Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Next Two Weeks

By the time my family came to visit me halfway through the month in Vermont, I was struggling. I had done two small pieces that were interesting to me but I had gotten such conflicting feedback about them that I was definitely confused. I had had a very irritating conversation with another resident, who didn't seem to understand what I was saying about the criticism I had received. She assumed I was upset that the feedback had been negative, even though I kept saying my confusion was the issue and that the mostly nonconstructive comments were not helpful. Then I had a great chat with Alice in her studio about all of this and she very firmly reminded me that I had to do what I felt, and to not let other's comments mess me up. After that conversation I stopped feeling like I wanted to cry, made an effort to avoid the other resident at mealtime (she meant well, I think I just didn't communicate with her very well and I liked her art a lot, by the way), and then went off to enjoy a few days with my family. Doug's feedback helped me get back on track, as well as the break and when I got back to my studio on Monday, I knew what to do.

I began more small portraits of people, again, based on the vintage photos. I decided to begin with a sanguine pastel pencil drawing on gessobord, red and orange glazes, and then full color glazes. Here are three of them at that stage:

Normally, at home I tend to do a whole batch of underpaintings on one day and then do the rest of the glazes over the course of a week or so. However, the drawings take longer, so I did one or two each day and the work on each piece was staggered over several days. Working like that took some getting used to, since working fast is so much a part of my process. My underpaintings are quickly done, simply and without much preparation, but with a lot of energy and a kind of urgency. Beginning with a nice, calm, detailed and deliberate drawing was a real change of pace and I wondered how that difference would affect the later stages of the paintings. So these are the pieces that I began the third week of the residency, they are somewhat in order as I worked on them, although I didn't really keep track:









I was very excited about the first few, though none of them came easy; for example the girl in the chair bothered me and I am still not sure about that one at all.

At the same time that I was working on these, I was trying to finish up the large barn painting as well as the large tulips. Doing the other work helped me to not get too overwhelmed or obsessed with the figures and also let me step back a bit from them and take a breather. The other events that occurred that week were two studio visits by two visiting artists, one of whom loved the paintings BEFORE I applied the full color (I had a few up that only had the orange and red glazes over the drawing) and one hated the whole direction, saying that they would only ever be vignettes. I also decided that I wanted to try working from more contemporary figures and realized that I was beginning to look at other people differently, just the way I began to look at landscapes and barns differently once I began to paint them. So I nervously asked a few of the other residents if I could take a few shots of them to be used as reference for future paintings, in exchange for a small study (when I get to them, that is). Everyone I asked was actually really excited to do this and so I began to ask more people. I now have hundreds of reference photos and am itching to get to work on them after I am finished adjusting to the real world. In fact, I was so taken with the photos of Sierra, a writer from Seattle, that I began two paintings of her right away and managed to get the color on them during the last few days there. These are the paintings that I did on the last day that I could paint before leaving:





I would say that I need to go back into each of them a bit more, but basically I am pleased with them. I am also intrigued by the one with the three figures, although Doug says it's too dated, not as timeless as the others.

Scale: I decided to keep the scale small on these pieces for several reasons. First is that I wanted to get a lot of images going while I was still in Vermont and could focus on them. I knew I could work faster if they were smaller. Also, working small is not quite so intimidating. I went through this same process with the landscapes, beginning small (um, because I was afraid) and then gradually working larger. Thirdly, working out the issues on a smaller scale is easier and then finally, I knew I wanted to keep the details to a bare minimum and I knew if I worked larger, I would begin noodling and overworking, losing sight of the "big picture". So working small was my self-induced limitation, one that will soon change.

The faces and other details: Like my landscapes, capturing detail and even reality is not really my intent. In almost all of my work I am just trying to express what I am feeling about the image. I guess there is always a bit of logic involved, in that the objects are usually fairly representational, and a fairly real space is involved, but the details don't necessarily concern me at all. In the first small paintings that I did, the facial features were fairly distinct. While I think they worked ok, in the later pieces, I consciously decided to leave out much of the specific facial features, preferring to leave them open to the viewer's interpretation, including mine. I see something different in these people each time I look at them and I like that quality.

These are just a start. (Provided I have time to continue working on them) I intend to increase the scale, as well as begin to add more information into the backgrounds. And after getting home and coming across this painter's work, clearly I do need to make a bit of a shift in order to move away from what she is doing! Anyway, I am not worried about that, I am just at the beginning of the process here and despite the fact that my concept is similar to what she says in her artist statement, where I go will surely be different.

I didn't go to the figure drawing sessions quite as much, especially during the third week, while I was beginning the second batch of paintings. In the last week, I did a few small pencil drawings from the model, thinking I would do the glazes over them. But the drawings didn't really inspire me and do I erased them in order to use the panels again. And then on the last Tuesday, I did two more oil sketches, using a different color. The brand of paint was Old Holland and even though I liked the color, the paint itself was really hard to move around on the paper. It drove me crazy, but I did end up like the effect of not being about to cover the entire surface. Also I should add that while I was working on this first one it seemed right that the face was in shadow. Now I hate it and cringe a little bit when I see that part. However, I really like the rest of the drawing.


For the next one, I added a bit of Liquin to the paint, just so I could work with it a bit easier and I think this one is my favorite of all of the oil sketches I did while there.


I did all of these oil sketches during half hour poses, not too short but not long enough for me to overwork. Not usually anyway. Also during the course of the month, I could really see a huge difference in my drawing skills because of the live figure drawing sessions. Drawing the clothed figures to paint was so much easier than it probably would have been otherwise. A good reminder for me to keep up with the figure classes now that I am back home.

So there you go. I have a show (landscapes) in May to prepare for but I am hoping to carve out some time to keep working on the figurative work. I am still feeling enthusiasm for them and hope to keep that momentum. In addition, the break from landscapes was also valuable and I am feeling pretty excited about getting back to them.

And I am off to do just that right now. I did some underpaintings last Friday and they are ready for their color today.......

PS. I feel like I need to explain about the prom image. I liked certain aspects of the couple which is why I initially chose the image. But after I did the underpainting (drawing) I couldn't believe that I had gone ahead with it. I am the most un-promlike person you will ever know, the most un-formal event person you will ever know and this sentimental stuff is really not my thing. But I decided to go forward anyway, and I thought that maybe if I chose ugly colors it would be more satisfying. Heh. That didn't really work and somehow the pea green background that I intended looks more like gold (in person), the girl's dress looks romantic and luminous and the boy looks less dorky than I had intended. Despite all of that happy crap, I actually like the piece. Don't worry though, my feelings about proms have NOT changed.


Stacey Peterson said...

Thanks for posting all of the detail of your process Tracy - this was fun to read.

I'm with you - I actually really love the one with the three figures. Something about the figures juxtaposed on the simple background landscape intriques me - actually, I think the horizontal bands of landscape behind them could be what makes me like this one more than those with solid backgorunds??? I also love the one with the two older ladies (the one in purple and the one in cream).

I like how these are still so YOU. I looked at the link of the artist's work, and while the subject matter is the same, it is completely different in feel from yours.

OK - sorry for the novel. I'm done now!

Tracy said...

Thanks Stacey, glad you enjoyed hearing about all of this. And thanks for the feedback on the multiple figures. I have been more interested in groups of buildings and their relationships with each other, so I guess that has carried on into the figures as well. I am glad these still look like me, too. BUT, even though they do feel different, these pieces are still a bit too close for comfort to Daphne's. Maybe she'll shift a little, and then I will and it will be fine:) I am still very early in the process here.

Anonymous said...

Tracy---I am impressed with how hard you are working. It takes some bravery to venture away from your very successful landscapes. It was fun for me (a non-painter) to hear about your process and experiments. I'm looking forward to seeing how these figure paintings develop. I like how you're handling the facial features and I've always liked your use of color. Good luck with them! Best, Ann K.

Mary Richmond said...

This is a great post--lots of juicy info and great pictures (have to have pictures!) I love your process--and this project. I have often thought of using the old photo albums of my grandmother's and doing some sort of paintings from them but have never rallied to do them. Thank you for doing them for me ;-) And you've done such a great job!

Melody said...

Tracy, thanks so much for posting not only the pics of your latest works but your process. It was so interesting to read about your journey. I've said it before and I'll say it again...I really love your figurative works. I believe your really on to something there. Oh and about the prom! I was never into the whole prom thing either..didn't even go to mine. You know that whole clicky thing that goes on in high school....I just never clicked I guess.

David said...

Hi Tracy -- I see your dilemma concerning Daphne's work, but I think your approach is genuinely different enough for you not to worry too much about it, especially at this crucial early stage in your experiment. The horizon lines and scale seems similar, but your execution is, if I may say so, far more interesting . . . especially because your style brings into play questions about memory, timelessness, and connections to the past . . . it's a far more soulful approach. Okay, I'm biased, because I really admire your style. But the way your paintings allow for the viewer to interact with the painting itself is truly interesting. Thanks for sharing all these!

Olga said...

Thank you so much for sharing all this. I am enjoying reading, and find the process and the development fascinating.

I like the three figures, and find them more enigmatic than some of the others. I also don't think that your work is anything like Daphne's except superficially. And lots of us are drawn to people's body language. I'm sure you are not really worried about any similarity.

I like that your people are like your barns: they have mysterious character which is only partly revealed, and with a warmth in the enigma. Like Hopper both with buildings and people; but somehow there is always a sense of unease with his subjects. With yours I feel more positive, even if perhaps a little sad sometimes.

My absolute favourite is the woman with the fish. Thank you again for this generous outpouring. I have been lurking and enjoying it all for a while.

Chris Rywalt said...

I like "It's All About the Hair." Self-portrait? It's my favorite.

The nudes are also excellent. Again, I'm not sure about the figures in landscapes. I'd have to see them.

Pretty Lady said...

I so know what you mean about nonconstructive critiques. And when you are frustrated with them, people accuse you of being fragile and defensive, which is doubly unhelpful.

It seems to me that a lot of discussion in critique boils down to, "You shouldn't be doing what you're doing, because I don't like it," which is completely pointless. People do what they do.

Anyway, I love the figures, and I'm impressed with how hard you've been working. I like what you said about the 'rapid urgency' in your work; it seems to me that I could take a lesson from that. I tend to work forever on one painting, trying to get the 'urgency' right. Maybe I should just do ten really fast ones instead.

Pretty Lady said...

P.S. By far my favorites of the figure paintings are the ones where you've got one or two quirky details accented, with a deeper color or a sharper line, like the girl with the fish, the bridal couple with the red flowers, the woman waving with glasses, hat and boots, and the woman sitting in the chair with the cross around her neck. They're witty and succinct and distinctive.

Unlike Chris, I find the nudes a little too similar to stuff I've seen thousands of times before, in life-drawing classes ad nauseam. The figures in landscapes have much more of your personality in them.

(This is not intended as critique, just a personal observation. ;-))

Tracy said...

Thanks Ann K. It is a risk to put all of this up, especially if it ends up going nowhere-which has happened before:) I don't usually talk so much about what I am planning to do, but clearly have made an exception here. Glad you have enjoyed it.

Thanks Mary. I LOVE our old family photos and have often used them for reference over the years. But never effectively I must admit. I will keep plugging away-there is definitely something appealing about those old photos.

Melody, glad you have found this interesting, I am glad that I have written it down now. Usually the process just floats off into a vague memory! yeah, I never did click either, and then I didn't want to after awhile anyway. My senior year, I heard that a guy was going to ask me to the prom (as a friend, whoopee) and I avoided him until I heard he asked someone else. VERY Mature.

David I really appreciate your observations about my work and Daphne's. I don't disagree at all, I think we have very different things going on, but still just a bit too similar at the end. Anyway, it's a moot point because she is exhibiting hers, and I am not!

Hi Olga, thanks for commenting. I was hoping to catch the same thing in the figures that I do with the barns so I am glad that it looks as if I have done that. Not sure how it happened, but I'll take it:)

Chris, Glad you like the self-portrait. I am hoping to do more, you know, to chart my aging process.

Pretty Lady, Thanks for your understanding of nonconstructive critiques. They are tough and can really throw a person off, especially if one is working in a new direction and is a bit unsure anyway.

And I agree with your observation about the figures. The oil sketches are just that, sketches, done informally, for practice in drawing the figure. Which is why they are life drawing images, the kind one sees all the time. Their value, and you know how this works, is to support the drawing of the others. But they do have a nice feel which is why I like them. And thanks for noticing the details in the other ones, I am pleased with them too.