For a Girl

It is finally my girlfriend’s birthday! She’s seen her painting, so now I can share it here.


I’m gonna start posting the final version at both the beginning and the end from now on. Hopefully that will help show the development better.


I’ve been telling my girlfriend that I will paint her a picture ever since we started dating. A year and a half later and I’ve finally gotten around to it. She really likes bunnies, so I went with that as my subject matter.


When I first placed the bunnies on the table, I knew that I was going to need some verticality in the painting to break up the monotonous and solid background. I hung up a blue cloth as my solution and it helped add a flash of color to the painting as well.


The bunnies were very fun to paint. I felt like a sculptor as I worked away at their large, clay-like forms.


Session by session I whittled the brown masses down until I had the proper shapes. Occasionally, I had to enlarge areas of paint (mainly on the back of the lefthand bunny, where I fiddled with its posture), but most of the time my painting was a subtractive process.


Since seeing John Singer Sargent’s watercolor exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, I have kept one thing in my mind: paint the darks thin and the lights thick. That is how Sargent achieved the amazing depth in his paintings. I tried to mimic that concept in the righthand bunny.


The only perspectival issue I ran into centered around the shape of the eyes. I had to constantly readjust them. At first I thought the in-light eye on the lefthand bunny was wide and almond shaped, but I realized that the perspective was actually squishing the two corners of the eye together. It took some serious visual measuring for me to get the eye right. I kept adjusting it up to the last session.

Since I had an entire week to work on the 16″x20″ painting, I decided to give it a little bit more of a finished look than I usually do. I smoothed down a little of the looseness.


The last thing I did was add a slight blue reflection on the ground plane. Though this did not exist in real life, I felt the painting benefitted from it.

That’s about it for this update. I’m still working on the children’s book and I’m almost done illustrating the first 10 pages.  Also, I’m still drawing friends on facebook. I’ll update next week with some of those drawings.


The Bennington Flag

It’s been a little while since I’ve been able to post progress pictures of a painting. Unfortunately, I’ve been pretty busy with my job. I’ve only been able to work on sketches. But this week I received some time off and I was able to complete a new painting. I’m not sure what to title it, but I’m leading towards “Hammer to Fall.” Which is a reference to the Queen song, of course. The idea for this setup came to me when I was rummaging around the garage looking for objects for a different still life. I found our Bennington Flag and knew I needed to put it in a still life of its own. 20140327-192853.jpg This painting was truthfully a collection of objects I have always wanted to include in my setups. I think I have tried to squeeze the hammer into all my still life arrangements. I just couldn’t make it work until now. And the column? Well that’s been hiding out in the crawl space next to my studio. I saw it every time I went in there to look at old paintings or search for art supplies. And I always thought, “Damn that thing is nice. But I dunno how I’d ever weasel it into my work.” In the end, all three objects happened to work well together. 20140327-192905.jpg   This painting went relatively quick. I spent four sessions on it, but one session was just the quick drawing and another session was just 90 minutes of final tweaking. Basically, I only put two full days into it. Which makes me happy. I’m definitely picking up speed. 20140327-192913.jpg   My technique has been developing gradually, and I’ve found myself using the knife to scrape down the paint and keep the edges soft. It allows me to come in at the end and really choose what I want sharp and in focus. 20140327-192921.jpg   I wound up using heavy line to really give my painting a graphic quality. You can see the dark blue and red around the flag and the dark grey on the hammer head. This wasn’t something I intentionally did though. Well, I guess it sort of was. I’ve had the words of Mr. Pulido stuck in my head the last few days. He said (and this is summarized), “To make an object turn in space, make it darker towards the edges.” Now that’s a gross simplification of what he taught us, but that’s the basic concept. Thinking about that advice, I’ve gone back and looked at painters that focus on bringing that aspect into their painting. I’ve specifically focused on Cezanne. He uses line to achieve that effect. So I’ve tried to channel some Cezanne into my work and it wound up making me use more line. IMG_0007-2

  The final result gives me mixed feelings. While I’m happy with the painting and I definitely think I’ve made major improvements in my technique and skill, these improvements are bringing me in a direction I’m not sure I want to go. I don’t know how I feel about the graphic quality. Part of me likes of it, part of me doesn’t. I suppose I’ll just have to keep painting and see how everything develops. The good thing is I don’t feel like I’m regressing or standing still.

And to close, here are some more Facebook sketches:

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The Doctor

A month and a half ago I began my most ambitious painting yet: a full body portrait of my father. And it’s now complete. Kind of. The only thing left is to let it dry and then varnish it. But that takes months and I don’t want to wait that long to share some pics.

The painting was commissioned by my dad after he saw the small sketch I did of his head. He liked that painting and asked me to paint a new one for his dental office. And then he gave me free reign. Size. Pose. Clothing. Everything was up to me.

But knowing that the painting would be on public display made me think very carefully about what I was doing. People look deeply into portraits, whether it’s consciously or not. Therefore, I did not want my dad to come off as imposing or threatening to any viewer. I scoured the internet and flipped through art books in search of inspiration. Eventually I came upon Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry’s painting of French architect Charles Garnier.


Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry. Charles Garnier, 1868. Oil on canvas, 40 1/2 x 31 7/8. Musée d’Orsay. (http://stephengjertsongalleries.com/?p=834)

That was it. That was the inspiration I needed. I found the painting a bit too moody, but the pose was perfect and befitting a doctor. So with Baudry as my muse, I put paint to canvas.


Actually, first I had to photograph my father. There was no way our schedules were going to coincide in a manner that would allow me to paint from life. So with some help from my mom, I picked out some clothes for him, sat him up on a desk, posed him, and snapped a picture. Then I started on the painting.


As usual, I did a quick sketch, outlined it, and then put a wash of color over the whole canvas. However, instead of doing an underpainting, I went directly into color.


My first priority was getting the canvas covered with paint. I used a decent amount of medium (Liquin) and painted out thin coats. I was only looking for a general direction, not the exact color. The fluidity and freedom of the early stages are aspects I enjoy and I always have to remind myself to maintain those characteristics later on in my paintings.


Once the initial color blocking was down, I began putting more focus into my painting. I started with the face, wanting to work towards a likeness as quickly as possible. At this stage of the painting you can see I had his eyes too close together.


I worked clockwise around the piece, dropping down from the head, into the pant legs, and onto the desk.


My arrival at the suit coat was the beginning of a long journey. The side in light gave me plenty of headaches. I couldn’t decide if it was brown or green. And I thought I figured it out at one point. I realized it seemed to turn brown in the shadows and green in the light. But when I painted it like that, I was horrified at the result. So then I repainted it and repainted it, and after each revision of the coat I always wound up returning to some variation of green. I even brought the coat out of my dad’s closet and used it as a reference. But it did not help. Though my eye saw the fluctuations between brown and green, I had to generalize towards green on my canvas. That was the only way I found satisfaction.


After doing one complete paint through of the piece, I turned my focus onto the background. I needed to establish value there so I could have something to compare and contrast with the figure.


Bit by bit I worked my way through the painting, taking a multi-day break from the face in order to focus on building up everything else.


When I returned to the face, I found out I had problems. The eyes were too close and I’d grown the nose too big. It was time for my secret weapon: upside down painting. I flipped the canvas over, let my mind relax, and went to work.

Turning a painting over tricks my brain into seeing shapes instead of pre-conceived objects. Basically, when viewing the painting right-side up, my brain says, “Hey! That’s a face!” But when I turn it upside down, my brain sees the bits and pieces of the face as separate and simple shapes. Most brains are like this.

With that trick I was able to pound out a better likeness.


Above you can see I was half-way through one of my battles with the suit coat. I had painted it a brighter green to try to bring in more light, but it had made my dad look like a leprechaun. So I had to go back and subdue it.


Another major thing I struggled with was my use of white. Now, I don’t use white straight from the tube. My teacher Mr. Pulido taught me to mix my white with some yellow ochre and make a butter-like color. That’s what I use for my white. The yellow ochre keeps the white warmer and unifies the painting. Even still, I found myself washing out the painting. I was using white too much in my mixing and creating pale colors that didn’t hold any vibrancy. You can see through the progress pictures that this happens significantly in the suit coat. It was a by-product of me trying to bring in more light. But it wasn’t acceptable. Towards the end of the painting I had to go in and fight to put truer color back in the piece.


The largest surprise of the painting came in the pant legs. I painted them early on with raw umber and this led to the creation of an accidental grisaille underpainting. When I returned to the pants later on, I went over the raw umber with a glaze of burnt umber and burnt sienna. This gave the pants the exact brown I was looking for. Although, I did have to go over the glaze with a few areas of thick mixed color in order to prevent the pants from appearing too uniform brown. But my lucky accident there made me want to try painting out an entire piece in raw umber and glaze it. I’ll have to look further into grisaille methods.


As I got to the end, I discovered my painting was becoming too intricate. I needed more generalization and larger blocks of color. So I redid the background in earth tones and attacked the suit coat.

And oh. I guess here’s where I’ll mention that I began adding a new technique. While painting the patterns on the tie, I found that scraping away the paint with my palette knife helped to blur the patterns and give suggestions of color, rather than outright statements. I don’t usually combine my palette knife with my brush paintings, but I believe I’ll be doing more of it in the future.


My last several sessions were spent touching up the head, the hands, and the suit coat. I wanted to push the painting and get that likeness.


The final painting is something I’m definitely proud of. Though it’s tough to decide when to declare something finished. When I look at anything I’ve completed, I see the minor flaws as glaring mistakes and I have to remind myself to let go. I need to take what I learned and address it in the next painting. That’s the only healthy attitude for me. Obsessing over a painting would bring me nowhere.

Additionally, I have a few progress shots of the face:







And finally, I have been trying to find ways to make my blog more entertaining. So I’ve created a couple animated GIFs of the progress shots. Hopefully in the future I’ll be able to add videos of me actually painting.






Christmas Portrait

 Last night I saw the Boston Pops and then got dumped with a foot of snow. It’s definitely the Holidays. So to honor this magical time of year, I have done a small Christmas themed self-portrait.


It has been a while since I’ve done a self-portrait. I used to do them all the time for school, but now that I have more control over my subject matter I just don’t have the urge to set up a mirror and paint myself too much. That being said, that’s exactly what I did for this. I unhooked a mirror from its wall, set it up on a large easel, and popped open a smaller travel easel to hold my canvas.


Originally, I started off the painting with line. But that didn’t work for me. So I wiped it out and blocked in shapes with a mix of raw sienna and burnt sienna. Then I painted the hat. I figured it would help me decide on a scale and prevent my head from growing off the page as I painted.

IMG_0776I worked my way around the head, using the background color of raw umber to whittle down the shape. After establishing the lips and the general nose area I became a little perturbed with myself. I couldn’t seem to get a proper likeness. So I started on the left side of the face and worked on establishing small relations of color and value. I usually use an approach like this when I’m frustrated. Concentrating on a small section alleviates the pressure of an entire painting. Eventually, I got to where I was happy with the painting again.

IMG_0777Because I started painting at 3 in the afternoon and it gets dark at 4, I wound up running out of daylight. Now, I had planned ahead for that and set up my easel so my light source was an artificial ceiling light, but that didn’t prevent me from having to work in dim lighting. The lights in my house don’t get very bright in general and I often find myself wishing I could crank them up a few notches. The dim lighting tends to make the paints appear a different color than they are. On this painting I found myself mixing the colors lighter than they needed to be. I had to go back multiple times and darken them in order to get what I wanted.

IMG_0789Despite my trials and struggles, I wound up liking the painting in the end. I got the likeness where I wanted and managed to hold myself to only 4 hours of painting. Hopefully these weekly paintings will help me develop speed.

And oh!

Happy Holidays!