The next step

I have worked from the live nude periodically since the early 1970's. This blog started August 9th, 2012 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.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Drift

In previous posts I have mentioned my tendency to revert to old bad habits when painting the figure. Often it is only in hindsight that problems reveal themselves. To check this inclination I installed a long shelf on a prominent wall in the studio. On it I line up paintings as they are completed. Now I can see in real time when I start to drift off course.

Figure studies, oil on canvas or linen, September - November 2018




Friday, November 30, 2018

Step Away

Where my art is concerned I have an inclination to work through rough patches. There comes a point, however, when simply working harder trying to force results becomes counterproductive. Sometimes an afternoon at the library is a better option than a session at the easel.

Portrait Study, oil pastel, 8" X 6", 2018




Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Value

Value, the light and dark kind, is central to any work of art. The basic concepts regarding value are simple but achieving a satisfactory range and balance between lights and darks can prove complex.

Reclining Nude, oil on linen, 19" X 27", 2013



Thursday, November 8, 2018

No Substitute

Depicting the human form in any meaningful way requires working from an actual live model in a real environment. There is no surrogate capable of capturing the intensity inherent in a live figure session.


Male Nude, oil pastel, 7" X 9", 2012




Monday, October 29, 2018

Where was I?

I recently came across this drawing from six years ago. I remember it being primarily a value experiment. That it succeeds on some level is surprising considering I didn't fully understand what was happening at the time.

Standing Nude, oil pastel on toned paper
14" X 9", 2012



Saturday, October 20, 2018

Lost

After years of painting the nude in oils I have begun seeing results that approach my expectations. One might think I would feel a sense of accomplishment, maybe even of having arrived. Instead, I feel lost - utterly lost.

Nude, oil on canvas, 18" X 14", 2018



Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Body Art

I have drawn and painted scores of models over the years. Early on it was rare to see tattoos. Now body art is quite common. Surface designs add a level of complexity to rendering the figure and my default habit has been to ignore them. I am just starting to key into how important these markers can be in capturing a model's true self.


Wayne, oil pastel on toned paper, 9" X 8 1/2", 2018




Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Have At It

There is no better place than a single long pose figure session to let loose on a painting - to have at it. If things go well, great. If not, there is always the next time. A live figure environment generates palpable energy, just tap it.


Nude, oil on canvas, 12" X 14", 2018




Monday, September 24, 2018

Numbers

I started using a limited palette almost a year ago. Quickly sensing the potential of the method, I dove head first into working as many private and group figure sessions as possible. My reasoning was simple, do more paintings and get better. There is no doubt that progress can only come with practice but volume doesn't necessarily lead to improved results. A number count is far less important than intent and intensity.

Seated Nude, oil on panel mounted linen
5 1/2" X 5 1/2", 2018



Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Itty Bitty Trap

A local 6" X 6" exhibition venue plus numerous linen scraps around the studio enticed me to try my hand at small scale figurative work. The experience has been enjoyable, instructive and quite challenging. However, I'm starting to see a down side to going tiny. I find myself obsessing on small details of already itty bitty paintings. I don't want to linger here too long.

Nude Study, oil on panel mounted linen
3 1/2" X 5 ", 2018



Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Struggle

After a frustrating session with the pose below, I debated whether to rub off the wet paint and reuse the canvas. I decided to keep the image as a learning tool. While far from successful, there is a vibrancy in the failure. The struggle shows and it matters.

Nude Study, oil on canvas 9" X 11", 2018



Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Zone

I have been working in a number of different situations lately. Group and private sessions. Mornings, afternoons and evenings under natural and artificial light. There is no constant except the act of painting from the model. It is clear that the best results occur when I'm working in the "zone" (see 5/18/15 post), that place where your subconscious takes over and your brush moves with a deliberate confidence.

John, oil on canvas, 12" X 10", 2018

Getting into the zone is elusive. You can't force your way there. Sometimes you can't get there at all. The best you can do is relax and let the simple joy of putting down paint guide you in.



Friday, August 17, 2018

Sweet Reality Revisited

In an early post on this blog I talked about the benefits every day life can bestow on ones art (see 10/8/13 post). I used the term "sweet reality" to suggest that even unwelcome diversions or setbacks can prove helpful in the long run.

Seated Nude, oil pastel, 10"  X 6 1/2", 2018

Well into August I find myself heavily engrossed in the figure. Real life, however, is intruding on my artistic fervor. Faced with a busy social schedule, some persistent aches and pains and the death of a beloved family pet, my painting schedule has been disrupted. From experience I know it is better this way. Left to my own devices I tend to dive so deep that I run out of air.



Thursday, August 9, 2018

Year Five

August ninth marks the fifth anniversary of this blog. Somehow, even during a period when my main focus shifted to still life and cityscape, the figure managed to command enough of my attention to keep these posts flowing. Aside from the basic therapeutic benefit of writing, this blog's role as a timeline diary of my figurative work has proven invaluable.

Linda, oil pastel on toned paper
11" X 15", 2012



Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Let There Be Light

For some time now I have been in the process of discarding many of my less than successful early figurative oils. While multiple factors relegate these paintings to the scrap heap, a common problem is a lack of inner light. Backlit on a computer screen many of these images, like the one below, appear passable. When viewed under normal lighting conditions, they reflect only deadness.

Oil paintings need proper illumination to work, but no amount of external light can save a picture that doesn't contain an ample amount of its own.


Reclining Figure, oil on canvas, 8" X 10", 2009



Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Paradox

Excellent models offer artists an opportunity to do superior work. They also present a paradox. When confronted with a top notch model in an outstanding pose one can be gripped with a deep sense of inadequacy. I have always felt this when trying to paint a flower in full bloom. In both cases my first thought is that there is no way I can possibly do justice to the subject before me.

In these situations it is best to just start putting down brush strokes and hope that a small amount of the model's aura will make its way to the canvas.


Lise, oil on canvas, 14" X 12", 2018



Monday, July 16, 2018

The Apprentice

Early this spring I was introduced to a young artist who expressed interest in working from the live figure. Viewing her drawings it was clear she had talent. As my summer schedule was fairly open, I suggested she might be interested in an internship of some sort. Discussing the possibilities we decided "apprenticeship" would be a better designation. It didn't take me long to realize that she wasn't going to be the only apprentice. My learning curve was about to take a decided upward tilt.


Reclining Nude, oil on canvas, 8" X 10", 2018



Friday, July 6, 2018

Preaching to the Wind

By example I had hoped to entice other artists to abandon secondary source materials in favor of working from life. I might as well be advocating using smoke signals as a form of communication. Besides, I have come to realize that working exclusively from life might not be the best approach for most artists. So I'm done trying to convert anyone. I will continue to extol the inherent power of the live model.

Nude Study, oil on linen, 10" X 12", 2007


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Mixing It Up

I have frequently talked about how valuable drawing is to ones development as an artist. Deep into some figure painting projects I somehow lost track that months had passed since I last picked up a pencil. The act of drawing utilizes a different, more primitive, part of the brain. One shouldn't go too long without exercising it.

Chris, oil pastel on toned paper, 11" X 8 1/2", 2018



Saturday, June 16, 2018

When Opportunity Knocks

Occasionally, on their way to somewhere else, models offer to drop in for a figure session. These encounters are often last minute and don't allow for anything too ambitious. As practice opportunities, however, I find them difficult to pass up.

Seated Nude Study, oil on canvas, 10 1/2" X 8 1/2", 2018



Thursday, June 7, 2018

Contact

Where my figurative painting is concerned too many false positives over the years have conditioned me to remain skeptical even in the face of apparent progress. To proclaim even a small victory in a public forum would be unimaginable. So let's keep this on the QT - I think I nailed this oil study.

Shoshanna, oil on canvas, 12" X 10", 2018



Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Bearings

In early 2017 I returned to painting the figure after focusing exclusively on drawing for an extended period (see February 24, 2017 post).  I commented that it was going to take some time to regain my bearings. I never considered for a moment that over a year would pass before any tangible results would present themselves.

Male Nude Study, oil on canvas, 14" X 12", 2018



Sunday, May 20, 2018

Small Minds

Private sessions with a model are by necessity intimate occasions. They require a high degree of trust from both the model and the artist. Only the participants know the true nature of these encounters. Small minded outsiders often make uninformed critical judgments regarding these relationships. By doing so they only diminish themselves.

Back Pose, oil pastel on toned paper
8" X 6 1/2", 2018



Friday, May 11, 2018

Humility

In a recent post I said that todays figurative artists need to learn to walk again. By this I mean they must discard the crutch of secondary sources and work unaided from the live nude. This call to humility may have actually not gone far enough. Sometimes, when confronted with the subtleties of the human form, it might actually be necessary to crawl for awhile.

Nude Study, oil on panel mounted linen,
6 1/2" X 6 1/2", 2018



Thursday, May 3, 2018

Old Habits

I had some orthodontics done a couple of years ago to correct a long standing problem with my bite. I now wear a retainer at night. Without it my teeth would return to their natural positions.

We all have certain inborn tendencies. When painting my natural tendency is to work slowly and deliberately. This method can be effective with certain subjects but where the figure is concerned prosaic results are a more likely outcome. Live figurative work acts as a retainer keeping old habits at bay.

Thirty minute figure study,  oil on linen, 8" X 13", 2015 



Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A Healthy Sense of Urgency

I listened to an NPR program recently about a young woman who was taking over her family's bakery business. Her mother advised that given the time pressures and number of variables in a busy bakery one must work with a healthy sense of urgency.

A healthy sense of urgency. I can't come up with a better way to approach a figure session. Who would have thought that baking bread and pastries would share something so fundamental with live figurative work?

Sarah W., oil pastel on toned paper
12" X 7 3/4", 2018


Monday, April 16, 2018

A Reckoning

On a recent afternoon in my studio I lined up several dozen of my figurative paintings done over the last thirteen years. I would rate just a handful of these oils as moderate successes. Flesh tone issues are the main culprit for this high failure rate. Viewed collectively my nudes formed a mass of dull orange/brown flesh. Repeated attempts at new color/value combinations always lead back to the same muddy bog. Stubbornness and a closed mind led me to this point.

I have spoken often about embracing one's failures. Doing so with individual works of art is one thing but how does one react when it requires a reckoning with thirteen years of effort?

Nude Study, oil on canvas, 9" X 11", 2013



Saturday, April 7, 2018

Profiles

I remember drawing profiles of classmates in middle school. I stopped when one sitter expressed displeasure that I had included a mole on his cheek. Even then I couldn't resist drawing what I saw.

As the host of a local figure drawing group I position myself off to one side of the model stand leaving the center stage views to the other artists. My vantage point often isn't the best but frequently I am presented good profile views.


Figure Study, oil pastel on toned paper, 8 1/2" X 7", 2018



Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A New Paradigm

The best figure sessions are collaborations between an artist and a model. In private sessions I almost always dictate broad pose concepts with the model adding their own unique twist within that framework. What happens when a model is also a figurative artist with strong personal visions?

Nude Study, oil pastel on toned paper
11" X 6 1/2", 2018


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Learning to Walk

There are probably more talented realist painters working today than at any time in history. In spite of this something fundamental is wrong with the genre. Contemporary realism, while often technically impressive, has lost touch with reality. Reliance on secondary imagery as source material is largely to blame. Another culprit is artist/teachers claiming the undeserved mantle of grand master and passing limited and even misleading lessons onto unsuspecting students.

Nude, oil pastel on toned paper, 11" X 9". 2017

For realism to gain and deserve any relevance in our modern world, artists must face the humbling challenges of real subjects in real environments. They must drop delusions of grander and learn to walk again.




Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Practice

I have never quantified how frequently I need draw from the live figure to attain and then keep a sufficient level of competence. I do know that my skill level seems to rise in conjunction with the amount of effort I expend engaged with the model.

Figure Studies, oil pastel on toned paper, 8" X 12", 2018



Sunday, March 4, 2018

Working Without a Net

Early in a recent long pose figure session an artist approached the model and was given permission to take a photo of the pose. While this was happening, I was still making composition and proportion decisions. As this artist took his picture, I thought how different my state of mind would be if I had a photograph to fall back on.

All live figure sessions involve the pressure of time constraints. This urgency of the moment is an essential element in giving life to a picture. There is nothing like working without a net to stay focused on the task at hand.

Figure Study, oil pastel, 10 1/2' X 7", 2018



Thursday, February 22, 2018

Harmony

I didn't know I was looking for it until it was starring me in the face - harmony. Harmony is the overarching quality that has eluded me in regards to painting the figure. With still life and cityscapes I could more often than not achieve a cohesive whole. But depicting human flesh is another story. Embracing a limited palette has given me at least a glimpse of harmony on the canvas.

Male Nude Study, oil on canvas, 12" X 8 1/2", 2018


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Bliss of Ignorance

When I started concentrating on the figure fourteen years ago I would leap head first into ambitious projects that were well beyond my level of competence. I didn't know what I didn't know. This blissful state of ignorance led to some moderate successes but also to stacks of failed paintings.

Over the years I have accumulated some knowledge in regards to painting the human figure. But along with lessons learned comes an awareness of the difficulties and potential pitfalls. This awareness has left me hesitant to try anything more complex than short term studies. Is it possible to overcome this timidity and regain some of that early fearlessness?

Male Nude, oil pastel on toned paper, 11" X 9", 2017



Saturday, February 3, 2018

A Touch of Fever

I talked about reworking older paintings in a previous post (see 8/27/16). I seem to have the "fixes fever" again. While photographing some older works for a website update, I was confronted multiple times with defects so obvious and correctable that I couldn't ignore them. So now a half dozen more pictures have endured makeovers. I sincerely don't want to spend my time rescuing old paintings. Let's hope this fever has broken.

Seated Nude, oil on canvas, 14" X 12", 2013-2017

Much of my work is no longer in my possession. More than once I have visited someones home and spotted a painting of mine that I haven't seen in years. Viewed with fresh more educated eyes I would like nothing more than to spirit it away for a little touch up. In the long run it is a good thing that I no longer own these pictures. Mercifully, they can remain in their original imperfect state.


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Leaking Roofs

Every time I gain some new understanding regarding painting or drawing things seem to get more complicated. One would expect the opposite to occur. Solving an issue should reduce the number of unknowns. A ceiling leak in a back room of my studio may have offered some clarification (see 1/24/16 post).

Multiple attempts were made to stem the water from the outside with no success. Finally, in desperation, I devised a system to catch the water inside and funnel it outside. While not fixing the leak I could at least put away the buckets. Immediately upon accomplishing this I noticed a drip emanating from an adjacent window. This drip had been there for some time but my attention had been focused on the larger more urgent flow.


Profile, oil pastel on toned paper, 5" X 4 1/2", 2017

Conclusion: Solving one problem simply frees ones attention to contemplate the surrounding territory. This survey inevitably leads to more discoveries and questions.



Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Faint Glow


Sometimes, when I find myself in times of trouble, just a simple sketch can prove reassuring.


Warmup drawing, oil pastel, 5" X 6", 2017




Sunday, January 7, 2018

An Experiment

Having worked with a limited palette for some months now, I am becoming familiar with its range and limits. I decided to test my new found knowledge by copying a painting by the most famous practitioner of the method - Anders Zorn. Here is the result of my efforts.

After Zorn, oil on canvas, 10" X 7", 2017

Using an internet download of Zorn's In the Studio I transferred a simple line tracing to a canvas. I then proceeded to copy the painting as best I could using just black, white, red and yellow ochre. While the colors in a digital printout would be vastly different from the actual painting, the relationships of hue and value would hold. I am no Anders Zorn but this little experiment neatly shows the possibilities of a limited palette.

Anders Zorn, In the Studio, 1896