Thursday, March 26, 2015

Very interesting article from the Portrait Society of America

Very interesting article from the newsletter of the Portrait Society of America:

Portrait Society of America
March  2015

Capturing More Than A Likeness
By Michelle Dunaway 

  “Faith of a Child-Portrait of Autumn”                                “Portrait of Aurora”                                                  “Portrait of My Mother”

Recently, I’ve been pondering the idea of what constitutes a portrait in the fullest sense. There is of course the obvious, that it’s a painting of a human being, more specifically a particular person and their exact likeness. As the artists and the technicians, we are with paint, breaking down the face into a series of shapes, drawing, color harmonies and values to create a semblance of form and capture a likeness…but there is so much more.

We are painting not just a person, but a particular person at a particular time in their life…someone living and breathing, not just a series of shapes and forms but a person who is in a state of “becoming” and traversing this life. There is something fleeting and beautiful in that to me. Not only are you, as an artist, painting a transitory moment in time, but you are capturing a person experiencing that moment for the first time and imbuing the painting with your journey and attentiveness as an artist at this moment in time in your life. It is truly a wondrous thing to freeze time in such a way, that a longing glance of a subject can be turned into a series of readable shapes preserved in paint. As an artist it makes me excited just thinking about it and propels me to not only paint steadily, but to pay attention to life as it’s moving around us. 

I became very aware of this recently when painting a portrait of my mother. As I was painting her, and even in the planning stages as she visited my studio for several days, what came to mind in a personal way was not just memories and the history we share, but a quite surprising moment of realization. A new awareness of connectivity between the artist and subject, whether the subject is personally known or not. 

My mother, who I am very close to, had never been painted by her daughter before. At 76 years old, knowing everything about me very well, she and I were having a new experience together …a moment in time where she was not only having her portrait painted for the very first time, but was also being painted by her own child. I studied her face, wanting to capture her eyes, not just in form, but to capture what I always see when she looks at me, a kindness, a mother’s love, a spark of her personality as a bold and elegant creative woman. Her hands, that I have seen creating art since I was a little girl, are aged and multicolored now with veins that she was self consciousness of, but as I expressed the joy of painting them, not just the emotional aspect and memories, but from an artist perspective, she expressed to me that she began to see herself differently. I told her, “I love painting your hands and the veins especially, it was one of my favorite things to paint because of the beautiful colors and movement of form. They are so beautiful to me not just as a daughter, but as an artist.” It not only made her see the beauty in her own hands, but made me see differently as well, thinking that the next time I paint a strangers hands I will be more aware of the history that exists there. That the story that is held within the nuances of the hand are as expressive as the face in many ways…they tell a story of a life lived.
So here’s the thing I realized…every time I set out to paint a person, even though I paint all the time and have painted countless people, it is always a new experience for both the artist and the subject. This is a unique moment in time and it deserves our full attention. Every time we stand at the easel and attempt to capture someone, whether it’s someone we know well or we don't know at all, there is a connection. 

There exists a silent conversation between artist and subject that takes place in paint. This moment will never exist again…except to live on in the painting and so I want to imbue that painting, not just with a likeness, but a sense of that connection and a sense of breath and aliveness that I see in another human being. I’ve found that in the lay in stages, yes, it is necessary to think like a technician and get those shapes and drawing, creating a mosaic of color and breaking down the form into abstract shapes to create a likeness. But then, the intention needs to shift, to go beyond capturing just form and open myself up to the moment of connection and creativity with another human being so that I can be aware and see what I truly want to capture.

Usually in the finishing stages there is a tendency to want to control, to “get that thing we are after” as an artist. We desire to progress the painting into completion while simultaneously preserving earlier effects in paint and not losing the freedom and freshness of the initial brushstrokes. In the past, it is at that 3/4 of the way through that I used to get controlling with my painting and frustrated trying to “get it”. A friend once told me “We get frustrated only because 
we want to capture it so much,” which I think is true. Someone else once told me “When frustration sets in learning stops and one loses the ability to see clearly,” which is also very true!  

So now when I am approaching the finishing stages of a painting, I see I must do the opposite…it is not the time to be controlling, but to slow down and spend more time looking, more time noticing what is essential. Really taking the time to be in a space of allowing yourself to see what is important and imperative to the painting…and often even editing out details that are unnecessary to the story you are telling in paint. It is now in that last 3/4 of a painting that I open myself to connecting with the subject and really just see them, not just as an artist sees, but engage them as one human being to another. Yes, still observing with a critical eye but seeing as more than just an observer, but as a participant with them in this moment of creating. Looking for glimpses of who they are in their eyes and seeing beyond the mere shapes that make up their eyes to that place where we connect as people. I believe that to paint that sense of life and presence within the eyes we must be aware of it and connect to it in the painting session. It would be easier if it existed in a paint tube or in a particular technique, capturing that sense of life within the eyes, but it wouldn’t be as rewarding. After all, we long to paint because we are captivated with life itself and those of us who paint people are enchanted with those connections we experience with another person. It makes logical sense then that we must kindle that connection in order to paint it.  

I’m a huge fan of Sargent, he is perhaps my favorite painter of all time and all of his portraits are magnificent, but when I gazed upon the painting of his teacher Carolus Duran, in person, the eyes just mesmerized me. He captured more than just anatomy and technique, but a sense of who that man was that he knew so well. They are almost haunting in a beautiful way…I see not just what Duran looked, like but how Sargent saw him in the way he painted those eyes. It is something to aspire to in our portraiture and it is available at any time during the painting session with the model…the ability to allow the connection with another human being. To venture beyond just observing them, but to really see them and who they are, even if it’s just a glimpse. What you glean in those moments of intentional attentiveness will find its way into your painting in the most beautiful of ways, because it not only transforms the painting, but it transforms you the artist. 

As Einstein once said “The mind once opened to a new idea never returns to its original size.” Every connection we have with another human being helps us to be better artists, whether we are actively painting or not… attentiveness is an artist’s greatest tool. It is available at any moment…you may not always have your brushes with you, but your ability to observe and connect with those around you is always open to you.

Michelle Dunaway 

Friday, February 27, 2015

From the CONFERENCE INSIDER Portrait Society of America February 2015 Featuring Carol Arnold

“Beautiful Soul”
By Carol Arnold

Art is a language and you, the artist, have the power to communicate beautiful messages through your interpretation of your subjects.
My paintings are about my experiences, a self-portrait. Before I begin a painting I need to know what it is that I want to say about my subject. What attracted me to It? What is it that made me want to paint this? If I'm painting a garden, for example, I might say, "I like the flowers". Well, what is it about the flowers that I like?  I break it down into more simple terms, (color, value, drawing or edges) like "I like the bright colors" or "the soft edges of the petals against the background" or maybe, I'm not as interested in the color or edges, my interest could be in the stems and the intricate drawing of them weaving in and out of each other with the underside of the leaves and the dark brown soil.

The same applies to portraits, or anything else I want to paint. I may set up a beautiful model to paint. The first thing I need to ask myself is “What am I going to say about this model?” If I start before I know the answer to this question, I'll be just copying. I want to be excited to tell my story. Everyone has their own unique ideas about what they want to say - their “story”.  

Whatever it is, I need to make sure I figure it out, put it into words, like color, value, edges or drawing and keep it in mind throughout the painting process. I want to send a clear message to my viewers about what I want to say about what I am about to paint and I want them to be as excited as I was!

I was invited to friend and artist Kathy Anderson's house to view a group of her new paintings that were being shipped to Texas for a show she knew some of her friends couldn't attend. I packed the kids in the van and headed for Connecticut!

The studio was filled with artists and friends admiring Kathy's beautiful work. Florals and landscape paintings filled the walls. I turned the corner and gasped, (I honestly did). There was a tiny woman sitting in a chair by the window; she was completely content watching all the people talking and laughing with each other as she was enjoying her tea. She wore a heavy dark blue dress with a matching hat and scarf. There was a big blue belt with a large shiny buckle around her waist and a cross that hung from her neck. Her hands had rings and bracelets that were sure to have great stories! Out of these heavy dark clothes and shiny silver jewelry were the most delicate pink cheeks, squinty eyes and a big bright smile that lit up the room. I had to paint her! 

I talked with her daughter, artist and friend, Johanne Mangi, and arranged a time when I could paint her. Back to Connecticut I went! Mrs. Tardi needed a little coaxing but finally agreed to my painting her. I set the pose, made sure she was comfortable and started to paint. She was smiling from ear to ear! She kept saying "I feel like a movie star!"

She was so adorable, I put in my initial wash and points to show where the figure would sit on the canvas, waiting for her to fall into a more natural pose. It didn't happen. I was afraid that if I started to paint her smiling from ear to ear it would only last a few minutes. She was talking while I painted, about her late husband and her life. Her smile faded after a while and I was able to paint her features.
I knew my painting time was limited, I would only have a couple of hours with her, so I had to make sure I got the important things from life as I knew I would be finishing from a photo. She was so sweet, I fell in love with her. I took a million photos, most of them with a full smile! When I got home and eventually found the time to finish the portrait, I looked at what I had painted from life. Something wasn't right. It didn't look like what I had remembered of her or what I intended to say about her. I took out my photo reference and there it was.

When I met Mrs. Tardi in Kathy's studio, she was beaming with delight, I could see that I hadn't captured that in this painting. I painted her expression when she was talking about how much she missed her husband, thinking I would get a more natural pose. I was wrong! I missed the whole point of why I wanted to paint her (what I wanted to say)!

Text Box: “Find what inspires you and paint your story!”I became excited again, now knowing exactly what I was going to do. I was going to paint that tiny old woman shining her beautiful soul throughout the entire room! Luckily, I painted a small version of her with correct values, colors and edges and was able to use that as reference for the much larger finished portrait. The photo reference was used for the drawing. The result was exactly what I saw when I turned the corner at my friends studio. The painting was sold to her son and daughter, Joe Tardi and Johanne Mangi. My kids were sad to see it go - they said it lit up the whole studio and made them happy.  
Find what inspires you and paint your story!
"Beautiful Soul" 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

An article I found on lead white

                                                                              More about LEAD WHITE Paint

If you don’t use some form of lead white yourself you may wonder what all the fuss is about but for the painters whose use of lead white is essential to their painting this will be a difficult hurdle to overcome.
 Lead White in some form has been used by painters since antiquity prepared from metallic lead and vinegar. Lead white was the only white used in European easel paintings all the way until the 19th century when Titanium White was introduced. All the great masters used lead white and for such painters as Rembrandt, his brushwork and paint surface could only have been made with his particular manner of using of his recipe of white lead.

There are many reasons why the use of lead white is desired by many painters, most frequently people report it is because they prefer the way the paint handles and the resulting superior paint surface and texture. You can smoothly drag longer brush strokes on your canvas that will better retain the look of the paint as it was first laid down without the leveling or flattening out of the paint i.e. retains the topography of the brush stroke. Which some painters prefer in order to accentuate the animated, expressive quality of the paint surface.

Some feel lead whites are better able to work with close valued colors where there are many subtle color gradations and color interactions. Occasionally you will hear people say that you are less apt to get a chalkiness to your color compared to when using Titanium. I suspect this may have more to do with the skill of the artist in getting the right color tone but the weaker tinting strength of lead white may help make this less of a problem as you are able to more easily obtain very subtle value changes unlike titanium.

You might ask if lead white is so superior why don’t more painters use it?
 Obviously, the widely known toxicity of lead scares away many painters. Painters working in small home studios, who have children, pets or similar concerns about keeping loved ones safe of course have legitimate concerns.
 Truthfully, I’ve known many professional painters as well as part-time hobbyist painters who aren’t careful or serious enough about their use of art materials and these people are better off staying away from paints with toxic pigments.

However, when used in a rational manner with careful and routine safety precautions it is safe. After all painters have been using lead white for hundreds of years, many such as Lucien Freud, Monet, Titian and Rembrandt lived long, full lives.
Lead is most easily transferred to the human body through inhalation, so best to stay away from any lead dust or particles unless it is in a highly controlled situation where you know exactly what you are doing and use a NIOSH respirator. 

Lead dust could be formed from small particles scraped from palette or the canvas. Large amounts of dried paint on clothing is another potentially overlooked trouble spot.
Some important considerations for safety with lead paint will be obvious such as wearing Nitrile, Neoprene or latex gloves while you paint. 
Lead is not readily absorbed through the skin, but has been documented for this to be possible. Don’t smoke, eat or drink while painting, don’t sand the paint surface, use care when scraping dried paint off the canvas so that the scrapings don’t then become ground to dust underneath or otherwise get tracked or airborne. Wet mop and or Vacuum regularly around where you paint to prevent a build up of paint dust. Care with disposal of paint rags with lead paint, and paint residue from solvent jars. It isn’t just lead paint as Cadmium pigments, cobalt, etc. This all should be considered hazardous waste and treated accordingly as part of standard studio practice. Much of this is true for many pigments, not just lead paint.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Drawing, Grisaille and Ébauche
by Douglas Flynt
still life step-by-step | Douglas Flynt art, drawing grisaille ebauche
1. This finished linear drawing progressed through a block-in stage for which I used predominately straight lines. I then checked the structural integrity of my rendering of each object and rounded these straight lines into curves. To increase visual clarity, I lightly shaded many of the shadow areas, although I purposely kept the drawing devoid of any heavy shading—saving that for the painting process. I transferred this drawing to a lightly toned linen surface, where it served as a linear template for my painting.
still life step-by-step | Douglas Flynt art, drawing grisaille ebauche
2. In this detail you can see that the orientation of marks used to create the shadows often changed as I knitted together small structural planes or facets. You can also see a remnant of the cup’s central structural axis, which I drew to aid in the construction of the elliptical opening.
still life step-by-step | Douglas Flynt art, drawing grisaille ebauche
3. Here you see the completed raw umber wash-in or grisaille. For some of the lightest areas, I added white paint. This stage, which gives a sense of form and shows variances from the objects’ local values, is keyed much lighter than what the final values will be.
still life step-by-step | Douglas Flynt art, drawing grisaille ebauche
4. Here is my finished ébauche or first block-in with color. Conceptually, this stage helps me connect color with form as I imagine the objects with small structural planes or facets and identify the hue, value and chroma for each facet. This passage was done with thin paint, allowing the ground to show through to some degree. Because of the thin paint application, the values—particularly the darker ones—are still lighter than what they will be in the finished painting. I’ve repainted some areas (such as parts of the shell and the smaller cup on the left), entering into the final paint passage. Before starting this final layer, I rubbed a thin “couch” of medium onto the appropriate areas to “oil in” the surface. This allows the dry paint to accept the wet paint more easily.
still life step-by-step | Douglas Flynt art, drawing grisaille ebauche
5. This close-up shows the contrast between the ébauche—seen on the cup and background—and the final paint passage on the shell.
still life step-by-step | Douglas Flynt art, drawing grisaille ebauche
6. Because of time constraints, I was unable to finish the painting (Untitled; oil, 8×10) during the workshop. Most of the shell and the smaller cups to the right and left of the shell have received a final paint passage. The cup behind the shell, along with the background and blue cloth, are still in the ébauche stage.
still life step-by-step | Douglas Flynt art, drawing grisaille ebauche
7. This detail shows a portion of the shell and of the cup with a final passage of paint.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Painting with a Master

Beyond Skill.
As an artist one learns all the techniques to make a painting.  In this class Golucho wants the students to reach a higher level that brings them beyond skill and into the realm of understanding the emotions that make that painting speak to them and others.  He would like them to find their voice, connecting emotionally to the subject matter.  In some way he would have them understand the trigger that would connect them to their painting.  Could it be the color you choose when you view the model; her aura, that reminds you of someone you love?  Is it the Still Life setup that makes you ready to paint?

The first day is difficult; getting over travel exhaustion; adjusting to the style of teaching; the environment; getting to know the other students; where to go for lunch on and on.  Did I bring the right materials (never)!  Am I going to run over the bunnies when I leave?

Today, I met Golucho, his interpreter, Mindy, daughter, Alma, and several students. The story today is the students.  They have traveled from as far away as Chile, the East Coast, British Columbia and Kirkland.  They have jobs as artists, work at Microsoft, Atelier in Denver, one was born in Russia and works in New York.  I spoke to a woman that knows what Navy life is all about.  Several speak Spanish!
Golucho has attracted a wide range of artists to come to our little town in Langley!  We who live here know they will have a wonderful time.  Cary will feed them tomorrow night, they will drink a little wine, laugh, enjoy the view and make friends.  Welcome to this week in International Langley!
Larine (monitor) 
Golucho and Pedro
Gabriella, Barb, Elsa & Sara?

Golucho's daughter Alma and Mindy (interpreter)

 I know at least 7 languages were spoken during this seminar.

Mandy, Cary & ?
Carys warm friendly kitchen


Claudia from Whidbey
Model and students
Lorine's portfolio work


Monday, September 8, 2014

September / October blog for Whidbey Island FAS

Teresa Oaxaco will be doing a workshop at Whidbey Island Fine Art Studio in 2015.

“My work is about pleasing the eye. I paint light and the way it falls. Simple observation reveals beauty; often it is found in the unconventional. Because of this I have learned to take particular delight in unusual pairings of subject matter. Frequently my compositions are spontaneous. When a person comes to me, they occupy a space my mind. Arrangements form from there until with excitement I see and have the idea. The design is both planned and subconscious. For this reason I surround myself with Victorian and Baroque costume, bones, and other things which I find fascinating- I want subject matter to always be at hand.
My paintings are created with oil paint on canvas. I am conscious of the traditional craftsmanship I have attained in Florence. While my interest in new pigments and tools may cause minor alterations in my materials, these really remain fundamentally the same. All my evolution is taking place on the canvas and in my head; in what I see in nature and interpret in two dimensions on the picture plan. I have the fundamentals of design to work with when planning a painting. I make preparatory studies. I use multiple layers to build an illusion of light and form. When this illusion is convincing and to my taste, the painting is done.”
Teresa graduated at The Florence Academy of Art in 2010. Also was Life Drawing Instructor during that academic year.

Interview with Teresa some years ago.
Only Teresa Oaxaca could pull off this photo. She’s dolled up in  Victorian grandeur like a character that should have stolen the roles of Alice in Wonderland and Kirsten Dunst’s Claudia in Interview with the Vampire right out from under their  boring blond noses. Teresa’s sitting under a portrait of a somber girl with her hands folded praying to an unknown deity with a displaced tea set on the floor. She’s also holding a rat.
We talk to Teresa about her art, her Victorian era bodices, the Capuchin Crypt and vestigial tails.
1. What is your artistic background?
I started sculpting when I was pretty young. I had private instructors when my family moved to the Netherlands from 1996-1998. I went to school as soon as I could at the age of 17 (2005) in Florence, Italy. Everything I have accomplished so far would have been impossible without the training I received there – I am very influenced by the history of European painting, sculpture, and architecture.
2. Explain your spontaneous process.
Frequently my compositions are spontaneous. When a person comes to me, they occupy a space my mind. Arrangements form from there until with excitement I see and have the idea. The design is both planned and subconscious. Simple observation reveals beauty; often it is found in the unconventional. Because of this I have learned to take particular delight in unusual pairings of subject matter.
3. How would you define your style and its connection with your art?
The history of costume has been ever changing. I like to “cherry pick” from history, to take ideas from my travels and from books. I own a few authentic Victorian Era bodices however most of my clothes are modern reproductions or dresses inspired by past fashions. My clothing, like my painting technique, is heavily indebted to the past.
4. Tell us the inspiration and process behind one of your favorite pieces.
In “Remembrance,” Walter is the name of the skull in the painting. I bought it in Florence. When in Italy I visited the Capuchin Crypt. Since visiting this tunnel of death, it has recurred in my dreams and what was once a curiosity is an ominous memory…the small and yellowed skull, missing all but two teeth, utterly devoid of the occidentals and parietals is Walter… and like an old friend, I cannot keep it from my mind for long. Walter sits on your shelf; you dare him to make another appearance in one more painting.
5. What are your artistic stimuli?
I surround myself with Victorian and Baroque costume, bones…I ordered a few books on carousel horses and gothic art. Lately I have been interested in frame building and design. I think it is a shame that painting has distanced itself so far from architecture and sculpture to the point where it nearly becomes lumped in with photography. I like to think of modern wooden frames as “vestigial tails – leftovers from the days when a painting was made for an alter niche, and adorned with carved figures and intricate patterns of architecture.
for more details visit


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Redefining Realsime by--Allison Allison Malafronte (senior editor of American Artist)

Attempting to define realism or to clarify the various styles of representational painting can be a challenging task.  When writing about today's painters, I always hesitate to use words like "classical," "realist," "contemporary," "traditional," or "modern" because they do not always fully capture what I'm trying to describe. For example, a word like "classical" by definition refers to Greco-Roman or Renaissance ideals, but by connotation has come to mean an art form that embodies a certain timelessness and order. "Contemporary" undoubtedly means anything taking place in our time, so by that definition any painter alive is contemporary. But critically speaking, I would not call all painters today contemporary--I'm more apt to use that distinction when a painting has a more modern or conceptual feel.
The Desperate Man by Gustave Courbet, 1844-1845, oil painting, 17 3/4 x 21 5/8.
The Desperate Man by Gustave Courbet, 1844-1845, oil painting, 17 3/4 x 21 5/8.
Artists themselves have felt the confusion and in an attempt to bring clarity have adopted such labels as new realists, figurative realists, classical realists, contemporary realists, and so on. These phrases have found their meaning in a Post-Modern context, which generally defines what it is by comparing itself to what it is not. The New Realists of the early 1960s, for example, made it clear that they were not your grandmother's realists reveling in Caravaggio and Jacques Louis David but rather were trying to bring elements of representation to the Abstract Expressionist aesthetic. The Classical Realists of the early 1980s led by Richard Lack were differentiating their brand of realism from other forms of representational art of the time, even though they knew that within the context of art history "classical realism" was a contradiction in terms.
Realism can mean different things to different people and has changed meaning over time, which is another reason why it's difficult to define. Most would agree that realist painters are recognized by their choice of subject matter. Like Gustave Courbet--by most accounts considered the first Realist--or any of the Russian painters throughout history, a realist paints the real world and finds beauty and interest in everyday people, places, and things that the rest of society might find mundane. The realist is also defined by his or her technical execution, which aims for an accurate, truthful representation of the subject. The stylistic differentiation gets tricky among artists, however, because many realists who work from life do not want to be put in the same category as realists who work from photographs or in a  photorealistic manner. This confusion translates to the public, who will often comment that a painting looks like a photograph, as if that were the highest compliment one could pay an artist.
As you can see, the parameters surrounding realism are rather ambiguous. I think this is because realism is redefining itself as we speak and also because a new movement is on the horizon. I believe that movement will embody a language that is not yet in our artistic vocabulary, forcing us to find new words and a new criterion.