Monday, February 15, 2010

Vermont Plan C

I began the 'People You Know' series during my first residency in Vermont and so it seemed natural to use this residency to continue developing them. I have learned in the last two years that this series is tough and so that is one reason I decided to take a few other projects to work on this time. Most of the other painting that I do, even if it is new to me, usually just flows out of me. The portraits involve much angst and wrestling, and well, they just hurt me sometimes. It is difficult for me to get started on one, even if I have an image I am excited about. Once I get past that part, things get somewhat better although still (unlike the landscapes), I can only do one or maybe two at a time.

In addition I have struggled with the validity of the whole project and the fact that I use found photographs as a basis for the portraits. But finally, I have realized that much of the process in this series involves my choices in imagery. Just as I find scenes in the landscape that I like, I am finding images (in the form of found photographs) of people that appeal to me for some reason and that I feel compelled to express. The paintings in this series are about the photograph first and the actual person second.

And so after many discussions with Doug about this, and then also in talking to the visiting artists at VSC, I am embracing this aspect rather than feeling so unsure and even somewhat guilty about 'copying a photograph'. One of the visiting artists (Jill Moser) suggested that I consider trying to capture the specific qualities of the photos that I choose, such as an object in the background, the faded colors of the print, the patterns in the clothing and other details that make each photo so unique and yet so universal at the same time. I don't think that I will go all out with that because I still want to express myself in this work by making certain changes. But it sounded like a very intriguing direction and so I will be thinking about all that in the next group of portraits.

However, I was pretty far along with this group of paintings when I finally got these fab realizations so the rest of this post will discuss how I handled these particular paintings during the residency. Everyone likes to hear about process, right???

The first few days I was busy with the larger works on paper and I also spent my evenings sorting through the two big boxes of photos that I had brought along. When the works on paper got to the point of needing time to dry, I turned to the portraits and did these two:
I worked on other things while those dried for a few days, then finally gathered myself together and did the color on Deanne, the girl on the right. J.T. came by my studio after I did the first swipe at the color and he gave me some feedback, suggesting I focus on a few details like highlights on the glasses, the earrings, etc. At first I wasn't sure I wanted to do that as I felt that they might begin to look TOO traditional. However, I decided to forget about that and just focus on what was best for this painting and bringing out those details was it.

So this is the finished painting:Deanne Likes Pink, 2010, Oil on Birch Panel, 18x14
And a close up:

I did a few more underpaintings next then got to work on the color on the other lady. This one gave me some trouble. In a way, I was trying to figure out why I was even painting it; this woman is very pretty and is posed in a very traditional way, quite unlike most of the women I am usually drawn to. But there was something about the nostalgic late fifties quality of the color in the photo, the red scarf and also her perky breast. Heh. Then THAT particular feature had to go when I got to the color stage, white shirt with perky breast just did not work in color and so the coat ended up covering it. I am continually reminded that giving up my favorite parts often benefit the whole and this is a good example of that. At least I still had the red scarf! Red Scarf Day, 2010, Oil on Birch Panel, 18x14

The next painting is of Deanne again and I have painted her so many times now that I am thinking that she qualifies for her very own post. Coming soon, k? Anyway, I liked this very straightforward image of her in a mucky colored lazy boy and so it was next. When I got to the color, I was really wishing I had not kept the background dark in the underpainting as I can't really make it light with color without losing the translucency of my glazes. I think it's OK dark but it might have been better with a lighter area. However, I still think this painting is a worthy addition to my collection of 'Deanne' portraits:Deanne in the Easy Chair, 2010, Oil on Birch Panel, 14x18

And the next image seems to be Deanne's mother. She is sitting in the same chair and I have a number of photos of those two in the same rooms. This photo was actually pretty blah but I kept coming back to it and decided that I was really intrigued by the red line going up the center of her clothing and also by her breasts falling down to her sides. This piece is quite different than the others in that it the person isn't really posing and is actually kind of depressing, I believe Doug used the terms 'disturbing' and 'depressing'. I like that! Days of Our Lives, 2010, Oil on Birch Panel, 18x14

Now at this point in the residency, I realized that if I was going to be able to get all these portraits finished before the end of my time there, I would have to get all the underpaintings done PDQ. I spent a bunch of late nights in my studio and managed to get five more finished. I would have liked to have done more but really the most I could do in a day was two underpaintings and some days even that felt like I was really risking my sanity.

So after I had all the underpaintings done and while they were drying, I worked like crazy to finish up all the other work I was doing so I could get it all up on the walls and out of the way. For the last week and a half or so I focused on finishing the portraits and my other project, Plan D (more about that in my next post).

Eventually I got back to the color on the portraits and the next few passed in kind of an overtired, sand in my eyes haze, so I am not entirely sure of the order. I loved the dark blue dress on this big strong smiling lady, as well as the lower viewpoint. I simplified the background and one visitor to my studio said that image seemed like a memory or an image from a dream: Midnight Blue, 2010, Oil on Birch Panel, 18x14

And a close up:

And this piece was actually based on a photo of a seated older couple but I decided that I only wanted to paint the woman. Something about her arms and that insanely large corsage. I totally simplified the background and am pleased with the graphic quality of this image. A nice reminder of the year in college that I was a graphic design major.Wallflowers, 2010, Oil on Birch Panel, 18x14

The next two were painted on the last possible day that I could paint in Vermont so that the panels could be dry enough to pack up. Last week here at home, I finished them up. I learned a valuable lesson on the single woman; do NOT keep such strong shadows in the face at the underpainting stage. It is tempting to leave the shadows in because they look SO good at that point, but they are VERY difficult to handle at the color stage. I have enough trouble with flesh colors let alone doing such shadows too, yikes. But ones of the things that I liked about the photo (besides that most awesome poodle hairstyle) was the strong light. I must have painted the color on that face a hundred times before I finally got really ticked off and just slobbed on one color over the whole thing. That actually ended up working out ok, but I'd like to do better next time. Note to self: resist the allure of the underpainting.Peter Pan Collar Lady, 2010, Oil on Birch Panel, 18x14

This image is actually cropped quite a bit, the photos shows both full figures and it is so funny, the two of them standing there holding flowers. But unfortunately I didn't have a large enough panel with me to do the whole thing, so I decided to crop. This painting has much more detail than the others (the flowers) and is a nice contrast when grouped with the other paintings. In looking at the painting now, I think that I need to work back into the areas where their hands are, it looks like there should be more of an indication of a vase there. On the other hand, I think that the man's left ear is probably the best ear that I have ever painted! We Got Flowers Today, 2010, Oil on Birch Panel, 14x18

A few more things about Plan C:

I also did one more underpainting (of my apparent muse, Deanne)which I could just not do before it was time to leave Vermont. It really bugged me that I just couldn't do it, even though I recognize how crazy it was to feel that way given how much work I did actually complete. But I am over it now and plan to finish it up this week.

I feel like the actual style of painting in this group is a bit more refined than in the previous portraits I have done. I have mixed feelings about that as I really feel that there about a zillion other artists who can paint portraits better than I can. I don't really feel that I am a traditional sort of portrait painter either and I am worried that I may be headed that way. However, I also think that these are a pretty successful group of portraits and so I will try to stop worrying about this aspect. Well, for now, anyway.

All of these are on 14x18 birch panels. I brought panels because I felt this series was further along than the other work I was planning to do there (which is why I did nearly all of that on prepared paper). Also, I received a lot of positive encouragement on these and Brenda Garand, one of the visiting artists reallyreally encouraged me to pursue showing them. So I am planning on doing just that. I may have to start with applying for exhibitions at nonprofits again, just as I did with the landscapes.

And I always seem to put off painting these portraits until I believe that I have enough time to really focus on them. but since they are intense I can only do one or two at a time. I need to stop pushing them to the back of the queue and simply start fitting them in around other work.

There. I have stated goals out loud and in public so I have to pursue them, right???


Anonymous said...

I love them and reading about your process. My favorite is the Peter Pan Collar Lady. Best of luck in showing them. It must feel so nice to have these done. I know they've been fermenting inside you for a bit. Hurray!

Rose said...

Nice blog, like your painting "We Got Flowers Today, 2010, Oil on Birch Panel, 14x18" you have great artistic and creative skills.

Melody said...

I always love reading about your process and am always interested in Doug's take on it all. Deanne Likes Pink is one of my favs

Diane Hoeptner said...

I can't BELIEVE just how much work you got done in so short a time, Tracy! You bring so much life and meaning to these People You Know by talking about your process and about each subject as an individual. The Deanne and Mom portraits capture a very spooky and sad vibe, love that. I think you should worry less about "copying" (you are so NOT) and keep mining this series for everything it's worth... Can't wait to see more!!

Anonymous said...

You work Tracey is so distinctive. To me they have a wonderful minimalist appeal. I am mad about your colour palette and your whole manner of painting.

'Days of our Lives' is such an original portrait of a senior. I'm not sure if I'd call it depressing though. For me it conjures childhood memories of your grandmother engrossed in one of her favourite pastimes.

That red stripe down the dress i find particularly interesting - i love it.

Sherrill, Montreal

rob said...

I think what's so awesome about these-- even beyond your brilliant painting skills-- is that you've managed to continue their stories. The character you put into their faces-- the lines, the curve of the mouths, the dimness in the eyes... your paintings are telling the stories here, too.

Shanster said...

I really like these and enjoy hearing what you like best about them and what drew you to paint them...

Casey Klahn said...

That was a well written post! I feel like I know more about this series that I admire so much.

I also admire your ethics about painting from photographs - I see a difference in the way you are doing this. You are using the found images that have a definite unity with your ideas/content. These are abandoned images, really, in the great dustbin of universal images. How many billions of those are there? I still have some of those old photographs that were printed out as like 3 inches by 3 inches in the 60s. What were they thinking?

I absolve you of all guilt for your project. Paint on.

Natalya Khorover Aikens said...

thank you for the process.. I heart Deanne and her mother...

Jala Pfaff said...

Love these portraits. :) Deanne Likes Pink is very amusing to me, in a quiet way.