17 September 2009

naked ladies

watercolor on velke losiny moldau CP 300gsm, 20"x30".

i bought these flowers at bill's market and set them in a vase for two days. i drew a foundation in watercolor pencil, then in charcoal or carbon pencil over that. finally the drawing was washed or filled in with watercolor paint. i didn't like the way the background turned out, so i trimmed the sheet at both ends, and i finished the pot quickly because i was bored with the work.

the point was the freehand drawing, a more complicated drawing than i've done in a long time without a grid or projected image. i am becoming more aware of how a drawing emerges out of first marks so that i can make those marks with the right focus.

i like the way the blossoms cover the stems, and the variety of curls and perspectives in the six pointed star at the end of each blossom cone. they are called "naked ladies" because the blossoms stalk out of the bare ground. the leaves emerge and die off in the summer.


watercolor on velke losiny moldau CP paper, 300gsm, 30" x 22".

the star field between the pleiades and orion (across bottom) and between the milky way and the variable star mira (bottom to top). it includes several different distance scales: the star clusters of orion, hyades and pleiades, the milky way background, the red shifted galaxies in the distance.

first the star positions were identified in blue watercolor pencil using a grid to copy and project part of a star chart in the norton's star atlas. beads of latex resist were applied over the marks, and the whole sheet washed with indanthrone blue, prussian blue and phthalo blue. the resists were removed from the dried sheet and the star images edited with a brush.

the moldau paper is really a delight to work on, but the internal sizing does not hold up under areas protected by latex mask, so diluted color applied to them tends to creep or spread, which introduces variety into the star shapes.

15 September 2009

binocular self

Kremer pan watercolors, Wolff's carbon, Arches CP 300gsm, 16" x 12".

i have been feeling a desire lately to get back to vision rather than photography for a working basis. a lot of things going on ... looking at stars through an infrared scope, testing color combinations using photoshop generated media, finding the camera based paintings stale and timid, difficulty in focusing when i draw freehand, an interest in how objects are identified in vision, looking through japanese hantai comics and other graphic novels ... feeling boxed in by the image.

i had a grid traced on an acrylic sheet that i used to transfer a starscape into a large (30"x22") format, and thought to use it to draw my face in binocular view. the trick is to focus on the grid, but look at the image behind it; if the grid is propped against a mirror and the mirror is a few feet away, the binocular image appears fairly clearly.

it was very difficult for me to draw in this way, mostly because the binocular rivalry became stronger, and one image would dominate. there is actually great depth to this kind of image that becomes more apparent the longer you try to draw it; the difficulty is to draw both images with equal contribution.

the eye does various things to reconcile the images. the edge of the head (hair) and the eyes are pronounced, because the eyes overlap in the center (the right eye looks directly into the left eye, and vice versa). the mouth appears as a horizontal feature. the nose is split in separate images that are only half as strong as the eyes, and so on. where areas overlap, the image "behind" the other appears attenuated at the edge, as if the image in front were surrounded by a nimbus. features coalesce to make shapes, and the shapes change as one or the other image asserts itself. it was quite tiring.

the binocular issue was foregrounded by a large painting i am doing of "naked ladies", a type of lily that blossoms once each year around the first of september. the profuse lily cones created a dense pattern of overlaping and occluding volumes.

28 August 2009

star paintings

this is the span between the big dipper and cassiopea, centered on polaris. three stimulants on this. i happened by larry's on the first night of the perseid meteor shower, and let myself enjoy the asterisms in the north sky. i stumbled onto a freeware called "Where Is Messier 13?", which every amateur astronomer will recognize as a globular cluster in the constellation bootes, west in the sky from the bright star arcturus. i viewed the night sky using larry's infrared binoculars, which revealed texture in the milky way most beautifully.

i became intrigued with our celestial place and gathered photos of local galaxies, our galaxy structure, local star clusters and nebulae, the visual pattern of the milky way. i drew the northern star locations and magnitudes with a charcoal pencil, copying from the norton star atlas, making an asterisk shaped mark.

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

this one was the first. i used this as the drawing guide for the painting below. the milky way is deep yellow, the sky green gold, every black star is tinted with cadmium scarlet, then colored in with cobalt teal blue. the stars look like blue cinders and the spatial sense of a star scape is more evident.

watercolor on Lanaquarelle CP 300gsm, 10" x 14".

this was drawn by copying the first. the sky is several kinds of transparent blue, stars reserved with liquid latex then tinted around the margins with yellow, magenta or green blue. i didn't enjoy the paper, which was too heavily sized and susceptible to cockling.

25 August 2009

april & son

watercolor on Arches CP 300gsm paper, 14" x 10".

second in the april series, heightened the color a little and enjoyed getting the fluffy texture on the sesame st. doll. unfortunately as with so many of my paintings, the photograph doesn't convey the figure modeling at all.

05 August 2009

april & son

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

i had worked with april over a year ago, and contracted with her to do three paintings of her and her year old son as trade for her modeling for me.

one thing or another, other projects, travel, illness and an unpredictable tremble in my hand, perhaps a sign of age, alternately slowed or postponed work on these images. last month i substantially finished them, and this week put the final touches on all three.

in this image i opted for a muted palette confined to a limited range of warm hues, with an ultramarine blue wash for the background. the light structure is simple and the pose was both a good portrait study of april and an nice psychological contrast between past and future, adult and child, innocence and experience.

i kept the modeling rather flat, and stylized the hair, in a way that i wanted to suggest renaissance paintings. this was the painting the model chose to keep.

10 June 2009


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

i did this portrait because i liked the photograph and the pose, but especially because i liked trinity's luxurious, cascading hair.

the drawing is freehand, using a system of skewed guidelines i developed a couple of years ago. the guidelines assert a subtle distorting effect on the drawing, and the coloring is done roughly. the drawing resembles a portrait heroine from a graphic novel.

background is chromium oxide green and cadmium yellow deep, glazed with a layer of nickel dioxine yellow. flesh is raw sienna base, watermarked, with shading in burnt sienna, cadmium scarlet, and benzimida maroon. eyes are dioxine violet and green gold tinted with phthalo blue, phthalo green and cadmium scarlet. hair is transparent brown oxide and cobalt blue deep; the two give a granulating dark brown/gray black color that is tinted with phthalo blue and phthalo green.

07 June 2009


watercolor on Arches CP 600gsm, 16" x 12".

another figure study, this is a pose the model suggested from a photo she had seen of a movie star. i started this painting three times. the first painting failed because the background got out of control, the second because i spilled phthalo green on the face. this one turned out reasonably well but deserves to be larger size (probably half sheet). this is on an arches 600gsm block sheet, essentially a card stock with a rough finish.

the photo was altered in a few ways to make the image more appealing. for example, due to the optics of my position and foreshortening her left foot appeared too small: it's been enlarged about 8% so that it matches the (closer to camera) right foot.

background is several washes of phthalo blue plus iron blue, with a single top layer of cobalt blue deep. this dark granulation over the lighter gradations in tone gives the background a shimmery, radiant quality.

flesh tones are benzimida maroon for the darks, cadmium scarlet or burnt sienna for the volume modeling, isoindolinone yellow and raw sienna for the base (lightest) flesh tone, shadows tinted with indanthrone blue, cobalt teal blue or phthalo green. hair is sepia streaked with cadmium red and dioxazine violet.

27 May 2009

what has happened to arches?

yes, what has happened to arches papers? i thought my occasional bad experiences with their 600gsm sheets (specifically the double elephant or 29" x 41" sheets) were just luck of the half irish. what kind of bad experiences? how about a tuft of what appeared to be lint mixed with human hair stuck in the middle of the sheet, buried in the pulp, that had to be carefully trimmed down to the surface? or, in another sheet, a patch of denser pulp that repelled paint even when the patch was scraped slightly and scrubbed with a brush as paint was applied.

then a painter i admire wrote me about problems *she* was having with arches sheets, problems she took to the manufacturer and to which Arches responded in a generous manner. but one off gestures to repair the relationship with the artist do not get at the underlying problems with the paper.

case in point: the 29" x 41" figure nude of sienna, which i had to abandon because of inexplicable blotching across her ... well, across the part of the image that i could not disguise with texture, pattern, dark values or strong color contrasts.

i know how to store and handle papers; i wash my hands before handling papers, and i do not bruise or abrade papers accidentally or on purpose. these blotches get darker grossly darker when the paper is wet, implying the flaw is in the pulp.

the companion painting disclosed a different flaw -- a small cluster or spray of white dots, each about 1mm in diameter, covering an irregular, elongated area about 6 cm/sq. these dots, whatever they are, repel paint and cannot be worn down or lifted by judicious scraping with an xacto knife. they appear in a mid valued area where i can probably disguise them with texture.

i am a habitual user of Arches watercolor blocks, both the 300gsm and 600gsm sheets, and in general the 300gsm (140 lb.) blocks have a rock solid consistency. i recently purchased some 20 year old 300gsm blocks from an artist who wanted to offload her inventory, and the quality of the 300gsm sheets 20 years ago and today is indistinguishable.

in contrast, the 600gsm block sheets seem a little erratic to me; the surface in particular seems less finished and more unpredictable. so i have a conjecture: all the 600gsm weight papers are made in a separate line or at a separate manufactory, under separate or subsidiary management from the higher volume plants. if so, someone from Arches corporate (well, Arjo Wiggins or whoever owns them now) should drive out to that plant and do a quality and process review. something unhappy is happening to arches papers.

23 May 2009

bearded irises

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

jan's garden has come into full bloom so i spent a few days photographing and selecting some flowers for painting.

i justified cutting these irises because a heat snap would have cooked them dry. they are an almost black violet with gleams of red. i used ultramarine violet darkened and warmed with cadmium scarlet, and quinacridone magenta for the highlights.

this is just a recreational painting: freehand drawing, quick blocking in of color, little attention to detail or composition. the vase has a water glass shape but is actually a foot tall. the blossoms were about 13cm wide.

the stalks ended in a single blossom. after i posed and drew the flowers and started the painting, the stalks went through the death process and the central blossom opened, then the other buds opened after the two large flowers shriveled up. the plant exposed as much of its pollen as possible before the flowers were gone. it was sad to watch, but also inspiring.

15 May 2009

trinity (color study)

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

this color study was prepared to evaluate a color scheme that i intend for a series of mirror poses with trinity. i also wanted to explore ways to model her hair on cold pressed paper, and play around with the composition.

the hair turned out to be more work than i intended but the method i used -- lifting paint from a foundation layer of synthetic black (perylene maroon, phthalo green, a little phthalo blue), then painting into the highlights with the component colors, then shaping the darks with a second application of black -- gave the hair a softness i hadn't expected.

i foregrounded the figure by painting the flesh tones in burnt sienna, cadmium scarlet, benzimida maroon and cobalt teal, over a foundation wash of raw sienna, then contrasting it with the ultramarine violet wall color and the greenish brown frame of the mirror. the figure within the mirror is painted with cadmium red and chromium oxide green, shaded with phthalo blue. as a final step i laid a light wash of phthalo blue over the reflection, to push it back, but i'm not satisfied with the result.

i shaped trinity's portrait toward a contemplative, almost wistful expression. trinity told me stories of her teenage years in gymnastics and the many recent positive changes in her adult life, she seemed to be looking both inward and outward. i have also begun to see consciousness as fundamentally an image projected by physicality into identity, the vanitas theme of the middle ages and renaissance.

01 May 2009


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

it has been a while since i've done a decent self, and the pic i've been using on facebook and elsewhere, all in green with glaring purple eyes, makes me look like a stalker. so i did this one in a couple of days, between trinity paintings, to get my image up to date.

i used the tripod and shutter delay to pose in front of a studio wall. i chose the yellow wall because it is sunny and cheerful, and after all summer is icumen in and laud sang obama.

i am physiologically smile impaired. my normal smile is more like a smirk, and anything that shows teeth makes me look like i'm clenching for a dental exam. some people are gifted with a smile that sits in their face like a nightingale in the golden tree. anyway, i took about 20 photos to get one that looked human.

background is cadmium yellow deep; sweater is perylene maroon and phthalo green. flesh tones are benzimida maroon (a great portrait shadow color), pyrrole orange, cadmium scarlet and burnt sienna, all over a base tone of titanium zinc antimony stannate (winsor & newton "turner's yellow"). this turned out to be too lemony for a good flesh highlight, so i knocked it down with a very light glaze of manganese violet, which was also used (with phthalo green) to mute and darken the shadow modeling. used a gray of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna to rough in the hair, and a dulled mixture of olive green for texture.

29 April 2009


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

more than half my session with trinity was spent on portrait photographs with a variety of tops for color contrast. trinity mentioned she felt tense in front of a camera, but this image is from the second half of the session when she had relaxed into the work.

this hot pressed paper is well sized, making it easy to lift paints, but also producing a whitish, pearlescent effect in colors laid on as several juicy layers. trinity's hair is jet black, but for color interest i first blocked the hair in with sepia, then built up the blacks with overlapping sections of perylene maroon, phthalo green, pyrrole orange, phthalo blue, dioxazine violet and nickel dioxine yellow. once these had completely dried, i cut into the glazes with a moist, 1/8" acrylic flat brush, scribing the plaits and highlights and revealing different color mixtures in the process.

the skin tone is diluted chromium titanate yellow, with darks in cadmium orange, cadmium red and benzimidazolone brown, all muted with tints of phthalo green. the background is two layers of quinacridone violet. she has striking, hazel yellow eyes set in a black iris border; i painted these with green gold, then glazed with perylene maroon to get the right hue.

trinity enjoyed the portrait images enough to post a dozen to her facebook page. i'm glad she likes them.

TECH NOTE: i've recently discovered that i have to choose the option "discard the embedded profile (don't color manage)" in photoshop before posting images to the web. for some reason, files that retain the camera image space lose color balance when compressed on blogspot.

24 April 2009


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

a figure study from the trinity session. this is one of the first poses, and while it is not one of trinity's favorites, i liked it enough to work up as a color study.

i am drawn to this pose because it is frank and confident. the woman has her own space, which is a brilliant deep blue (rough layers of cobalt blue deep, phthalo blue and ultramarine violet), and she does not characterize the viewer through her stance. she has a well formed, capable figure, feminine without weakness and healthy without sensuality. the panties domesticate the image and add whimsy as well. i spent a lot of care on the facial portrait, though it is only the size of a dollar coin. the hair was fun to paint, and i made it dark brown rather than her black to show the plaits more clearly.

trinity has a pale, creamy complexion that i used a new mixture to reproduce. the flesh tone is chrome titanium oxide dulled with ultramarine, tinted with pyrrole orange, phthalo green, indanthrone blue and quinacridone magenta. the photograph does not reproduce the modeling well, which is very lightly done.

trinity's hands

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

these are the hands of a young local woman of polish english descent, who works in web site design and is exploring a variety of alternative and tribal healing practices. she complimented my paintings and consented to model for me; we had a very enjoyable and productive session. she was confident for a first time model and gave me many good images.

usually i ask the model to present her hands in front, which means the thumbs will be turned outward when the palms face up. i asked trinity to drape her hands behind her back, over a chair, to get this image. i like it because it mimics the right and left hand of two individuals touching.

trinity was a gymnast in her early teens, and i learned from her about gymnast mental preparation. the background here is mostly cobalt teal blue, which resembles her "power color". i tinted it slightly with yellow to sharpen the contrast with the skin tones.

the flesh base tone is chrome titanium oxide, muted slightly with ultramarine, then tinted with pyrrole orange, burnt sienna, quinacridone magenta and phthalo green. the sleeves are cobalt teal mixed with cadmium scarlet, painted in overlapping strips to produce the ribbing in the fabric. shadows over skin tones are always challenging, and i like the way these turned out. (colors are more accurate in the full sized image; click on the image above.)

29 March 2009


charcoal on Strathmore drawing, 14" x 10".

i worked a few weeks ago with a new model, an austrian woman who is here as a student in physical therapy. she is working as a stable hand with a local horse breeder and aspires to become a professional jockey in america, and wanted to model because "i have never tried it before."

kat proudly describes herself as descended from four gypsy grandparents. like many of the young models who work for me she is independent minded, candid and self assured. it is getting harder for me to keep up with them.

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

this is the life portrait done in charcoal pencil and painted in a flat, tesselated, almost graphical novel style. it's not corrected from a photograph because it turned out very well. (i like the days when i have my hand!) it suggests her secure attitude but unfortunately isn't turned enough to display her remarkable profile. i will post a smaller profile portrait soon.

background is indanthrone blue, which the photo makes too light valued and blue rather than violet blue. hair is sepia with perylene maroon. flesh is raw sienna wash tinted with burnt sienna.

28 March 2009


watercolor on Arches CP 300gsm 14" x 10".

last christmas jan and i attended a bracebridge dinner at the ahwahnee hotel in yosemite valley. a festive and memorable affair, and we enjoyed the old hotel and the very colorful and gabby staff. someone should do a book about those people! we had perfect timing, too ... drove in with chains the night a snow storm passed through, and got out just as a new storm was coming in. (photos are posted on my facebook page.)

anyway, this painting was done from a photo of me all dressed up with no place to go except dinner, in my new olive italian suit, mostly m.graham olive green, perylene green with some phthalo green or phthalo blue accents on a sepia foundation. chair is cadmium scarlet and all kinds of scrap paint thrown in. the face is mostly burnt sienna with cadmium red and phthalo blue modeling, but it is washed out in the photo by the dark values.

leah's hands

watercolor on Arches CP 600gsm, 14" x 10".

leah is a lovely young massage therapist who has been working with me and my wife, and on recommendation to good friends. she is one of a kind, a sweet, inquisitive and generous spirit with an amazing skill in her craft and remarkable personal integrity.

i took a few photos of her hands after one of our 2+ hour sessions, and liked this photo of one hand supporting the other enough to work it up into a painting.

the background is three layers of quinacridone violet, muted and darkened with a layer of phthalo blue and two of benzimida maroon. it's in that mystical zone between a spiritual purple and an earthy brown. i used the glazes to nudge the color around, but mainly to tamp down a whitish speckling that occurred because the arches paper pushed up a fine texture of cellulose fibers as it was wetted. (i have had a lot of problems with arches papers lately. more on that in another post.)

the hands were painted entirely in the most intense, lightfast and transparent paints i know of -- nickel dioxine yellow, pyrrole orange, quinacridone red, phthalo blue, phthalo green and quinacridone orange (i think there is even some dioxazine violet in there) -- all heavily diluted into crystalline tints. the image was built up with layer after layer of these watery hues ... mostly the red, oranges and green, with yellow, blue and purple for accent and modeling. in noon sunlight the painting shimmers.

18 February 2009


watercolor & charcoal on Arches CP 300gsm, 16" x 12".

i worked with carole last saturday and had a memorable experience with her. this is the portrait sketch i did at the end of the session.

carole has a type of feminine strength that i find really compelling. intelligent, confident, serene, physically robust and instinctively gracious. my drawing completely left me, and i was unable to do her hands. the portrait sketch was done in pencil, then aggressively modified with charcoal from the pose photograph.

i have had two packages of 40" x 60" arches 600gsm sitting in my garage and not had inspiration to work with them. carole likes to dance and at the end of the session she threw some astonishing "dancing" nudes that are finished down to the fingertips. so i am thinking of painting a few of them up, really big.

i was struck by carole's features, and she explained that her geneology goes back to the native indians of belize and european colonizers. i relished the idea of two tribes separating in prehistory, walking in opposite directions to the ends of the earth, iberia and central america, then mingling again in her bloodline. her eyes, which are black, are painted phthalo green overlaid on cadmium red deep, making them appear both black and iridescent.

her combination of indian and european features is very striking, and her face is both attractive and complex. i emphasized complex in the portrait. i overmodeled contours to give the portrait a robust, primitive feeling. i kept the color palette small to contrast hair and figure. the flesh tones are mixed of quinacridone magenta or cadmium scarlet with green gold.