Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's Not Easy Being Blue, alla prima oil painting

This painting, featuring a blue glass vase, a brown ceramic jug holding a bunch of pink flowers, bronze urn, a maroon ceramic tea pot, a copper kettle, a glass bowl with a white onion inside, a couple of lemons and Macintosh apples, and an acorn squash, was my eighth that I completed for my alla prima oil painting class offered at Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia, PA.

This is probably my most complete painting to date from this class. This composition my teacher, Giovanni Casadei, set up is one of my favorites.

One of the things I like best is the large shadow that is cast across the urn and acorn squash. I made sure I finished the cast shadows for this painting since it's something I always leave til last. I know it's one thing I want to work on. I want to paint them in when I do the table surface; it seems the logical thing to do though I have overlooked it consistently. Everything in time, right?

I believe the white cloth is the weakest part of the composition; not horrible, but I'd like it to be more defined. As I stated before, I really want to work on painting drapery. The pink flowers could also use a little more depth that a stronger shadow would provide. In that same area, a stronger highlight on a couple of leaves might have increased the sense of light shining from the left.

Giovanni made the point in this work, my last painting and my final piece--which has yet to be posted--that I need to work on varying my brushstrokes. Again, everything in time.

Recommendations anyone?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Using Water Soluble Oil Paints

I have to take pictures of my last couple of paintings from my a la prima oil painting class at Fleisher Art Memorial and instead of allowing the time to pass without comment, I decided to introduce the first in a series of posts about my experiences with water soluble oil paints.

I've been using water soluble oil paints for about a year. I transitioned from regular oil paints early on in college and took up with alkyd oil paints because I wanted faster drying times. I learned about water soluble oil paints before I used them. I purchased Painting with Water-Soluble Oils by Sean Dye after wanting to get back into painting but realizing that I had no true (or, more to the point, safe) studio space so I needed to consider something that wouldn't ruin our carpets.

To start things off, let me begin this intermittent series of posts with my brief review listed on Amazon.com of the book which I'll go into more in-depth later:
I have owned this book for quite some time and just recently re-read it. It does a fine job providing an overview of water soluble oils (WSO) and how they differ from regular oils. The write-ups for each include a listing of paints offered by each manufacturer and their light-fastness (i.e., longevity after sustained exposure to light). The information covered is more than enough to help you select one of them to begin painting.

I've used them in the past and am now taking a class where I'm using them and others are using traditional oils. I have to say that cleaning up with soap and water is awesome. I use the Artisan brand and have a couple of the MAX brand too. I'm going to try the other brands to see how they handle.

The write-ups by artists about WSOs, their comparison/contrast with traditional oils and the demonstration "lessons" provide for light reading. The pictures throughout give you a fine overview of what other artists do/did with these paints.

Having said all of this, though, I have to note that this isn't a strict how-to book. You'll need to look elsewhere for that. One person recommended the "Water Soluble Oils" section of a book called "The Oil Painting Book" by Bill Creevy. Another is "No Experience Required! - Water-Soluble Oils" by Mary Deutschman. From the reviews this last book sounds it is more about hands-on technique.

Overall, I'd say buy this book to help you get a sense about this medium.
Some of my thoughts have changed since writing this review in June 2008. I'll cover these thoughts and more beginning with my next post about water soluble oil paints.

Please feel free to share your own experiences about this medium.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Composition with Yellow and Red, a la prima oil painting

This painting, featuring yellow and red flowers, apples, oranges and pomegranates, was the sixth that I completed for my a la prima oil painting class offered at Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia, PA. Giovanni Casadei, the instructor, wanted me to experiment by not mapping out anything but simply to put a primary color down as a starting (and focal) point.

Much like Yellow Speaks and Fruit with Vessels, this painting is missing something. For this particular a la prima oil painting, I didn't finish in the requisite 2 1/2 - 3 hours to complete the painting. Can you guess what's missing?

If you said, "the cast shadows are missing," then you'd receive full marks! That's the most glaring issue in my mind. I think the colors balance well and there's a successful feeling of space.

If I had grayed the background more it may have allowed more "voice" to the fore- and middle grounds. While the existing blue background works, my hunch is that it would have been more successful if I added a color to neutralize the saturation. Nevertheless, that's another component of the composition I wish I had redone. Who knows, perhaps I will adjust it since I did take a photo before class officially began.

I'd appreciate hearing some of your thoughts.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Yellow Speaks, new a la prima oil painting

Fear not, I have been painting. I'll post the work over the next few days. This posting and the upcoming pieces are the final paintings from my a la prima painting class at Fleisher Art Memorial in Philly. The timeline for each was between 2 1/2 and 3 hours.

The above a la prima oil painting was the fifth piece from my oil painting still life class with Giovanni Casadei. As you can see I slipped a little in my pacing and didn't finish it. I've improved greatly as has been shown elsewhere on this oil painting art journal. The green drape needs highlights. My hope is to return to this painting and finish it over the Christmas break.

People in the class complained about that brown jug. Ironically, I really enjoyed painting it. I enjoyed painting this piece even though I'm still working on my brushstrokes. Giovanni continued to drive home his new age montra-ish talk about the importance of experiential painting and "feeling" the process while painting.

On a more earthly level, I think the colors and lighting balance well; the sense of space strong. The table covering is one of the more effective I've done. I put painting drapery as high on my list of things to practice.

Thoughts anyone?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Autumn colds, a missed class and stupid tv

Sadly, my family's corporate illness caught up with me. It hit me on Monday afternoon so I was quite tired and simply chose not to go to my class that night at Fleisher Art Memorial. As such, I don't have a new painting to post this week, but tomorrow night's class will find me painting away.

I'm hoping that my week off won't affect my ability to cover the canvas like I did the previous week. I'm expecting that it'll be a bit of a challenge just from having the week off.

This past week flew by and it brought some resolution to my cold, but completely. Last night, however, my wife and I planned on going out with friends to The Melting Pot. My wife and I had eaten there before, but this was the first time our friends had been there. We got through out salads and our cheese course when suddenly the lights went out. Long story short, we stayed there for an hour before they decided they were going to close down the place. I ended up sending them an email indicating out disappointment and displeasure with the fact that:
  • We planned on our evening but the company never planned on a contingency plan for when their power goes out which apparently had happened a few times last year.
  • They offered us complimentary alcoholic drinks, but since we don't drink that was meaningless for us. They didn't offer anything else as a consolation after I mentioned we weren't drinkers.
  • They charged us full price for our meal when it wasn't our fault that our evening was incomplete and ruined.
  • They gave us bogus parking validation. We still ended up paying full price for parking.
All of the area Melting Pots were booked so we couldn't simply find another one to finish our evening out. We ended up coming back to our house and playing cards after stopping to get ice cream and some other snacks. We also watched Yeti on the Sci-Fi Channel.

All I have to say is that you know it's bad when you're hoping the cast gets eaten!

Why did we watch the whole thing? Well, it was horrendously stupid while ALSO being incredibly funny. It's funny, that is, if you like leap-frogging abominable snow monsters who can get burned, shot and impaled but never seem to die until they're thrown off a cliff. But, there, I don't want to give TOO much away in case you plan on watching it.

Let me just leave you with this additional tidbit ... one of the main characters gets both his legs broken, uses one of his dead friend's forearms as a splint, walks through knee-high snow drifts and then, later, tumbles down a hill while trying to escape the yeti only to have another friend shoot him in the eye with a flare gun after arriving back at camp. BUT, he turns out NOT to be dead -- which you don't find out until the end of the movie when he crawls disoriented from the hold of the aircraft that had been pushed off of a CLIFF by a yeti.

Fortunately, though, we need not fear that that guy's character will further pollute the gene pool because the hand of one of the yetis that had been IMPALED by stakes and covered by tons of snow from an avalanche thrusts his three-digit hand through the snow ominously ending this horrendously stupid horror movie. (Hey, I got to use my description again!)

So I guess one can't complain about spending time with your spouse and good friends even if that means an insipid movie sucks you in and leaves you laughing as its foolishness, right?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fruit with vessels, a la prima painting

Ok, here's the painting I completed last Monday during my a la prima still life class. As I indicated in my last post, I completed the entire painting. Of course, it's not all as developed as it should be. But, I was happy that I covered the whole canvas. I kinda pulled it together during the eleventh hour, I guess you could say.

For those of you new to my blog, I'm taking an a la prima painting class. Each painting for the class must be completed within the three hour class period. It's been a challenging process; learning to paint in one sitting. There are many pieces that need to be brought together to make it happen at all, let alone successfully. LOL!

There are obvious components that I'm not happy with. The chair is slightly off on the top left of the chair back. I can't believe I missed that. There are some tonal variations with the chair as well that could make it appear more solidified. The spatial relationships between the area directly behind the table and those peripheral elements (i.e., chair, end of black platform the table and chair are on). I am also wanting to work on rendering drapery to appear more solid.

Oh, and by the way, my 2-year old is responsible for the finger prints and occasional smudges. I shouldn't have had it where it was, but she picked it up and moved it. In the process, she put dark marks on the white canvas drape and smudged a couple of other areas. No biggie though.

I'd like to try, at some point, toning the background so it melts into the gray value I have been using for this class. Then with that established I can pull out the more saturated values of the focal point.

Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I beat my estimate

Well, I did it -- AND, I did ahead of schedule.

I covered the whole canvas during class on Monday night. Whoo hoo!

Of course, that could all change next week because the painting I ended with wasn't exactly complete in that the drape had stripes which I edited out because of time. so, I made it but barely.

I'll be posting it when I get a chance to take a photo of it. I leave too early in the morning so taking a pic at that time isn't going to work. Also, the painting goes to the edges so I can't easily carry it around. I'll check it tomorrow to see how wet the surface is. If it works that I can carry it, I'll take it to school and photograph it there. Otherwise, I'll have to wait until the weekend.

I'm curious to hear comments, so stop back!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Vases with gourds, a la prima painting

As you can see from this most recent painting from my Monday night still life class at Fleisher, I'm still struggling with speed and economy in the a la prima approach to oil painting. I think I'm making progress, though.

I feel much more confident in handling large compositions such as this. My previous efforts usually would have me focusing on a section of a larger composition. Opening myself up to seeing in new ways and experiencing this new way of recording what I see have already positively affected me. I'm excited about that. I wish I had the opportunity to paint between my Monday sessions. I'll have to speak to the wifey about making the time for that to happen (either inside or outside). Or, I'll have to do something about it at night.

Regardless, I hope within the next four classes, I'll have things more clearly worked out regarding the speed at which I work. Of course, increasing the speed at which I work must coincide with a growing economy of my technique. If I can't combine speed with economy then, without doubt, I'll become increasingly frustrated (though I won't be giving up any time soon.)

But, who knows, this growth may simply take more time. That's not my plan, but you've heard of the best laid plans of mice and men, right?

Monday, October 20, 2008

A la Prima, the joys and frustrations

I had class again tonight at Fleisher. Overall, it went well. I'll post the painting in another day or so (I need time to take a good pic of it).

One of the great frustrations for me is that I'm not working fast enough. In an effort to challenge myself, I've been choosing to paint the ENTIRE still life. That means I'm not finishing things up before the end of class (thus, my last painting isn't complete).

One of the great joys for me is that I'm enjoying this new style of working (a la prima). Overall, I'm finding it challenging but also very rewarding. I've got a lot of issues to work through as I push to embrace a la prima painting but I'm confident that I'll get there. Actually, I'm quite excited to get there!

So, tomorrow or Wednesday, I'll post my painting from tonight. I look forward to your comments.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Vase with fruit, a la prima painting

The above painting was my most recent work from my a la Prima Still-Life in Oils class over at Fleisher in Philly. As indicated in my post on October 13th, I had a much more enjoyable experience in class than during my first class.

The teacher, Giovanni Casadei, spoke to me repeatedly during the 3 hour class about what I was doing. It proved helpful and I appreciated that attention. Ocassionally, he waxed eloquent on the importance of feeling connected to your subject which does resonate with me as an art educator though the way he talks about it sounds more like new age religion than art education. LOL!

Overall, I really enjoyed painting this still life (particularly the fruit). My only regret is not having the opportunity to finish it. The background is missing and that destroys the unity of the piece. I made the mistake of getting too detailed in the beginning and didn't pace myself well. This coming Monday, I'm going to push to block in everything. As I indicated in my October 13th post, I am finding this approach to working (i.e., a la prima) a real challenge and that's primarily because of a fear of failure which surprises me because I tell my students that if you're not willing to make mistakes you're not going to progress and art will always be a frustration for you. Hmmm, I'll have to post on that.

Comments on the painting anyone?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Vase of Flowers, a la prima

This is my first painting from my A la Prima Still-Life in Oils painting class at Fleisher. I wasn't happy with it; so much is wrong with it. As you'll see in my second painting, I tackled more of the whole still life which made me happier.

I think it is just a new way of thinking and working that completely threw me. I have to say that I like working on a gray ground. The canvas texture gave me some issues. I'll have to look into getting some smooth panels to work with.

The biggest issue from the first class was my frustration at the teacher not making all positions manageable since it was a still life class. (I'm happy to report that the second class he did just that and all angles were workable.)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Better experience this time around

I came home from my second class at Fleisher last night and I have to say that tonight's class was SO much better an experience for me than last week's session. Giovanni came over and spoke to me almost immediately after class began. I'm sure he realized that I wasn't happy last week.

He encouraged me to not look at the act of painting as a rote script to follow; technique being a stale end in itself. He also spoke quite passionately about "feeling" what you paint and loving the experience of painting.

The act of learning to see is critical to my way of thinking. It's the foundation of what I'm trying to accomplish with my students at school. That's the reason I took this class at Fleisher in the first place. I want practice in capturing what I see in the moment of seeing it. I'm excited about next week's class. Let's hope I can reinforce what I took away from last night's class.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

New class disappointment

Well, I started my new class this past Monday over at Fleisher Art Memorial. It's the a la Prima Still Life in Oils class with Giovanni Casadei. I really like his work, but his teaching style during the first class wasn't what I expected.

I had hoped for a little demonstration, but Giovanni says he really can't do that because his working practice requires him to get into the zone. He also seemed to think it would interfere with me expressing myself and "feeling" my way through my work. I can appreciate what he is saying, but I figured he would at least give a simple demonstration of technique. So that was disappointing.

I arrived on time, but that was apparently a little too late because I ended up having to take a position that was less than optimal considering how he had things set up. Frankly, I don't think this should ever be the case. If you're going to have a painting class with a still life then make sure you set it up so all members of the class will have a reliable angle to work. Of course, every angle may not be equal but they should all be workable. According to Giovanni my angle really wasn't and he recommended that I get there earlier to get a better spot. Okay, I can do that, but doesn't that mean that someone will always get a poor angle and will have to get there earlier?

In my mind, he as the teacher should ensure that everyone has a place to sit that he can help them manage their composition and their approach to the subject. If he can't constructively provide feedback beyond "come earlier and get a better spot" then he needs to adjust how he has things set up.

Of course, I'm not counting the class out. This is simply a report after my first class. I'll post more (and my first painting) from last week later this weekend.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Finished cherries painting

My wonderful wife gave me a few hours yesterday (my birthday) to finish the painting I started (but didn't finish) in my Still Life class at Fleisher. I painted the background, reworked the bowl and touched up the cherries. Oh, and I fixed the stem on the big cherry in the back and removed the stem on the one cherry outside of the bowl.

I think it turned out well. I pushed myself to be more loose with my brushstrokes. I'm going to think up a few simple still life setups so I can practice that. Any thoughts?

I'm signed up to take an A la Prima Still Life class at Fleisher in the Fall with Giovanni Casadei. I am so looking forward to this class and hope it helps me loosen up and look at paint application in a new way. We'll see.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

My last painting for my class

Last night I completed my final painting in my seven-week summer Still Life Painting class at Fleisher. I started out on a different subject than what I ended up with. Frankly, I was not feeling very engaged when I first got there. I think it had a lot to do with the fact it was my last class (i.e., disappointment) AND we were doing a one-session painting (i.e., anxiety).

I had not done a one-session painting in many, many years so I was nervous how I was going to begin. Now, what artists did as a preliminary sketches to determine value and work out compositional problems are hot items on the Internet. On Google or ebay, all you have to do is type in "postcard paintings" or "painting a day" and you'll get overloaded with results of varying degrees of quality.

So, the final product is unfinished. I plan on returning to it this week to finish it up. The issues I want to tackle are the background and, in the process, refine the shape of the bowl. I think I can also go in and take care of the thickness of the tallest stem. Once I define the foreground and background and add some cast shadows the piece will be stronger (and I'll be happier with it). Overall, it's not horrid or even half bad considering where I am with my skills.

Thoughts anyone?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Art teachers and artist teachers

I've been asked about the "art teacher versus artist teacher" dichotomy on interviews within the past few months. My answer always remains conditional as it relates to me; for others it may be more monolithic. The distinction strikes me as subtle but profound. Obviously, the education of children is paramount. What I discuss below has that as the foundation; however, the outcome may be vastly different.

Let's discuss categories. When I refer to "art teachers," I'm speaking about a specific brand of art teacher, someone focusing on breadth versus depth. Namely, those who believe they should know a little about everything and be master (or, near-master) of no particular discipline. Of course, that doesn't mean they don't prefer one discipline to another. Their focus is on broad exposure, or breadth, so they don't believe it's necessary to take regular classes to refine or update their skills. And, so, they don't. The reasons for their attitude will run the gambit from lack of funds (either personal or district reimbursement) to indifference.

When I speak of "artist teachers," I'm referring those art teachers who teach but believe it is incumbent upon them to push forward in their own artistic development. Or, they already have gallery representation or simply sell their work regularly but privately. In the end, though, their attitude is on personal growth and development. Their own artistic development is part conduit, part bridge to helping their students move forward in the beginnings of their own artistic journey.

Some districts for all grade levels believe that exposure is paramount. Period. Personally, I don't believe art should be the subject where kids are encouraged to dabble. I think it's a poor message to send; at least, a poor one for high school. What other subject is that the norm? As the school years progress, exposure should shift to a more mature expression and approach. I'm sure some would disagree with me. So, personally, if a district is looking for an art teacher whose focus is on breadth versus depth then I may not be the person for them.

If a district is looking for someone who believes it's important to continually practice and grow in his own art, then I'm their man. To me, this is foundational. Mind you, the practice of this will look different for me than someone else because of where I am in my life.

For instance, I have a four year old and a two year old. My art was--for all intents and purposes--put on hold because being a father for me was (and is) paramount. That, of course, isn't where I want to be. I want to be taking classes and working on my art at home. It's just hasn't been possible until now. Thus, my class at Fleisher.

Since I'm coming from the private sector and not specifically from an education background, I was doing non-classroom work. During that time, I do my best to remain creatively engaged but this wasn't in the artistic output I would have chosen for myself. Namely, I was last working in the Internet industry as a creative director and project manager. As such, I worked with clients and provided them with my creative output and guidance. There were other outlets for me creatively as well, but none were on par with the work I so deeply desired to be doing: representational painting.

But, like I said, I've been able to start taking classes; the first was Still Life Painting with David Berger at Fleisher Art Memorial.

I'd like to hear from those who agree or disagree with me on the two categories I've laid out above. What are your thoughts?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Water-soluble oil paints

Someone in my class noticed me cleaning out my brushes with water the other week. She had never heard of water-soluble oil paints which is the type of oil paints I use.

When I went to Rutgers University, I had used both regular and alkyd oils. Even while in school I had occasional bouts of outbreaks of small blisters that would itch; almost like a fungus. I tried gloves but that only made my hands more itchy. I thought I'd have to give up painting forever.

It wasn't until much later that I first heard about water-soluble oil paints. What a surprise it was! Here was a medium that I could reintroduce into my life. I found a book on Amazon called Painting with Water-Soluble Oils by Sean Dye. I really enjoyed this book. It had plenty of examples and feedback from other artists. I'd recommend it. You'll have to purchase it from resellers via Amazon since it's no longer carried by Amazon.

I'll provide some additional thoughts in another post.

2nd painting from still life class

After three weeks (9 hours of class time), we got another still life set up. I overworked the pitcher, but overall this painting has a more consistent rendering across the piece than my first painting for this class. I'm not happy with the shadow behind the pitcher either. The lights moved so this shadow wasn't the same as when I first blocked it in. It's not a show-stopper but I notice it more than I'd like to.

Since this summer class only has seven classes, our last painting will be al a prima. That should be interesting! Perhaps it will help me loosen up even more. I seem to run into the issue of being somewhat painterly in some areas and tighter in others. It's something I'm hoping to work on as I try some pieces at home on my own. I may try to do compositions of one or two pieces. We'll see.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

1st painting from my still life class

As I indicated in my previous post, I have been taking Still Life Painting at Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia. David Berger is my instructor and it's been highly enjoyable and beneficial to me as well. David is a great instructor; honest, informative, attentive.

This was the first still life we worked on. It was part of a larger grouping each member of the class was responsible for isolating elements for their composition (without moving them, obviously). 

Overall, I'm pretty happy with it since this is the first painting I've done in about four years. The background object ends up looking more like a tree and less like a vase, primarily because of the palm tree-like shadow. I should have scaled it down or changed the orientation so you could see the flowers in it. I suppose I also could have made the shadow look like a flower, too.

I also found myself loosening up the more I got into the painting. As such, the bowl is tighter than many of the other components. I'm also not that happy with the lime though it was as dark as that. It dominates a bit too much in my mind. 

But, I'm still happy with it. After all, if you're not willing to make mistakes then you're not going to make improvements.

And so it begins ...

It's been awhile. Shamefully, too many years. I graduated in 1990 with my art degree. I painted for a bit after college. As I got older though, I found that other aspects of my life had overshadowed any artistic goals I harbored. Now, one house, one wife and two kids later I look back and wonder where did all of that time go.t 

So, this is my journey back. I am just about finished taking classes at Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia, PA. I happened upon their website and was intrigued by the course offerings and the reasonable prices. 

I'll be posting pics of the two paintings I've done up to this point.

What materials do you use?

I was originally trained with traditional oils. I moved on to alkyd oils because I liked the fact that they dried more quickly but still pro...