06 August 2022


I have wanted to paint this model for some time, but it wasn't until I did a search for her under "Redhead" (I have a bunch of those) that I realized I had actually already painted her, about a year ago—a quick and somewhat crude watercolor for the annual July "30x30 Direct Watercolor" challenge. That challenge is to paint 30 paintings in 30 days that are direct to paper, that is, no underdrawing at all, just painting what you see.

Now that I have started painting with acrylics, I thought it would be fun to try her again, in the ground-as-skintone method I learned from Flo Lee, and since I had just received a shipment of thin birch boards from Dick Blick, this seemed like the time. I was inspired by the light, and by the orange sherbet-colored background from which she emerges.

I realized, in looking at the watercolor, that I didn't do a great job of catching the angle of her head tilt, so I tried to do better at that when I got to the charcoal portrait, with the result that I painted over the face a couple of times—I have as much trouble with these weird face angles as I do with architectural perspective! and even with a grid, it was tough. But I finally got one that satisfied me, and started painting.

It's weird how not painting for even a week hinders your abilities. I was at such a loss for where to start that I went back and re-watched part of Flo's lesson on LFI 2022 to remind me how she went about it. But I was soon back in the groove, and staring at all the small details, deciding which to include. I'm really happy with parts of this and, as usual, it's the parts that weren't intended that are my favorites. I planned an entirely different treatment for her tank top,
but when I put in the highlights with Naples Yellow, it felt both distinct and organic, so I went with it.

I was less sure about the varicolored background behind her—I was afraid it was too busy. But I got positive feedback from two different people to whom I showed it, so I left it. That flat colored background on the "Flo method" is the one thing that occasionally bothers me, because the foreground is so nuanced, so I decided with this one to vary it a bit.

"Basking Redhead"—charcoal and acrylics on 12x16-inch thin birch board.

29 July 2022

Surf the World

I haven't felt much like painting lately, but this week's Let's Face It 2022 lesson was with one of my favorites, Emma Petitt, and it looked like a fun one, so I jumped in. Mine didn't turn out anything like hers; I went much more realistic with my figure, but I did create a gorgeously rich substrate that was a big part of the exercise and what made this special.

The substrate was created by brayering on three different colors (in layers, allowing them to dry in between), and then going over them with stencils. The object was to create one of Emma's "beach babes," this one specifically a surf babe (finished example by Emma at right), so I found a stencil that felt like waves to me and used it liberally with beautiful Amsterdam Turquoise-Green paint.


This was really fun to create, and I was pretty happy with it. Emma and I share a love of color, and my favorite combination is orange, purple, and turquoise. There's some Payne's Grey in there, too, to give a nice dark contrast.

The next task, which I didn't photograph because you couldn't really see it, was to grid my selected reference photo (thanks to @dinoopis for that, and also to Heike Kurtenbach for bringing her to my attention) onto the canvas and do the drawing. I started at 5 a.m., did it once, got the grid too big and ran out of room for her feet, so I erased it and did it over, finishing at about 8:30. Took a break for breakfast, and then started painting.

Emma's babes are much more stylized and exaggerated, and while I did go into this meaning to do the assignment (with my own model) more or less the way she did, I ended up painting a much more realistic interpretation of the figure (although I did use her painting methods), and was so reluctant to cover my pretty background that I ended up leaving most of it as is. I darkened part of the background, and went over the rest of it with some turquoise cut with white to knock back the intensity of the pattern and put water-like swishes and swashes over the top. The colors are slightly lighter than what shows in the photo, but I couldn't get it any closer than this in Photoshop.

I was trying for the idea that she's about to stand up on a surfboard that is partially covered by water, but because her feet and hands are painted over the top of the water, it turned out looking more like she's standing in the middle of a puddle (an ocean?) on the rounded horizon of the earth! But I'm okay with that.

"Surf the World"—acrylic paints and stencils on 16x20-inch canvas.

12 July 2022

Russian resistance

My painting tonight is of Alla Gutnikova, one of four former editors of the publication DOXA, a Russian student-run journal publishing anti-war and anti-government material, currently considered one of the most active, reliable, and popular sources of information about the war in Ukraine. The four editors were put on house arrest in April 2021 for posting a three-minute video expressing support for students threatened with expulsion for participating in anti-government protests; they were sentenced this past April to two years of collective labor.

I was initially attracted to her image (in addition to her work as an editor, she also models), and then read up on her, which made me want to paint her even more. She is only 23, but is astonishingly literate and bravely outspoken; I'd like to quote her entire final speech she made at her trial, in which she both speaks from her own heart and also quotes some amazing people, but it's very long, so I'll just feature these quotes:

Tarkovsky speaks in the words of Lao Tzu:

“The most important thing is that they believe in themselves and become as helpless as children. Because weakness is great and strength is null. At birth people are supple and weak; at death, they are tough and stiff. When trees grow they are soft and flexible, and when they become dry and hard, they die. Stiffness and strength are the concomitants of death; softness and weakness express the freshness of being. Thus what has grown hard will not conquer.”

Mahmoud Darwish says:

As you prepare your breakfast, think of others
(do not forget the pigeon’s food).
As you conduct your wars, think of others
(do not forget those who seek peace).
As you pay your water bill, think of others
(those who are nursed by clouds).
As you return home, to your home, think of others
(do not forget the people of the camps).
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others
(those who have nowhere to sleep).
As you liberate yourself in metaphor, think of others
(those who have lost the right to speak).
As you think of others far away, think of yourself
(say: “If only I were a candle in the dark”).

And in her own words, "Freedom is the process by which you develop a practice for being unavailable for servitude."

If you'd like to read the entire speech, it's here.

She was even paler of complexion than I managed to preserve in this painting, but I got a little carried away with the subtleties of color in her face. My scanner cut off about a half inch at both top and bottom (it scans 9x11 and this is 12x12).

"AllaGutnikova"—gesso, stencil, and Paul Jackson watercolors on Fluid 140-lb. coldpress paper, 12x12 inches.

06 July 2022

Keep going...

Recent events have made me want to bring the political into my art again. No, that's not quite accurate—not politics but civil rights. I foolishly never thought we would have to fight some battles over again but, like many of my friends and colleagues and likeminded believers in government that actually works for people, I underestimated the one-note determination of the fascists (I will no longer call them the"right," since they never are) to burn the house down to get what they want. We should have seen it coming during the fateful confirmation hearings for the so-called Supreme Court. And those of us actually in government, with some kind of power and privilege, should have shut it down when Kavanaugh was revealed as an abuser and a drunkard and Coney-Barrett as a religious nut-job. But no one did, and here we are.

I don't know how long it will take, this time, to right these injustices. Optimists say one election cycle in which only Democrats win their races; pessimists say generations will pass. I am old enough not to expect to see too many more generations, but I am also old enough to know that things do change, eventually—the pendulum swings. So my plan is to stand up, and keep going. Join me, won't you?

"Keep Going"—gesso, acrylics, charcoal, stencils, on birch board, 14x11 inches, again in the method of Florence Lee.

23 June 2022

I can't quit you!

 I don't seem to be able to leave the Florence Lee lesson behind and move on. I am fascinated by the concept/effect of the ground as part of the picture. So I did another one.

I really struggled with her. First of all, after I drew it, smudged it, and used fixer on it, I realized that the eyes were too far apart, so I ended up having to paint over the eyes and one side of the face so I could move them inwards. I ran out of charcoal, so I did it in Stabilo All, and I should have fixed it again before painting, but I was too impatient and it was 9:00 at night and dark out on the patio where I had the spray fixative station set up, so I just went ahead, with the result that I smeared the pencil into the paint in a bunch of places that I then had to go over a few times.

Then, I couldn't find the one color of paint that I really wanted to use on this painting for the lights (Titan Mars Pale). I knew I had bought a tube a few months ago, but it wasn't in my paintbox, so I ended up mixing some pinks that were okay but not as satisfactory.

I worked on the painting for a couple of hours and decided it was done, but when I propped it up to look at it I realized that when I redrew the eyes I had placed one slightly too high, so then I had to tweak that. Since I had to fix that, I did a more thorough search and found my Titan Mars in another box of paints, so I decided to go back in and do a few more brights. Florence's paintings are so much more "painterly" than are mine—I get too obsessed with smoothing and blending, but I love her chunky placement of highlights and incomplete hair. So I tried to introduce a few more random strokes. And oh, that hand....

I'm calling her "Jungle Red," although the red of the nails didn't come out quite so bright with the damn Stabilo All pencil blended into them. Some people will recognize the reference.

"Jungle Red"—clear gesso, acrylic paints, charcoal, fixative, Stabilo All, on thin birch board, 11x14 inches.

05 June 2022

Another Florence Lee

 I wanted to do another painting in the Florence Lee "method," and today was the day. I decided I wanted to do a horizontal rather than a vertical, just to mix things up, and found this reference photo I liked a lot, that included a hand for a little extra challenge. Plus, the hand is sort of stretching the woman's face out of shape where she leans on it, so that was fun too, to relocate the features to accommodate.

I am happy with this as a painting, but not so much as an example of Florence's method. I didn't stop to think that my base color, yellow ochre, was already one of the skin tones of this woman, so it doesn't have the same radical effect leaving the base color showing that it did when the background colors were blue or green. But I do like the technique of suggesting the hair and clothing while leaving some of the background in place instead of filling them in completely, so that worked.

It's a little over-painted in the face, because I didn't leave much of the pure yellow ochre. But like I said, I'm happy with the portrait.

"Jasmine"—gesso, charcoal, fixative, acrylic paints on thin birch board, 14x11 inches.

30 May 2022

Mixed media with Joan

 This was a lesson on LFI2022 with Joan Martin. Her media was way more mixed than was mine, and her mark-making more experimental, incorporating a credit card and a chopstick! I simplified this one, and used the materials I had on hand. But it was fun to mess about.

I have to say this was one of the most challenging face angles ever, and I didn't entirely pull it off! And I even used a grid. Every once in a while there is a face that you look at, and you think you have it, and then you look back later and realize that one eye should be much higher, or the mouth is on the wrong slant, or the nose is too big, and this will definitely be one of them.

"Jocelyn"—gray-toned paper, gesso, Payne's Gray ink (and a little Prussian Blue), a Uniball pen, some Huhu markers, and a Signo white gel pen. Oh, and a dot stencil. On 9x12 Strathmore Toned Gray Mixed Media paper.