Thursday, September 25, 2008

New Richard Schmid Books

I am looking forward to the release of Richard Schmid's new art books.  According to Schmid, "What I'm working on right now are three large coffee table books, about 300 pages a piece that will show step-by-step processes for my still lifes, landscapes and figurative works."*  On his website, he has already announced a 2009 release for the first of these three books, the volume dealing with his landscapes.

* American Art Collector, October 2008, p. 144.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Plein Air Monday: September 22, 2008

Today was not my day.

When I got to the location I had chosen to paint, I began setting up my easel, and found I had left my paints at home.  I remembered Richard Schmid forgetting his brushes one day, and using palette knives to complete his day's work, but I saw no way around my dilemma.  I suppose I could have tried grinding the dirt at my feet in linseed oil, but I knew that wouldn't get me far.  I packed up, and headed back for my paints.

Before I reached the edge of the field, I received a phone call which I had to take.  That ate up a lot of time.

I finally made it home, got my paints, and went back to the field.  I unpacked, and set up, again.  By this time, I was really behind schedule.

After twenty minutes of painting, two vehicles pulled up.  Sergeant Hall was nice about it when he asked me to leave, but his questions were still comical.  ("No, officer, I was not intending on stealing one of the state's cows." - Yes, that question did come up.).  I was on state property, and I was not allowed to be there.

After taking this photograph, I wiped the canvas clean.  Hopefully next time I pull this particular panel out, I'l be able to put down some real paint!

So much for painting today.

The New J.C. Leyendecker Book

I just received my copy of J.C. Leyendecker by Lawrence S. Cutler and Judy Goffman Cutler today, and though I have not yet read it, it does look really good to me.  The images are nice and clear, and many are full page.  Every Saturday Evening Post cover Leyendecker painted is printed in the book, albeit at a small size (2.25" X 3").  There are also separate biographies throughout the book profiling Leyendecker's family, friends, and models too.  Eventually, I may buy the other Leyendecker book due out in October, but it will have a difficult time competing with this unless it has larger images, all full-page, and features paintings this book somehow overlooked.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

State of the Art: SouthWest New Hampshire

My wife, children, and I just returned from a short excursion to New Hampshire.  We are considering moving to improve our family's situation, and, through a series of serendipitous events, ended up choosing Keene, New Hampshire as a possible new home.  The area was of course beautiful, but my interest was also in knowing more about the art scene there.  This is some of what I found:

We arrived just after the Annual Art in the Park Celebration ended.  The first place winner in the oil/acrylic category was Romas Brandt Kukalis.  Romas is one of my favorite fantasy illustrators, and he has lived in Keene since 1989.

There is a decent art gallery on main street Keene, The Monadnock Fine Art Gallery, which represents mostly representational art.

Keene State University has its own art museum, The Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery.

In downtown Keene is MoCo Arts (The Moving Company), established in 1991.  Originally formed as a center for dance instruction, it has expanded to include visual arts, where local artists such as Peter Granucci and Robert Seaman teach.

In nearby Dublin, there was an art colony in the late 19th century which gathered around such artists as George de Forest Brush,  Abbott Handerson Thayer, Rockwell Kent, and Frank W. Benson.

Peterborough is home to the McDowell Colony, the first artist residency of its kind in the United States.  Founded in 1907, it offers temporary room, board, and studio space for the artists accepted into the colony.  Previous residents include:  Milton Avery, Aaron Copeland, Thornton Wilder, and Leonard Bernstein.

Also in Peterborough is award-winning artist, Karin Wells, who paints portraits reminiscent of the 1700's.

Custom frame-maker, Troy Stafford, is located in Peterborough.

South of Keene, in Swanzey, is the Chrysalis Farm Art Studio & Gallery, and in Sharon is the Sharon Arts Center, where Romas will soon be teaching.

In nearby Putney, Vermont is the Village Arts of Putney, founded by local New Hampshire resident, Richard Schmid, and his wife, Nancy Guzik.  Village Arts offers regular classes weekly, and workshops with some of the nation's best artists;  the same week my family was in the area, Jeremy Lipking did a demo in Putney.   Schmid, and his group, The Putney Painters, paint there regularly.

In addition to the visual arts, there are venues for performing arts and music, like the Redfern Arts Center, The Colonial Theater, The Peterborugh Players, the Monandock Music Festival, etc.

The area also offers covered bridges, lakes, farms, waterfalls, parkland, and Mt. Monadnock, North America's most frequently climbed mountain.

If you're a plein air painter, though, you better like snowscapes.  Last winter the snow began in mid-October, and ended May 7th, with a storm almost every three days.  135 inches total!

All in all, it was very beautiful, and the arts seem alive and well!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Plein Air Sundays: September 14, 2008

This past Sunday I went out to Tewksbury Township, New Jersey to paint.  I tried this time to keep my chroma slightly more intense, but I kinda failed.  It was one of those days that I wasn't real happy with my results, but happy that I got out and painted.  

The highlight was when the local police came to me (I was only standing twenty feet off the road), and told me I was trespassing, and if they had to come back, I would need to leave (no complaint had yet been made).  I pointed to the yellow trail markers tacked to the trees, and told them I thought this was an open trail, to which they replied that it was;  providing I was on horseback.  People on foot were not welcome.  At least they shrugged when they told me the news, like they didn't understand it either.

Tewksbury, NJ  6" X 8" oil

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Climbing the Family Tree

The first paintings of Glen Orbik's that I saw were done for TSR (Dungeons & Dragons).  When I saw his work, I thought that TSR was going in a great new direction, and if I were to someday do illustrations for them, then this was the guy setting the standard I had to meet.  His work just blew me away.

Highly influenced by the late Golden Age of Illustration, and obviously by the pulp magazine art of the '50s, Orbik's work is strong, gritty, and exciting.  His style ranges from Norman Rockwell to Rafael de Soto, and whether his painting is for a pulp noir book or superhero comic, his work is gorgeous.  Orbik, along with his partner Laurel Blechman, create art which is at once contemporary and unique, while never losing its nostalgia for a time when illustrators were celebrities and icons.  He has perfected a look which gives the impression of ease and looseness, and which could only come from years of studying draftsmanship and gesture.  He is a throwback, in the best of all connotations.

It's not surprising to learn then, that Orbik's artistic geneology has a direct link back to the time period that influences him so.  Fred Fixler, founder of the California Art Institute, was Glen's teacher, and from whom Glen took over the drawing classes at that school.  Fixler, known for his movie poster illustrations, was responsible for bringing the lessons of his own teacher to the West Coast from The Art Students League in New York.  That teacher was Frank Reilly, a late Golden Age illustrator known for turning out other great illustrators through the curriculum he developed under the tutelage of Frank Vincent DuMond.  The fruits of this artistic lineage are clear:  there is a method passed down through this line that produces great art and great teachers.  Orbik himself has turned out students such as Jeremy Lipking, who now dominates the representational art field.


But this is not the end of Orbik's training.  He is also an avid follower of Andrew Loomis, and has studied Loomis' lessons diligently.  Glen and Laurel do their best to teach the lessons of Loomis from Loomis' many exceptional art books to their students at The California Art Institute.  The two also have access to Loomis' original notes as they are the proud owners of Loomis' hand-rendered 1942 dummy of Creative Illustration.  Loomis, of course, was also a student of DuMond, so again, this strong artistic lineage presents itself.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Jeremy Lipking Paints Katie Swatland

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Katie Swatland while visitng New York City (see earlier post). Not only is she a talented artist and a beautiful, poised young woman, but she is also one of the sweetest people I have ever met. She too was in the city to see fellow artist Jeremy Lipking.

When Jeremy was invited to round out his trip to the East Coast by giving a plein air demonstration in Connecticut, he asked Katie to be his model. The result was gorgeous, and I had to share it here:

Jeremy Lipking-  Katie Swatland  12X16

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Picture of "Dorian" Schell: a step-by-step-by-stumble

Thomas J. Schell is one of those wonderful rarities in the world, and, though we have known each other many years, it was only a few years ago that I finally decided to paint a portrait of him.  He is a kind man, of quick wit and brilliant intellect, who has always been a loyal friend.  I asked him to come to my studio wearing a suit, to reflect his profession as attorney, but he arrived dressed casually, which was truer to the person he is, and the person who really need to be portrayed.

Neither of us had the time to do life-sittings, so I set Tom up in a chair to get some photographs from which I could work during life's in-between moments.  While we laughed and talked and ate over-buttered popcorn, I snapped off several hundred shots.  From these photos, I cobbled a few together which showed Tom with a mischievous little smile, and which left the impression that he knew something which the viewer did not.  (Since Tom was my high school class valedictorian, a dual-major in math and philosophy at Yale, and a graduate of NYU Law, it was easy for me to keep up the "pretense" that Tom knew something I didn't!).

For my canvas, I settled on a size of 12" X 16":   don't ask me why;  it just seemed right.  I sealed a piece of unprimed linen with Gamblin PVA sizing, and then applied an acrylic gesso ground.  When this was dry, I stretched it on a set of medium-weight Best stretcher bars, and stapled it in place using nickel staples to prevent rust, which might damage the support.  (I also used copper tacks, but this was more for aesthetics, really).  Finally, I toned the canvas a warm grey using a mixture of yellow ochre and ivory black oil paint, and set it aside while I worked on the portrait drawing.

Prior to beginning this project, I was thinking a lot about Frederic, Lord Leighton.  I had seen several of his originals over the years, but it had been only recently that I had seen some of his preparatory drawings for his finished paintings.  Leighton went to great lengths in his work, drawing first the model in the nude, then doing fabric studies, then drawing the model in the fabric, and so on, before he built up enough information to do the final cartoon for his painting.  I decided that with this portrait of Tom, that I would do a full-size complete drawing, before doing the painting, to follow in Leighton's footsteps and to reap the benefits of this extra planning.

I set to work on a piece of cool grey Canson pastel paper (approximately value 5 on the Munsell value scale), using chocolate and Chinese white colored pencils made by Derwent.  The pencils were a joy; precise and non-smearing, they became a favorite of mine.  Working a few minutes here, and a few minutes there, I eventually completed the drawing, and gridded it for transfer to the canvas.

It was at this point, things fell apart.  What was I thinking?  I had spent time doing this preparatory drawing, and now I was going to draw it all over again?  Did I really need to work out any complicated composition that required the first drawing?  Had I learned more about my subject?  Why hadn't I just drawn it in paint from the beginning?

Since I had drawn the portrait at the same size of the canvas, I knew I had options which might cut out this additional labor.  I thought about using graphite transfer paper to get the image on the canvas, but I didn't want to trace over the drawing to enable the transfer.  I thought about placing tracing paper on top of the drawing first, but because of the toned paper and the subtleties of the pencil, the image was lost through the tracing paper.  I could project the image with an Artograph, but honestly, I feel they always distort the image.  Instead, I decided to appropriate a method I often used when illustrating.

When I was illustrating, I found it was most convenient for me to protect my original sketches, by painting on photocopies.  There were several reasons for this:  1).  when I redrew my images from the sketch, they often became stiffer when I established specific lines, rather than relying on the movement of the original lines which were still present in a photocopy,  2).  as I painted, I always had my original drawing to reference as I worked if I painted on a photocopy,  3).  if I screwed up big time, I could always make another photocopy, and  4).  if I preserved the original drawing, then I had another piece of original art to sell for a profit.

I got the idea from Donato Giancola, a fellow illustrator and former classmate of mine in art school.  Donato works this way on most, if not all of his work, having his sketches copied on to acid free rolls of paper before adhering them to wooden supports for painting.

I brought my drawing of Tom to Fedex Kinkos, and had copies made on an engineering copier, the kind used to reproduce building plans.  Because the machine is designed to read blueprints, it can be set to register contrast basically by setting the background tone to white.  What this accomplished for me was allowing the chocolate pencil lines to reproduce in the copy, while the gray of the paper did not register at all.  The Chinese white, of course, could not be copied, as the white of the paper was as light as the background in the copy could get.  I used the paper pre-loaded in the machine, instead of loading my own acid-free paper, because I had no concerns that this copy needed to be archival (I'll explain why in a moment).

There was no question that I was going to execute this portrait on linen:  I would not paint on a smooth photocopy.  So to transfer the drawing to the canvas at this point, I borrowed a method from William Adolphe Bouguereau.  Using a piece of tracing paper cut to the size of the canvas, I set out to create my own transfer paper.  I covered the tracing paper with raw umber oil paint and linseed oil, and let it sit for a while.  When the paper had absorbed as much oil as it could, I laid this paper, paint side down, on the toned canvas.  As long as I did not disturb the paper, not much of the paint transferred to the canvas.  Next, I laid the engineering copy of my drawing on top of my homemade transfer paper, and taped this sandwich together, so nothing could shift. 

(Here is the canvas with the transferred raw umber lines.  Using a rag soaked in turpentine, I wiped some of the tone off in the face area.)

Using a ball point pen, I traced over the lines of the engineering copy.  When I removed the paper, there was my drawing, cleanly transferred to the canvas, and in oil, no less.  I let the raw umber dry overnight, and next, I was ready to block in color.

(In the background is a standing screen made from old closet doors.  It's great for a back-drop when setting up models.  Taped to it is the original drawing of Tom, and two engineering copies of that same image.)

I laid in color over the entire figure, background, and chair, and eventually, started working more detail into sections, starting with the figure's left cheek and ear.  However, it still sits unfinished in my studio, years later, this portrait of "Dorian" Schell.

(Block-in stage)

So why the reference to Oscar Wilde's classic story?  Does the portrait in my studio appear to be that of an older man while Tom remains young?  Does Tom commit all sorts of evil deeds (he is a lawyer, after all), which mar the portrait I began of him, while he remains the same?  Is it a magic portrait?  Well, yes, in a sense it is magic, just like all painted portraits.

As a society, we have all grown accustomed to photographs of ourselves, but a painted portrait is something different.  It is designed for posterity.  It will be how we are remembered by our progeny.  

Perhaps it was the idea that my portrait of Tom would outlast him, but at the same time I commenced this portrait, he decided to improve himself.  He began eating better and exercising, and lost more than thirty pounds.  He purchased new glasses, and went out and bought a new wardrobe.  He redefined his outward appearance, but my portrait stayed the same.

(Tom Schell, unfinished)

Tom and I joke together now that the painting must remain unfinished.  He is a new man, while the old him sits in my studio, smirking at me, always knowing some secret I'll never figure out.  If I were to complete the portrait, would the person I know revert to his old self?  Who knows, but I am glad to say that the true Tom, the inner Tom whom I've known now for nearly three decades, remains the same, in person and in paint, and I'm happy to call him friend.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Judgement of Paris

I recently finished The Judgement of Paris:  The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism by Ross King.  It is the tale of two artists, Édouard Manet and Jean-Louis-Ernest Meisssonier, who were at opposite sides of the art movements in mid-19th Century France.  King tells the story, in an entertaining manner, of the fall of Meissonier and his highly detailed, history and genre paintings, and of the rise of Impressionism.

I don't care for Manet, but I did enjoy the descriptions of his life and those of his contemporaries, and how the politics of the day affected their artistic careers. Unfortunately for Manet, his success did not parallel that of the Impressionists, but came after his death.  Today, he is extremely well-known and admired, while in his own time, his work was often reviled.

Meissonier, on the other hand, I do like.  His painting, The Battle of Friedland, 1807, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is one of my favorite destinations within that institution.  I especially enjoyed hearing about the lengths he went to to create models and full-scale scenes from which to paint, and about his eccentricities as a celebrity/artist.  How sad it is that so few people now know his work, and the savagery with which his work was attacked after his death.

I purchased the book as an audio recording on CD.  It was on AbeBooks, new, for a $1.00, and I listened to the narration while painting outdoors.  Especially at that price, I highly recommend it.

Plein Air Monday

This week I went out to Bedminster, NJ, and painted a field near Trump's National Golf Club (John DeLorean's old estate).  It is not too far from Governor Tom Kean's home, the Forbes' Estates, and Governor Christie Whitman's property.  This beautiful horse country has a certain feel of age to it, and offers many places to paint en plein air.