30 September 2007

villa adriana

Fabriano Artistico CP 300gsm, 9" x 12". Daniel Smith PrimaTek paints.

we took a taxi out to tivoli to see the villa d'este and its famous gardens and fountains (memorialized by liszt in his late piano music), then over to see the enormous villa built by hadrian.

this is the large reflecting pool opening onto the philosopher's walk and living areas of the villa, and the hills around tivoli in the distance.

29 September 2007

cafe interlude

Arches CP 300 gsm, 12" x 9".

after a long day of trekking museums, piazzas and byways in old rome, we fell into a cozy table for two in a cafe in the piazza navone. we'd already been there at dawn, when it was completely empty, and now we sat and watched as tourists, buskers, and every stripe of artwork and souvenir retailer churned past. like humanity served up in sushi boats.

this is jan's favorite moment, pouring out the sparkling water for that first cold sip of refreshment. we already have our cafe and espresso. the pink table cloths were unique to this restaurant, and nicely matched the rosy color of our mood.

28 September 2007

fora romana

Arches CP 300 gsm, 12" x 9".

our second full day, we rose early and walked to the roman forum where we wandered the ruins and marveled at the small size of the site and the actuality of places we had only seen imagined in cinema.

i made a brief charcoal sketch briskly filled in with color; the morning gray clouds had just parted after scattered showers, creating a mystical sense of passing time among the broken stones and walls of ancient red brick.

27 September 2007

piazza della rotunda

Fabriano Artistico CP 300 gsm, 9" x 12". Daniel Smith PrimaTek paints.

this is the small square in front of the rotunda, an enormous dark shell built under the late emperors. the square itself is lined with cafes and contains a lovely small fountain.

we left the hotel before dawn, walked to the tiber, then back to the rotunda through the piazza navone. we had coffee in one of the cafes waiting for the sun to come up and the monument to open.

26 September 2007

arrival rome

roman guide
arches HP 300gsm, 9" x 12". 2 hours.

solitude is a wonderful thing, as wonderful in its way as a vacation ... but vacation and reflection are over, and it's time to get back to the business of blogging. yikes i'm already 54 days behind!

i have a backlog of paintings to post, which i will be posting over the next month ... a few a day, to spread out the tedium of the blogger interface.

for starters, here comes a painting a day from our italy vacation. some of these were done during the trip, some after, but all are done plein air style ... freehand on block paper, with pan paints.

here's my bride consulting her guidebooks to plan the next day's itinerary. jan made all the bookings and travel reservations, and was my personal guide on many excursions. this is our room at the hotel eden, the morning after our arrival in rome.

ciao baby!

this blog is going on a three week hiatus while my wife and i vacation in italy. i am taking my plein air paint kit and will have paintings of rome, naples, herculaneum, capri and venice online after i return.

in the meantime ... keep on painting!

25 September 2007


Arches CP watercolor, 300 gsm, 14" x 10". 5 hours.

my figure photography session with siena went well, and she agreed to meet again when i return from vacation. although we are down to packing bags, i was inspired to do something with the new photographs, and spent late hours to finish this piece.

i asked her to bring a close fitting shirt and close fitting pants; here she is in the pants.

i did not spend a lot of time on the background washes, using them as an excuse to paint a web of interlocking colors. this light texture carries into her flesh, which almost has no surface.

before she left siena and i had a brief discussion about how often she cuts her hair. i was fired by the image of her with longer hair, and painted her that way in this image.

24 September 2007


St. Armand watercolor, 30" x 22". 6 hours.

i asked siena to figure model for me and she agreed. i started some studies of siena to prepare, including this portrait.

this painting is the fourth attempt. i tried using diagonal and radiating lines within the format, but i mislaid one or two steps each time and ended up with a distorted drawing. this, the fourth, used a square grid.

i changed her eyes from blue to brown, so that she is made of warm color. the drawing was cut with a carbon pencil, with many erasures, and the st. armand paper would allow paints to bleed, even when the paper was completely dry. this adds to the rough, newsprint quality of the image.

23 September 2007

figure drawing group

Strathmore drawing, 250 gsm, 12" x 18". 20 minutes.

this is michal, from the weekly figure drawing group. she is one of the most extreme "stress" models i have worked with. some models are all victorian grace and poetry, and others are postmodern grungy informality, and some are just lazy. but michal will play all the roles in a greek tragedy.

i think this one is her supplicant. it's a great pose to show the length of the arm in relation to the torso, but it is also obviously painful for that right foot. michal gives it her all.

one of the best large format figure nudes i have yet painted was an image of michal sprawled as if asleep on my studio leather couch.

it was good to see michal again. she worked for me a few years ago and then i lost her contact info.

22 September 2007


Strathmore drawing, 250 gsm, 14" x 10". 20 minutes.

sources of drawing distortion have become a focus of interest. i've found it is very difficult to draw a face accurately if it is tilted to one side, or forward or backward. turning the head does not create the same kinds of problems.

there seems to be a facial schema or pattern that does not work well when the head is not plumb; a common fact is that portrait pictures are almost impossible to recognize when they are upside down.

in this drawing she has tilted her head forward and away from me, which throws her profile proportions out of sync. i've made no changes to the life drawing.

Strathmore drawing 14" x 10". 15 minutes.

another source of drawing problems is body contortion or strain. margaret's hand poses were very tense (she came in with tension, as i said previously), and in this one she is pressing down firmly with her left thumb onto the back of her right hand, and passing the tension through her fingers.

foreshortening is just a problem of proportion, but contortion is a problem of emphasis and clarity. they are two different things. contortion requires you to make the relationships between the joints and muscles clearer in a way that isn't normally necessary.

i am not sure that outline drawing succeeds in contorted poses; maybe the volume created by shading light and dark is also necessary. in any case i plan to experiment with it.

21 September 2007


Strathmore drawing, 250 gsm, 14" x 10". 30 minutes.

another life drawing with wolff's carbon, also not corrected from the photo documentation. actually, there was no photo documentation; i spent the whole time in life drawings and left the camera up in my office.

i've posted two drawings, made about 2 hours apart, to show the variation in representation. the hair was left blank (see next post) and filled in after the session; otherwise, the drawing is unedited.

Strathmore drawing, 250 gsm, 14" x 10". 30 minutes.

margaret was a little bored with me this session, yawning and pulling goofs, and wanted explicit direction. in either this or the previous pose she was wearing her glasses, which i omitted by drawing what i could see of her eyes.

compare these poses to some of the earlier paintings of her. the nose is especially important to get right, though i found the mouth was a problem that needed more study.

20 September 2007


Strathmore drawing, 250 gsm, 14" x 10". 30 minutes.

this is a life drawing with wolff's carbon pencils. the drawing was largely completed during the pose, with some slight touch up before fixing with matte spray. no corrections were made from the photo documentation.

margaret has a feral, mischevious quality that comes through in this image.

the pose is the same as in the painting of aug. 24, though her mood is distinctly different.

19 September 2007


Strathmore bristol 22" x 18", 300 gsm. 1 hour.

my last session with margaret before jan and i leave on vacation. she came wearing glasses, her hair loosely clasped, put on a few raucous albums, and complained about the stupidity of her psychology 1A professor. we were off.

at the end of the session i asked her to do some standing poses, basically figure portraits. i spend a lot of time on the clothing and the way it hung. i sketched the head and face lightly, planning to copy in from a life drawing of her turned face (see next post), but didn't bother to do it.

most of the time was spent hatching in the black levis, trying different weights and carbon densities.

18 September 2007


Arches CP 300 gsm, 14" x 10". 3 hours.

this is a peculiar image. it's a life drawing of margaret, but the watercolor tablet was flat on the table, so i viewed it downward as i drew at about a 45 degree angle. this caused the tablet to appear foreshortened and the image, drawn to scale, to appear elongated.

rather than correct the drawing i treated it with stylized, flat color, strong color contrasts, and almost no detail.

margaret usually wears her hair braided but on this day she came with her hair freshly shampooed and left down to dry. it gives her an older, more retro appearance.

17 September 2007

margaret's feet

Hahnemuehle "Durer" 250gsm, 10" x 8". 3 hours.

this is another experiment in monochromatic imagery, started with ink on paper and then finished with lamp black or sepia watercolors.

the hahnemuehle paper is cupped, like a shallow porcelain dish, with a decorative but subtle deckle. i want to do a series of these images of margaret's hands and legs. i think i should leave a white border around the image, to set off the deckle.

16 September 2007


Strathmore drawing, 200 gsm, 14" x 10". 2 hours.

this is a carbon pencil sketch from photo documentation. i made a square grid template to fit the paper, then placed this under the sheet and used the show through to transfer the image.

elizabeth is one of my favorite models because of the intricacy and interest of her hair. her face is also at the boundary between a teenager and a woman, and it can be pushed either way.

i used a grid of lines of constant width to indicate shadows over the flesh, and used the spacing of lines denoting hair to indicate shadows in the hair.

15 September 2007


Arches CP 300gsm, 14" x 10". 3 hours.

my sister came through for an overnight stay with her son (again), so the studio was on hiatus for a couple of days. and they will be back through next weekend, and then things should settle down for the rest of the year.

kristina arrived as they were leaving the studio, and after trying many set ups i got this great pose from her. i included more of her torso as a way to suggest her physical strength.

the photo and paper were squared, and the figure guidelines sketched in graphite. then the grid was erased and the image was cut with carbon pencil (wolff's, a really great drawing tool), though i think a light graphite drawing would have been better. i kept everything here to the bare minimum -- no modeling of form or light, very simple indication of the hair, volume suggested by edge shading only; most of the work was put into the mouth and eyes.

the flesh is a mixture of gold ochre and cobalt violet and is a little too yellow in the image (which was shot in late afternoon light). in the painting it has a pearlescent paleness with delicate highlights of violet. the edge outlining is shifted toward brownish red.

14 September 2007

margaret's hands

Strathmore drawing 200gsm, 10" x 14". 15 minutes.

here's another pose from the same day ... a bit more time on it, and a more convincing drawing, even with the foreshortening in the fingers and thumb.

i usually schedule the best models twice a month, as they give me enough work to keep me busy for at least a week. i'm currently working with five or six but plan to cut back to only two or three once i return from my vacation next month.

i've found over the weeks that models often adopt the same hand pose from one session to the next. these are like habit positions that seem natural because they are part of their routine posture.

13 September 2007

margaret's hands

Strathmore drawing, 200 gsm, 12" x 18". 10 minutes.

at the start of every session with a model, i use hand poses for warm ups. it gives the model a chance to settle down and gives me a chance to wake up.

for some reason the straight finger poses are the hardest to do ... much harder than fists or flexed fingers. it's very difficult to draw the fingers and avoid the feeling that the hands are tense, or the fingers too fat or too stiff, or the hand contorted in some hard to pin down (hard to correct) way.

12 September 2007


Strathmore bristol, 300gsm, 30" x 22". 3.5 hours.

this is one of the life drawings of rachel. i normally draw on quarter sheet (14" x 10") watercolor blocks, various brands, then refine the drawing from the photo of the pose and paint from there.

instead i drew on the bristol with charcoal and have not altered the drawing at all. it captures a different aspect of rachel's presence ... compared with other images of her. again, i wanted her on a large format for some reason ... it doesn't feel right to squeeze her into anything smaller. i've even considered painting her on double elephant sheets.

i should have left this as a drawing: once i started painting on it i remembered it was the laminated bristol that bubbles and warps once it is wetted (see aug. 6). but i went ahead anyway. as i knew the paper wouldn't hold up well i put the minimum effort into finishing the piece, and used it primarily as a color study -- purple and green.

the hair is a mixture of paint sludge from a half dozen mixing wells, pooled as part of clean up. red and yellow were used to push the hue around to indicate some of the color variety in her hair. background is dioxazine violet, puddled for texture, and viridian. the chemise is ultramarine blue -- a difficult color to photograph accurately.

in certain poses rachel gets a kind of serenity in her expression that is really remarkable. she is not a physically tall or overweight woman but there is a subtle force to her presence that only a large image seems adequate to capture.

11 September 2007


Fabriano Uno SP, 600 gsm, 22" x 15" (trimmed). 5 hours.

this is the second rachel image, on a "small" half sheet, still twice as big as any previous painting.

this one pretty much fell on the page like rain. i projected the photograph optically and drew the outlines in soft carbon and got the emphasis i was aiming for. i made a few changes of direction, and planned to "umberize" the hair with glazes of green or raw umber, but then decided to leave it orangish: it works with the purple.

before i'd met rachel, but after speaking to her on the phone, i was mulling over the problem of background colors, skin tones and portrait character, and for some reason concluded that rachel would be a purple background -- dioxazine purple, specifically. totally instinctual. when she showed up for the first sit, she was wearing this purple top and a big purple crystal around her neck.

i caught several good images of rachel's outflowing gaze and i like this painting (though the digital image colors are washed out compared to the original).

this is freely traced, and the previous painting is drawn freehand. my "hand" ranges between precise tracing (and tracing requires a lot of skill, in terms of what you indicate and how) and the freehand of my figure drawings (see sep. 7). i have been experimenting with various techniques to mix the two, for example freehand sketching around a projected image, or tediously copying a squared image ... the different methods give different results.

i like the simplicity, flatness and open color of this and the previous painting. i realize i am letting go of the modeling of light as a physical fact and looking for light in the color, composition and face of the portrait subject.

10 September 2007


Fabriano Uno SP, 600 gsm, 30" x 22" (trimmed). 5 hours.

rachel is another of stefanie's friends and also associated with an alternative lifestyle project in sonoma county. she teaches children about nature and is involved with a program to train "elders" or wise guides along the model of native indian cultures.

i've postponed working on rachel's images to catch up with some other projects, but once i started i was almost addicted. there is a light and goodness in her features that i found a pleasure to explore.

i had done some life drawings of rachel but for some reason i jumped immediately into larger formats. she just wanted to expand. this is a full sheet drawing in a simple, cartoonish style, and unfortunately the dark carbon lines don't come through clearly in the image.

the image was prepared by squaring a photograph and the sheet, then drawing the image freehand. the lighting was a bit odd: it was late in the day, and a sun spot was glowing on the hardwood floor nearby, creating an upward diffuse glow. i omitted most of the shadow effects. her hair is not reddish (burnt sienna) but a dusky blonde, but the orange complements the magenta wall.

i like the broad, stylized design, flattened space and simplification of the face and hair. i don't see any reason why a "comic book" style of painting can't be as subtle and expressively powerful as caravaggio's chiaroscuro. it's a matter of developing the symbols and using them accurately. and quite a lot depends on the foundation image, the "pose".

09 September 2007


Winsor & Newton CP 300gsm, 14" x 10". 4 hours.

this is a second life drawing of kristina that has sat unfinished for a couple of weeks. the model chose it to keep.

i used chromium oxide green for the background to anchor a more subdued palette. i modeled the flesh tones toward blue to give her skin a kind of translucency or light. i did not spend much time on the hair.

kristina is an interesting woman, grounded in her therapeutic practice, knowledgeable about nutrition and its relationship to health, athletic, fit, living lightly on the land and radiating a positive energy in everything she does.

it seems to me a portrait should convey attributes without using expressions (grimaces). here her expression is relaxed and neutral. the model chose this painting to keep for herself.

08 September 2007


Twinrocker watercolor CP, 300 gsm. 10 hours (?) over 4 years.

stacy was a local waitress and teacher whom i met at a local figure drawing group. until she came up and said hello, i did not recognize her without her glasses and clothes!

this painting was started from a private modeling session about 4 years ago, and has inched along since then. i only recently finished it. months would pass, and i'd pick it up again to add more to the hair, or finish an eye, or put in the background map of central paris.

the twinrocker paper is excellent for building color in thin glazes, but it does not facilitate lifting of staining pigments. it's a very reliable and enjoyable surface to work on.

stacy had a penetrating look that i always found a little unsettling. i have fond memories of this portrait.

07 September 2007

weekly figure group

anne marie
Strathmore drawing 16" x 11", charcoal. 10 minutes.

another installment in the weekly figure drawing group. the model this week was anne marie, a charming and hardworking young woman with an unusual method of finding poses. i may ask her to model for me.

this drawing was difficult to do ... a 10 minute pose that was also full of event, including both hands and a foot. it probably didn't help that i was fully stoned, but detours are sometimes vacations.

my interest was to capture the torque and flow of the figure, again working in outline and without erasing preliminary marks.

ann marie is a model that throws a fine line between lively and erotic, which is relieved by the fact that we cannot see her face. i often omit the hands, feet or head, or draw the face in schematic (lips and nose only, or sketchy features) if the drawing is getting a little too "hot".

anne marie
Strathmore drawing 14" x 10", charcoal. 20 minutes.

this is a portrait study, though it doesn't look much like her. i drew standing against a wall, resting the pad on a stack of easels, looking over my shoulder. a bit plein air, that.

i'm usually positioned 12 feet or so from the model, as i like to stand as a i work, and don't see features clearly at that distance. what i did here was use her pose as a reference for proportion and shape, and more or less inserted generic features in place.

i think this is what always happens in drawing, especially short drawings with unfamiliar models. our understanding of the world is fretted and bordered in and out with schemas and stereotypes, where plain looking isn't up to the complexity or depth of the world. isn't life a fucking adventure?

the group has about 8 or 10 regular (weekly) attendees, two or three of them better artists than me, and the decorum is generally good for work. i use the breaks to go outside and breathe rather than socialize.

a recent model who read through this blog said to me, "i read your comments and you are so hard on yourself!" i had to laugh, because an artist in st. louis made the same observation. ok, i'm hard on myself.

06 September 2007


Arches CP block 300 gsm, 9" x 6". 1 hour.

last month i did a quick painting of my pipe and wine glass, and here is a new addition to the relaxation menu.

labor day weekend jan and i went to the sausalito art festival, and we saw tons of extremely well crafted and generally uninspiring art works. then stopped at the corte madera mall for some holiday shopping.

two hours later i had bought a nespresso machine, a pretty pricey gadget, because my wife thought the coffee was really good and because i thought it would be a convenient replacement for the studio coffee maker, which was so rarely used it usually hid moldy coffee filters. the nespresso machine works on capsules of coffee grounds and brews very tasty espresso or coffee in less than 30 seconds.

i eliminated drawing entirely and just built up the image with the brush. this caused backruns and brushmarks at the areas i had to edit, which induces a texture suggestive of the table. (this could have been avoided by prewetting the paper; but i chose not to.) the pencil is an unpainted all cedar #2 sold by the ny moma store: a fabulous tool for drawing.

i painted the crema with nickel dioxine yellow and perylene maroon, because they were at hand from other paintings; the mix came really close to the espresso golden brown.

by the way, this post was actually made on sep. 4 ... i'm finding that it is most convenient to post the paintings in three day installments, rather than hassle with the connection and uploads and so on every day. (i still have to connect on country copper.)

05 September 2007


Winsor & Newton CP 300 gsm, 14" x 10". 4 hours.

this is the third life drawing of siena.

the background is a very diluted yellow green, which is the chromaticity of sunlight; this contrasts with the magenta foundation tint of the shirt, which was subdued with venetian red and gold ochre.

this drawing was done in graphite rather than charcoal, and less effort was put into symbolizing the hair. i still cannot decide how to integrate drawing and painting. maybe there is no best way.

siena's features seem to me handsome in a robust way, and her face fits well with her lifestyle of remaining close to the earth. she is distinct from the conventional stereotypes of appearance imposed on us by print and electronic media.

hair is all da vinci raw umber.

04 September 2007


Arches HP 300 gsm, 14" x 10". 4 hours.

this is another life drawing of siena. (the previous drawing was siena drowsy.)

her hair is similar to margaret's: they both have layers of complexity, larger and smaller strands and flags. with margaret the braids are bold enough to define a clear level of pattern, but with geneva, the braids and strands are more complex so it is not clear where to put the pattern.

i used a wolff's carbon on hot pressed paper, then added emphasis after the hair was painted. i think i found the right level of complexity but the hair is not stylized accurately enough.

the flesh tone is one pigment, benzimida brown PBr25. gold ochre would be too yellow and burnt sienna in tints is also rather yellow. the benzimida is a dark brown in masstone but becomes a grayed pink in very weak solution. the background is burnt sienna, as comparison.

03 September 2007


CALLIGRAPHY pens on bristol. 6 weeks.

end of summer is a time for looking back.

i had been considering using colored felt pens for drawing, and happened to buy "Calligraphy" brand pens manufactured by Kuretake Co., Ltd. in and of Japan. the body of the pen proclaims "Archival Quality - Lightfast - Fade Proof", and anytime a manufacturer claims something three times i know i have to test it.

after six weeks in the sun (under acrylic cover), several of the magenta, red, orange and mixed green pens have failed badly. only the dark pure greens, blues, purple (dioxazine) and black survived. this reinforces my prejudice never to trust a "warm" colored or mixed green paint without testing its lightfastness. the pigments and the manufacturer claims are equally untrustworthy.

i also put time into reorganizing the recent works section of my site into generic categories -- botanical/still life, figure nude, landscape and portrait. this helped me to see my work as a whole and focused on specific problems i need to solve to get to the next level.

i am not interested in abstract painting (for now), although the idea has been bubbling up a little.

the methods i am currently using in watercolor: brush application of watercolors; drawing with charcoal or graphite; freehand, squared or traced drawings; naturalism without detail; schematization or compressed simplification; increased value shading associated with increasing light realism; outline drawing emphasizing contour changes; recent change from large to small format; a small format performance window of about 4 to 8 hours, broken as necessary over days and/or similar paintings.

my faults are that my paintings can be too tense, when i want them to appear fluent and relaxed; i do too much in the way of lifting and glazing to "correct" painted areas, especially in realism; i do not make clear technical and interpretive choices about how paint or colors are combined; i overwork with the brush. i have sometimes set pieces aside for months or even years, although i have been patient enough to finish them.

the criterion of a good painting is its permanence, as a remembered pleasure or a repeated study. technique needs to be felt with the same intensity as the image.

02 September 2007

pink ladies

Winsor & Newton HP 300 gsm, 14" x 10". 4 hours.

labor day weekend is the end of summer, and in sonoma county the end of summer comes with the brief display of pink ladies, a late blooming magenta lily. i cut these flowers from a rural roadside and painted them the next day.

i twice made drawing failures, first using a charcoal that was too dark and then trusting to a freehand that could not get it right. the painting was made by squaring the image, copying freehand, and using single pigments for most color areas.

i like the quality of literalism and childlike simplicity that almost makes it into the image.

one reason i did this painting was to try my hand at using a latex resist to reserve the paper edges and the stems and petals of backgrounded flowers. i learned how to do it only near the end of doing it, but the ragged quality makes the image more informal.

i was strongly tempted to try this again on a full sheet, doing all the steps the same and correcting a few problems, such as the color balance between the bright yellow and the rest of the hues. i think the problem is that magenta and yellow are both illuminant cues, and they conflict for some reason. i've put the next painting off until i can let this one settle in the eye.

01 September 2007

weekly figure drawing group

i went to the sebastopol wednesday night figure drawing group, and the model for the evening was ... stefanie.

she threw some exceptionally good poses, relaxed and yet fluid, and i managed to make a fairly good life drawing of a standing pose. the lighting produced some strong shadows which i decided to record; normally i leave shadows out of a drawing.