Sunday, September 30, 2012

I miss Vincent - I miss painting - I miss blogging - I miss all of you!


I know that I have been completely MIA after promising to faithfully paint and blog each week.  No, fear not, I am not wearing a fully sleeved and tied white jacket - I have not been that kind of committed, as Vincent was.  (And I want you all to know that I still remain very committed to this project, in the way that I described to you in my first post.)

What happened was, in today's economic climate, something of a miracle.  Three days after putting our house on the market, we had a contract.  So I have been busy preparing to move.

I am happy to report that our new space is a sunny, open, light flooded loft; we will be moving into the entire second floor of an old granite bank building in the heart of our small town's downtown district.  We had looked at it, fallen in love with it, and decided to leave things in God's hands.  I have to admit that I was surprised He would answer so quickly!

Best of all, there is a place for me to paint and to write, so I will be able to continue with the blog as soon as we have completely moved in.

This week we had the space repainted, and I was amazed at how quickly and confidently I was able choose colors - I think all of my painting and thinking so much about color (and how Vincent put hues together) really paid off - When everything is completed I will post some pictures.

Although I am not writing about Vincent, I am sure thinking about him, and contemplating what it must have been like for him to move the many times that he did during his adult life.  I plan on exploring that subject in the blog when I return to it - which I hope is sometime around the first of November.

I will extend the project to make up for the weeks I am missing; although this is a year long venture, my real commitment is to 52 paintings and 52 blogs.

Thanks to all who are continuing to read in my absence.  Feel free to make some comments and "discuss amongst yourselves..."

I have no painting for you, only pictures of some really cute little dogs...



Happy October, and I will see you all on the other side of the month.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Vincent takes the week off; Paul and I sneak away to a tropical paradise.

Self Portrait with the Idol - Paul Gauguin
This brooding fellow is Paul Gauguin, in his self Portrait of the Artist with the Idol, which he painted in 1891.  

Paul Gauguin was a complicated man who led the equivalent of several very interesting lives before his death, at the age of 54 in the Marquesas Islands.  

At the time of his passing, Gauguin was deeply in debt, working as a government clerk, and suffering from both syphilis and an unhealed broken ankle.  If that wasn't enough,  he was awaiting the verdict in an appeal that could have sent him to prison, and had just fathered his third child from two (separate) 14 year old mistresses.  

Despite all that, he was an extremely influential artist, and his work would later exert its impact on the career of another important Paul (or Pablo), Piccasso.

Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin's lives intersected with a clash so violent and so profound that each man was forever changed by the relationship, and, even today, no discussion of one can be conducted without considering the influence of the other.

Paul Gauguin could not have been more the opposite of Vincent Van Gogh. 

He was born in Paris during the first year of the tumultuous and bloody French Revolution.  His father, a journalist and editor of the National newspaper, made an unfortunate enemy of a man who came to great power at the end of the Revolution, a little general named Napoleon Bonaparte.  After Bonaparte's coup d'etat, Clovis Gauguin made the decision to flee with his wife, young daughter, and three year old Paul to his wife's homeland of Peru.  

During the arduous voyage to South America, Clovis Gauguin was struck dead by an aneurism, leaving Ailne alone, at sea, with her two young children.  Eventually, they landed safely in Lima, where the young widow was taken in by her uncle, a Peruvian government official.  The family remained in Peru until Paul was 7 years old, and those four years in the tropics became the formative event in Gauguin's life.

In 1855, the family returned to France, where Paul was enrolled in school.  Paul was unhappy there, and longed to return to the exploration, travel and adventure of his early years.  As soon as he was able, he qualified as a navigational cadet on a ship routed between Le Havre and Brazil, then later, at age 20, he enlisted in the French navy.  While he was serving at sea, Gauguin's mother died.  Paul returned home, then, in honoring his mother's wishes, took a job as a clerk at a Stockbroker's office in Paris.

Gauguin quickly worked his way up the brokerage ladder, and, in time, became a successful and very rich stock broker.  Like many of his modern counterparts, Gauguin began to buy contemporary art as an investment, and a way to dispose of his large disposable income.  He was taken by the radical new work of the impressionists, and began collecting their work, presumably as a way to study their technique.

In 1873, Gauguin married, and continued in living a life filled with middle class pleasures, including the leisure to become a "Sunday Painter."  He was encouraged by the Impressionists (as they, no doubt, had been encouraged by his pocket lining patronage), and began entering competitions and joining Impressionist exhibits.  In addition to producing many paintings and some sculpture, Gauguin began producing a number of children, as well.

The stock market collapse of 1882 (and his resulting job loss) probably greatly influenced Gauguin's decision to become an artist.  He sold much of his art collection (at a fraction of its value), and he, his wife and five children moved, first to Rouen, then eventually to her homeland of Denmark.  There, the rest of the art collection was sold piece by piece, and the family struggled financially until Gauguin made the decision to abandon his wife and children, and he returned to France to paint full time.

He struggled alone for about a year, painting both in Paris and, during the summer, in the more rural area of Brittany.  While there, he met and painted with Emile Bernard, who was mentioned in last week's blog.  In the winter of 1886, Gauguin returned to Paris, where he became (barely) acquainted with Vincent Van Gogh.  During that time, he produced one of his most important early paintings, Four Breton Women 1886.
In the Spring of 1887, seeking a "more savage way of life," Gagugin and fellow painter Charles Laval boarded a ship headed for Panama.  They got as far as Tobago before they ran out of money.  Laval addressed the problem by contracting to paint portraits; not wanting to sacrifice his artistic integrity, Gauguin decided the better solution to his financial predicament was to hire on as a laborer on the Panama Canal.  He lasted two weeks.

That debilitating venture did earn him sufficient funds to travel with Laval to the French colony of Martinique, where he began to forge his own unique voice in his artistic exploration of the tropics.  Gauguin and Laval were living the "more savage way of life," but there was a price to be paid: both men were suffering at this time from dysentery as well as malaria; Laval was miserable enough to attempt suicide.

Still Life with Profile of Laval 1886
Gauguin's Still Life with Profile of Laval 1886
In 1888, they returned to Paris, where Gauguin was taken in by an old friend - fellow broker and painting enthusiast, Emile Schuffenecker.  There, Paul was introduced  to a ceramicist who taught him how to decorate earthenware.  Now, with a collection of decorated pottery, along with the paintings that he had sent back from Martinique, as well as his current work, Gauguin began to exhibit his work in a Parisian gallery.

Gauguin's Portrait of Madeleine Bernard, 1889
Madeleine was the sister of Artist Emile Bernard

Vision after the Sermon or Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, 1889
(Arguably Gauguin's most important work in this period)

Gagugin sporting a rockin' mullet
Gauguin's work was displayed at a locale that was frequented by the brothers Van Gogh.  Both Vincent and Theo were very intrigued by Gauguin's exotic new vision,  and Theo began quietly buying the work of the well travelled artist.

The rest of Gauguin's story, including what really happened between Paul and Vincent in the Yellow house, why Vincent cut off his ear, and a sunflower painting that is guaranteed to break your heart will all be revealed in next week's blog posting - I encourage you to please stay tuned...

And, in honor of Gauguin, who loved painting exotic, tropical women,  this week, I am going to do a portrait of a dreamy island girl of my own.

I had been invited to a birthday party for a beautiful young woman who was turning 21, and I wanted to do something really special to honor her on the big day.

I have known Savannah since she was a very little kid.  She is a year ahead of Duncan in school, and has sung with him in school choirs, church choirs, show choirs, honor choirs, and in many musical revues and other theatrical productions.

Below is a photo of Savannah (middle), and Duncan (right) and fellow student and good friend, Cody (left) after the premier performance in their High School's production of My Fair Lady.  Duncan was Henry Higgins to Savannah's Eliza Doolittle, and Cody took a very comedic turn as Colonel Hugh Pickering.  They all look so young (except Cody, who was made up to look old)!

I have known Savannah and her family almost her entire life, and, without a doubt, she is one of the more joyful, bubbly, and gracious people I have ever met.  She is a gorgeous singer, a lovely girl, a fine comedic actress, and, although she is the most native of native Texans, she is also a master of the Brooklyn accent.

For her birthday, I wanted to do a portrait of Savannah that I hope will capture forever for her what it is like to be young, talented, full of hope and loved by many.

With grateful appreciation to Mark Zuckerberg, I begin by stalking my subject on Facebook.
A posting from Savannah's facebook account,
along with a sketch I did to try out the image. 
 All young women who have FB accounts adeptly use them to post their favorite "self portraits."  Scroll through the home page of any one young enough to be truly facile on the social networking site, and their timeline will reveal everything you need to know about what they like best about themselves.  On Savannah's, I saw her grow from the little kid singing in the choir with Duncan, through the only slightly awkward middle school years, then onto the bloom of High School and the confident perfection of College. 

At the time that I was selecting which photo of Savannah that I wanted to use, I had been doing a lot of research into Paul Gauguin and the time he spent with Vincent  in Arles.  I had looked at a lot of Gauguin's work from his time in the South Seas, and I was very taken with his sensitive depictions of the island women, who were often dreamily rendered with flowers in their hair, against lush, tropical settings.

Scrolling through Savannah's wall, I found one photo that I kept thinking about, particularly in terms of Gauguin's work.

Although it was another challenging profile shot, I really loved it, because I thought it captured both the sweet and charming child that I loved, as well as the knowing and beautiful woman that she was becoming.

Because FB does not reveal everything I needed for my portrait, I decided to spy further by following the convenient link she had set up for her pinterest account, where she had posted her hopes, wishes and dreams about decorating, fashion, culture, and, most importantly to me, travel.

A little pinterest stalking revealed what I already knew.  Savannah loved the water.  Ocean, lake, or sparkling in a glass - Savannah lived for the liquid, and I wanted to include that in my painting for her.

I needed a photo that would sum up hopes, dreams and wishes, and would give me a complete and unified horizontal composition.

And there it was.  Under the heading "Light Can Be Found In Surprising Places," was a picture of hundreds of luminara floating on drifting plank boats in a gently rippled tide.  The scene was captured either at dawn or dusk - (I am not sure which, and it doesn't really matter) and I was fascinated by the way the water reflected both the candles and the sunlight in the image.

Light Can Be Found In Surprising Places

The mood of the photo was hopeful, prayerful, and exotic, and I felt it would be just right for a girl who will go many places in her life.

Below you can see a computer montage where I displayed the  photo from her pinterest page next to the portrait (left) that I selected from her Facebook page.

And at right you can see what I did in my sketchbook to work out the image before I started painting.

I knew the profile would be challenging because in the photo Savannah's large and luminous brown eyes were hidden, so I would not be able to use them to really capture her in the portrait.  Otherwise, the photo did offer a good angle on her finely structured jawbone, as well as her pert little nose and very angelic hint of a smile.

I knew that her shoulder, which was crooked up into her chin, would be difficult to render in a way that did not cause discomfort, so I decided to edit out that part of her body.

At left you can see my final drawing, which I rendered on a small horizontal stretched canvas.

You can see that everything is pretty loose and sketchy at this point.
Below is a closer shot of the sketch, where I have made some additional corrections and added in more luminara.

I still had some orange, yellows and greens left on my palette, so I decide to start on the tropical yellow flower in her hair.

Outlining with the orange, I quickly added in some yellows to blend the colors a bit on the canvas.  This loose, shlumpy flower is fun after the precise blades of the sunflowers, and I am appreciating the crepe de chine texture of the blossom.

I want to think about her face for a long time before I start painting, so that I will have a faint prayer of getting it right.

I have two days to paint before the party.

Thank God I am using fast drying acrylics!

After a little more work with the flower, I start adding in some of the background sky, again using leftover oranges, yellows, and now, purples from my palette.

I add a little purple to the edges of the flower for more definition, and start filling in the rest of the sky behind her (below).

Because this is a wraparound canvas and will probably not ever be framed, I paint the sky around the corner, as well.

I want to get some darks in the sky, so I start putting in some blues, violets, and greens in the background.

Below is a closeup of the first layer of the sky.

Next, I add in the little town across the water, with it's tiny lights glistening like diamonds against the shadowy outline of the landmass.

I the actual photo, these lights are an overlapping image of land lights and boat lights - I simplify the image by putting everything on terra firma.
I paint out the closer clouds, and begin work on the water, using greens, turquoise, voilets, light and medium blues, and, of course, ultramarine.

To define the luminara, I paint their little boats with a slash of payne's gray, and define the edges of the lamps with umber.

More water, and I add in some vertical "rays" on the horizontal striations of the sky.

Oshenz iz lrg.

And here is most of the water filled in.  Unlike my own musculature, I am thinking this ocean looks appropriately ripply.

I am beginning to add in some highlights from the (setting? rising?) sun, as well as from the floating candles.

My first stab at the face.

I consider stabbing myself back.

Sorry, Savannah!

The eye is a serious problem for me.  Slowly, I come to the realization that it is deja vu all over again.  Her eye is in the same position as was Duncan's eye on the troglodyte portrait I did of him.

Crap on a stick!

My only solution is to paint the eye shut and go to bed, hoping for a nocturnal solution.

Below you can see that which I was too panicked to photograph before I painted over it.

I hatz portrates!

expeshuly of peplz

I luvz!

This is what greets me the next day.  What on earth did I do to give her a rash on her neck?  It doesn't look like a fine, square jaw; it looks like she was strangled by a sea monster!

The hair is OK.

It is time, once again, to break out the big guns.  I got out my Secrets to Drawing Realistic Faces (see recommended books) and looked up how to draw eyes.  There were many forward facing eyes shown in the book, but none depicted in profile.  The author of the book is an FBI trained artist whose specialty is as a forensic artist.  I determined that profiles were probably not really her forte, or at least not her forte in this book.

So I kept moving down my bookshelf.  Many years ago, my mom had loaned me an old textbook of hers, called "An Atlas of Anatomy for Artists," by Fritz Schider.

This book, first published in german in 1929, contains hundreds of plates of drawings, etchings, reproductions and photographs which depict the human body.  There are full body portraits, as well as cut aways depicting muscles, bones and details of joints.  There are also detailed close ups of eyes, mouths, noses and hands, and there are progressive photographs of both a boy and a girl from toddlerhood through the young adult years.

I was amused by the series of photographs depicting a perfect and very athletic man running, and the corresponding compilation of a woman carrying a set of buckets.  I think the selections says something about how the author felt about men and women, leisure and work.

Anyway, the atlas did contain a selection from one of Michelangelo's sketchbooks where he drew a woman in profile, with her left eye gazing downward.  (Michelangelo, study of heads for the Leda)  Although it was facing the opposite direction of Savannah's, the eye in the sketch was in approximately the same position as the eye in the photo.

I stared at that plate for a long time, then the lightbulb finally went off!

A humorous picture, eh?  What did the grow out look like?

Michelangelo used his sketchbook!

I have a sketch book!  I even have a pencil!  I can be sketchy!

First I draw an eye looking downward.

It looks like a cross between a flying saucer and an oscar fish.

Not good.
Next, I try Janet Leigh's eye from the shower scene in Psycho.

To up the horror factor, I add in backwards facing crow's feet.

She is not wearing volumizing mascara.

This one reminds me of Charlotte's Web.

It is amazing what can be done with just a few lines, scribbles, darks and lights.

You can draw something that looks like the backside of a spider.

And now, a praying mantis holding a black eyed pea.

OK, this is getting better, but it is a face looking forward with an eyeball facing away at a 45 degree angle.

Putting the pupil facing forward didn't help.

Now we are getting somewhere.

The eyelid is looking like it is wrapping around in a dimensional way.

This time, I drew the iris of the eye first, then layered the eyelids on top.

I liked that so much, that I did it again.  This eye still looks a little flat though.

Note the trick of dropping a shadow just under the lid to add dimensionality.

Here is a sketch of an eye looking down.  You can see where I drew the "egg" of the iris and didn't erase.

It is not a perfect rendering by any means, but I think I am finally going in the right direction.

I send a sketch book message to my future self.

Below is the whole page, which includes some bonus lips!

I start by drawing the iris first.  Drawing on the painted surface is challenging because there are tiny variations in and on the canvas, and the natural inclination is to follow the illusion of the line that is just below the surface of the top layer of paint.

And here is the super close up.

 I got so excited about the new eye that I forgot to photograph as I painted...

Can you see the other big change I made?

With so much warmth in the hair and sky, I decided to change the flower from yellow to pink.
I shave the nose with water, and soften the cheek around the edge of the mouth.

The Artdemigod did not like my cloud formation.  Throwing around his authority as a licensed pilot, he said that no cloud in nature looked like the one in the middle of the painting.
Sparring back with my artistic authority, I pointed out the photographic evidence presented by the middle cloud in the pinterest photo, but, I did agree that it looked like the big cloud had opened up a trap door and all of it's cloud innards were falling out.  So with a simple swipe of my paintbrush, I changed the weather pattern.

Here is a close up of the final version of Savannah's profile.

Note the revisions to the hairline, eyebrows, mouth and nose.

How much does it look like Savannah?

That is for others to judge.

I am happy with the dreamy quality of the expression, and I am relieved that my eye looks even a little bit like an actual, pretty girl's eye.

How can a girl with a huge voice sing with that tiny little nose?

And here is a close up of the ocean, lanterns, sky and shoreline.

No, you are not seasick.  It is another out of focus picture.

I am asking Santa for a good camera for Christmas this year.

Perhaps I will send an illuminated wish out to sea, sailing away on a tiny boat....

Here is an angle on the wrap around canvas on the top of the painting.  It looks like she has a lot of hair if you looking at it this way, but looking straight on to the main painting it looks right, and looking straight on to the upper side of the painting it looks correct, as well.
 And this is where the painting wraps around the vertical side.

It looks like I've got the dining room table almost set. I wonder what the Artdemigod is making for dinner?

And here, in time for the party, is the final portrait of Savannah!

Thank you all so much for reading along!  I am constantly amazed at how the blog seems to interweave itself into my own life, and the creative ease I am getting from both the writing and the painting.  Every day I seem to run across something that I want to put into or research for the blog, and I have SO enjoyed sharing these discoveries with all of you.

Please feel free to pass the blog along to anyone you think might be interested, and again, thanks for inspiring me!