Many artists consider representing the human form to be the ultimate challenge, and I am one of them. Artists who specialize in portrait and figure painting strive for years to master it, and have to keep practicing just as an athlete has to exercise. Even artists who normally exhibit only landscape, still life or abstract art will return to sketching the figure from time to time. It’s hard to find friends who are willing to sit still and be stared at for hours, and hiring a professional artist’s model is expensive. We are lucky in Seattle to have several group studios at which to practice drawing and painting from a nude, portrait or costumed model on a regular basis. I like to go to the Open Studio sessions at Gage Academy of Art when I can. They commonly schedule short pose or long pose (3 hour) sessions almost every day, and are open to artists on a drop-in basis for a reasonable fee.
At short pose sessions, poses range from less than a minute to 20 minutes. Quick drawings are called “gesture drawings” and the goal is to capture the flow of the pose, the feeling of the weight and pull of the model’s muscles, in a few lines. The artist should almost become the model. These are valuable to train the eye and hand to respond intuitively to the subject. In the longer poses one can spend more time measuring proportions and angles, and then adding details and shading, but I believe the initial gesture sketch is still the most important element in capturing the gestalt of the person before you.
Sometimes an art school or group of artists will hire a model to repeat a pose for an extended number of sessions so they can complete a more resolved study. I have attended a few of these, and use the sessions to try out various approaches to painting form—systematic classical processes like drawing first, proceeding with monochrome paint, then layering of color, etc.; or direct processes such as alla prima, with brush drawing and using full color from the start. Often I find myself diverging from my initial plan as the painting evolves, from lack of patience or changing goals.
Painting with a group of other artists and responding to the figure in front of you is different from working alone in one’s studio. There is the camaraderie of the other artists, with whom you can share painting tips, and there is the personality of the model. Some are more talkative and open about their lives, and others are strictly business. I think of him or her as an actor on stage, and for a successful painting, I must imply a mood or a bit of a story to make the scene interesting. A painting or drawing of a figure model “just” standing or sitting there can be a fine thing if skillfully rendered, but it needs something special to transcend being an exercise in anatomy and to draw in the viewer if it is going to be exhibited. Some artists are able to do it with beautiful marks with the pencil or paint, or an interesting perspective; others can find something special in the expressiveness of the face or pose.
Earlier this year I attended a series of morning “reserved easel” sessions at Georgetown Atelier to paint a lovely young model. My strategy for this study was to do a drawing at the first session, getting the feel of the pose and deciding the composition of the painting. Next I loosely sketched the composition on a small linen-covered panel in charcoal and began to paint. I decided to keep the study monochrome until the shapes and values were fully resolved, and for this I used burnt umber and lead white. I spent two or three sessions on this; the lighting was challenging since my back was to a bank of large windows and the light and shadows changed dramatically as the sun rose and storms moved through, conflicting with the strong lamp above the model. I practiced using thicker paint and looser brush strokes, fighting my tendency to over-blend. During the final couple of sessions, I started adding color, but kept it muted, as there was not a lot of color in the scene. I started this study with no expectations other than a learning experience, and I am pleased with parts of the resulting painting.
Right: Young Woman in a Shadowy Room, 16” x 12”
A few times I have hired a model to come to my studio and pose for more complex paintings. I used the model as an actor in a scene that had implied narrative, which was not fully pre-conceived but evolved as I worked with the model and then added background and other elements without her presence. In the end, the final product may not even look like the model as it takes on a life of its own. Two of these paintings that I made a few years ago will be hanging in an exhibit called “Figuratively Speaking” at Ida Culver House Broadview (12505 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle), curated by June Sekiguchi. There will be a reception with wine, hors d’oeuvres and music on May 19 from 3:30 to 5:30 that is open to the public; please RSVP to 206-361-1989 by May 16 if you would like to attend. The exhibit will be up, in the lobby and public areas of the building, until September 11, 2016.
Left: Sleepwalker, 2006, oil on canvas, 28" x 22"
Every now and then, when perusing social media, I will come across a story or video about a blind artist. This brings up questions immediately: How do they do it? And also, why? Is it to show us the blind can do anything the sighted can, or is it a manifestation of creativity that can’t be expressed any other way? It’s an interesting topic to think about for a visually oriented person.
I am taking part in a group exhibit at the Mount Baker Neighborhood Center for the Arts that includes at least one blind artist. This relatively new non-profit gallery in the Mount Baker ArtSpace Lofts building has a mission to bring together artists of all levels, and provides opportunities for artists with disabilities and the under-served community. I heard about their exhibit, “Flowers, Flores, Ubaxa,” through a call for art notice, and thought it would be an opportunity to put back on view one of my flower pieces from a few years ago. I occasionally participate in exhibits in neighborhoods in the greater Seattle area, in part because I have a good inventory of paintings and it’s gratifying to have them appreciated, and in part to explore and to meet the dedicated people working to put these shows together for their communities. When applying for this exhibit, I was intrigued to see they requested a visual description of the art along with the image, not the more esoteric artist’s statement. When I dropped off the painting in Mount Baker, I met the director, Barbara Oswald, who has very little sight, and she introduced me to a blind artist who would be exhibiting a painting for the first time. The artist had made a small acrylic painting of poppies floating on a blurred, textural background. The colors were unusual but harmonious, the contrast good, and she had achieved a delicate translucency in the petals.
I learned from a casual search on the Internet that many people classified as blind can see a bit of light and form, which answers some of my questions. But there is one well-known blind painter in Turkey, Esref Armagan, who was born completely unsighted, and is self-taught. His work could be characterized as child-like or primitive, but the work of the late British artist Sargy Mann is quite sophisticated, despite increasing blindness that started early in his career. At the end of his life he was painting completely blind, by touch. As he said, so much of art goes on in the head.
I also learned of a sighted artist, Roy Nachum, who incorporates poetic messages in Braille into his large oil paintings. The striking, realist images in minimalist color schemes have bumps sculpted under the paint so they can be read by touch. I wonder if, since color absorbs and reflects light at different wavelengths, if a method could be devised to experience color on a surface by variations in temperature.
My own eyesight is not strong; I have worn glasses since second grade. A couple of years ago, I attended a touring Blind Café, where in a totally dark church basement, diners ate and listened to a concert, assisted by blind servers who shared their experiences with us. Those of us with normal vision are amazed by the skill with which the blind cope with everyday life, but they prefer we not be. When I try to imagine what I would do with my life were I to become blind, I assume I would concentrate my efforts on sculpture and/or music. Painting is difficult enough when I can see. But maybe it would be freeing, and take away some of the value judgement, to try it with the eyes closed.
The exhibit “Flowers, Flores, Ubaxa 2016” will be at Mount Baker Neighborhood Center for the Arts April 1 through 28. There will be two receptions to meet the artists, Friday, April 1, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 3, from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. The gallery is located near the Mt. Baker light rail station at 2919 Rainier Avenue South.
I have a painting included in Gallery 110's 6th Annual Juried Exhibit, which will be on view for the month of February. The exhibit was curated by Melissa Feldman, a faculty member of Cornish College of the Arts. After choosing from over 1,500 submitted works from around the nation (they used the Call for Entry online submission system), she titled the exhibit "Beam Me Up" and noted the process was "like receiving messages from sentient life on other planets." I imagine sorting through that many entries would be fascinating but exhausting. Trends she recognized included the "zen aesthetics of minimalism", which I would say my piece, Murmur and Sigh, represents.
Gallery 110 is an artist-run, nonprofit space in Pioneer Square's Toshiro Kaplan building, one of the best places to find a full gamut of art in Seattle. The gallery has just been remodeled and will be fresh and bright for the installation of the new show. I look forward to seeing the other works in the exhibit. Other than regular hours, Gallery 110 will be open for the First Thursday Artwalk this week (Feb. 4) and there will be a reception and awards presentation on Saturday, February 6, from 5 to 7, to which the public is also invited. For more information, go to Gallery 110.
I enjoy participating in themed exhibits when the theme relates to my work; it's fun to see the variety of viewpoints on the subject and how my entry contributes. Curators Megan Somerville-Loomis and Ted Loomis of ArtEAST have chosen one of my paintings along with 27 others for an exhibit that explores clouds-- "Mirroring our own brief journeys, clouds’ temporal existence reflects our dreams and drives our imagination."
I helped the curators to install the artworks in Blakely Hall, community center of the Issaquah Highlands, about 30 minutes east of Seattle. With diversity in size, media and mood, it was a challenge, but the final arrangement complements the works. There will be a reception with live music, a poetry reading based on the paintings, and a talk on creativity by Obadinah Heavner on Saturday, January 23, from 6 to 8 p.m. The exhibit will be up until March 14. For more information, go to ArtEAST.
At left: Pirouette, oil on canvas, 40" x 24"
A beautiful hardcover book on landscape painting has recently been published by Watson-Guptill that incudes four of my paintings as examples. Suzanne Brooker, artist, teacher and author, wrote The Elements of Landscape Painting: Techniques for Rendering Sky, Terrain, Trees, and Water. It is getting good reviews and is currently the number one bestseller among oil painting books on Amazon. Suzanne is also the author of Portrait Painting Atelier and she teaches painting and drawing at Gage Academy of Art in Seattle. She breaks landscape painting into component parts with lessons on how to approach each, as well as how to put them all together into a harmonious whole. Included are fundamentals such as tools, surfaces and color mixing, as well as less frequently addressed specifics of brush handling technique for achieving various effects. The stages of the painting process from drawing concept onward are covered, with step-by-step examples. Throughout the book are lovely works of art by contemporary painters, several from Seattle, and I am pleased to be in their company. I think this text is a valuable asset for the painter's library, beginner or intermediate.
For those in Seattle, I invite you to a celebration and book signing by the author, with several of the artists in attendance, at the Magnusen Park Studios building art gallery on Saturday, October 10, from 1 to 6 p.m. There will be original paintings on view and refreshments. Address: Building 30 West, 7448 63rd Avenue NE, Seattle.
Feeling the unusually tropical heat in Seattle this summer? Visit the Coastal Kitchen restaurant in Capitol Hill for their Caribbean Seas Tour and some spicy seafood. To go along with the currently featured island region's menu, the restaurant's curator chose three of my paintings for an exhibit decorating the dining rooms. The works will be hanging through November 8, 2015. The popular restaurant is located at 429 15th Avenue East. Go to Coastal Kitchen for more information.
I will be exhibiting a small group of recent paintings at Fountainhead Gallery in Seattle for the month of March, along with featured artist and fellow landscape painter Christine Gedye. The paintings are part of my ongoing investigation into the border between reality and imagination as it applies to nature scenes, and some technical experimentation in color and texture. The dream, daydream, meditation, or fleeting thought at the edge of perception can paradoxically put us more in touch with our surroundings. I am particularly interested in what happens in the transition from daylight to dark and the effects of low light on vision. In some of the compositions I represented this phenomena with a violet underpainting (a hue that can easily shift from warm red to cool blue), which inspired the title The Violet Hour.
There will be an opening reception on Saturday, March 7, from 5 to 7 p.m. and the exhibit will be up until March 29. For more information go to Fountainhead Gallery.
Fountainhead Gallery in Seattle has its annual holiday season group show up this month. Titled "Glancing Back, Moving Forward," the exhibit showcases works chosen by director Sue Peterson from previous shows by 25 long-term and new gallery artists. My paintings "Murmur and Sigh" and "Florida Landscape with Rocket Launch" are hanging. There was a nice opening reception on December 6 with several of the artists in attendance, and the exhibit will be on view until January 25. It's a nice show, stop by and see it! For more information, go to www.FountainheadGallery.com.
Summer in the Pacific Northwest is lovely and this year it was warmer and longer than usual. Since it had been a few years since I had done much oil painting outdoors, I signed up for a 3-day July workshop taught by Mitchell Albala, author of Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts for Plein Air and Studio Practice. The location, Orcas Island, has beautiful views everywhere one looks. Mitch's lessons in a systematic and logical approach to tackling this complex subject helped me to be more efficient and effective in capturing my surroundings. We students in the painting group, and my family members who accompanied me, had fun, too! Back in Seattle, I bought myself a new compact pochade box that attaches to a camera tripod and took it out for a few short local excursions. At right, Pochade box in action, Gasworks Park, Seattle.
What is so enjoyable to me about plein air painting, along with the pleasure of being outdoors, is the opportunity for direct response to and engagement with the subject, along with the limited time available to dither about. In this way, it is similar to working from the life model. I don't worry about the concept other than the purely visual factors of composition and color, and I go for a straightforward interpretation of the scene in front of me. It is Fall now, but the weather is still nice; I hope I can get back out there a few times before the rains set in. Left, Small sketch on paper of the river bend at Bothell Landing Park.
Here I will keep you up to date on my exhibits and other artistic endeavors.