The next step

I have worked from the live nude periodically since the early 1970's. This blog started in my second year of working almost exclusively from the figure.

In the fall of 2015 I reintroduced still lifes and an occasional cityscape into my painting repertoire. Rather than abandon this figure blog or start a new one I decided to add them to the conservation.

All drawings and paintings posted on this blog were done entirely from live models or on location.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Forcing It

In the best of worlds "working" a painting involves a positive energy that flows naturally. A quiet confidence dominates the process. Such was the case with the portrait below. That's not to say problems don't materialize but solutions come readily. This is the optimal way to paint and dare I say to go through life. Of course in the real world this state of harmony can not be maintained indefinitely. Working a painting can easily devolve into "forcing" a painting.

Molly, oil on linen, 13" X 11", 2009
Collection of Neva Trenis

Forced energy is negative energy. I've started asking a couple of questions when I feel work on a painting becoming forced: 1. Is the working process satisfying or am I just going through the motions? 2. Am I learning anything new or simply repeating old mistakes in new ways? If I can answer one of these questions positively I'm inclined to continue. If not I need to put the project aside, at least temporarily, and move on.

As the year comes to an end I find myself facing a similar issue with this blog. My path ahead with the figure isn't clear. Hence my focus on these posts has muddled. I'll stay on board as long as the writing is enjoyable and topics continue to flow.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Quality Time

I won't be hiring any models this winter. My studio has some heat issues so any private sessions with the nude will have to wait until spring. Nature has presented me with what is probably a needed break from the figure. To stay occupied and focused I am working on a life sized trompe loeil oil of a shirt. What appears simple at first glance is in fact quite complex.
Shirt, day two

My brush strokes the first couple of painting sessions were confident and energetic. But as the picture progressed I found myself becoming increasingly hesitant and deliberate. Without the urgency of a live model it is easy to settle into an uninspired comfort zone. Painting in this manner can be counterproductive and actually drain energy from a work.

Shirt, week two

The spirit with which one works transfers directly into the work. A short vibrant painting session is preferable to a long half-hearted one. This is an important distinction. At 63 I am keenly aware that the energy available for any given task is finite. I no longer have the perspective or advantage of youth where time is seemingly limitless and expended vigor is readily replenished.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Burning Ember

I know an artist who gets up early every morning, writes in a journal and then works on his art before going to a full time job. He has been doing this for many years without any apparent break. I greatly admire his consistency and dedication. I, on the other hand, have extended periods when I'm "hot" that are inevitably followed by cold spells. My work seems to be inextricably linked to lifes ups and downs.

During these cool periods I can feel detached not just from my art but from life in general. I'm not sure which is the cause and which is the effect. If this goes on too long I try to work on something - anything - to keep at least a faint ember burning.

 Nude study from drawing, oil on canvas, 9" X 8", 2012

Back in 2012 during an extended slump I decided to do some oil studies. I wasn't up to any live model sessions so I used some drawings as source material. I was just trying to stay loose and keep an "edge on", practicing scales you might say. Working in this manner was very liberating. There was no time constraint with a model and absolutely no expectation of "success". Staying engaged in some way can help you be ready when, hopefully, the ember reignites.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tension

Poses involving more than a small amount of muscle tension are hard to hold. As a result, with the exception of quick gestures, most models rarely attempt them. In recent years I have been fortunate to work with some excellent models who have made tension filled poses part of their repertoires. One male model often uses a rope to support his more dynamic efforts.

Figure Study, oil pastel, 11" X 9", 2014

Another has perfected what appear to be very stressful stances. By focusing on not so obvious stress points he can hold poses like the one below for a half hour or longer. Beyond pushing the models physical limits these poses also challenge the comfort zones of the artists trying to capture them.

Figure study, oil pastel on toned paper, 9" X 10 1/2", 2014

Achieving a dynamic pose doesn't have to involve ropes and straining muscles. Just a simple twist or turn can create subtle but effective tension.

Nude Study, oil on canvas, 9" X 12", 2013


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Oil Sketch

It never occurred to me to make a distinction between an oil sketch and an oil study. There is probably no sharp line between the two. A sketch in paint would be comparable to a gesture study in drawing where marks are quick and impulsive. Turns out I have been doing sketches since I started painting the figure in oils. Some happened by accident as time ran out in a session while others were purposeful with self imposed short time limits.

Oil sketch on linen, 11" X 9", 2008

Oil sketch on canvas, 12" X 7", 2014

As with my drawings, the first minutes of even long term oil paintings start as sketches. Almost no record exists of these. Early paint strokes are quickly covered by more deliberate marks. For the image below I spent most of the session trying to find a good composition. As a result I was only able to get down some very basic brush lines before time with the models ran out. (See October 15, 2014 post)

Two figures (day one), oil on canvas, 42" X 33 1/2", 2013

I have done hundreds, maybe thousands, of pencil or ink gesture studies on paper. I've only done a few purposeful sketches in oil. I balk at the idea of dashing off a painting in less time than than it takes to prepare the surface. This is a terrible excuse for not doing more paint sketches. Practicing quick bold brush strokes for their own sake would be an excellent learning tool. I'll have to figure out a way to do more.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

It's over

My art career is over. This isn't the first time I've felt this. My wife tells me I'm prone to hyperbole and have a bad habit of seeing things in absolutes. She also says that every year around this time I go into a slump. Recently some life issues have intruded and I'm having a hard time connecting with my work. At the same time I've had to set it aside a long term painting that turned problematic. It feels like an episode of the Batman TV series … Could this really be the end of Bruce Day the painter?

Reclining Nude, oil pastel on toned paper, 8 1/2" X 11 1/2", 2014

Given the lofty high I've been on lately it's not surprising I've come down. History tells me not to be too quick to count myself out. More than likely my "winter funk" has set in a little early this year. The wisest course would be to try and keep my painting and drawing skills sharp and ride this out.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Other

My history of showing in galleries and art spaces is rife with unpleasant memories. As a result I have not exhibited outside my own studio/gallery in many years. Recently, mostly out of a desire to see my work in a fresh context, I entered and had two pictures accepted in a juried figurative show. Surrounded by thirty plus pieces by other artists my entries, a painting (pictured below) and drawing, stood out as "the other", almost another species. And I doubt this difference was perceived or even comprehensible to most artists or their audience.

Seated Nude, Oil on canvas, 30" X 25", 2013

The overwhelming majority of todays visual artists have both in method and subject matter firmly embraced the digital world. Photographic images are their substance. It is present in the DNA of their art. I have long been aware of the chasm between this work and my life based pictures but the divide is much wider than I ever imagined.

I'll continue to champion the benefits of working from the real world. My harangues are usually met with blank stares. Don Quixote probably had a better chance subduing his windmills. I'll continue to work with talking, breathing individuals in actual environments. It helps keep me whole and grounded.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Performance Anxiety

At a live figure session both model and artist are in a sense performing. The model acts as the stationary muse while the artist works to capture some essence of the moment. One might think group sessions would be the more intimidating environment. Surprisingly, not for me. With twelve artists in a room I'm less self-conscious about my work than when it's just the model and myself. The group provides a certain level of anonymity.

When starting a private session with a model I find myself confessing that I don't know what I'm doing. I'm not trying to be self-deprecating or humble. I think I'm trying to inoculate both of us to the process we are about to witnesses. As I stand in front of a blank canvas I honestly don't have a clue what is going to happen.

Academic Male Nude, oil on linen
38" X 20", 2014

No one likes to stumble in front of an audience, even an audience of one. When you are working from life sometimes the marks you put down are just wrong. As time passes I'm less inhibited about people seeing my mistakes. Painting the live figure is a journey often involving miscues and wrong turns. The challenge is to keep finding ways back to the solid path.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Self-Centered Lot

Most artists I have known over the years tend to be self-centered, many too a fault. I am as guilty as anyone. Being ego-centric about one's art is undoubtedly necessary to produce anything worthwhile. But an unwillingness to seek out and appreciate the artistic endeavors of others can be detrimental. If you don't objectively look at work outside your own sphere you can't possibly get better.

Reclining Nude, oil pastel, 6" X 9", 2012

Some artists don't even feign interest in other artists work. Most express only a fleeting curiosity before re-focusing on their own narrow world. We should keep in mind that there is intrinsic value in everyones work. Sometimes it's just the enthusiasm they bring to the act of creation but that may be the most important value of all.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Mine Field

It's happened. I've begun analyzing not just how I make pictures but why I make pictures. I suppose doing this blog it was inevitable. Dissecting my working process and painting methods has been extremely helpful. But looking too deeply into desires and motivations is a mine field.
Two Figures, oil on linen, 42" X 33 1/2", 2014

This is the largest and most complex figurative painting I've ever attempted. It's not perfect and I have some "issues" but it satisfies something in me. I left it hanging in the studio to contemplate. It started messing with my head.

I don't know from what spring the initial concept for this painting emerged. I don't know how the energy continued to flow to see the painting to completion. I do know that I don't need to quantify or justify what or why I paint. Some things are best just experienced.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Déjà Vu

I've seen this pose before. It happens every now and then. Working from the figure over a long period of time it is inevitable that one will encounter the same or very similar poses.

This is the vantage point I was presented with at a recent group session. I like foreshortened angles but this particular one was just too familiar. I got up and searched the room for a fresh point of view only to find all the "prime" locations taken. I retreated to my spot and set to work. I reasoned that no pose or situation is exactly the same so I'll try to extract the essence from this one.

Reclining Nude, oil pastel, 9" X 11", 2014

Photographing the drawing in the studio the next day I had a strong feeling of deja vu. Then I remembered a drawing that had only recently surfaced. An old friend had kept it. I probably would have tossed it years ago. It offered me a record breaking 39 year gap comparison!
Reclining Nude, graphite, 6 1/2" X 6 1/2", 1975
Collection of Arleigh Williams

It is nearly impossible for two poses to be exactly the same. There are a virtually limitless number of subtle position variations. But as these two drawings show they can come awfully close.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Painting with a Purpose

With the exception of a few "recovery" years I have been pursuing my art since college. It has always been something I just did. I think I have purposely avoided over analyzing or intellectualizing the process. Some things like art or humor or sex are best just experienced. I have always thought my strongest work comes from the heart and not the head. I was being willfully ignorant.

Nude Study, oil on canvas, 11" X 13", 2007

Working from the live figure forced me to rethink this approach. Out of a desire to get better I began breaking down the process. Analyzing ones approach and making preparations for a new project doesn't have to interfere or diminish the actual process of drawing or painting. It can in fact be very liberating.

A level of spontaneity is built into any live model session. You can't possibly account for all the fluid variables. But before you start a quick sketch or a months long oil you need to have a goal and a plan to get you there. You may toss the plan out with your first brush stroke or pencil line but at least it gives you a starting point.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Still Life Revisited

I have been concentrating on the figure for the last two plus years and have done only one "stand alone" still life painting in that time. My current project is a relatively large and complex female nude. A wooden wine crate found it's way into the picture as a prop. Its sole purpose was to raise the models leg and make the pose more dynamic. As the painting progressed it became clear the crate provided a perfect little stage on which to mount a still life.

Seated Nude (unfinished detail), oil on canvas, 2014

I began pondering subject possibilities and ended up arranging a group of objects that were already playing a role in the painting. Together they satisfied my craving for a good level of complexity and hence difficulty. Alone and relaxed in the studio I zoned in on the setup - just like old times. At this stage of my career still life is not where I want to be. But in the context of a figurative composition I'll gladly make visits.

Many of my favorite artists have included still lifes in their figurative paintings. Manet's Luncheon on the Grass has a wonderful arrangement of clothes and a scattered picnic basket dominating the lower left corner of the composition. I'm sure the naked woman juxtaposed with clothed men commands most viewers attention but what a knockout still life!
Edouard Manet, The Luncheon on the Grass, 1862-1863


Sunday, September 14, 2014

I Can't Get No Satisfaction

My last post discussed the importance of having a strong desire or hunger to make your next work of art better than the last. This is 99% a good thing. I just finished the largest and most ambitious figurative painting I've ever attempted. Work on this venture spanned an eventful eleven month period. Lo and behold I'm pleased with the result, the painting works for me. (I need a little time but expect to devote at least one future post to the picture.) The fact that I actually have something to show for my efforts is particularly gratifying. Leave it to me to find a worm in the apple.

Male Nude, oil pastel, 8 1/2" X 10 1/2", 2014

Before I had even applied the last brush strokes to the painting I found myself contemplating the next project. This is exactly the mindset that pushes one to improve. But something in me wants to stop and appreciate this apparent success, even if just for a moment. Do I dare? Will I lose my momentum? I'm perfectly capable of reveling in my failures but can I allow myself even a brief period of satisfaction?

With my last few paintings I feel like I have reached a particularly lush and flourishing mountain crest. It has been a long hard climb. I'm taking a day or two to pause and enjoy the view. We will see how it goes.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Hunger

Edgar Degas said "You must have an elevated idea ... not of what you do, but of what you can one day do; without this it is not worth the trouble working." To excel at anything you must have a strong desire or hunger to get better. It's not something you can pretend to have. I lost my hunger for still life around 2009. This happened after more than thirty years working in that genre. I hadn't by any means exhausted the possibilities but the drive to explore them faded.

Reclining Figure, oil on linen, 9" X 11", 2007
Collection of Charles Tate

There is the age old adage of the starving artist. I had a period in my life when I wasn't getting enough to eat due to lack of money. This predicament was self inflicted and in large part caused by my obsession with painting. Physical hunger is destructive and debilitating. On the other hand, a psychological hunger for exploration and learning is an uplifting and empowering force.

I haven't yet done the figurative painting or paintings that can quench my appetite. In all likelihood I won't. In a sense I don't want to - it would probably mean stopping painting altogether. But I have little fear of this happening. The human form simply offers too rich and challenging a feast.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Blind Certainty

Have you ever been certain about something? So certain that you plunge into a task not bothering to pause and question the initial premise. So certain that you are blind to any warnings of potential problems. In a sense every painting requires a certain level of myopia. If you stopped to do a realistic assessment of your chances for success you might not start.

Drapery Study with Nude, oil on linen, 26" X 30", 2004 - 2006

This is the first painting for which I hired a private model. It was 2004. The painting I envisioned was to have a prominent drapery study with a nude figure as a secondary element. I had worked the drapery to near completion before engaging the model. To say this was not a good way to approach a painting would be a gross understatement but it seemed plausible at the time. As is often the case this image looks better in reproduction. In real life the figure is disjointed and never fit naturally with the drapery. The composition is constrained and awkward.

Looking back I now see this project as a colossal overreach. I was in way past my competence level. So it joins my stack of failed canvases. I now try to approach a painting with my mind and eyes as open as possible and a constructive skepticism has replaced certainty.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Getting Away

A little over two weeks ago I went on a nine day vacation with my family. I spent the time kayaking, swimming, sunning and reading - lots of reading. No internet. No cell phone. I had no intention of doing any drawing or painting and didn't.

Upon my return I was refreshed and seemingly ready "to get back to it". Except that I wasn't. Instead of being greeted by my two paintings in progress, I was confronted with a backlog of long neglected projects. Canvases needed to be stretched and primed, business cards needed updating. Decisions needed to be made regarding a future exhibition. I even made some small corrections to a couple of "finished" drawings that had been nagging me. It has taken a full week to feel caught up.

Nude Study, oil pastel, 10" X 7", 2014

Before going on vacation I was so focused on my painting and studio issues that basic tasks had been ignored. I was oblivious to a growing list of obligations. More than likely these chores would have eventually become unmanageable.  It's important to periodically get away - to fully disengage. I returned with a fresh, clearer perspective.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Anniversary

I've decided to dedicate my one year blogging anniversary to the figure model. In particular those who have posed for me. Ten years ago when I started focusing on the figure I knew I wanted to work from life. The prospect of hiring models was both exciting and daunting. What I didn't and couldn't anticipate was how important a good working relationship would be in this equation.

Reclining Nude, oil pastel on toned paper, 9" X 11", 2012

Working with a model is a collaborative effort. Sometimes a models contribution is simply their own unique posing style. With longer term projects it can be more complex. Something about a lifestyle or personality often becomes an integral part of a work. A good figurative drawing or painting doesn't just reflect an artist's vision it must also capture some inner essence of the model.

Nude Study, oil pastel on toned paper, 9" X 12", 2013

This might also be a good time for some apologies to all who have modeled for me. For the twenty minute poses that turned into forty five minute poses. For the "just one more minute" that turned into ten. For putting up with my frustrations and ramblings. And now we can add enduring no air conditioning in a second floor studio over a Chinese restaurant - in August. (Oh and just a heads up there is no heat either). Why on earth would anyone put up with all this?  I'm grateful you have, thanks.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Past vs Present (Part Two)


After my last lengthy and less than successful attempt at a self-portrait I had no intension of doing another - at least not for a long time. Then a highly improbable series of events led me to draw the second image below. It's on cheep paper so the drawing is a bit rough but the 19 year gap comparison was irresistible.

Self-Portrait, colored pencil, 10 1/2 X 8 1/2, 1995

Self-Portrait, oil pastel, 9" X 6", 2014

Same old serious mug eh?


Friday, July 25, 2014

Learning to See

When riding a bicycle I practice an important survival technique - ride like you are invisible. Drivers can look right at you and not see you. Looking at something and seeing it are two different things.

The most valuable lesson I took from art school was learning to see. To get into the art program at California State University, Long Beach students were required to pass a portfolio review. I had been drawing since childhood so my portfolio consisted of a collection of what I thought were my best drawings. They got me into the program but it wasn't until a beginning drawing class that I realized I had been drawing without really seeing.

Male Nude Study, oil pastel, 9" X 8 1/2", 2014

The class was working from different still life setups around the room. I was dutifully drawing from one when the teacher sat down next to me with his drawing pad. I watched as he began a simple line drawing focusing on a small section of my setup. He was carefully observing shapes and angles and reproducing them on his paper. I had been doing a version of this but only an approximation. In that brief lesson a lightbulb came on for me that permanently changed the way I see things.

The teachers name was Orval Dillingham. I'm sure he is long gone. I never properly thanked him. Wish I had.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Are We Having Fun Yet?

So I'm heading out the door for a figure painting session and my wife says "have fun". I realize this is just a happy send-off but it got me thinking on the walk to the studio. With occasional exceptions I can't honestly describe painting from the live figure as being "fun". The process is just too complex and difficult, harder than any other subject I've tried. I'm afraid that in striving to produce quality figurative work a seriousness has pervaded my art.

Nooo, oil on canvas, 10" X 8", 2009
Collection of Patrick O'Conner

Painting still lifes has always been a joyful experience. Except when working from flowers or perishable items, any problems can be dealt with over relaxed extended time frames. It wouldn't be a stretch to call painting cityscapes outdoors fun. Weather and shifting light are the biggest hurdles but the work environment is open and exhilarating.

The figure is an entirely different animal. I'm humbled by what I don't know. Technical matters have always dominated my learning process. But I am slowly coming to the realization that ones working attitude also matters. The question is can I do the figurative paintings I aspire to with a lighter mood? My hunch is that I can and in fact it would be a big plus. So I'm making a conscious effort to relax and focus on the inherent joy in the process - within limits of course.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Self-Portraits (Part Three)

Re-reading a book after a number of years can be very illuminating. You bring your current perspective on life to a familiar story. This has proven to be the case with my latest self-portrait. Six years have passed since my last attempt. I am literally and figuratively in a very different place. This was the project I chose to christen my new studio. The painting looks passable reproduced here but has some serious problems in the flesh (no pun intended). I will credit this painting with giving me new insights into my current figurative work and sharply steepening my learning curve.

Self Portrait, oil on canvas, 28" X 22 3/4", 2014

I have been hiring private models for 10 years. Until starting this painting I hadn't fully realized how much pressure I feel in those sessions. Most of it stems from issues of time and money. There is always a finite amount of both. In addition work schedules have to accommodate a models availability. Using oneself as a subject alleviates all these issues. Pose selection is limited but the timing and length of sessions is totally in your control. The only cost is time and perhaps a deflated ego.

Holding still and staring at oneself in a mirror for hours gets tiring. I'm fairly certain I won't need to read this book again for quite some time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Freedom

I recently had the first model session in my new studio. The most striking difference is space. In my old studio I could only move a couple of feet in any direction. Now, after settling on a pose, I was free to move in a 180 degree arc looking for just the right working angle. It would be hard to overstate how freeing this new environment is.

Nude Study, oil on canvas, 10" X 14", 2014

Years focusing on still lifes have made me very aware of how important subtle changes can be in a pose. Anyone watching me set up a still life could easily think I was crazy. (I won't dispute this conclusion). I often spent enormous amounts of time moving elements a fraction of an inch. Shifting the light source back and forth till things were just right. Then finally moving the easel an inch or two before starting.

I have done hundreds and hundreds of drawings and paintings from the live figure over a forty plus year span. As I paced back and forth contemplating the above pose something struck me - I'll never come close to exhausting the possibilities. I could have worked from half a dozen different angles on this pose alone.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Dead or Alive

I often talk about drawings or paintings working or not working. What makes one collection of pencil lines or paint strokes successful and another not? Everyone has their own criteria. For me it is very simple. A work of art is either dead or alive. Of course there are gradations but ultimately it is that simple. This quick gesture study is as alive as any drawing I've ever done.

Female Nude, oil pastel, 5" X 4", 2011

Here is a self portrait from 1987. It isn't the best likeness but it still speaks to me even after 27 years.

Self-Portrait, ball point pen, 9" X 8", 1987

I have quite a few unfinished paintings tucked away around the studio. Many have been there for years existing in some form of suspended animation waiting to be resurrected. When I hold a mirror to them there is still evidence of a faint breath. I'm afraid it's time to admit that nearly all of them are in irreversible comas and aren't going to make it. Every now and then I try to jolt one alive like Frankenstein's monster but my success rate is close to nil.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Opportunity Cost

In December of last year I posted an image of a female nude study and commented that it had cost me half a million dollars. That single drawing didn't cost me a half million dollars but to get to the point where I could do such a drawing did. I came by this number by computing the "opportunity cost" of pursuing my art over my adult lifetime. Opportunity cost is the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. Half a million dollars is not a precise number but I think it is a conservative one and the meter is still running.

Male Nude, oil pastel, 10 1/2" X 9 1/2", 2014

During my core working years I worked three days a week at a "regular" job. I was lucky enough to have an employer that allowed this. There was always pressure to work full time but I had another agenda. Due to my part time status my income and benefits were three fifths of what they could have been. I have sold a considerable amount of art over the years but much of that income was offset by studio rent, art supplies and model costs.

I have plenty of regrets in my life. Things I wish I hadn't done or would do differently if given the chance. Pursuing art isn't one of them. I would do it again in a heartbeat. In fact I make that decision anew every day. What possible value or price would you put on a life lived in the pursuit of fulfillment?


Friday, May 30, 2014

Big Game Hunting

Surfing the internet I came across a photographers portfolio that contained dozens of black and white studio interiors taken in New York City in the 1950's. All are of male artists posed "working" from their nude female models. The men are all middle aged and the women are all relatively young and attractive. Before photography male artists often painted studio interiors of themselves with their naked models. This genre is still common. I think these pictures document some sort of male conquest.

One could argue that all nude images of women done by men are spoils for the male ego. But putting oneself in the picture takes it to another level. While I understand the motivation I'm not comfortable with the idea of the "trophy" studio picture. For me it invades a privacy I value in an artist/model relationship.

Reclining Nude, oil pastel, 7 1/4" X 10 3/4",  2011

Years ago in a thrift shop I came across a turn of the 20th century photo. I still kick myself for not buying it. It featured a young women standing naked in front of a large group of young men all dressed in suits and ties. The room interior made it obvious this was a figure model surrounded by art students. I was struck by her smile. It was confident and contemporary. The tables were turned - model standing triumphant.

Maybe someday I'll want a big game hunter shot of myself with a model. In the meantime I'm satisfied to stay behind the easel.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

High Tech/No Tech

I took the Amtrak train home after a recent Art League figure session. Walking down the isle of my car I was struck by the number of people using some sort of high tech device. Well over half of the passengers, both children and adults, were off in some technology enabled world. Most were just passing time on a long train ride but I think too much of our modern lives are removed from real life. I spent the time looking out the window and working on a crossword.

Seated Nude, oil pastel, 9" X 11", 2014

I got to talking with the model in the above drawing during a break. In addition to figure modeling she is an actress and was rehearsing for two plays as part of a local theater company. What a wonderful reality based life she has. I have had the good fortune of attending several plays in recent months. At live theater there is a direct bond between actors and audience. Same goes for figure drawing. It is gratifying that both these disciplines are surviving in the midst of our increasingly technological age.

I am convinced that "real life" experiences are becoming more important not less as technology advances. Film didn't kill live theater. Photography didn't kill drawing or painting. They survive as necessary reminders of what it means to be human.



Monday, May 12, 2014

Healing

I have long been aware of the healing power of art. I often refer to my drawing and painting as therapy. Therapy for what I'm sometimes not sure but intuitively I know it helps keep me grounded.  When doing art you go into a zone - a place in your brain that responds to exercise just like your muscles. Getting to that place is often difficult but the residual effect is usually a sense of well-being.

Our weekly drawing group recently suffered a tragedy. A members spouse died unexpectedly. We can only imagine the grief she and her family are going through but all the Monday night model draw regulars feel the loss. The hurt and sense of helplessness can seem unbearable. I've been feeling numb and disoriented. You try to keep busy but the pain keeps coming back.

Searching for some relief I turned my attention to the self portrait I have been working on for some time. I mixed my pallet and set to work. Hours later with fading light and aching legs I came back to reality. I was aware of having been completely focused the entire session and remember crying during a break. I don't know if the painting was any good but the therapy was.

Sun Flowers, oil on linen, 16" X 14", 2007

Of course there is no simple or quick resolution to loss. Only the passage of time and human interaction can bring any lasting healing. In the meantime art can be a good place to find some solace.


Monday, May 5, 2014

Perfection

Looking back at my early watercolor and drawing days I now see that I was striving for perfection. A slow buildup of layers culminating with a "perfect" image. I was never successful in this quest. No matter how long or hard I worked the finished product always came up short. When I started painting in oils and later focusing on the figure this mindset vanished. Now I would much rather a painting be dynamic and confidently executed than perfect.

Male Nude Study, oil on canvas, 8" X 10", 2008

Imperfections are of little importance in quick drawings or oil studies. The two paintings depicted here were completed during single sessions. I'm sure I could come up with a list of things wrong but I have no desire to. Both paintings possess a directness I value.

Seated Nude, oil on canvas 12" X 10", 2013

In spite of my best efforts all of my longer term paintings have flaws, sometime glaring ones. I have reached a point where I almost relish the imperfections - they add a certain level of interest. Often the energy in a work can vanish when I find myself fussing over small details.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Missing Parts

In quite a few of my figurative drawings the models are missing body parts. Not the models but the drawings. The reason for this is almost always lack of time. I vividly remember doing the seated nude below. There were just 15 minutes left in the session and I hadn't finished drawing the models braid. It was to be a main element in the drawing. She was going to cut her hair the next day. I hadn't resolved her face but there wash't time to do both. The result is a mouthless figure.

Seated Nude, oil pastel, 15 1/2" X 10 1/2", 2012

One could reasonably ask why not finish at a later time. I do work multiple session drawings but when time runs out it's over. The moment is past. Trying to recreate a setup is nearly impossible and often, as in this case, the model isn't available. Even if you could the mood is lost. The spirit in a drawing exists in its moment of execution. Past attempts to finish or rework live session drawings haven't gone well.

I began the drawing below working on the torso and knee. As the session neared the end I started drawing her mouth hoping to finish her face. Time ran out so I have what appears to be a model with blindfold.
   
Female Nude Study, oil pastel, 8 1/2" X 8 1/2", 2014

 Let's end with a cyclops nude!

Female Nude Study, oil pastel, 7" X 6 1/2", 2013

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Moving Target

I once read about a student complaining to a teacher during a figure painting class that upon returning form a break the model had moved. The teacher advised the student to "change your painting". While the finished product is stationary the process of working from life in any extended pose involves a moving target. This state of flux is a large part of what makes live sessions so compelling.

In my experience good models can hold really still for about thirty minutes - sometimes longer if the pose isn't too stressful. At some point models and artists need to take breaks. Frequent breaks are best so body parts don't get stressed. Returning to pose things are almost never the same. This is particularly pronounced in multi-day sittings. During a live session you have to be willing to make adjustments in real time.


Nude Study, (day one), oil on canvas, 11" X 10", 2013


Day two

For the above painting I was setting up my pallet when the model got in pose for a second sitting. She captured the original pose but it was obvious her head and top hand were different. She looked very natural and comfortable so rather than try to recreate the original pose I decided to paint it the new way. I can't really say the second pose is better but I like the natural slump of her chin on her hand.

Usually pose shifts aren't so dramatic but sometimes even subtle differences can necessitate making significant changes.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Self-Portraits (Part Two)

One of my favorite figurative paintings happened when I was facing a conundrum. In 2008 I had been working intermittently from the live model for about four years but felt my progress had stopped and was even moving backwards. I decided to do a repeat of a self-portrait I did in 2001. (See January 26th post) I could compare the two and perhaps get an idea what direction I was headed. I decided not to reference the first painting when setting up.

Self-Portrait, oil on linen,  18" X 15",  2008

My conclusion was that I was not being purposeful with my choices. I had been starting paintings without a destination in mind or plans to get there. I was simply going down random blind alleys. This self-portrait cleared away the clutter and put me on a clearer path.

I have said that working from the figure is an indulgence. If this is true then doing a self-portrait is a pure indulgence. Unless one is famous self-portraits have absolutely no commercial value and my guess is very few people have any interest in viewing them. I am, however, becoming acutely aware of how useful they are as a learning tool.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Checklist

Years ago a friend got his pilots license and took me on a plane ride. Before taking off he went through a detailed check list. People who fly know human beings are fallible. We are capable of overlooking even the most basic and obvious things. You may have flown thousands of hours but you always go through the list.

After a lengthy hiatus I recently returned to The Art League in Alexandria, Virginia. On Wednesdays they host an uninstructed five hour session. When the model was settled in her pose I selected a piece of paper that fit my mood and expectations. I made deliberate decisions regarding page placement of the figure. I started at the top and worked my way down. When I got to the feet later in the session I realized I was out of room. The bottom foot just fit but with no border. OK, so I miscalculated the scale - it's not the first time and won't be the last - no big deal.

Female Nude, oil pastel, 10" X 11 1/2",  2014

It wasn't until I got back to my studio and taped the drawing on the wall that I realized my oversight. The piece of paper I had chosen was a rectangle. I placed it on my drawing board horizontally. The pose obviously called for a vertical composition. Had I simply rotated the paper 90 degrees there would have been plenty of room. (Thinking back I felt "off" the entire session. I suspect my wrong way paper contributed to this sense of unease).

So now at the age of 62 I'm starting a preflight checklist. My list will consist of a series of questions: #1. What direction does the paper go?


Friday, March 28, 2014

Bodysurfing

I grew up in Southern California. As a teenager I spent a good part of my summers at the beach sunbathing, looking at girls and bodysurfing. (It's hard to imagine I ever led such a life). When bodysurfing a good deal of your time is spent treading water, waiting for the next wave. This is a pretty good metaphor for where my drawing and painting are right now. I'm treading water. I'm moving but not really going anywhere.

It would be easy to view this situation in a negative way but I'm actually in a very positive place. As I have mentioned my new studio needs work - lots of work. Problems I expected to resolve in weeks are going to take months. This is a labor of love but it is labor. As a result I'm spending the bulk of my time and energy on studio repairs. My drawing and painting have taken a back seat.

Male Nude, oil pastel, 8 1/2" X 12 1/2", 2014

In the past during times like these my inclination was to forge ahead toward some ill defined goal. I see now that I was often just flailing in the surf, exhausting myself trying to catch every little swell. Treading water is exactly what I need to be doing right now. Staying in place for awhile and assessing the scene around me. I'm waiting for the next well formed wave. It's coming - I just hope I'm ready to catch it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Making a Living


At this stage of my art career focusing on the figure is an indulgence. I have sold nudes over the years but on the hierarchy of "salable" images they are near the bottom. Let me offer a partial explanation as to how I'm able to pursue my current passion.

In the winter of 1979-80 I found myself newly single and living in an unheated garage/utility room of a row house in Washington DC. "Living" off my art sales wasn't working out so well. My urge to paint was gone. I had more important things to deal with like eating. It became necessary to take a full time job to climb out of the hole I had naively slid into. I made a vow to never get in that situation again. I would keep an income source independent of my art.

On my feet again after a couple of years my desire to paint came back. I would draw and paint evenings and weekends. Then after a couple of more years I switched to a part time job and began painting three or four days a week. This is the schedule I kept for more than twenty years. Early in this period I produced a series of trompe l'oeil still lifes.
                                         
Still Life, acrylic/oil on panel, 11 1/2" X 9 1/4", 1990 

Although difficult I have never regretted the trade-offs this arrangement made necessary. I have to feel a personal connection with my subject for things to work. Not being dependent on art sales has allowed me the freedom to choose my own projects and time-frames.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Self-Portraits (Part One)

Self-portraits, I've done a million of them. (Okay that is an exaggeration but I have done a lot). A willing, stationary, free model - what more could you ask? I seem to do fewer and fewer as the years pass. I much prefer the novelty of new faces and bodies. Over the years I have only kept the self-portraits that I think "work". I won't even guess how many attempts I've made.

The dates are vague on some of these images but I am certain of the artist.

Self-Portrait, graphite, 10" X 7 1/2", early1980's

I'm always surprised when I take my first objective look at a newly completed self-portrait. I Often appear very serious and sometimes even angry. Anger has never been an emotion I bring to drawing or painting. (Some of my models might dispute this but what they are witnessing is more frustration than anger).  I am intensely focused and this is probably what comes out in my expression.

Self-Portrait, colored pencil, 10 1/2" X 8 1/2", 1995

Self-Portrait, oil on linen, 13" X 10", Winter 1999

Below is a rare portrait where I caught a near smile. A forced smile almost always ends up looking plastic or fake. I remember catching this one fairly quickly.

Self-Portrait, red colored pencil, 5 1/2" X 4 1/2", 1980's

For a self-portrait to be successful it has to have an inner life that engages the viewer instantly. This actually applies to all art but is very obvious and direct in a portrait. It either has it or it doesn't.