28 February 2008


Watercolor on Arches HP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

to conclude the stefanie series, here is a backlog portrait that i began last year.

i have to say that from the beginning i did not much like this painting ... the colors seemed wrong, the rendering was clumsy, and the grace of the pose was lost.

but i refused to give up on it and finally got it to a state where i am not ashamed of it, though i still don't look at it with pleasure.

the background is a mixture of quinacridone violet and quinacridone red, which yields a beautiful fuchsia, not as strident as it appears in the image.

my displeasure is still with the eyes, which are not quite what i wanted. but the painting seems to get better the more often i look at it.

27 February 2008

weekly figure group

Carbon pencil on Strathmore drawing 180 gsm, 14" x 10".

a weary week, and off to the wednesday night figure group.

the model was anna marie, who was much more focused than usual. she did a number of good standing poses, but my focus throughout was on her face; i did six or eight portrait heads before i left early.

i liked this pose for the challenge of the tilted and foreshortened head.

we are having all the bedrooms and offices in our house repainted, and the fumes have driven me down to the studio to sleep.

26 February 2008

stefanie stretching (6)

Watercolor on Arches R 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

when i first dug out these paintings i discarded this one because of small blemishes; in fact i was looking for an excuse not to do it. but i repented and finished it because the pose is one of the nicest in the series.

the rough paper makes it difficult to get clean edges. in all the paintings i roughed in the background to define the figure, then modeled the figure volume. to finish i glazed the background with a juicy tint of ultramarine blue. this is a "cutting layer" because it sharpens and cleans up the edge and pushes the figure forward.

25 February 2008

stefanie stretching (5)

Watercolor on Lanaquarelle HP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

the background foliage and the deck planks in paintings 3 to 6 were all painted at the same time, in assembly line fashion. even so the foliage patterns turned out differently in each.

the tree is m.graham hooker's green, which gives a luxuriant thick texture; the shadow is perylene black (green), a great landscape shadow pigment; the remainder is chromium oxide green mixed with burnt sienna and a dulling bit of ultramarine blue.

24 February 2008

stefanie stretching (4)

Watercolor on Winsor & Newton CP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

this painting uses the same flesh tone series, but softened in the deep shadows by tints of ultramarine blue.

the modeling on the back was a fun challenge; the point was to keep the musculature from appearing too defined.

i was intrigued to discover how the separate images diverged, both in color and in brush texture, as i worked. at one or two junctures i had to focus on harmonizing the series, yet visible differences remain.

one reason i do not make technical progress is that i am continually experimenting with relatively small changes in technique. i enjoy the process, but the enjoyment may not be worth the extra effort it requires.

23 February 2008

stefanie stretching (3)

Watercolor on Lanaquarelle HP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

the flesh tones in these paintings are modeled with a single series of pigments — quinacridone magenta, perylene red, gold ochre, burnt sienna, and benzimida maroon — muted by glazes of phthalo green yellow shade.

i regret that the color balance and even the visual texture of these paintings does not come through in the images. there is still something i do not understand about correctly photographing my works.

22 February 2008

stefanie stretching (2)

Watercolor on Winsor & Newton CP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

i began the series serveral months ago and left this painting half finished.

it's my least favorite pose, but it complements the other views as a series.

the base flesh tone is winsor & newton gold ochre, modified with burnt sienna, perylene red, benzimida maroon, and phthalo green (yellow shade).

the original photos show a cable railing system along the edge of the deck, which is seven or eight feet above the ground beyond. by removing that element i simplified or schematicized the design, and rendered the background ambiguous. it may be trees and grass as it appears, or it may be a wall mural of trees and grass in an urban enclosure.

21 February 2008

stefanie stretching (1)

Watercolor on Arches CP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

working through more backlog, i dug out six paintings i had started of stefanie doing dance stretches on the studio sun deck. these are from a photo series shot last august; the paintings were all started in outline then, but only this one was brought close to completion.

my interest was to work the form with a brighter spectrum of flesh colors, including cobalt violet. i left her features unfinished to give the figure anonymity. once all six paintings are finished, i can go through and harmonize them as a set.

stefanie claims to come from a family of south german peasants. what strikes me about stefanie's form is the way it radiates health and solidity. sexual tension is kept to a minimum.

20 February 2008

weekly figure group

Carbon pencil on Strathmore drawing 180 gsm, 10" x 14".

our model tonight was stan, who was to pose with his partner, who was not working because of a back injury.

i had drawn stan two weeks before and was not very inspired to draw him again. this is a page from early in the session, including an anatomical analysis of one of the two life poses.

stan is also a musician and brought his recording of bob dylan and simon & garfinkel covers. i had forgotten my sound canceling headphones and world music ipod. around the second or third repeat of "blowin' in the wind" i packed it in for the evening.

19 February 2008

figure self

Watercolor on Arches CP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

the (nude) figure self portrait is basically a 20th century genre. to my knowledge it runs in painting from egon schiele through lucian freud, with major examples (john coplans) in photography. i haven't done one before.

this is a freehand drawing done in the studio dressing mirror. i laid out a grid of tape on the mirror and used this to transfer the image to the squared paper. the mirror grid had to be adjusted, by observation and construction, to account for the increased foreshortening in height from head to feet, and for the 10% reduction in width produced by mirror curvature.

the drawing was very difficult to do, and contains many corrections. the arms had to be drawn from memory. the colors turned out well, and i plan to do a larger version using the same methods.

the head is peculiarly large, in proportions similar to a nine year old ... which is about my emotional age, anyway.

18 February 2008


Carbon pencil & watercolor on Arches CP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

i have been feeling in my occasional vale lately ... loneliness, physical aches, questioning faith, time slowing down, mortality.

a freehand self portrait is a way to "get a grip on myself" and also rebuild painting momentum. nothing better than a self portrait to put me in an "i don't give a damn" attitude about how a painting turns out. also i enjoy breaking down my face into proportions and details; i forget about whatever is bothering me.

the background is quinacridone gold, which is most closely matched in current paints by nickel azomethine. (quinacridone gold pigment, PO49, is no longer manufactured.) the shirt is indanthrone blue, flesh is manganese violet shadows under burnt sienna; eyes are mongrel blue green red with violet irises. touches of gray and phthalo yellow green and quinacridone magenta.

17 February 2008


Watercolor on Arches CP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

this is the life drawing i did of kortney at the end of our session, carbon pencil on watercolor block.

the background is cobalt teal scalloped with green gold (copper azomethine). the flesh is burnt sienna tinted with quinacridone magenta, lips perylene maroon. the eyes are green and brown with violet irises. hair is ivory black.

i kept the coloring simple and schematic as the drawing was loose. there is a kind of androgynous classical strength about her head that i wanted to represent in an austere way.

16 February 2008

paola's hands

Watercolor on Arches CP 300 gsm, 10" x 14".

another try at paola's long fingers in carbon pencil from a squared photo. still have not got them.

background is cerulean blue RS mixed with pyrrole orange. the flesh colors are pure tints of the secondary palette paints, plus green gold, applied as distinct sheets of color. this gave a pellucid, iridescent range of flesh tones that i really like.

15 February 2008


Charcoal pencil on Strathmore drawing 180 gsm, 14" x 10".

this is another life portrait of Z taken in a 20 minute pose.

it is hardest to make a convincing portrait when the far eye is visible at the bridge of the nose. the preferred profile position is to hide all the cheek and most or all of the eye behind the nose, and the preferred quarter view position is to bring the cheek into clear view and move the eye far enough away from the nose to show the inner canthus.

the problem is that the eyes are set back from the cheek and brow, and the front of the face curves around them. the bony rim of the eye socket is also behind the front of the eye and may not be visible. misjudgments make the eye appear to pop out or the face to appear flattened.

14 February 2008

three oranges

Watercolor on Arches R 300 gsm, 7" x 9".

i went shopping and small crates of what looked like tangerines where stacked by the cash registers where i could impulsively snatch one.

the crate label had the name CUTIES and the stickers on the fruit said, "i ♥ cuties". "love of three oranges" is a fantasy opera favorite of mine by prokofiev.

background is iron blue, left to backrun, and dioxazine violet as an unbroken tint; oranges are cadmium scarlet with nickel azo yellow and quinacridone gold. i may shadow sculpt the oranges with tints of phthalo green.

13 February 2008

weekly figure group

Carbon pencil on Utrecht bristol 240 gsm, 14" x 10".

once again the model was a no show, so the artists took turns in 10 minute poses. this is aaron, another regular at the group.

finally the replacement model, michal, arrived. she is a very strenous poser and even did a five minute standing pose with her head touching her knees! i don't know how she does it.

later she took a more relaxed sitting pose for 15 minutes, which was enough time to do a watercolor of it.

Watercolor on Arches CP 300 gsm, 12" x 9".

i first made a light, quick outline in pencil, then bulked out the figure in burnt sienna and gold ochre, using the brush to lift out highlights. the arms were done first so that the body could be painted up to them. then the hair (raw umber) and finally light touches of sepia hue to shape the shadows a little.

i finished painting the background (ultramarine blue) and mat (ultramarine and perylene maroon) while michal took her break.

12 February 2008


Charcoal pencil on Strathmore drawing 180 gsm, 10" x 14".

next up is kortney, a twentysomething american indian from santa rosa. she responded to my ad with some portfolio head shots, and had only done photo and video modeling before, but was willing to try an art modeling gig because i i live nearby.

Charcoal pencil on Strathmore drawing 180 gsm, 10" x 14".

i've posted two drawings of her hands because they came out differently. the second drawing is more active because she let the pose drift, so there are many pentimenti woven through the finished fingers.

Charcoal pencil on Strathmore drawing 180 gsm, 10" x 14".

the head drawing catches some of her physical strength and presence.

kortney struck me as a sensitive spirit who was completely unguarded about her feelings and personal history. like many of the women who model for me, she is working through life changes and next steps. she was also just fun to work with, easygoing and imaginative, and i got some great photos with her.

11 February 2008

cassandra (acrylic)

Golden "heavy body" acrylics on gessoed linen canvas, 12" x 18".

here is the acrylic version. the main difference is in the depth of color on the couch. i satisfied myself that i could match it in the watercolor painting (below) with additional layers of paint, but decided not to put in the effort.

now to summarize the differences between watercolor and acrylic that most impressed me during the paired paintings. (disclosure: i developed as a painter by optimizing my setup and process around watercolors, and this shapes my working preferences.)

• paint dryout - watercolors in pans or palette wells are wetted or left to dry: they conveniently manage themselves either way. i asked several acrylic painters for advice and they all said acrylics have to be diluted or mixed with acrylic medium or water to retard drying time. i found they harden in about 20 minutes, have to be put on the painting or cleaned off tools and brushes before they harden, and this time limited task of managing paint before it dries was a painting distraction.

• paint waste - for all the watercolor paints i habitually rely on, i empty tube paints into small porcelain condiment dishes, where the paint dries out to make large pan watercolors (basically the same format as you can buy, at much higher cost, from blockx or winsor & newton). these pans can be wetted and dried an unlimited number of times; the only wasted paint is in the brush rinse water. acrylic seems more wasteful. in my practice a lot of acrylic paint got blotted onto paper towels, or formed a mixture residue on the disposable palette that had hardened before i could use it. mixing colors or blending paint with acrylic medium forced paint up onto the brush ferrule, where it had to be scraped or wiped off. more thick paint goes into the rinse water each time the brushes are cleaned.

• paint consistency - i found the thick acrylic paint consistency to be unpleasant. no matter which dilution i tried, the acrylic could not be applied without brushmarks. i could not create smooth color areas ("washes") without applying the paint in a thick, hiding layer. diluted paint applied as a "wash" tended to creep back and dry into a smaller, clearly bordered puddle of evenly distributed color.

• chroma & value - watercolors seem to start out dull and light valued, though they can be built up to acrylic appearance by repeated glazes. acrylics start out saturated and strongly contrasted, and have to be methodically dulled down by glazing with black, white or complementary hues. i came to the conclusion, surprisingly enough, that it was easier to make a watercolor look like an acrylic than to make an acrylic look like a watercolor. acrylics produced more vibrant effects of color and contrast, while watercolors produced more delicate effects of atmosphere and light.

• wet in wet - i was unable to produce wet in wet variety in acrylics, unlike the fantastically varied diffusion and backrun effects you can get in watercolor. dropping paint into a watery puddle, or puddle into a diluted paint mixture, produced a dried color that was smooth and had well defined edges. backruns and diffusion just didn't happen in acrylics. all contrasts were in the brushstroke textures.

• tinting strength - the relative tinting strength of pigments is different in watercolors and acrylics. this did not seem to be only a property of the pigment load in the paints, but also the way the pigment combined with the vehicle as the resin dried. in my palette i greatly underestimated the tinting strength of acrylic nickel azo yellow and phthalo green; quinacridone magenta was weaker in acrylic than in watercolor.

• drying shifts - in general drying shifts in value (the color appears lighter after it has dried) were larger and often harder to anticipate in watercolor than in acrylic. however i found that novel *hue shifts* in paint mixtures occurred in acrylic paints, as if the tinting strength of the pigments changed as the paint dried. for example, a mixture of yellow, magenta and white appeared a perfect flesh pink on the palette and when brushed out, but dried into a definite yellow.

• support - the support texture shows through much clearer in acrylic, although the texture is a generic weave; the paper textures in watercolor have a much greater variety and more impact on paint appearance. the absorbency of papers contributes a lot of variation to watercolor painting, but the lack of absorbency in gesso is constant; gesso also contributes to the brighter color in acrylic. paper creates a softer, more atmospheric color in watercolor or in acrylic on paper.

• underdrawing - the underdrawings in watercolor pencil lifted equally easily from both the gessoed canvas and the sized paper, but the underdrawing in carbon pencil held much better on the gesso. in watercolor it lifted to muddy the color somewhat, and i had to redo the drawing before the painting was finished.

• glazing - i have a lot to learn about building alternating layers of paint and transparent medium, in acrylic, but overall i think that similar glazing adjustments were possible in both media. acrylic also offers a wider range of surface finishes -- gloss, matte, dull, textured, etc. -- compared to traditional watercolor. (i have not tried coating a finished watercolor with acrylic medium.)

• pigment texture - pigment textures, including flocculation and granulation, are effaced by the acrylic medium. every color has the pigment texture of house paint.

• brush blotting - if i need to dry a watercolor brush as i paint, i simply wipe it across the leg of my denim pants, or snap out the excess water onto the floor. both stains clean up easily. i can't do either with acrylic; i need a rag or paper towel. and once a paper towel has two or three wipes of acrylic on it i must throw it away to prevent unwanted paint transfer when i use the towel to blot paint from the painting. my trash can quickly filled with paper towels.

i am enthusiastic about continuing with acrylics -- at least, until i use up the paints i've bought -- but i realize i have to rethink my technique from the medium up. you can't just dip a watercolor brush into acrylic paint, and expect to fly from the beginning.

10 February 2008

cassandra (watercolor)

Watercolor on Velke Losiny "Moldau", 12" x 18".

as i was flogging around with the acrylics i decided it would be useful to do two identical paintings, in acrylic and watercolor, to clarify the differences between the two media.

the image is of cassandra horsing around on the studio brown leather couch. the image was squared, and both supports squared with blue watercolor pencil. then the image was transferred freehand to both supports using carbon pencil.

to make the comparison exact i used the same palette -- the six paint secondary palette, described on january 19 -- because the same pigments were available in both watercolor and acrylic.

i made photographs of the paintings as they progressed, but only show the finished paintings here. each painting took about 5 hours.

comparisons are made in the next post.

09 February 2008

cassandra's hands

Carbon pencil on Strathmore drawing 180 gsm, 10" x 14".

cassandra was back today for her second modeling session, i did more drawings of her hands, including this one, and then two hours of photography, including some great images of her sitting on the studio sun ledge, about 10 feet above the floor, in among the sunlight coming through the dormer windows.

08 February 2008

life mask (part 2)

i made a mould of my face with plaster of paris on january 25.

on january 31 i poured the mask. first i smeared the inside of the mould with petroleum jelly, wrapped the mould in aluminum foil to prevent plaster from flowing out the ends, and filled it with fresh plaster of paris. i left it for a week to cure.

yesterday i finished the mask, shown at left. i got a massage in the morning from a young woman who modeled for me last year. then went to the studio and with hammer, screwdrivers, handsaw, dental picks and a file slowly cut, chipped, pried and filed down the plaster mould to reveal the casting inside. this process took all afternoon; i had to work slowly so as not to crack the mask or gouge it with a tool.

there was a peculiar fascination in chipping my recognizable features out of the block of chalk, and palpating the features without feeling touch on my face, as if it were another face.

i filled gouges and scraped down imperfections. the petroleum jelly left the surface somewhat greasy. to blot up the oil, i smeared the mask with yarka "sanguine" chalk and wiped the excess off.

i made a shallow tray with the binding of four art books laid on my work table, spaced to form a golden rectangle, then lined the void with aluminum foil. i set the mask on small strips of wood, then filled the space with plaster up to the edges of the mask, which were chipped. (i should have first filled the void and then dropped the mask into the matrix.) the face seems to emerge from a caul, and has the scowl of a newborn. (the mouldmaking was a trying experience.)

my wife took an immediate dislike to the mask and asked me to keep it down in the studio.

07 February 2008


Carbon pencil on Strathmore drawing, 10" x 14".

next up is paola, a young woman from a town south of me. she comes out of columbian parents, petite and with intense dark eyes and strong bones.

her hands are delicate, with beautifully extended digits. i don't think i did them justice in the drawing. i want to try again with different drawing styles, to see what works best with her hands.

working with so many different models over a short period has helped me see the differences between the women i've worked with. paola has a kind of forthright reserve, if that makes sense; i hope i can put it on good display in her portraits.

one thing these models seem to share is that they are at inflection points in their lives. the future looks more important than the past, they are active in making things happen, they are ready to try new things. it's a great energy to explore with them.

06 February 2008

weekly figure group

Carbon pencil on Strathmore drawing 180 gsm, 10" x 14".

the model this week was new to all of us, whom i'll call Z because i can't spell her mayan name. (as she explained it, she's not mayan: she was born in mexico and her parents were hippies.)

i got a lot of good drawings from Z. she was generally steady and struck some novel poses. she had a warm skin tone, sharp features and a very rewarding figure, athletic and large but not cut (muscled) or bony.

normally i don't enjoy the lying down portion of the modeling session, but the pose shown above had a dynamic twist in the lower back, tautness across the breasts, a lyrical drape of both arms, and fantastic foreshortening. this is not a model that has just flopped down to take a paid nap: she is "working the pose".

i did a couple of portrait drawings; this one is the first. don leivas, who is probably the best artist attending the group regularly, liked it ... so here's to you, don.

05 February 2008


Fabriano Artistico CP 300 gsm, 12" x 9".

this is another backlog painting, companion to the painting posted last week. same pigments and color scheme; the hair is slightly different.

the main contrasts are between the saturated backgrounds and the muted life colors, and between the dark eyes and earrings and the pale skin.

pyrrole orange, diluted far enough, shifts toward a mystical blue tint that is very different from the tints of cadmium scarlet, which shift toward yellow. it's a beautiful flesh tone, but unfortunately it is almost completely washed out in the photo. try light washes of pyrrole orange and you'll see what i mean.

04 February 2008


Acrylic on canvas board, 16" x 12".

this is my fourth acrylic, again with the secondary (hexachrome) palette (described on 19 january).

this painting almost did itself, starting with the mouth, nostrils and eyes, then the facial modeling, then the background and clothing, and finally the hair. it's not quite finished but i am going to let it sit for a few days and sink in.

the drawing was transferred by ruling the support in sixths, height and width, then building the outline freehand in charcoal. i find that the division in sixths is the best overall framework for medium sized (up to full sheet) formats; it also supports a variety of diagonal lines, from one grid corner to another, that are handy for locating detail features.

however the graphite grid was difficult to erase and i had to scrape off several visible lines when the portrait was half finished. i've since switched to watercolor pencil for the grid; the charcoal underdrawing adds a bit of black along the edges that helps define color areas.

the only premixed colors here are the basic hair color and the sweater green. everything else is done in separate layers of pure paint. this gives the painting a very strong color vibrancy, especially in the face, which has an almost iridescent weaving of magenta, green, yellow, scarlet and blue tints, muted here and there by white or black. the eyes are far too bright. i wanted the face to have the decorative coloring of a viennese pastry or ripe tropical fruit.

the quality i admire in women of this age is the excitement they express as they embark on their adult life, with adventure in their eyes and confidence in their talents and beliefs.

03 February 2008


Arches CP 300 gsm, 14" x 10". 1.5 hours.

this is a freehand portrait of charlotte, done without a pencil underdrawing or grid. i started with the eyes and went from there.

the skin is gold ochre, burnt sienna and venetian red. the hair is sepia tinted with cadmium red, nickel dioxine yellow and pyrrole orange. the eyes are cerulean muted with cad red; phthalo blue tint for background.

i enjoyed painting this, and especially tried to capture the far away, introspective depth in charlotte's eyes.

02 February 2008

cassandra's hands

Arches CP 300 gsm, 10" x 14".

this is a freehand drawing of cassandra's hands, from a photo, tinted in watercolor.

these "hands" paintings began with a series i did of siena's and my hands, beginning in november.

01 February 2008


Acrylic on gessoed canvas panel, 16" x 12". 2 hours.

this is my second acrylic painting. it is built from the same photograph as the previous drawing, but with the panel gridded in sixths to facilitate the drawing transfer, done freehand.

i was surprised how quickly the acrylics worked, especially in her hair, which would be much harder to do in watercolor. also the color modulations are easier to see on the palette, since the drying shifts (changes in color as the paint dries) are much smaller in acrylics than in watercolors. even so, i am still feeling my way in the paint mixtures, since the tinting strengths of the pigments are not the same as in watercolor. (i ruined a good painting of charlotte, my second acrylic, because i underestimated the tinting strength of the nickel azo yellow.) it's like trying to bowl with an unusually heavy ball.

this painting shows a little better the definition and correct proportion of cassandra's features.