Here's what I'm working on and thinking about at the moment:

in the studio

Fighting myself, fighting the paint

A struggle this week to stop getting in my own way. I think at the most basic level, it still feels like I’m struggling to figure out how to use the oil paints in a way that matches up to how I think about developing an image. I am definitely an artist who likes to start with a general shape then start to lay in colors, then start to refine colors and details as I go… In acrylics, 3-4 starter layers can all be applied in the same morning. I’m struggling to figure out how to do that in oils, though, which stay wet and quickly become a slippery mess.

For much of the last two years, I’ve tried to really change my approach to developing images so that I’m aiming to put the right color in the right place the first time. But this approach, which works so beautifully for some, leaves me feeling almost bruised by the end — I’m fighting every intuition I have for however many hours I struggle through the painting.

This week, after realizing I was melting down, I feel like I’ve been trying to go back to square one a bit. Of course, first I had to peel myself off the couch to actually get started again… But I’m working on a simple self-portrait (from a photo I snapped on the couch in an effort to paint the couch instead of lay on it) and really trying to think about the steps and layering process. It feels hopeful.

I finished the first one Tuesday and, while less painful, it still felt smeary and messy by the end. With that one, I did an outline and then underpainting, mixing colors as I painted. Somehow the painting feels a little flat (which is impressive considering how much paint was smushed on at the end!).


Wednesday’s felt closer. I made more of an effort in the initial sketch to mark out darks and lights; and pre-mixed colors, looking for two mass-tones in each part of the painting, that I could lay in as an underpainting with just Gamsol. Then I adjusted the mass tones in various spots and added a bit of medium to the mix, and really tried to notice which brushes added paint and which seemed to remove it. Still, there’s some smear on the top layer, sigh. And, it feels like there’s not enough value contrast in the face — the photo doesn’t have much, frankly, and I think I need to push/exaggerate the contrast. 


I started a third with the aim to exaggerate the values on the skin beginning with my initial paint sketch, then pre-mix mass tones and put them on in that exaggerated fashion in a light-medium-dark range on the face (I used the notanizer app on the phone), and see if that could help the face feel less washed out. I spent quite a bit of time trying to get the facial features in better proportion… I then added in spots of color – the pinks and the blues you can see on the face… 


Although it doesn’t feel like they photographed well, I don’t hate them, I even like the last one – it feels more like the direction I keep hoping to find. Regardless, they’re certainly further along than they would have been a year ago — I better notice that progress since I also spend so much time criticizing myself for not making more :-0

Posted 11 weeks ago

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