17 May 2024

Mixed media muddle

I haven't been doing many of the Let's Face It 2024 assignments; I have to pace myself with the painting these days, and if I have an idea of mine that I want to carry out, I do that instead of someone else's. But I love Maria Pace-Wynters's work, and wanted to try her crazy mixed media portrait for myself, so even though I'm a couple of weeks late, I sat down today and applied myself.

It was difficult for me on several levels. First of all, I've never been a person to use things like collage or pens or pastels creatively and, as I have mentioned before, I draw for the sake of starting a painting, not because I love it. Maria loves to draw, and you can see it in all the tiny details she incorporates into her pieces. She also loves to layer and layer and layer, with paint, ink, pastels, pens, you name it, and I didn't have more than half of the things she was using, so I had to compensate with other stuff. 

I ended up with something that I didn't hate, but I don't love it either. Some parts stand out too much and others not enough, and my collage choices are clumsy and don't necessarily work (either materials or colors). And not having the right media meant that I ended up with a muddier result. It was fun (and challenging and frustrating) to try something different, and if I did this about 10 more times I might make something I really liked! But...I doubt that I will. Still, I'm glad I did this one.

She's called Hannah, because I used the face (though nothing else) from a woman named Hannah in my "Dull Women" Facebook group.

"Hannah"—acrylic inks, watercolors, acrylic paints, Uniball pen, Posca pen, gold metallic medium, Signo gel pen, colored pencils, and paper collage pieces, on 140-lb. Fluid coldpress paper, 9x12 inches.

02 May 2024

El Naddaha

El Naddaha, "the caller," is a siren that haunts the Nile in Egypt. She is described as a tall, slender, beautiful woman with white—some say transparent—skin and long flowing hair. She calls to a man by his name in her soft, sweet, hypnotic voice, and lures him to his doom in the river. No man called by her can resist, and none survive their encounter.

I found a reference photo I loved for both its color and ambiance and also its interesting angle/perspective, and have been wanting to paint this for awhile, as a sort of companion piece to my "Nereid" portrait. Both the mood and the story are a bit darker than that one; I used similar colors for the background, but layered them more richly and did a finishing glaze of thin lime green to unite the entire picture—background, hair, and skin—to maximize the impression that she is submerged in water except for her face. This was one of those backgrounds that I was initially loathe to paint over, because I really liked how it turned out; but you have to sacrifice one thing sometimes to achieve another.

I'm not entirely satisfied with the white parts around her neck and chest that are supposed to signify a slight disturbance in the light on the water, but after reworking them several times, I decided to let them be. Perhaps I will revisit in a few days, when I can look at it more objectively.

When I initially saw the photo I thought of Ophelia of Shakespeare fame, but didn't like the passive nature of her story, so I looked for another with which to identify my portrait and found the ominous Egyptian legend recounted above.

The "Caller" is acrylic, with layered stencils for the background, on thin birch board, and is 16x12 inches.

05 April 2024

LFI assignment...

As usual, that's a "sort of." The painting was supposed to be done in oils, but I don't use that medium. So I decided to do a watercolor. The assignment was someone looking down and slightly to the side, so, in other words, a more difficult pose. The teacher did a self portrait, but I had been watching a charming movie (Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School) on Prime, and was fascinated with the facial expressions of the actor Robert Carlyle. (You might know him better from The Full Monty, way back when.) So I switched from watching it on my TV to viewing it online so I could take a series of screenshots of him in various attitudes, and I managed to capture this one of him looking down in approximately the attitude we were supposed to capture for our assignment.

This is vastly overworked, and the colors are more intense than perhaps they should be in some areas, but I really tried to capture the shapes of the shadows and highlights rather than focusing specifically on the face itself. I don't know that I caught it, but I gave it my best shot.

"Frank" (the character's name)—pencil and watercolor on 140-lb. Fluid coldpress watercolor paper, 9x12 inches.

31 March 2024

Beautiful substrates

The definition of a substrate in art is "a foundational or base material on which another material is applied or mounted." But the definition in biology is what I like to think of when creating one: "The surface or material on or from which an organism lives, grows, or obtains its nourishment." In other words, applying that one to art means that your figure in the forefront is growing organically from out of its background.

My mentor for creating substrates was and probably always will be Emma Petitt. She is the one who taught me to use a roller to apply random strokes of a variety of color to my ground, allowing them to cover, reveal, or blend with one another to create something special; and then, over the top of that (which can be plenty all by itself) I also discovered the joys of applying stencil images to highlight colors, shapes, and styles in service of the image I intend to paint over them.

I haven't done one of these in a while, being content instead to use more stark, one-color grounds in order to focus all the attention on the figure. But in some cases the rich background "grows" the figure from within it, and I'm hoping that's the impression this portrait ends up giving.

I call it "Nereid," which in Greek mythology is a kind of nymph, a female spirit of sea waters. In this one she has just burst from the water and is shaking her head, scattering drops everywhere as she sheds the excess.

I had some tough decisions to make on this one. I am not experienced in painting water, so although I initially considered painting a pool around the lower part of her, I was sufficiently in love with my substrate in order not to want to mess it up with something that might not look as realistic as I would have liked; I will practice that on some other painting without as much invested. I also couldn't decide, initially, whether I should paint her in much paler shades of white and cream with bluish/greenish highlights, like a fish that emerged from the deep. But I ultimately decided that nereids probably spend a bit of time in shallow waters or preening on rocks like the Little Mermaid, so I kept her in mostly realistic tones.

The light was interesting in this one, because it was sort of top down from right to left, so she has highlights and darks on both sides of her body. The perspective was also a challenge, with that upturned chin and nose, hidden forehead, and weirdly angled ear. Finally, I think i reworked that hand about five times, having trouble getting all the fingers the correct lengths and shapes and applying the highlights correctly. But I'm done...I think!

"Nereid"—pencil, acrylics, and stenciling on thin birch board, 12x16 inches.

11 March 2024

More in the theme

Continuing very loosely with the same theme (goddesses? mythological characters? yeah, something like that), and with the same size and medium, I did go outside the color palette on this one, although there is still a tiny bit of each of the colors (Cobalt Orchid, Light Ultramarine, Red Oxide) in this one. But my primary objective was to use this beautiful and subtle Titan Green Pale from Golden Acrylics as a background for a goddess of equally subtle coloring: Ngame, the West African moon goddess. Ngame created the heavenly bodies and brought life and soul into every living thing with her beams. She is known as the White Goddess, according to Robert Graves, and is also considered a muse, a patroness of creative inspiration, so it seemed appropriate to make a painting of her!

As my model I chose someone I have painted once before, the beautiful Diandra Forrest. I first cast her (in watercolor with an acrylic background) as Akata Witch from Nnedi Okorafor's book, back in 2022, but for that painting I used a much younger reference photo (the character in the book is 14). But for Ngame I chose a mature photo, although I still went with the free-flowing shock of hair rather than the short cut or the long braids she sometimes wears.

I started out uniformly pale and then integrated subtle bits of all the colors, one by one, into the painting. As an albino person Diandra's skin tone is a very particular tint: It's not pink, not olive, but rather a distinctive shade of creamy white, with underlying green, blue, and lavender tones, and the shadows look brown, rather than gray. It's both fun and challenging to paint.

I enjoyed playing with a new tool to get her hair just right: I had ordered some plastic scrapers meant to be used with Gelli plates that one of my Let's Face It teachers had recommended for making stripes or patterns in oil paint, and I used one of them to "scumble" the colors together and put some texture into her soft cloud of hair.

The green is an unusual color to use for background when depicting a moon goddess in front of the full moon (one automatically thinks black, deep blue, gray, or sunset colors), but there is that moment just before dusk when the sky isn't quite blue or gray when you might see this shade in it, and I decided it was okay to accentuate that a bit. I did try glazing over it with light ultramarine, but it didn't really work, so I wiped off most of it, just leaving some to be the darker shadows on the surface of the moon.

I thought about adding some gold medium onto the moon, like I did in my last few portraits (as halos), but decided it would take away from the primary focus (Ngame), so I left it off.

"Ngame"—acrylics on thin birch board, 12x16 inches.

(Note: My scanner cut off a bit of the top left corner and also a tiny strip of her shoulder on the right—the original doesn't have the moon falling off the page up there quite as much, and also shows more of her arm. I have to do these in two pieces and put them together in Photoshop Elements, since my scanner bed is 9x12 and these are 12x16.)

03 March 2024

Sort of a theme?

I continued this week with using the same color palette and with exploring mythological themes for a new painting. I had a vague recollection of reading one worldview in which the Moon is a Triple Goddess, with the waxing (growing) moon being the maiden, the full moon as the mother, and the waning moon representing the crone. Although I wasn't entirely comfortable with the symbology—are middle-aged women only worthwhile if they are mothers? and are crones really "waning" or diminished in some way? I think not. Nevertheless, the idea, preoccupied as I was last week by the maiden portrait of Proserpine, stuck in my head, and then I came across a reference photo that seemed like a cross between a goddess and a saint, subject of the portrait I painted before that one (Saint Side-Eye), so I decided I could take this vague legend and make something fun from it, even if I disagreed with its characterizations.

The result is this woman in the full flush of the middle of her life, cheerfully giving a blessing. I dressed her in the red oxide color I've been using, thinking of a Blood Moon, and gave her a necklace that harks back to an early witchy symbol for the three-part goddess. And then, just for fun, I also gave her a halo of sorts. (I thought about hanging a blood moon in the upper left corner, but finally decided it was too literal, and maybe also overkill. But...?)

The painting went smoothly until I got to the decorative bits. I did an undercoat of the red oxide on the necklace before putting on the gold metallic acrylic medium, because in the painting of Saint Side-Eye I liked the effect of the red peering through the gold, and I thought it would go nicely with her dress; but for some reason it was harder to get the gold to cover the red here. It also looked flat, which was perfect for the saint's halo but not for a necklace, so I ended up giving it some highlights and dark edges with regular paint.

I didn't want to undercoat the halo red first, because it would be too stark against the light ultramarine background, so I went in directly with the gold paint over the blue, but it didn't work at all. Then I decided to put a film of white paint over it, but that just killed the glow. So I coated it again with the gold over the white, but that was splotchy and looked like she had made herself a homemade halo out of a paper plate or something. So I went back in with the blue background color and, instead of an unbroken perfect halo, I did a sort of "rays" effect with alternating blue and gold, so that it became an extension of her blond hair. I'm not completely happy with it, but I think it works okay.

The only other element with which I had a problem was her gaze. In the reference photo it is a direct look at the viewer, but no matter how conscientiously I tried to duplicate it, I couldn't get her to look at me! I have noted this problem before, and still haven't figured it out. I would have liked the portrait much better if I could have achieved it here, though, as she had such a friendly, cheerful, intimate glance.

This is "Selene"—acrylics and gold medium on thin birch board, 12x16 inches.

13 February 2024

Old medium, new technique

Lat week's LFI2024 lesson was with watercolorist Unyime Edet, and it was an adventure in using a familiar medium in an unfamiliar manner. First and foremost, he paints with a flat brush, which I have never done in watercolor—the general approved method for watercolor is round, with a point. Second, he paints the darks first, layering up to the light instead of starting light and adding in the darks in layers. It's challenging to save the whites when you work like this, but it also gives dramatic contrasts. I also liked that he noted the actual colors you use don't matter, it's more about capturing the values, dark to light. I follosed his lead in using a deep purple for the darks, and I think it worked well.

The reference photo he used for the lesson didn't appeal to me that much, so I decided to be my usual impudent self and paint the teacher instead. This is my rendition of Unyime, using his flat-brush technique and starting with the darkest darks on the left side of his face. I lost some of the whites and lights I wanted to save, but overall I was surprised at how effective it can be to paint with a flat brush, defining planes rather than blending. I didn't do his technique justice, but I made a start on it, and his was a fun image to capture.

"Unyime"—pencil and watercolor on coldpress watercolor paper, 9x12 inches.