their wall, or even put into a Facebook photo album.  But I have found in creating paintings that sometimes I need to know what a particular type of cloud might look like at a particular time of day.  Or I need to know what a rock wall might look like.  Stopping the painting and running around trying to find the right rock wall is not an option.  So I'm always watching for things that might be useful in a painting someday.  When I find something, I snap a photo, or maybe a bunch of them, and then those photos go into a reference file.

By now, you've probably noticed that the vast majority of my artworks are about people.  For years, I thought the only way to draw and paint people was to work from life.  To some extent, that's still true.  Most of my artworks are not just about people, they're about specific people.  I generally don't use figures to tell my own story, I see other people and want to capture something of their story.  I like to get something of an individual's personality and character on paper or canvas.  To do that, I have to work directly with the individual.  It's by sitting with them, talking, and seeing how they carry themselves, how they speak, how they listen, and even just how they sit, that I can pick up something of who they are.  And that's what I try to carry into an artwork.

But working from life has some drawbacks.  For one, drawing and painting can take a long time.  I can usually work on a drawing or painting a heck of a lot longer than the subject can sit still.  And I have to respect that their time is just as valuable as mine.  So the time factor has to be considered.

Another consideration is that when you're working from life, the subject is always moving.  Sometimes a lot, sometimes just a little, but nobody can sit perfectly still.  And when a model takes a break, they never get back in exactly the same position.  It's always a little different, and fabric never ever ever comes close to the same position.  So when you work from life, you're creating an image of the subject's average position.

I've found that working from photographs and working from life are complementary.  Each has strengths and weaknesses.  When working from life, I get a sense of the person.  I can create an image that may have feeling but is often technically flawed.  When working from photos, there's an emotional distance that makes it easier to see things as two-dimensional shapes, values, and colors.  I can be a bit more clinically analytical about shapes and values in a photo than I can when faced with the real person.  This also gives me a bit of freedom to change things around, add things, or eliminate things, if it will make a better painting.  Sometimes there's the "tyranny of what's there" in real life that just doesn't work in paint.

For the past couple of years, I've been working with models to create this long series of charcoal and pastel figurative artworks.  One approach that has proven useful is to have the subjects come to the studio where we'll shoot a ton of photos.  When I say "ton", I mean 400-1,000 in an hour.  Later, I'll identify specific photos that have strong potential as an artwork.  And then I'll work from the photo.  The difference between this approach and working from somebody else's snapshot is that now I know the person, I controlled the lighting, and with all the other photos just before and after the one selected, I have a lot of reference material to work with.  I can select what to include and exclude.  The whole time, I've still got my impression of the subject in my head, so it's not just a photo that I'm working with, but also my impression of Amy, Emma, Troy, James, or whoever.  And that almost always comes through.  I don't know how, it just does.

And in photos, I'll see things that I might've missed in real life.  Things like the specific way the shadow falls across the neck, or a reflected light hits a jawline.  The next time I work with a model (any model), I will look for those things.  So the impression of a person that I get when working from life carries over into the times when I work from photos.  And the details I notice when working from photos feeds back into what I look at when I'm working from life.

So, yes, working from life and working from photos are complementary approaches.  I use them both.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

30 in 30, Day 4

Claire's Pakistani Dress

My friend Claire went to a wedding in Pakistan a while back.  Her friends there gave her this outfit to wear - much more appropriate than western garb!  She wore this to our modeling session.  Lots of fun getting the colors!

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Leslie Saeta's 30 in 30 Challenge

I recently signed up for Leslie Saeta's 30 in 30 challenge.  Leslie is a California-based artist who runs the Artists Helping Artists podcast, a really great resource at any stage of your career.  They talk about marketing, interview artists, and discuss a wide range of topics dealing with being a professional-level artist.  Leslie started a "30 in 30" challenge a few years ago with the goal of getting people into the studio, making work, experimenting, and sharing.  The goal is to make 30 artworks in 30 days.  They don't have to be big, nor fully realized, nor much of anything else - even if it's 30 quick oil sketches, they're good.  I'd heard about the challenge in years past but not participated.  This year, I decided to jump in.

So here's my first entry into the Challenge: "Mary Lou" charcoal and pastel on Canson toned paper, 25"x19".  This was done in a 2-hour life session.  Actually, the first hour saw me wipe out three or four false starts.  I'd get going, but it wouldn't feel right, or it would look like crap (or both), and I'd wipe it out and start over.  Things finally started happening during the last hour.  And here it is.  I even signed it!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Wedding Photos

No, I'm not posting MY wedding photos.  There aren't any.  Instead, I'm giving you a link to the photographer for the wedding that I recently painted.  Capture Me Candid is a professional wedding photographer in Charlotte, owned and operated by a wonderful lady named Lori.  She did a fantastic job - her photos really captured the incredible spirit and energy of the evening.  They even got a couple of shots of me, making a mess over in the corner!  Go take a look at the photos, they're really marvelous:

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Color Testing and the New Painting

In my last post, I talked about a new painting on my easel.  One of the things I want to work on is color mixing.  The impetus came from researching Jeremy Lipking's process.  I had noticed that his colors were beautifully muted without going into mud.  That's not an easy thing to do.  Several people who have taken workshops with him have made blog posts about his processes.  As it turns out, his palette is pretty basic with almost no unusual colors.  One notable difference is that he does not use earth colors (the umbers, siennas, and yellow ochre) because, he says, they go to mud very quickly.  That being said, he apparently does use burnt Sienna on occasion, plus a couple of reds that could be considered earth tones, depending on how they're prepared by the paint maker.

So with this painting, I thought I'd use a very limited palette and use them to mix a range of grays and muted colors.  Today, in the studio, I put that plan into action.  I put some ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow medium, cadmium red light, and Flemish white (a lead white) on the palette.  Then I mixed up a range of cool and warm grays, then some cooler and warmer skin tones.  Here's how the process looked:

There were more sheets, but you get the idea.  I'm seeing a nice range of cool and warm grays, nice muted greens, and some good skin tones.  Some of the mixtures gave a dark brown and I was even able to come up with one that was close to burnt Sienna.  No blacks, though.  Ultramarine blue and cad red will give a very dark muted purple, but as soon as you add a bit of yellow to the mixture, it gets lighter.

The next step was to apply some of these colors to the new painting.  I started on the face, since that's the focus, and laid in what will probably be the first of several layers.  Here's a detail of how it looks right now:

This is a fun challenge.  I'm excited to see what happens with it next.  I'll let you in on a secret: I have no idea how it'll turn out!