Painting People

 

I don’t know about you, but I find painting images of people scary and intimidating.  One wrong stroke and whoever you were trying to represent is instead someone no one can recognize.  It could be the smirk in a smile.  An eye being 1/16″ of an inch off… you name it, it’s hard.

As an artist trying to sell work, here’s another dilemma.  No one wants pictures of your kids, aunts or even your dog!  They are highly personal.  I hate to say it, but with images of people who someone doesn’t know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  There’s a good chance you think you have the most beautiful grandchild in the world.  But that can’t be, because the woman right next to you has the most beautiful grandchild in the world.  You catch my drift?

So in my watercolor class I wanted to address adding people to a painting.  However, I wanted to add the “essence” of people without getting too specific.  Here in RI, we are also very familiar with the beach. So why not do an impressionistic painting of people on the beach?

Before each class, I scour the internet finding more than one way to do a painting technique.  I know how I would do it, but is there another way?  A better way?  I came across this tutorial and fell in love with the technique.  If you are at all interested in painting people, give this a view:

Here’s another thing.  If I have learned anything about painting, it’s that there are tricks to everything.  And I want to know what they are!  When you have 50 people in an image, it would take a month to draw each person to scale like in the diagram above.  The diagram above is how a masterpiece should be created, but a quick watercolor study?  There has to be an easier way…

I found this tutorial and I love its simple concept (click on the image above).

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In an impressionistic image, you can create a human by first creating a rectangle for the torso and then making a carrot shape for the legs.  A head of course is round, but either way it works!

In my class, we sketched some quick human figures and then got to painting.  The video tutorial I included above teaches how to create human figures using blue watercolor paint that you drop human skin tones into. So you in essence start with a blue man.  We worked on all spectra of skin color, how to add clothing and how to allow the drops of pigment to bleed together giving you simply the “impression” of a person.  While all of this is happening, the blue paint that you begin with, gets pushed to the exterior of the figure.  Can you see the essence of blue as a halo around the figure?  It makes for a more colorful and in-depth image.

I’m not going to lie, painting people is just as difficult as I thought it would be.  But that’s all the more reason to push through the fear and give it a try.  I’m the teacher, and I learned a lot!  I am going to continue practicing.  and maybe next time, I won’t be so afraid to put a person in my painting (and maybe my pet in hope that no one is noticing ;)

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Teaching Atmospheric Perspective

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Did you know that mountains look grayish-purple in the far distance?  Do you know why? 

I always knew to paint the objects in the far distance lighter and more purple/gray, but I don’t know that I ever invested in finding out the why.  For my painting class, I scoured the internet and figured it out.

On a cloudy day, objects far away simply look lighter.  This is because of all of the natural gasses and pollution in the atmosphere. However, on a sunny day with blue skies, the objects far away do indeed have a purplish cast.  This is because the blue sky is actually reflected in the atmosphere and smog.  Who knew?

So as a painter, keep this in mind:  If your landscape is cloudy just make the distance lighter in value, but if there are blue skies in your landscape, make the scenery far away purplish and lighter.

Here’s the tutorials I dug up from the web to give to my students:

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Here are the two demos from the project we did in class:

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When working with watercolor, there is no white paint.  You simply do not paint where you want something white.  You use the white of the paper.  This image with the mountains lighter in the distance as well as fog rolling through the hills is a wonderful opportunity to figure out how to use the white of your paper.  The trick is a ton of water.  You apply to the paper clean water and then you ever so slightly add some pigment and let it bleed through the area.  If you put paint on one side of the water-soaked area it will be dark on that side, but on the opposite side, the plain water side, it will still be mostly white paper and water.  This creates an ombre effect.  A graduation from dark to light.  There are so many instances to use this in watercolor.  It’s agreat thing to know how to do.

When your out on the highway looking at a large expanse of land, check it out for yourself.  The rule should hold true!

Water Color Teacher

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Did I mention I have been teaching adult art classes?

This is new to me.  I have taught art to kids for over twenty years, but adults,  I always kind of shied away from.

The painting teacher at my local guild was retiring after twenty years and they needed someone to take over.  Now seemed like as good a time as any.

This past semester I taught a beginners watercolor class in the evening and an Intermediate all-media painting class Thursday mornings.

It was a bit scary because I had to fill someone else’s shoes. But I am slowly making my way and trying to figure out how to best serve this community.

In the next couple days I will share some of our class lessons.

The class sessions are only two hours.  This means we can’t spend the class drawing, because the point of the class is painting.  So I provide basic break-downs of the shapes of the images. This way we can get right down to it.

The flower shapes here, provide a great opportunity for practicing shadow and depth.  You really have to load the color in to create the illusion.

My lessons on watercolor focus on using tons of water to allow the pigments to bleed together (wet-on-wet technique).  The rest of the time you are lifting paint out to make things lighter and translucent while simultaneously adding more pigment to other areas to darken them.  It’s a dance between adding and removing paint.

Thus far, I have found a few differences between adult and kid students.  Kids just dive in with no concerns, while adults tend to be afraid of two things:  Using too much water and using too much paint.  The water is easy, it’s a fear of losing control.  As adults we cannot predict where that water will go and what it will do which is scary.  The paint on the other hand, is maybe a money thing?  Us adults pay for these expensive high quality paints.  Kids could care less how the paint got there and who paid for it.  I find a lot of adults afraid to really load up their brushes and use a lot of paint.   Where one would want to use a smudge of paint the size of a quarter, some will use the size of a popcorn kernel!  It cracks me up.  I can remember these similar sensations.  It’s hard to be an adult.  We work so hard to not screw up all day, that trying something new can be hard.  Failed experiments can simply feel like a fail, yet it’s the only way to learn.   So this will be my focus.  Loosening people up and helping them to see failed attempts as experiments, not failed works of art.  This will be good for me, because even though I have been painting longer than many. I too am super afraid of failure.  I think showing I am not perfect and am constantly still learning myself is a good thing to share.

I have been researching a different topic for each week.  That usually entails scouring books and web pages for theories.  Boy, there really are all different ways to reach the same conclusion.  I find my own practices have been different from other painters.  This has been great.  I am obtaining a tremendous amount of knowledge on painting simply for myself.  I can now say “here are three different ways of tackling this problem” as opposed to only having “this is what I would do”.  So I am trying new things myself.  New applications keep me young and fresh and excited to continue painting. I’ll pass on some of what I’ve learned in up coming posts.

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I do demos during the classes.  So I have been coming out with two paintings of the same subject.  I thought I’d share, because they never come out the same twice.  That’s the human aspect of art.  The best part.  Being human.

OK.  I have to run… this week we will be learning glazing techniques while painting images of roosters.

  I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Trying Something New

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This summer I created a lesson plan for my kids art camp which featured wax resist.  Here’s a reminder of the project we did:

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We applied very heavy crayon, folding and creasing of  paper and acrylic paint to fill in the creases.  I was truly in love with the finished product.  It has stuck with me for the past couple months.  For the camp, we used cheap Crayola crayons and construction paper, but what if I could find a high-quality light-fast product to replace the school crayons?  What if I could use a high quality paper?  Could I make artwork using this technique that could be considered legit?

I have had a couple failed attempts.  There is a product called Carandache Neo Color II wax crayons.  They apply like a classic crayon, but guess what?  They are water soluble. So, when I applied a wash of acrylic paint, instead of resisting the paint, it absorbed and turned my image into a massive mud pool.

I obviously needed to think about this concept a little more….

Here are some of the products I eventually came up with:crayons

These Stockmar crayons are from Germany and are pure beeswax.

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Faber Castell also has a high-quality beeswax crayon.

Neo 1

and thirdly, I found Carandache NeoColor 1 crayons.  Above, I mentioned  the Neocolor II crayons being a personal disaster for this project (they are like runny watercolor sticks). But, the Neocolor 1 are full wax resist crayons. So the NeoColor 1 is going to give me the water resistance I am looking for.

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This is what my image looked like when it was only crayon.

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This is what it looked like after I folded, creased and distressed the paper.  Plus I added a wash of acrylic paint to get into all those creases.

I love how it looks weathered.  It also tones down the brightness of the colors. Up close it is soft like a piece of antique waxed furniture.  The only down-side is working with the crayons.  They are so clumsy and do not have a fine point.  Do any of you artists out there have any recommendations for a high quality wax resist product with a finer tip?  Oil pastels are no good because they smudge.  Whatever I use, needs to stay in place and repel water.  If you think of anything, that would make my day!

So, this was my first sample/experiment with the technique.  I have made a few more artworks as well.  They are in a sort of naive folk style.  I am not sure if they come off like folk art or simple child’s play.  They are challenging and anything but, but I still have to make sure they look sophisticated enough to be taken seriously.  I will add a few to show you and I would welcome your critique on what improvements I could make.

 Yep. pretty much, I am right back at it. Wondering what the hell I’m doing? thinking… I need to just hunker down….  Paint some traditional landscapes… maybe some happy little still lives…  But instead I am going off the rails again into weird-town.  As usual I am not making a good living because I am constantly experimenting and not focusing, I’m not honing my skills into a  specialty.  When do I cut myself off and tell myself to get a “real” job???

I know, I know….. but I just have to try it out …. just one more thing… one more idea… one more concept… 

  ….just one more!  I promise… Then. Then , after that I will try to grow up and be a little more dependable and predictable…

Here’s to another year of art making :)

 

 

Getting Ready for Pottery

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I recently made over 75 new pottery stamps.  They are just leaving the kiln now and are ready for me to play with.

This past spring, I felt a tremendous gratification from the pottery pieces that bared my own designs.  They felt really personal.  Taking what I learned from then, I have a better idea of what I want now. This time I created a lot more stamps of larger leaves and petals, insects and butterflies as well as a bunch of different kinds of fish.

I look forward to creating my very own wonderlands!

Remember Me?

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Do you remember me?

Last, I was working on this painting.  That was June 20th.  The last day of school for my kids.

Guess what?

That painting is sitting exactly where I left it on June 20th.  Maybe, just maybe I will get to finish it now that the kids are back in school!

So much happened over the summer that I didn’t have the opportunity to blog.  My last post was dated August 2nd!  Subsequent to that post, I taught 3 weeks of pottery camp and then marched right into teaching adult painting classes this fall.  I feel like the universe is spinning so fast, I am desperately holding on by my pinky fingers!

Here’s a summary of the projects we did with over 60 pottery campers:

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Just because the three weeks of teaching pottery camp were over, didn’t mean pottery camp was over for us instructors.  We had to fire and glaze over 600 of their pots.  Needless to say, that took the following three weeks moving us right into Labor Day.

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If that wasn’t enough, I was invited to my first member’s invitational.  What an honor to have my art displayed in such a beautiful gallery (The show is running until October 13th)!

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I also carved out some time to devote to my own art-making.  Hopefully now that I summed up the past month, I can start posting on a more regular basis!

Here’s to the slower winter months!  Please dear Lord!  ;)

UNICORNS, RAINBOWS & CATS – OH MY

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The kids got a quick lesson on Mexican Milagros and Nichos.

The discussion started with Europeans invading an existing culture.  With them, they brought their religion, Catholicism. Objects such as  statues, alters, incense and gold were introduced to the native people.  What happened was a little influence rubbed off on the natives, but a little native culture remained too.  Nichos were influenced by Catholic alters, but generally depicted local traditions.  Somehow even pop-culture made its way into these works.  From there, these little pop-alters were considered more folk-art than religious icons.

I asked the kids if they were to encounter Roman Catholic alters and not know much about their significance, how would they make an alter of their own?  What would be important to them?  What would they fill it with? I told them for me, I’d choose my pet. Mi gato Willow.  I made a Nicho depicting my kitty cat because I love her and she brings me joy.

They were each given a cigar box and two giant tables of tons and tons of materials.  I also showed them how to create some aspects in 3-D.  This is what they came up with:

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I accidentally started the pet theme, but some diverged.  Oh and there was GLITTER EVERYWHERE!!! By far this was the most involved project.  I assigned this the first day and allowed them to add to it for the rest of the week whenever they had free time.  I think they all came out with something significant to themselves.  I know I was pretty stoked to bring my own home ;)

Apples at ArtLab

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EVERYTHING HAS A SHADOW.

This watercolor project is a terrific way to teach this principle.

Do you see the black arrow attached with tape in the image above?   Each kid had to choose where the sunlight would be coming from in their picture and then make sure every single object in the picture plane reacted with a shadow accordingly.

First, we talked about why we block our paper.  This is the act of taping watercolor paper to a board, wetting the paper and then letting the paper dry.  Blocking stretches and shrinks the paper.  When working with watercolor, a tremendous amount of water gets applied to the paper.  The paper absorbs the water and stretches itself to its max.  This causes waving and rippling. Normally, a piece of paper would stay in this state but a blocked paper has already encountered water in a controlled setting. It’s taped down tight with no room to warp and has been forced to stretch tight preventing the rippling. It’s a great artist practice and there’s even a little science behind it.

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Next, we started with the backgrounds. I had the kids take their pencil, follow their arrow and run it across the paper pretending it was a flashlight.  What part of the bowl will the flashlight hit first?  Following your arrow of light, where will the flashlight hit each apple? The rule of a shadow is that the shadow falls in the complete opposite direction of the light. So, the pencil pretending to be a flashlight really hits home the front and back of each object.  Many people do not notice that every single item be it a nose on a face or a pencil on a desk, has a shadow.

The third step was creating shadows in the bowl.  The deepest part of something with depth is the darkest. The shallowest part of a bowl has access to light, therefore its lighter.  The kids worked from a very dark center to a light outer ring. Hoping to convey depth.

 

 

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The finale culminated with the painting of the apples.  We filled each apple with clean water on the paper and then allowed the colors of an apple to bleed into one another.  Red, green and yellow were used and a little bit of purple to denote the shadow of the apple itself.

Watercolor is a tough medium to learn.  You are always adding paint and water as well as trying to take away paint and water.  It’s a tricky balance.

The only bummer is that I couldn’t show the kids the difference between expensive paints and cheap ones. Boy is there a big difference!  Of course we had the “affordable” paints.  With them, red looks like pink, green a faded yellow and black a light grey.  Cheap paint just doesn’t posses the pigments needed to obtain gorgeous colors.  Yeah, the kids catch the gist, but not the magic of amazing paints…

I guess that’s the prize of keeping with the arts and investing as you go along… I know my first watercolors were Crayola.  It was enough to wet my appetite for more.  I hope the same for this new generation coming up!

 

Something’s Fishy at ArtLab Camp

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This is an excellent kid art lesson in tint vs shade.

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For all of you grown-ups that forever get it wrong here is the definition :)

Tint:  A color with white added     Shade: A color with black added

Everyone calls everything a shade, but if you go further into painting, it helps to know what you need (black or white) to create certain colors from paint.

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We created the backgrounds by treating it like a game. We talked about math ratios.  To make a Chartreuse green you might use 5 dabs of yellow paint to one dab of blue.  To create a navy color, you might use 5 dabs of blue to one dab of black.  Powder blue would be 5 dabs white one dab blue.  Suffice to say, by the end of the project, each kid could tell me the difference between tints and shades and had a pretty good idea of how to create the colors they were interested in.

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Next, I wanted to make it a little fun.  I found this product online and was able to give each kid 5 sheets of rainbow scratch paper.  Like scratching off a Lotto ticket, you just can’t help but enjoy playing with these boards.  For my sample I created different patterns like checkerboard, parallel lines, dots, scales…ect.  You know, throw a little more education into it…. Here are the kids take on the assignment:

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I also printed out reference photos of different sea grasses for inspiration and all sorts of fish.  From there, I backed away and let them choose for themselves how realistic vs. imaginative they wanted their work to be.

There was a great mix of both.

Art Lab – Art Camp for Kids

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Good Morning.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve created a blog post. That’s because it’s been summer camp time!!!

One week was devoted to creating lesson plans and the subsequent two weeks were all about kids ranging in age from 7-14 making all kinds of art.  This week I will show you my example of what we were doing for the day and the amazing work the kids turned out.

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This project begins with studying tons of leaves of all shapes, sizes and textures. From there we discuss layout on our paper.  Maybe putting one leave dead center is not as interesting as creating a path of leaves around your paper for people’s eyes to travel?

Next, the entire sheet of paper must be covered in very heavy wax.  What is the most affordable way to provide wax to kids?  CRAYONS.  you bet!

Before we started working heavy with our crayons, the kids needed to understand the difference between warm and cool colors.  If the kids simply colored their paper using any old color, there may not be enough contrast to tell the difference between the foreground and background.  So they had to pick warm for one and cool for the other.

Now this is where some kids may have told you the true name of this place was “Mary’s Torture Camp”  because kids started moaning, trying to quit and complaining that they couldn’t “color-hard”, another stinking minute!

But very soon after, a few campers finished filling their entire sheets with wax.  Next they were told to fold and crease their paper as much as the possibly could.  Each time they made a crease, it made a crack in the wax.  When their papers were fully crinkled, I let them apply a watered-down black acrylic paint to their work.  The black paint only absorbed into the cracks, leaving their images intact.  We wiped off the excess paint revealing some truly fabulous art pieces.  This batik-style process brings so much visual interest to the art work.

The kids that finished their work became totally giddy and began to show the complainers their finished pieces and this turned everything around.  Not another moan was heard.  They all broke out into a frenzy to work harder and finish the project. And for good reason.  These wax resist artworks are amazing! Check them out:

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 I was truly inspired. I am going to try to incorporate this technique into my own work in the fall. I loved this project!

I look forward to posting some more projects as I get them off my camera ;)