Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Boston Common Fountain & State House

"Summer on the Boston Common" (Oil on Canvas, 24"X18", $750)

This past summer I was so happy to see that the city had finally fixed the main fountain on the Boston Common that I had to make a painting. It had to show the sculptures and the height of the fountain. The sculptures are full of symbolism, telling about the businesses, the trades and the way of life that was prevalent at the time they were made. Lots of elements show farming and sailing/shipping tools, combined with classic Greek figures. I guess it was a way to marry the past with the modern 'present' which has since slipped into the past; no one in Boston's concentrating and farming and sailing anymore.
I like the pattern of the falling water and the way the fountain seems to lean over a little, which adds to the feeling of soaring vertigo as it reaches its apex. I'm sure the workmen were a little surprised to see how the fountain actually functioned when they finally got the plumbing sorted out after being broken for so many decades.
I took the opportunity to combine a giant tree in the background with the giant fountain. I tried to lose bits of the fountain's outline in the tree's shadows and marry the two elements. At the back of the painting, however, I removed a giant tree from the scene that was covering up the State House; I wanted to show the architecture that led up to the golden dome. The State House adds some perspective and scale to the scene, showing that the Common goes all the way back and up to Beacon Hill, the seat of government in Massachusetts.
This scene could be from a hundred years ago, except for the clothes on the various people standing and sitting around, admiring the falling water and relaxing in the morning.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Copp's Hill Cemetery - North End

"Touring the Foot of Copp's Hill Cemetery - North End" (Oil on Canvas, 20"X24" $800)

I did this in the summer of 2010 because I felt that I wanted to express my interest in the passage of time and the fleeting lives we live. I also like the calm and peaceful feelings that come from seeing those who have gone before, lying in their spots for all these years. I always wonder how they lived and what basic circumstances really were like in their time. The dappled light of this scene didn't hurt either.
I did a charcoal line drawing right on the canvas from this spot and then took a photo to capture the colors and lighting effects so that I could put them in taking a little more time than I'd be able to by painting it on site. I like the way that you can follow the spots of light all the way to the back. The white marble monuments and lower gateposts also bring the viewer into the background, lending depth to the picture. The background is also where the tourists visiting the cemetery are crouching, or walking in the shadows.
The main focal point is of course the old tree, probably from the 1700's, along with lots of the graves. To me it symbolizes presence as well as the passage of time. I like the resemblance (from this angle, anyway) of a human hand reaching out of the ground and reaching into the air, palm upward.
I have another of these paintings - of the cemetery - that I'm doing now and will post soon.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Nude Female Oil Sketch

"Oil Sketch of Dayna at the AGC" (Oil on Canvas, 18"X24", $650)

Here's another figurative oil sketch, except that this time it's "only a sketch" because I was only able to put about three hours into the painting. (In the two previous posts I have other reasons for doing sketches instead of more finished works.) I could only put that amount of time into it because it was part of a painting group that I run at the artists' Group of Charlestown (AGC). I hire and pay the models, set up and 'tear down' the room, and generally run the group by timing the models and making sure things run smoothly.
There were two nights (over two weeks) used for the painting of this model, but I had a very hard time at first with getting a good beginning, so I had to keep wiping it out and starting over. Luckily, by the end of that first night I got a good start that I could work with the following week.
The nights are only two hours long, so this whole painting was actually done the second night. I'm very happy with it, but of course I'd like to take more time with a model to get all the little things that much better. I'm especially happy with the hands, the skin colors and the languid expression on her face. I also like the blowing curtain in the background and the suggestion of the white-painted brick walls of the AGC gallery where the group takes place. I have to say that the painting looks even better in person, where the colors are richer and the paint is livelier.
It's not necessarily a bad thing to have time limits on a painting. It forces you to get something on the canvas quickly and to teach yourself how to get good results without overworking a picture, which is easy to do, even with a time limit.
I'll be bringing the "Oil Sketch Thursdays" program back this Autumn, so I'll be posting more paintings of this nature in October and November.

Female Faces Oil Sketch

"Oil Sketch of Two Female Faces" (Oil on Canvas, 11"X22", $450")

I did this as a 'practice exercise' that came out pretty good, so I decided to post it. It's actually from two pages in a large- format glossy magazine, depicting hairstyles in full-page glossy-style. It's not like working with actual models, which I prefer when I can get to do it, but it works pretty well for certain aspects of learning to paint faces with all their complexity and gradual tonal changes.
It wasn't difficult to work this way, but it was a little difficult to take seriously. I suppose that's why I made them oil sketches; I couldn't see myself taking the time to put much finish on copying a pair of magazine photos. I also have the same two pictures, upside down, above these two, but this pair came out better so I cropped the photo and will paint other faces above these two to complete the canvas.
I used one of the devices that painters have used through the ages to add contrast and therefore depth to a painting. I also used it in the self-portrait in the previous post. I used a light background color on the 'shadow' side of the face and a dark background color on the 'lit' side of the face - at least with the blonde. With the brunette, I tried the opposite just to see what would happen if I 'broke the rules'. It turns out that it works pretty well to follow the rules, don't you think?
I had fun doing this exercise and I look forward to trying more faces and posting the results.

Self-Portrait Oil Sketch

"Self-Portrait Oil Sketch, July 2010" (Oil on Canvas, 16"X12", $350)

I did this oil sketch recently and hung it in a coffee house show that I'm doing so that the people there would have an idea of what the painter of all the pictures looks like.
I'm pretty happy with the likeness, as I wanted it to look like I was peering out at the viewer to see what he or she looked like, too. I was also a little pressed for time, as the show was approaching and I knew it would have to dry before I could transport it.
Doing self-portraits is tougher than it seems at first. Even though the model is always available and costs nothing to work with, it doesn't make it any easier to look at the same face so intently for a long period of time. There does come a tipping point, though, where you're no longer looking at yourself and trying to make yourself look good. You start seeing the abstract shapes that make up the planes of your own face and it gets kind of spooky. It's also difficult to keep your posture the same over a long time, so that you see yourself in the mirror from the same angle consistently. The final surprise comes when you realize that by looking at yourself in a mirror, you're actually reversing all the little asymmetries that make you look particularly like yourself. The only way to check it is to turn the painting around and look at the reflection of the picture in the mirror. Unfortunately, you can't look at your face and the painting side-by-side in the mirror because the same asymmetry-reversal principle takes over. Eventually you just say "enough!" and decide to be satisfied with the picture or not. I'm sure I'll try again someday.

Paul Revere in the North End

"Walking around Paul Revere in the Prado - North End" (Oil on Canvas, 24"X18", $750)

This is actually another re-paint, as mentioned in the previous post. It's new to this blog, as I didn't like it enough before to want to put it up. Unlike the previous painting, this isn't only a re-paint of the sky; the whole thing has been touched up to either adjust the colors or the rendering of an object. I like it very much more now, and have obviously decided that it deserves a place on my blog, to be seen by anyone who cares to visit me here.
I have another painting in a much older post that looks at the statue from the other side. This one has more of a domestic and casual feeling; that there's time on a sunny day for a mother and her children out for a walk to spend tracing the edges of this old bronze statue's granite base, basking a little in the reflected light that falls between the trees which create a canopy over the Prado.
I feel that the direction of the mother with her stroller, and the older daughter walking lazily in the opposite direction around the statue creates a circular motion in the painting that makes it more compelling to look at than a simple portrait of the statue itself. I also like the bright sunlight in the right foreground that reflects off the brown-and-peach colored polished granite base, and which reflects the little girl's legs as she walks by.
In a previous post I talked about how there was a horizontal triangle of people in a painting of the prado's fountain that
drew the viewer's eye into the depths of the painting. In this case, the mother and baby is one point of the triangle, the older girl is the second point, and Paul Revere himself is the third point of a vertical triangle, drawing the viewer's eye upward, creating vertical 'depth' for the picture.

Old North Church - North End

"The Corner of Salem and Sheafe - North End" (Oil on Canvas, 16"X20" $650)

This is actually a bit of a re-paint. I did it a few weeks and the only part that I went over was the sky. It originally had a flaming sunset sky that I was never happy with. I finally decided to change it and make the Old North Church the true focal point of the painting. If I get a photo of an appropriate sunset sky for this location, I'll take the time to re-paint in the 'flames'.
I like painting skies, whether they're full of sunny day clouds or sunset clouds, or if they're just plain cloudy. Sometimes I just rough them in with thin paint, intending to thicken and brighten the colors later, only to decide that I like the visible, broken brushstrokes in the air and clouds.
This painting now has more of an Autumn feel, instead of the summery feel of the original version. It feels more appropriate now that the summer is drawing to a close in the Northeast, and the skies don't have the same red-orange clouds that dominate during the summer sunsets. At this point, it's the shadows falling directly on the buildings across the street that tell the viewer that the sun is low in the sky. The window boxes full of waning and leggy purple petunias also tell of the end of the fleeting summer season.
Take a look in the older posts on this blog and see if you can find the original version and let me know which you prefer. That may give me the impetus to do the re-paint mentioned above, or not.