Monday, October 20, 2008

More on Underpaintings

I did another underpainting on Friday (see close ups below). Even though I am excited about doing these I find myself procrastinating terribly when it comes time to actually sit down and get started. To the extent that I waste almost the entire day and then have to work quickly in the last part of the day before my mom thing starts up again. At first I wasn't sure why I kept doing this, I love doing the underpaintings no matter what the subject is and usually I love how they turn out. But doing them is intense and while it is exhilarating it also requires much energy and I am always drained after. It's all good of course, but I think the intensity of all that scares me a little.

Doug and I have spent a lot of time talking about leaving the underpaintings as is or pursuing the color. As I said before he thinks I should let them be, but I am feeling this intense need to apply color. I love doing the underpaintings more than anything, but I really need the challenge of painting in color too. Making the underpaintings would be fun, but too easy, I think, and while that is tempting I know that ultimately it wouldn't be very good for me or my work. So I am pressing on and will try to not mess these up.

Anyway, we did come to one conclusion. Hello! I can still do more underpaintings anytime, even of the same images, over and over if I want (I am the artist, I get to do what I want) in which case I would do some things differently. More darks, more lines, more randomness. So things are good, either way.

And I just wanted to thank everyone who commented on my last post about dwindling sales. It is comforting to know that it isn't just me being affected and inspiring to hear how we are all trying to find ways to get by, whether it's by painting larger or smaller or selling in different venues, or using the downtime to develop new directions or to build up inventory.

Despite the difficulties now in selling art, I am still trying my best to not take a wrong turn here out of desperation and to (hopefully) keep my dignity. Well whatever dignity I still possess, of course. Heh. That's all relative, I suppose.

I am really proud of this polka dotted dress:

and it is a good example of how I would handle it if I weren't going to go back in with color. This area will be tough to handle and I have no idea how to do that right now. I know that to add color later, the underpainting should be more refined, but I just couldn't help myself here and I left it the way I liked it.


Deborah Paris said...

Love that polka dot dress! I can relate- doing under paintings is also my favorite part- sort of like a high wire act. And then if I like what I did, I tend to want to sit around and bask in that for a few days. I just started a 48 x 60 last week and wrote a post about procrastinating!

Making A Mark said...

I really like the polka dots!

Not being an oil painter I don't know the answer to this question.....
What would it look like if you glazed in very thin transparent oil over the underpainting - maybe in more than one colour?

Tracy Helgeson said...

Deborah, that's exactly what I do, bask in the enjoyment of doing the underpaintings. It's one of the reasons that I usually do them on Fridays-then I have the weekend to feel like he best painter ever:)

Katherine, thanks! Actually that is exactly what the next step is, a thin glaze of color, and maybe a few more if need be. The problem is though, that if there is a dark area in the underpainting, it is difficult to make it lighter with the color. It can be done but then has a quality I don't like, because in order to lighten it I have to use an opaque color and that usually looks pasty over a darker color. Sometimes it can work though, if the underpainting isn't too dark and if the color I choose is just right and is of the correct translucency, but the stars in the sky have to be lined up in a very specific way for all of that to happen:)

Balhatain said...

I followed over from Self Taught Artist's blog. I really like the direction of this painting.

Oils! I miss using oils. :)

Unknown said...

Before I read your post I had decided to tell you how much I like the dress and the way you handled it. And Tracy, trust your instincts....just paint without overthinking it. You have a great start here.

Deborah Paris said...

As an old hand at glazing ,you have probably tried this, but sometimes if I get an area of the underpainting too dark, I can lighten it with a glaze of indian yellow or transparent yellow oxide (if I am going warm) or terre verte (if I am going cooler) but as you say, its tricky and you have to hold your mouth just right while you're doing it...:)

Tracy Helgeson said...

Balhatain, thanks for visiting and thanks for the comment about the painting. I know what you mean about missing oils-I didn't paint for a long time a few years ago and even though I did other things, I always wanted to get back to oil painting.

Thanks Deborah, I am trying to not overthink it, but of course that IS one of my problems. About painting and life in general:)

Deborah, I have tried those tricks, scumbling, and once in a rare while it works. The main problem is though, that then I lose the quality of the underpainting and the interaction of that and the glaze, and then that area just sticks out like a sore thumb.

Chris Rywalt said...

Well, you know, the trick of the Old Masters is to only use glazes to make shadow areas darker, never lighter. Shadow areas should be translucent and highlights opaque if you're following that style.

I never ever do this, but than I don't usually underpaint. I'm an alla prima kind of guy. An alla prima donna! Ha! Heh. Okay, maybe not.

Anyway. Alla prima, yes, that's more my style. Because I'm way too lazy to wait for layers to dry. In fact what I've been doing on the panels you sent me, Tracy, is to lay the paint down and then wipe it off, basically staining the Gessobord. It gives a nice texture.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Chris, scumbling comes in handy when the dark areas have gotten TOO dark, which can happen pretty easily. I don't like it because I want my underpainting to be visible but a lot of painters scumble and it's good to know how to do it if one works in glazes.

I don't really follow the glazing rules of the old masters though, preferring to do a modified version of all that work. But no matter what any kind of glazing requires drying, and that is why I work on several pieces at a time so I can paint a little bit on them each day.

And I am HORRIBLE at alla prima painting. Always have been.

Chris Rywalt said...

I've been trying to glaze. I took a few of those abstract things I was doing and started playing with them. Stephanie came by and criticized me for, first, using out of the tube colors, and second for not having a "conversation" in each individual painting. (As odd as the word sounds, I know exactly what she means when she says it; at one point I had leaned three paintings against one another such that you could see a few inches of each over the other, and Stephanie -- in that way she has of sounding as if she's had a sudden insight -- said, "Stop! See that? See how those paintings are having a conversation? You should have that in one painting." I'm not saying I agree with her entirely, but I see what she's getting at.)

Anyway. I decided, since I was unsure of some of the abstract work anyway, I could use this as a chance to play with glazing. But I'm having problems. The glazes I make are often too opaque, and when I go to wipe them back down I end up taking off the glaze and some of the "dry" paint under it. That said, some of the effect is interesting and I may find a use for it one day.

I've come to realize that what I value in my own work is its spontaneity. I like it when the first brushstroke is the best. When I go back in and fiddle with things, I feel I've lost something.

Stephanie said that's fine, but she pointed out -- and here I think she's correct -- if I want to work like that I need to have everything exactly right before I start. I can't have an imperfect surface or mix my paints half-assed or get the colors wrong. Everything has to be in balance before I put paint down, so I can get it right the first time.

Which I'm working on.