Friday, August 6, 2010

Workin' my stuff

It took me a while to build up my courage to start on the new canvas.  For one thing, I asked Chris to make it 40"x60" then decided to reduce the size to 30"x45" but regrettably forgot to mention that to Chris (!), so when I came home from teaching Tuesday, he had already made it the larger size.  Intimidating!  It has ended up being perfect - I'm loving the larger size - but it made it a little harder for me to get going.

Plus I couldn't figure out how to incorporate all the new stuff I learned from Thomas - Jenny Saville?  Freud?  Rembrandt?  Whose lead should I follow?

I took out my books by each of them plus another 10 or so books with other nudes in them and looked to see which sort of image I wanted to end up with.  The interesting thing was that none of the pictures looked like I wanted mine to look.  The colors were off, or they were too extreme, or not extreme enough, or they distorted the figure - whatever.  Though I didn't quite have a vision of how I wanted mine to end up, I couldn't find it in the books either.

I decided that was a good thing and it meant I was doing something unique, so I began!

I mixed up a bunch of colors I saw in her flesh - purple, pink, green, burnt sienna.  I decided to use a light green for cool and alizarin crimson mixed with vermillion for hot colors with enough dioxinine violet in there to deepen the shadows.  For those of you for whom that last sentence was Greek, what I mean is this:  when I look at a photograph or a person I want to paint, I think about values - where the lights and shadows are.  Then I take that one step further and consider where the woman's flesh looks warm and cool.  Creating those contrasts helps bring the form forward or send it back, thus creating a stronger illusion of three dimensionality.  If an artist accentuates the cool colors, the figure will be less appealing in most cases - more corpse-like perhaps.  If she focuses on the hot colors, the body looks more sweltering and full of life.  I think Freud focuses on cool greys, and Saville has hotter colors in her works.

In the picture of my palette(s), you can obviously see the darks and lights, but perhaps the hots and cools are evident also.  There are some cool greens on the left, and the oranges and reds and browns are on the right.

I put a lot of turpenoid on my brush then picked up a gob of paint - the turpenoid thinned out the paint a lot so it would drip and run and go on smoothly.  I worked in the shadow areas mostly because I wanted to get some interesting color into those so the piece would feel strong.
My next step surprised me - I had thought I might let the darks dry like that then come back in with the lights later, but instead I picked up some of the light green with my brush and started putting it in.  The brush was large - 3" - twice the size I usually use - so I didn't have a lot of control - a good thing, in my case!  I picked up some of the dark colors accidentally.  That ended up spreading the shadows and modifying them in lovely ways. 

After that, I took a smaller brush and did some work on her face.  I did a lot of it with larger brushes, but knew I wanted a better level of detail there, so I let myself use smaller ones.  After that I put in the curtains in the background and worked some areas up more.  I especially focused on the hand but was excited by how that went.  I'd put down the shadows and finger delineations carefully even though they looked like sausages hanging off her arm.  When I went back in with the right colors and a slightly smaller brush, I was surprised  how easily I could move the paint around and get an accurate-looking rendering quite quickly.  I'm finding it helps a lot to have so much paint on the canvas.  I'm used to working with it much thinner.

Today I want to refine her facial features and some shadows which seem a bit off.  Her left leg seems odd too, so I'll check on that.  Otherwise I'm feeling like she's pretty much done.  All that huge canvas in about 6 hours.  Ones that size usually take weeks.  I think it's the difference in confidence and looseness and trusting that I can say what I want to say in broader strokes. 

Dear Chris - now he's going to have to spend the weekend making me more canvases! 

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