Monday, March 10, 2008

The First Two Weeks of the Figure

First of all, I would like to apologize in advance to those of you with dial-up and/or slow computers. The next few posts will have A LOT of images and it may take awhile to load them up. Sorry.

This post will cover what I did with the figures during the first two weeks, and then I will discuss the the second two weeks in the next post. That separation is appropriate because it is punctuated by a teary eyed breakdown (common during these residencies, I hear) and the visit by my family, which served as a great distraction, even if I was a bit put out by the collision of my two worlds!

Ok, so on my first full day in Vermont I attended the figure drawing session and then later on in the afternoon, I began the first one of these small drawings based on a few of the vintage photographs that I had brought along. I did about five of them during the first few days, in between the figure drawing sessions, and I can't even begin to describe how wonderful it was to just sit and draw, without the nagging feeling of having other, more important and well, splashier things to do, like painting. I am very pleased with these and they were very useful in helping me decide where to start with the paintings.

Within a few days I decided to go ahead and jump into some large paintings on panel, based on these drawings. I wrote about that here. I was excited about the underpaintings and went on to add the color which was where things began to fall apart! I was not feeling good about what was happening with the color and what it was doing to the space and even the subject matter. And even worse, I was so disinterested in them that I only partially completed three of them and couldn't even muster the energy to work on the fourth at all. That should have been my first clue. If I am not enjoying or am excited by the challenge then it is not working for me and it's time to change the direction. But which way? At this point I had had a lot of feedback by other residents as well as by two of the four visiting artists and I admit to being completely flustered by all of the different opinions and suggestions. So by the end of the first week I was floundering. I didn't know what to do. I did some small still lifes just so I could keep working. I stapled two large pieces of canvas to the wall and did large paintings of some tulips, from life. None of those things were amazing or maybe not even particularly successful, but they were fun and I really enjoyed the process of working on all of them. I'll put some of those images up in a later post.

Finally though, after a good night's sleep (always helpful for decision making and clarity) I realized that I had to strip away all of the details and extra information just like I had done when I began painting the landscape. When I started the landscapes and barns, after first including too much information, most of it was removed until I found what I had to say, and I have been gradually adding back details ever since.

Even though I did not like any of the first four paintings, each of them contained something valuable that I could take and move forward with. Painting #1 really drove it home for me that I needed to really simplify things, especially now. In cropping the image, I began to see what direction I wanted to go in.
#1, 16x20

#2 showed me that maybe plunking down a figure into one of my usual landscapes wasn't what I should be doing at this point, even though it is a relatively successful painting. It just doesn't seem right to me.
#2, 12x12

#3 gave me some real encouragement that I would be able to render clothing and the volume of the body underneath. And despite many positive remarks from the visiting artists, two of whom liked it exactly the way it is, this is also not something that is working for me.
#3, 18x24

And from painting #4 I learned that I needed to begin differently, that part of the problem was the underpaintings done in oil. Just technically it was very difficult to get the kind of information that I wanted into the underpainting (that is why the faces were blank at that stage-it was impossible to establish them) so I realized that I would have to begin a painting in a different way. Holy cow! Been awhile since I haven't started a painting without oil paint and a piece of a t-shirt!
#4, 20x24

Since the pencil drawings had been intriguing to me (but not to too many others, based upon feedback by visitors and even by Doug), I thought that would be a good thing to pursue. First I did a pencil drawing of a girl on sized paper. I then worried that the graphite drawing underneath would "deaden" the color of the subsequent glazes so I bought some sanguine colored pastel pencils at The Studio Store and I then did a drawing of a small figure on gessoboard with the pencils. I added a lot of detail, more than I thought I would paint, but I really wanted to be able to either use the info later, or to not, based on how I felt when I got there. I then coated both drawings with matte medium, then an orange glaze and then a red glaze, to approximate the colors that I usually begin a painting with. Here is one of them at this point (I didn't get a shot of the other one) and the color is awful by the way, it is actually much more red at this stage:

After the glazes dried, I made a first pass with color and was very happy with the results. And here they are finished:

Even though I again received wildly varying comments from others about them, I really could see something in these two pieces. And so I kept going and began several more. And those I will include in the next post, along with more discussion about the features and scale.

Also, a word about the colors of the glazes here. I considered changing up the first glazes but I was feeling the time pass and I really felt that I wanted to make some progress concerning other issues. Working with a different underpainting color really deserves its own month in Vermont!

Oh and also, during the first two weeks I did several charcoal drawings, and four oil sketches at the figure sessions. I didn't go every day (usually skipped the days with the boy model, sorry, no offense to the model, he was great). The oil sketches are on Daley-Rowney double primed oil painting paper, taped to a drawing board. I used oil paint, straight from the tube, no solvent or medium and used a cotton rag to wipe of the lights. They take at least a few days to dry, depending on the brand of paint or color, and are also very difficult to photograph.


Stayed tuned:there are oh so many more figures to come!


Jeanette Jobson said...

I really like the figures in these painting and particularly like the blank faces. They provide a haunting quality and stays with me.

gary rith said...

Those full color figure paintings just above the nude model? Superb.

Mim said...

I think in every stage htey are lovely and very interesting, your mind makes up stories about them.

Natalya Khorover Aikens said...

I love the nude paintings... so much life and movement in those broad strokes.

Chris Rywalt said...

I'm not too thrilled with the figures in landscapes -- of course I'd have to see them in person -- but I totally love those oil sketches. They're lively and quick. They have a lot of personality and are well laid out.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Jeannette, I like the "haunting quality" comment, thanks!

Gary, thanks, good thing because that is the direction I am pursuing...

Michelle, thanks and I also like what you said about the mind making up stories about them. I try to do that when I am painting them but also want to leave them open to interpretation by others as well.

Thanks Natalya, I love doing those oil sketches, but they also just kill me, sucking away all of my energy...

Do you mean the first batch of paintings? I don't like them either Chris, which is exactly why I bailed on them. And see above about the oil sketches, they run me ragged but I like them too.

Chris Rywalt said...

The oil sketches kill you? Really? Because they just look great. Maybe the energy loss is a good thing.

I found, the couple of times I've painted directly from life, that I'm energized by it. It's frustrating in a way, but still exciting.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Chris, Glad they don't look as if they kill me, but they do. I love doing them, and feel exhilarated as well, however the process really takes a lot of energy and I am definitely drained after. But in a good way.