Friday, January 30, 2015

30 Paintings in 30 Days: Summing It All Up

I have had a few people tell me (discretely, in private messages) that they would be interested to know what I've learned over the course of this challenge. and by "a few," I mean "two."  Statistically speaking, it's not the biggest number in existence, but I'm pretty sure it's the second biggest.  And who am I to deny the second biggest number of people?


1.  Light.

Many and many a year ago, in a kingdom by the sea, I thought about making art in terms of making lines and shapes.   Here, you can tell young Elizabeth I has a nose because I drew a little line.

Hello.  They call me Princess Tiny Nose
During this challenge, it really sank in that successful painting is all about light.  Where is light reflecting, and in what degree?  That's it.  That's the whole thing.

For example, here's David Tennant's nose.  There's not a single line on it.

The one and only reason it appears to protrude (like a nose) is that I used lighter and darker shades of paint to indicate where light reflects and where it doesn't.  Our eyes recognize that combination of lights and shadows as a nose.

To drive the point home, here's a little slice of The Wife of Bath  Pay special attention to her breasts.

Nice, right?  She likes them, too.
Sadly, those breasts are not really there.  It's all lights and shadows.  If you take away the lights and shadows, she has no breasts.

Seriously, stop mentally giving her breasts and look at what is here.  Nothing.  Unvaried color = flat surface.

To give her back her breasts, I basically give her an oval of light blue with a half moon of darker blue underneath.  To bridge the two, I put a layer of the middle color in between.

And that's the deal.

2.  Value Scale

Because these changes in color do all the work, take the time in the beginning to make a value scale.  I want to say that five more times because it's that important, but I won't.  I will only say this: Don't be a lazy eyeball licker.  Take the time.  Make a value scale.

What am I talking about?

That's a 9-point value scale I made by mixing black and white a few months back.  Think of it a little like a set of color stairs, which you climb one step at a time.

How do you make a value scale?  Here's an example using the paint that dried on my thingermadoo last night.  Pile 1 is my original color.  I pulled 50% of that pile to the side and lightly shaded it (i.e. made it darker by adding a bit of Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold, like pile 2 below).  Then I pulled 50% of pile 2 to the side and shaded it again (i.e. added more QNAG, like pile 3 below).  Then I pulled 50% of pile 3 to the side and shaded it again.  I kept going until I reached the darkest shadow  needed (pile 5).

Then I did again in the opposite direction (i.e. added white to make my original color lighter, like pile -1).
Once you have value scale like that, you can paint anything.  A breast.  A nose.  A dog. Anything.

The more varieties of light and shadow in a reference photo, the more points you need in your scale.  This face (and hand) in this painting, for example, required more than the six points on my thingermadoo.

3.  Glaze

If you paint with acrylics, just buy the biggest jug of glaze you can find.  I add glaze to every point on my value scale.  What glaze lets me do is build up to my brightest highlights and darkest shadows, one layer at a time.  This makes it much easier to achieve gradation between colors.

To get that sense of gradation, I used to use water, as I did in this ATC (2.5" x 3.5") from January 2014.  Notice the shading on the tooth crown.  That shading doesn't successfully convey the idea of curved surfaces ending in a point.  I needed some kind of minimal value scale, and for sheer control in that tiny space, I needed glaze.

 How do I use glaze specifically, though?  Look at this shoulder.

That shoulder began as the original flesh color.  After that dried, I added two layers of the -1 pile from the picture above, each one a little smaller.  Once that dried, I pulled aside a bit of the -1 pile and added some white glaze.  Then I added two layers of that, again, each reducing in size.  And after that dried, I added a very thin, scant layer or two of white glaze to the smallest area of all.

I have to thank my friend Sal for encouraging me to get off my arse and buy more glaze medium, which I'd run out of.  I get by with a little help from my friends.

4.  Reference Photos

Don't trust your brain to remember where lights and shadows fall.  Your brain is an idiot on that subject, besides which, it can't possibly remember what things look like in every angle of light.  Unlike your brain, reference photos have five PhDs in lights and shadows and a letter of recommendation from Einstein.

 5.  Seeing is Believing

At least 60% of my problems were caused by not looking at the reference photo - and I mean REALLY LOOKING at it, studying it, looking at the shapes of things, noticing where things fall in relation to other things.

You also have to study the hell out of a reference photo to see ALL the lights.  While painting this, I didn't see the lights on either side of the jawline (below the ear) until I'd been working - and staring at my reference photo - for about two hours.

6.  Big Jumps; Also, Avoid Them

Another 20% of my problems were caused by being lazy and not mixing a value scale.  Hence #2.  When I didn't mix a value scale, I tended to have big jumps in between points.  It is not a good look.  It is instead a "painted" look, which is to say that it looks like a painting of a thing instead of the thing itself, rendered in paint.  Make the bloody value scale.  (That was me yelling at myself, many times over the course of this challenge.)

7.  Model

A live model is even better than a reference photo, if you can get one. An object is better than a picture of an object.

8.  Persistence; Also, Having It

If you're unhappy, keep painting.  Don't give up.  YOU are the boss of your canvas.  Stay at it until it looks the way you want, even if that means panting over the arm you spent an hour and a half on that no longer looks right since you changed the design on the sweater.

9. Perspective

Pick your canvas up and hold it out away from you every few minutes to gain some perspective. For serious coming to Jesus, hold your canvas up to a mirror.  I got that tip from Sal, too.  It helps you see things that you don't catch, even at arm's length.

Like this.  When I held the image on the right up to the mirror, I thought I was finished.  I didn't realize how much I had eaten up her neck while working on her chin and jawline earlier.

Scrunchy, scrunchy neck
An hour later, her neck and his arm corrected
10.  Paint Dries Too Fast, Even with Glaze

Pee before you mix the value scale. 

I'm sure there are other things that will pop into my head, so I reserve the right to add them here:

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

30 Paintings in 30 Days: Art (Day 27)

This is an 8x10, inspired by a poem written by Gwendolyn Brooks, whose portrait I painted yesterday.  The poem is called "The Chicago Picasso," and it reads in part:

Does man love Art?  Man visits Art, but squirms.
Art hurts.  Art urges voyages -
and it is easier to stay at home,
the nice beer ready.a
In commonrooms,
we belch, or sniff, or scratch.
Are raw.

But we must cook ourselves and style ourselves for Art,
is a requiring courtesan.
We squirm.
We do not hug the Mona Lisa.

Here's my 8x10 canvas interpretation:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

30 Paintings in 30 Days: Gwendolyn Brooks (Day 26)

This is another 4x4.  There are at least 10 difference reference photos of the poet Gwendolyn Brooks that I would love to paint.  I settled on this one because I like her thoughtful expression, and I adore those glasses.

30 Paintings in 30 Days: bell hooks (Day 25)

I discovered bell hooks in college and was pretty instantly smitten with her work.  If you're unfamiliar with her, she is a poet, a feminist, a prolific essayist, and a cultural critic.

(I am doing a couple of smaller portraits of poets in an effort to catch myself up.  This is 4x4 on masonite canvas board.)

30 Paintings in 30 Days: These Be the Paintings (Days 23 and 24)

Phillip Larkin's "This Be the Verse" has been one of my favorites for a very long time now.  Here is the poet himself, reading his verse.  (It's very short, I promise.)

For this poem, I decided to do two canvases.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

30 Paintings in 30 Days: Beastly Burden (Day 22)

Inspired by the Louise Gluck poem "Gratitude":

Do not think I am not grateful for your small
kindness to me.
I like small kindnesses.
In fact I actually prefer them to the more
substantial kindness, that is always eying you,
like a large animal on a rug,
until your whole life reduces
to nothing but waking up morning after monring
cramped, and the bright sun shining on its tusks.

30 Paintings in 30 Days: Joan of Arc (Day 21)

Okay, so I've been wanting to use this poem almost since the start of this challenge, but the images in my head all seemed frightfully complicated to paint, so I hid from them awhile.  This is the first stanza of Louise Gluck's "Jeanne d'Arc":

It was in the fields.  The trees grew still,
a light passed through the leaves speaking
of Christ's great grace: I heard.
My body hardened into armor.

I loved the idea of her body turning into armor, physically.  It seems violent and painful and amazing (like all transformations, I suppose).

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

30 Paintings in 30 Days: A Portrait of the Poet as a Young Knight (Day 20)

Call me a voyeur, but I love reading other people's letters - famous authors' letters, I mean, and mainly the ones that have been published.  Your letters are safe.  In the winter, I don't even want to brave the cold to open my own mailbox. 

Anyway, I have a volume of Emily Dickison's letters, and they're fantastic.  If you're looking to develop some kind of elite, learned voyeurism, I recommend them highly.  Dickinson is, as you might expect, both modest and self-deprecating in reference to her person and her talents, "Myself the only Kangaroo among the Beauty," as she writes in an 1862 letter to TW Higginson, who eventually helped with the posthumous publication of her work.  In that same letter, Dickinson wrote, "My posture is benighted." 

And because I love her, and because why not, I thought it better that she be knighted than that she be benighted.

So here it is, "A Portrait of the Poet as a Young Knight."

Monday, January 19, 2015

30 Paintings in 30 Days: Circe (Day 19)

Hey, here's something totally shocking: I found another Louise Gluck poem to inspire my painting!  WHUT?!

This poem is called "Circe's Power" - named for the goddess who (in The Odyssey) turns half of Odysseus' men into swine - and it has one of the best openings in Poem-dom:

I never turned anyone into a pig.
Some people are pigs; I make them
Look like pigs.

I'm sick of your world
That lets the outside disguise the inside.
Hell yeah.  Tell 'em, Circe!

30 Paintings in 30 Days: Bitten Apples (Day 18)

In my last post, I referenced getting stuck on a painting, and this is it.  It is inspired by the Louise Gluck Poem "The Apple Trees," the opening of which reads:

Your son presses against me
his small intelligent body.
I stand beside his crib
as in another dream
you stood among trees hung
with bitten apples
holding out your arms.

The poem goes on to lament the son's inevitable growth and departure from the home.  "I wait to see how he will leave me," the speaker says to her husband.  "Already on his hand the map appears / as though you carved it there."

I spent a lot of time dwelling with this poem - and I say "with" deliberately, because I lived with it, looked at it, turned it sideways.  On the surface, it seems to express a fear of abandonment, of rejection, the son following the father on a path of learned emotional betrayal.  In the end, though, I think it is not precisely about that.

The poem is named for the apple trees in the dream.  In that context, I feel like the child will depart from the mother as all children depart from their mothers, seeking independence, biting the apple and gaining the knowledge of gods, which separates them from God (or, you know, Mom). This moment of separation is presaged from the womb itself, present in all of us, just like the lines in our hands.  The speaker of the poem wants to blame her husband, but her recollection of the iconic apple tree suggests that she knows better.  The tree is filled with bitten apples because we all take that journey, and we all taste that fruit.

All of that analysis, I believe, is how I got myself stuck.  I wanted to paint something universal, or with mythical resonance, and that is too much of a burden for one canvas in a 30 Day challenge!

Here's what I made, and there an end:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

30 Paintings in 30 Days: Pin the Nose on the Doctor (Days 14-17)

This entry could very well be called "There and Back Again," by Bilbo Baggins, except that I am slightly taller than a hobbit, and my crisis did not involve facing down a dragon or a forest full of giant talking spiders.

On Wednesday, when I should have been finishing up my Day 14 canvas, I was instead staring at my Day 14 canvas in despair.  It was 85% finished, but I couldn't figure out how to get from 85% to 100%.  In a panic (and running short on time), I pulled out some tiny 2x4 black canvases I had purchased before the holidays, but nothing was coming into my head.  I was too upset about the big canvas.  Finally, I got so depressed that I crawled into bed for a nap.  Just as my head hit the pillow, I realized what I needed to do with the small canvases:  Nose studies.

Of different incarnations of The Doctor.

The last four actors cast in the role of Doctor Who - namely, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, and Peter Capaldi - all have quirky, interesting noses.  I worked really hard on these, and I have to say that I totally adore them.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

30 Paintings in 30 Days: She Knits (Day 13)

I think I mentioned somewhere that I might stick with the poet Louise Gluck for several days this week, and indeed I have!  Here's a piece inspired by her "Love Poem," and specifically, these lines:

"There is always something to be made of pain.
Your mother knits."

This was deceptively difficult to do.  I went to bed feeling that I had finished and woke up certain that I had not.  This provided a good (and unexpected) opportunity for a partial facial study, too. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

30 Paintings in 30 Days: "Your face among minnows" (Day 12)

Among the poets I love most, the one I understand least well is Louise Gluck, whose words mesmerize and enchant me as effectively as they defy my attempts to pry loose their meanings.  Last night, I opened *The House on Marshland*, and I read "The Pond," which sits right beside one of my favorite poems from the collection, "Gretel in Darkness."  I do not understand "The Pond."  But I loved this:

"Under the ringed moon I can make out
your face swimming among minnows . . ."

That image inspired this canvas, which I created - on impulse - from these four colors, and the colors that can be made by combining these colors: White, Yellow Ochre, Prussian Blue, and Magenta.

30 Paintings in 30 Days: Bluebird (Day 11)

Before this week, it had been many years since I had read anything by Charles Bukowski.  A Facebook friend suggested that I look at "The Bluebird," and as soon as I started reading, I knew I had to make a painting.  (For my part, I swear I have a pair of bluebirds in my heart, courting and canoodling when they can, and when they can't, mourning every sorrow that their love can't heal. If I had not met my husband, there's no telling what I would have done over the course of my life to quell them, silence them, keep them cool and still.)

In honor of Bukowski's struggle, I painted a man instead of a woman.  It wouldn't surprise me if "bluebirds" were the reason that a lot of men drink, and a lot of women, too.

I'm not sure this is an especially strong painting, but there are things about it I like.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

30 Paintings in 30 Days: "i saw a princess pass" (Day 10)

I returned to ee cummings for the inspiration for this canvas.  I am really loving this challenge for about 300 reasons, which I should probably document (I just don't want to blather).

Here is my piece:
And here is cumings':

if you like my poems, let them
walk in the evening,a little behind you

then people will say
"Along this road i saw a princess pass
on her way to meet her lover(it was
toward nightfall)with tall and ignorant servants"

(For me, this is about the way in which the words of an awestruck lover make us regal, ennoble us, render us extraordinary.)

Friday, January 9, 2015

30 Paintings in 30 Days: He Wishes His Beloved Were Dead (Day 9)

Despite studying Yeats for several weeks in college, I had never read Yeats' "He Wishes His Beloved Were Dead" until yesterday, when a Facebook friend asked if I had any plans to do a canvas inspired by it.  I fell in love with the poem instantly.  The basic gist if it is this: "I wish you were dead, because then you would forgive me and stay still, never to storm away from me again."  It's awful and wonderful and altogether human.  What I most love is that it indicts that impulse we have (as human beings) to have our way, to get what we want, no matter the cost to someone else, up to and including death.

The actual text is this:
WERE you but lying cold and dead,
And lights were paling out of the West,
You would come hither, and bend your head,
And I would lay my head on your breast;
And you would murmur tender words,
Forgiving me, because you were dead:
Nor would you rise and hasten away,
Though you have the will of wild birds,
But know your hair was bound and wound
About the stars and moon and sun:
O would, beloved, that you lay
Under the dock-leaves in the ground,
While lights were paling one by one. 
I particularly loved the image of her hair being "bound and wound / About the stars and moon and sun."  In my depiction, the sun is "off-screen," as it were, its light reflecting in the red glow emanating from the left side of the painting.  I dressed her in a Victorian burial gown, and I swapped out her hands for "dock-leaves," which is an awful notion, by the way.  In the speaker's imagining, he doesn't see her in a tomb, with a headstone; he simply sees her in the ground, covered by "dock-leaves," which suggests to me that he has (mentally, at least) buried her himself.  
I also wanted to make her face blushed and filled with blood and life, to emphasize, of course, that she should not be dead - that this impulse is not love.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

30 Paintings in 30 Days: Annabel Lee (Day 8)

I was a child, and she was a child in this kingdom by the sea.

I think this probably qualifies as my first-ever landscape painting.  I spent more or less all day on it, with a brief break for eating some of my husband's leftover birthday cake.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

30 Paintings 30 Days: Whitman (Day 7)

I can't even lie: I have really been enjoying using poems as prompts.  Here is today's canvas, inspired by the first stanza of Walt Whitman's "Song of the Open Road," which I will summarize like this:

"Forget it. I'm taking to the open road. I will stop hesitating, stop doubting, stop whining; I will supply my own needs and be content where I am, with what I have. I don't need to shoot for the stars. I like the earth. I am still dragging all of my past sins and burdens with me, but that's okay. They are part of me, and I am part of them."  The actual poem is at the bottom.

AFOOT and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune—I myself am good fortune;
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,         5
Strong and content, I travel the open road.
The earth—that is sufficient;
I do not want the constellations any nearer;
I know they are very well where they are;
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.  10
(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens;
I carry them, men and women—I carry them with me wherever I go;
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them;
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

30 Paintings in 30 Days: Dickinson (Day 6)

It would seem I'm on a serious poem kick.  Here's a 6x8 canvas panel inspired by my favorite Emily Dickinson poem, "I heard a Fly buzz - when I died."

In case you don't remember the poem (and want to), here she blows:

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air -
Between the Heaves of Storm -

The Eyes around - had wrung them dry -
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset - when the King
Be witnessed - in the Room -

I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable - and then it was
There interposed a Fly -

With Blue - uncertain - stumbling Buzz -
Between the light - and me -
And then the Windows failed - and then
I could not see to see -

Monday, January 5, 2015

30 Paintings in 30 Days: Neruda (Day 5)

Keeping with my theme of literary canvases, I chose another poem to inspire me today.  I admit, "inspire" might seem like an oddly upbeat word since the poem I chose is a mildly creepy sonnet meditating on the lover's death, but it captivated me all the same!

If you die, Neruda entreats his beloved:

"Matilde, my love, leave your lips half-open
. . .
I will die kissing your crazy cold mouth,
caressing the lost fruit buds of your body."

Hey, I warned you: Mildly creepy, but also beautiful.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

30 Paintings in 30 Days: ee cummings (Day 4)

I discovered ee cummings very early in high school - or possibly even junior high - for which reason, I felt like I truly discovered him, as though he were America, and I were Columbus, as though I could plant a flag and call him mine and feel possessive whenever anyone else got too near him.  (Just like Columbus, of course, I didn't discover him, don't possess him, and can't in any way claim him.  Alas.)  To this day, in any case, he has a very special place in my heart.  This piece was inspired by one of his better-known poems, "i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)."

Friday, January 2, 2015

30 Paintings in 30 Days: Raven (Day 3)

Today, I finally settled on my theme: The literary!  Hooray!  All of my canvases from here on out will be connected in some way to an author, a book, a play, or a poem. 

I paint Poe a lot, so as a challenge to myself, I decided to paint his raven instead.  I don't really paint birds, so um, SCARY.  Way scary.  But I did it.  Go me.

Except for the part where I was so scared I forgot to take progress pics.  Zero points for Ravendor.

30 Paintings in 30 Days: Yorick's Revenge (Day 2)

For Day 2 of the 30 Paintings in 30 Days challenge, I went straight for a color palette that's comfortable for me while tackling a subject that's uncomfortable for me: Skulls!  I like them.  I am fairly nervous to paint them.

So I challenged myself to paint one.

And then I decided to make a Shakespeare joke.  I confess I love the result.

On the way to the computer to post this, I asked my 14-year-old son if he got the joke.  He said, "Instead of Hamlet holding a skull, the skull is holding Hamlet."  Success!  I mean, I think of him as Shakespeare, who is also depicted holding a skull, but whatever.  Details.