Merry Christmas Jeb

I couldn't spill the beans before Christmas since this was a surprise gift, but here is my newest painting, a portrait of Jeb. I was commissioned by Jeb's mom Pam, as a surprise for his dad Jim.

The biggest challenge with this portrait was taking reference photos. Not only did we have to sneak around Jim, but Jeb is a very active, big, 2-year old lab. We did the first photo shoot indoors since the weather on our rendezvous day was cold and rainy. My faithful assistant (Rick) got Jeb to stay relatively still, capturing his attention with a huge chewy bone... sort of like a child photographer does by holding a toy where they want the subject to be looking. Jeb moves around so much and so fast, that I had many out of focus shots. I did get some good poses out of that session though, shooting without a flash, but I was unhappy with the amount of detail in my shots. So I rendezvous'd once more with Jeb and Pam about a week later, and I took a bunch of outdoor shots - the pose didn't matter so much, since I had already decided on this quarter-profile pose - so I just concentrated on close ups of the side of his head, while his mom kept him calm. Finally I had a collection of reference photos I could combine and work from. Success!

I love to emphasize the eyes in my animal portraits. Jeb's eyes are very dark, melting into a big black ball. I opened my digital photos of him in Photoshop, and manipulated close-ups of his eyes, just so I could get a better look at where the pupil and iris really were. Since my day job has been as a commercial artist for 30 years I have many thousands of hours with Photoshop, so it's a natural and handy tool for me as a fine artist. Once I got to painting Jeb's one eye which is visible in this pose, I painted it as a medium brown eye, which I could see in the enhanced digital file. Then I kept glazing over with very transparent black mixed with payne's gray (a very blue-toned grey) until I got his eye close to reality. The final spots of white from reflected light made it come to life.

As with my previous portrait of a white-furred dog ("Tom"), I used a lot of color and glazing in painting Jeb's fur. I started by coating his body-shape with a solid base of a light golden color (raw sienna mixed with white gesso). This created a neutral ground, upon which I could add lighter and darker strokes, building up texture. Jeb's fur was much whiter, shorter and finer than Tom's, and I exaggerated the highlights and shadows to give a three-dimensional appearance.

Pam reports that Jim is thrilled with his portrait of Jeb, and that's all I needed to satisfy me!

Glazing Layers of Color

In my newest painting, a commission called "Greenhouse & Gardens," I used a technique of layering in the bottom right corner, to get the effect of masses of leaves. This technique is often called GLAZING. I do this in acrylics by painting with white (I actually use acrylic gesso for maximum opacity), letting it dry, then painting over the white with very transparent acrylic colors. As with watercolors, some acrylic pigments are more transparent than others. I can choose those colors which are naturally transparent, or thin others with acrylic glazing liquid (I use Golden brand) to make them more transparent. Then I paint the color over the entire area where I used the white gesso, and it covers it with color. Often times I repeat the whole process, glazing layer upon layer. It is a good technique for creating depth.
Here are six steps showing how I used this method for the leaves of the zinnias in the garden:

I have used this method in many of my other paintings, since it creates great depth. I suppose my experience as a watercolor artist influences me, since watercolors are naturally transparent and often layered in glazes.

I especially like this method for creating thick fur on an animal, and have used it in many of my pet portraits. Here you can see how I used the glazing to create strands of hair on my dog Darla's floppy ears in "Into the Wind" and the overlapping fur on the Scotty's face in my painting "Single Malt". I painted layer upon layer, using white gesso and various transparent colors and brown tones, to create the background of dried brown leaves in "Three Sisters", my painting of three Lady Slipper wildflowers.

Give this method a try to create wonderful effects of depth in your own acrylic painting adventures!

Traveling Show

The Tennessee Watercolor Society's 32nd Exhibition has ended in Chattanooga, TN, but 30 selected paintings will travel around Tennessee in three other shows in the next 5 months. My award winning painting "Decadence" is part of the Traveling show.
You might live close enough to catch one of these venues:
  • Customs House Museum, Clarksville TN (Nashville area), for July and August
  • West Tennessee Regional Art Center at Humboldt (Memphis area), for September and October
  • Pryor Gallery at Columbia State Community College, Columbia TN, for November
The other painting I had in the show, "Nature Paints a Picture," is a winner in my book too, since I've sold it. I am sending it off to its new home with my cousin Lisa in Phoenix. Thanks Lisa!

TWS Award :-)

I just won an award for "Decadence," one of the two paintings I got accepted into the Tennessee Watercolor Society's biennial exhibition. The show opened at the Chattanooga (TN) State Community College last Saturday with the awards ceremony, and runs through June 25th, open M-F 9-5. It is a beautiful show, with some fabulous paintings, so I am very proud to have been chosen for the show, and delighted to get a prize! My second painting in the show is going to be purchased by my cousin Lisa, so that's a winner too!

You can read more about this painting in my earlier post "Calling All Chocolate Lovers".

Tennessee Watercolor Society Exhibition

Here's the official poster for the TWS 32nd Exhibition, for which my paintings "Decadence" (described in my previous blog post) and "Nature Paints a Picture" have been chosen. I learned that there were 213 paintings entered from all around Tennessee, and my two were among the 70 juried into the show. The selection was made from digital photos of the paintings; the juror will select recipients of the 18 awards when the actual paintings are delivered to Chattanooga, TN, prior to the show opening there on May 16th. I am proud to have been accepted!

Calling All Chocolate Lovers!

My newest painting, titled "Decadence" by popular vote, is now complete. It's a different subject for me, and variety always makes the painting process interesting. My intention before starting was to do a painting to enter into an upcoming exhibition, and this necessitates something bold. When a juror stands in the center of a room with over a hundred paintings surrounding him/her, a painting needs to really stand out to make it through the initial cut. Of course, from there it gets down to being individually judged for creativity, use of the media, technical mastery, etc., so those are all elements I tried to incorporate. I wonder if I'd do better with a female juror for this painting of chocolates?!?!

I was inspired years ago by artists who do enlarged views of common objects, like the flower paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe. I remember seeing some enlarged candy by another artist, and it really caught my eye. About 3 years ago, I thought of doing the same with chocolates, the kind which come in a heart at Valentine's Day. I bought a little sampler box, but what was inside didn't look like what I was picturing in my mind - a molded plastic holder with the chocolates sitting in their designated spaces. I wanted the ones in little pleated cups! One day I noticed a Russell Stover store and went inside. They had many many choices of boxed chocolates, and you could see a sample of what was inside each box. I found just what I wanted, with interesting variation of designs, shapes, and colors... and in foil paper cup wrappers. Once back home, I took the chocolates and put them on a silver platter, being selective about the arrangement from a design point of view. Then I moved it around to check different lighting and photographed this little still life. Then I ate the chocolates [tough job, but someone had to do it!]. The photos went into my large digital file folder of references and stayed there until I was perusing for ideas about two months ago.

It was great fun to paint these sweets, and it was a new challenge to create so many shades of brown! I tried to capture the glossiness of the chocolates as well as the reflectiveness of the foil cups and the silver tray. I promise you won't get fat looking at the painting - unless it makes you hungry to go eat some chocolates!

Trying Gessoed Paper for a New Effect

I made a resolution to experiment with my art techniques, and here's my first exploration. It's a technique I learned years ago using watercolors, but I've applied it to acrylics (which I often use much like watercolors, but they react differently). It starts with a sheet of watercolor paper which I coat with a layer of gesso. Gesso resembles white paint but it creates a harder surface and blocks the normal absorbency of the paper so paints applied on top when the gesso is dry will sit on the surface. The concept is that after you paint on the gessoed paper and the paint dries you can remove the paint by rewetting it and blotting or wiping it off. I wasn't sure if this would work with acrylics, because they are much more permanent when dry than watercolor pigments. I found it worked with the acrylics as well as it had with watercolor paints.

So after trying this on a swatch of paper, I decided to play and make a painting. My inspiration had come during a walk on one of the trails through our woods, on a winter day when we were in the clouds. The scene was very muted in greys and browns. I liked the way the hundreds of trees were silhoetted and fading away into the fog. I went back a few days later, when the air was more clear and took the photo shown here.

I decided to paint with a limited palette of just two colors, ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. These two colors mix to a wide array of browns and greys. A limited palette can give a painting an overall unity and calmness.

I proceeded as described above and did layer after layer of trees and branches, often "erasing out" branches and leaf areas (the beech trees hang onto lovely beige leaves until spring) and had fun. Just for interest, I decided to add figures on the trail. I drew silhouettes of Rick and Ellie Mae in the size that would look right in the painting. I traced the figures onto frosted vellum and cut them out with an x-acto knife. This became a stencil; I taped it to the dry painting, took a damp tissue, and wipe from the edges in. This removed nearly all the paint from that area, giving me a clean surface in the shape of the two bodies. The top image to the right shows the taped down stencil, the bottom shows the stencil removed and the cleaned off silhouettes. You can also see on the bottom one where I used a wet brush and painted in some branch shapes to the left of the silhouettes and wiped off the paint. Hey, that was fun!

I continued with the painting in much the same manner, creating various colors from the two paints, adding more layers of trees to create a foreground, and painting in some details on the two figures.

The photo below shows how far I've gone with the painting. Not what I would consider a masterpiece, but a fun exercise. It's good to stretch my painting legs and do something different every so often!