Wednesday, July 31, 2013

New painting progression: St. Sebastian

Three of my biggest heroes in all of art history are Velázquez, Titian, and Rubens.  They all just happen to be connected because Rubens was an influence on Velázquez (and I would imagine vice versa), and Titian was an influence on both.  It makes sense when you look at the work of these three masters, and the strong, painterly Venetian technique exploited by all three. 
My latest work is inspired by these three artists, and I'm doing my best to create a painting based on some of their techniques (particularly Velázquez because he's my favorite as you well know).  The subject is the ever popular St. Sebastian, as far as old master figurative paintings go.  My version is only about halfway complete, but here is a peek at its progression:

In the preliminary underpainting, I started with a raw canvas stretched over a 32x28 frame.  I used an oil-based ground applied with a palette knife and brush.  The ground was quite stiff and had a strong tug, which created a very coarse texture that I didn't intend, but worked out great given the effects I was wanting to accomplish with brushwork, impasto, etc.  After the ground dried, I went over it with a thin, oiled out coat of burnt sienna/raw umber, giving the golden brown ground color.  I brushed in the figure as you see in this picture with raw umber.
After the first underpainting dried, I went over the figure with a limited palette of burnt sienna, raw umber, and white to create a basic color/value layer, and basically to finalize the drawing of the figure.
The next step was to add a full palette of color to the figure, which consists of:  Titanium white, lemon yellow, cadmium red, scarlet lake, alizarin crimson, sap green, ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, and raw umber.  Some areas will require more layers, particularly the face which will include some highlights and impastos.

This is the current state of the painting (as of 7/30/2013).  The figure is about 90% finished, with final details, touch-ups, and higlights to be completed soon.  I began work on the background, that started with the sky and distant landscape painted with a mix of lemon yellow, cadmium yellow, and white followed by a small layer of lapis lazuli (which didn't have the effect I wanted, so I switched to an ultramarine blue).  I am expecting a delivery in the mail of Velázquez medium and Oleogel medium from Rublev.  The Velázquez medium is an impasto medium of calcite and oil that I am looking forward to using for the final details of the figure.  In the meantime, I will be working on the rest of the landscape and background.
Stay tuned for the final painting soon, as well as an announcement for my next exhibition coming up in August.  By the way, here are some pictures from the Summit Art exhibition at UCM Warrensburg, which concludes August 9th.  Check it out!


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The glorious discipline of figurative art

I've voiced my opinion before on the tragically mediocre training in drawing and painting that one gets in a typical liberal arts university, so it goes without saying that this reality was the saddest part of my college experience.  But all things considered, with the education I did receive I would say my biggest regret was not taking a single figure drawing class.  I always had an interest in figurative and portrait drawing and painting, but I decided to stick with the bare minimum of requirements for my degree, and it just so happens that figure drawing was not a required class for my degree.  Isn't that sad?  But then again, I question how beneficial a one-semester class, only two or three times a week, would have really been.  Especially when you consider the best art academies in the world that train art students 5 days a week for an entire year just on figure drawing alone before they even get to touch a paintbrush. 
Truly, for the past few years, I have realized how much I love figurative and portrait art.  And in my own self training, I've also realized just how demanding it is... not just in execution, but also in justification.  By that, I mean simply the process of drawing or painting a figure is difficult, of course.  But also convincing others (especially non-artists) that figurative art is a valid art form.  After all, unless you commission an artist for a personal, private portrait for your home, what use is a portrait of a random person that you don't know?  And then there's the nude figure... where do I begin??

oil on canvas
24x18 inches
I'll admit, I've nevet tried to enter a painting of a nude figure in any art show before.  I honestly have no idea where such a painting would be socially acceptable, except of course a solo exhibition in a gallery somewhere.  But in juried shows such as the ones I've done mostly, it tends to be a general rule of thumb to not enter a nude painting. 
It's a tricky subject, and it's especially tricky to convince folks that it is not obscene/pornographic/whatever.  I get it.  I'm reminded of an old Beavis and Butthead episode where they go to a nude figure drawing class for the sole purpose of seeing naked chicks, and it's the best moment of their lives until they bring out a male model. 
It's funny because I've been to a number of figure drawing classes, and all of them have been a female model.  But still, there is nothing less arousing than a figure drawing class, and I know every artist out there will know what I'm talking about.  Sure, you're looking at a naked body for 3 hours, but you're looking at it as if it was a ceramic pot, or a bouquet of flowers, or some other mundane object.  I won't deny it... Artists objectify the human figure.  We have to.  That's our job as figurative artists.  We aren't looking at the nude body as a nude body, but as an organized series of shapes, forms, shadows, lights, and in the case of painting, colors.  The trick is, in the words of Michael John Angel, to "draw the pose, not the model."  But make no mistake, speaking for myself, the purpose of objectifying the human figure in this manner is not to cheapen the humanity of the model, but just the opposite - to bring honor and glory to God's greatest creation to the best of my ability.