project – portrait of avery

avery’s my oldest grandkid, and so i tried a portrait of him for his great-grandmother, name of granny.  i took about 50 photos of him, and wouldn’t you know it but the first couple of photos were the best, so i used this one.  he’s 9.

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because my daughter allison has been doing portraits of people starting with a tracing, i thought i would try it myself.  it’s much more accurate than drawing by eye, but of course, when you draw something by eye it reflects how you see and how your brain and muscles translate what you see to the paper.  when you trace something, on the other hand, you’re making not exactly a contour drawing, but a drawing of the values in your picture.

i used to do this in my schoolbooks as a kid.  they were all black and white photos in those days, and i would draw lines around all the masses of different tones in the photos.  drawing avery on a light box wasn’t all that difficult, but there are many details that just didn’t come thru the thickness of the watercolor paper, and i also had to guess at many contours that were in shadow.  this is what i ended up with once i’d finished tracing out what i could see onto the paper:

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the next step is always intimidating.  in a portrait, one wrong eyelash and it doesn’t look like the person anymore.  and tho i can’t rely on true accuracy in my paintings (my eyes are wonky, so is my brain and my hand), i do try for a likeness – but it doesn’t really matter because in ten years they won’t look anything like they do now, no matter what age they are when you take the likeness.

i used the traditional watercolor method of working light to dark.  usually i don’t, but in this case, with the likeness so important, working light to dark means not making (too many) mistakes i can’t back down from.  so, skin tones first, lightest hair colors, underlying shadows of drapery. (i believe i’m missing the photo of the very first session, with just the barest color.  what’s here is several layers of skin tone, some freckles, some shadows, and the second layer of hair details.

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and tho it’s really hard to tell the next photo from the last, i’ve actually done a bit of work on the skin tones.  it started out way too yellow, so i had to add a great deal of red, and orange.  this risks being too dark, and almost muddy in the ears, but i know i’m going to have a dark background, and this means the lights have to be rather garish in order to stand up.

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then more hair stuff, including some blue and a great deal of burnt sienna, even tho his hair isn’t really red.  shadows on the face, details of the ears, neck and mouth, work on the eyes.  these are the most delicate things to get right – eyes and mouth.  it’s really easy to overdo it, or put things in the wrong place, and then the painting is ruined.  but this one continued to do just fine.  i was pleased and surprised it went so easily.

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a few final touches on the face and head.  i swear the fairies painted this for me because i don’t know how i did it, and couldn’t tell you if a had to.

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then a bold declaration of background, hookers green and ultramarine.  and then i stopped because i was afraid of making it muddy.

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but once i’d put the camo patterns on his shirt, i realized i needed to hit the background again.  it was not too much, and i was pleased with it.

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after a few more things than you see here, like a signature, i tripped it down to the same size as the photo reference, matted it and framed it behind glass.  and of course i didn’t get a photo of the finished product.  but if i remember to take my phone in with me next time i go see granny, i can get a photo of it on her wall.

merry xmas, granny.

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watercolors in venice

i’ve been in venice, italy, for six weeks now, and have six more weeks here before going back.  i brought my watercolor paper (3 blocks of cold pressed arches) and most of my pigments (72 of them) plus the gum arabic to mix up watercolors with.  i also brought my old watercolor palette, from when i used to use tube paints, but i find most of them aren’t venetian colors, and i don’t want to use them.

for instance, i have tube blues (ultramarine, cerulean, indigo, idanthrone, prussian) but the water here is cobalt green and mayan blue.  (my friend marie matthews likes to mix up cerulean and yellow ochre.)

anyway, i have the old palette, and the new one, and i mix up what i need for the painting.

i’ve done five paintings so far, and am working on a sixth at the moment.  it’s not very fast work, but i have several excuses – a three year old grandson, and houseguests.   so i’m dancing as fast as i can…

here is what i have done to date.  i’m not very happy with them, because they’re far too tightly painted, and i was hoping for more looseness.  but i’m doing architectural paintings, and they are by nature pretty nit picky.  when i start in with the silk painting, it’ll loosen up.  it has to.  i can’t do tight with silk.  i had hoped to bring my encaustics, because they’re also by nature loose, but you can’t take orange oil on the plane, and i’m not into smuggling, so i just didn’t bother.

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this one is of a building i saw on my first day here.  it’s at the the of a street that leads to via garibaldi, the main shopping street for this part of venice.  there’s a guy walking down it, away from my viewpoint.  the day i took the reference photo, there was a delivery boat.  it must be a quarter of a mile to via garibaldi, but they deliver from this point, at least some of the shops get their deliveries from here.  there is another canal that actually ends at via garibaldi, but it’s not convenient for this shop or delivery boat.  who can tell?  i liked it because the building is so ornate, with a garden on the veranda.  so i painted it.  it’s 11″x14″, and i used the tube colors of my old palette.

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i did this one next.  it’s on a street leading to the island of san pietro,, and i’ve taken the view from campo ruga because i just loved the building on the corner.  it’s on the same sized paper as the last one, and uses the same old palette.

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for a change, i decided to do one of the houses on the grand canal, at one of the extreme high tides we had during the last full moon.  for this one, i had to break out the pigments, because i just didn’t have the blues.

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then i did one of another little alley off of via garibaldi (never straying far from home, so far).  i continue to be entranced by all the laundry people hang out.  in the courtyard of the apartment where we’re staying, the women put out laundry every day, and that seems to be all they do (which isn’t fair, because it’s just all i see…).  i can’t do the same, because i don’t have a clothesline.  i have a folding drying rack that i put next to the radiator, so it dries the clothes actually a bit better than they dry outside (in all kinds of weather), but they don’t smell as nice, and i can’t participate in the ritual.  oh well.  it’s also on the same sized paper, using the tube paints.

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this one is different.  it’s in the same area (when we first got here it was completely blocked by the caterpillar roller coaster ride of the luna park, but now that it’s gone…)  i took the reference shot from the vaporetto, at high tide, and put the painting on clayboard.  i love working with clayboard because it takes the watercolor so well, and you can lift the paint off again.  so the clouds, and the dripping water from the broken wave are all lifted, as is the really too intense yellow ochre i put on the walls of the house.  the clayboard measures 3″x4″, so this is a miniature, and i used my pigments for the first time with this painting.  they are much more true to life than the tube colors on the old palette, so i’m going to continue mixing my own colors while i paint.

that’s all i’ve done so far.  tonight i mixed up my silk dyes, and i’ll start on some lagoon views in a day or two.  i’m not sure if i’m going to attempt to set my paintings here (i had so much trouble getting the volcano paintings to set properly that i’m frankly nervous about doing anything here, so we’ll see.)

watercolor study of kerlingarfjoll, iceland

i’ve completed my first watercolor in ages, and it’s because the scenery in iceland is so spectacular i just couldn’t NOT paint it.

but first, the process.

i’ve brought a whole bunch of pigments with me, and all my binders, so i can make oil paint, watercolor paint, acrylic paint, encaustic paint, simply by adding my pigments to the desired binder.  and this is how i like it.  i greatly resent the high prices and unknown ingredients used in modern paints, and am quite happy making my own paints.  i highly recommend it.  it’s easy, and you know what’s in your paints.  and you don’t pay an arm and a leg for proprietary paint mixtures.

paints my paint pigments, all laid out according to colors. loads of pigments.

i sent myself these pigments months ago, thinking that perhaps i didn’t want to try to take them past airport security, where they view anything unusual with suspicion.  and i’ve heard horror stories of artists having their paints confiscated.  i don’t think you can buy dry pigments in iceland…

mixing paint

the fist step in making watercolor paint is to spoon out a wee bit of dry pigment into a container.  in this case i am using a prechewed plastic palette (i have dogs), and have put a palette knife tip full of pigment into each bowl of the palette.  from top left clockwise:  ultramarine blue, raw umber, mars black, raw umber light, stil de grain, and raw sienna.  if you look closely at the bottom right two, you can see a drop of gum arabic in the bowls.  i have already mixed the gum arabic into the pigments in the other bowls, but stopped to take a picture so you can see the process.

once it’s mixed with gum arabic – the binder – you can use it like normal watercolors, dipping your brush in clean water and mixing it into the paint until you have a brushful of paint.  it then goes on just like commercial watercolor paint.  you don’t want to put too much gum arabic into it, because it will affect the spreadability, flow and gumminess of the paint as it goes on and dries.  way too much gum arabic will make the paint very hard to dissolve with water when you want to pick some up on your brush, and will also give the dried paint an unpleasant sheen.

below you can see all my art supplies, which i brought just in case.  this includes my silk painting stuff and my sewing equipment, because i still have a bit of leather work to finish, and may well get more leather (fish leather oooh wah).

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and here is my first completed painting – just a study because i’m going to do the scene in oil paint eventually.  i’m trying to get my choice of pigments right before committing myself to the larger project.

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so, just a short post to let you see what i’ve done so far.  we’ll be having an exhibition at the end of the residency here at lishus, and i wanted to have something to show.  i intend to do a few more watercolors, as well as that oil painting, and perhaps a few encaustics.  also, i’m doing a wall mural on the ex gas station opposite the residence.