Sunday, July 31, 2011

Smoking Figure part 28

Went back to the block this afternoon, and after consulting my various reference photos, finished cutting the skirt and a small visible piece of the leg on the right, as shown above. Once again I put off cutting the tattoo. I'm thinking lately that I want something smaller and less obtrusive. I want to finish everything involving the figure before tomorrow's critique group, so I'm going to try to make a decision on the tattoo by early tomorrow, and cut it in the afternoon.

Also in preparation for the crit, I decided to roll a touch of black onto the figure parts of the block. Thanks to bold applications of drawing ink and wash used to sketch the clothing, when those areas were cut, you got a good sense of how it will eventually look when printed. On areas of skin (especially the face) I had used a lighter touch with the ink wash, so after the first round of cutting, tone areas were still also light in value. Knowing that would change when the block is inked, I figured it was a good time to see what is actually there. Using just enough water based black ink to coat the brayer, I carefully rolled ink onto all parts of the block that included the smoker's body. The results are below.

The only part that looks really different now is the face, where all the shadowed areas are now much darker in value than they were with just the diluted india ink. I plan to remove some of this soon, to bring the values a little closer to what I saw, but not too much. The whole composition has to balance, so the facial shadows may not seem as dark when the window and bricks are cut and inked.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Smoking Figure part 27

Got to the Studio a little later than I might have expected, but I still got in a few hours of work. First I pulled a small proof, part of a side project to be discussed later. Then I got out the current block to cut. I discovered that I had left my sketchbook at home, which contains some full page photos of an early state of the block drawing. With all the adjustments I've made to the ink drawing, it can be helpful to see the original drawing to determine what some of the marks on the block might have been. So without that reference, I just cut out a big section that I was relatively sure of, the big patch of white on the left side leg and an area near the top of the skirt. Next time I'll have my sketchbook with me and maybe finish off the rest of the figure.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Smoking Figure part 26

Another two hour session in the Studio today, another big piece of the block cut. This time it was the blouse. Once again, cut out the white sections, then the gray tones. I also finished a piece of the arm on the right side (near the elbow) that I had missed last time, but put off the rose tattoo until another time. Above is the current state of the block. Over the weekend I'll try to finish the rest of the figure (the skirt) so that I'll have at least that much ready for the critique.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Smoking Figure part 25

The weather finally started to cool down today. Not to say that it was actually cool- still in the mid 80's most of the day. Warm enough to sweat, but not so much that it drips on everything I'm doing, which means I could work.

One thing that I had thought about since the last time I was in the Studio was how to cut the bricks. My most common way of cutting values into woodcuts is sections of parallel vertical stripes, with the frequency and spacing determining the value. I've made use of this technique in the parts of the figure that I've already cut. My feeling is that if I use the same striping in the bricks they won't separate enough from the figure. When I've done other large format black and white woodcuts in the past, I usually mix in some other ways of achieving grays- to help with space, clarity, etc. For the bricks I think something more like a speckled pattern makes more sense. So before doing anything, I chose a piece of the block that was destined to be cut away, and tried making such a pattern- mostly a middle gray with parts lighter and darker (the effect of chips and other imperfections in observed bricks). I inked it with a little water based black and pulled a quick proof. Above are the section of block and the resulting print. I think that should work.

With that settled, I continued cutting out the figure. First, I cut out the little piece I had just inked, then continued to cut the white parts of the rest of that arm (left side), then did the same with the other arm. Then I went back and cut the gray tones. The one thing that I skipped for now was the area with the rose tattoo, because I may want to make a few slight adjustments before I cut it, but I did cut the Chinese characters tattoo on the other arm. The state of the block at the end of the two hour session is shown below.

Next time I'll either finish that rose tattoo, or start on her blouse, or maybe both. I'd like to get the whole figure finished before next week's critique group.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

One Dies as Well as the Other

It's not unusual to have two or three famous individuals die on the same day or within a few days of each other. I don't know if there's a statistical formula to explain it, or if we sometimes just perceive patterns that aren't there. What I do know is that when it happens, news of one often crowds the other out of the press, and often it seems the forgotten one is the one I am more interested in. For example, about a decade ago the legendary blues musician John Lee Hooker died of old age. A little sad for me (my favorite of all bluesmen past and present), but at least I had the opportunity to see him perform live well before then. However, many news sources didn't publicize it because television actor Carroll O'Connor died on the same day, and that was the story. I've got nothing against O'Connor and it's likely that more people watched his groundbreaking show in any one week than ever bought one of Hooker's records in their whole lifetimes, but that's no excuse to ignore the passing of an American musical icon.

This week the same thing happened again. It was announced a few days ago that British figurative painter Lucien Freud had died. I found this out yesterday, looking at a copy of the previous day's NY Times, which contained a fairly comprehensive article toward the back of the B section. However, if I hadn't run across that abandoned paper, I might still not know, as none of the online news pages that come up in typical web surfing (at least those I was on) had a single mention of it.

I realize that Lucien Freud is not a household name, but he's been an influence on my art going back to my undergrad years, where my painting professor often showed slides of Freud's work to the painting classes. Like the earlier Egon Schiele, Freud is best known for his unidealized nudes, seeking every bit of visual information from his subjects, capturing every wrinkle and bulge of flesh. (maybe it's an Austrian thing- Lucien was the grandson of Sigmund) However, Schiele's work is typically expressionistic- energetic and exaggerated, and emphasizes contours and edges. Freud's paintings aim for realism and could take hundreds or thousands of hours to complete (all with the model in the pose) and emphasize volumes. The painting above is a classic example of his technique, finding every bit of sagging flesh, every wrinkle, and showing every plane change with hunks of color. I show examples of his work to my students every semester, as a demonstration of the effects of line, of value, and of color in representing a complex 3D surface. My charcoal drawings sit somewhere between Schiele and Freud, done with the speed of the former, but attempting a type of realism derived from face and body details as seen in the latter. A woodcut portrait starts the same way, except the pose is a bit longer, and I spend a lot more time refining the resulting drawing, but the level of detail ends up being about the same.

A few days after Freud's death, news broke everywhere about the death of (also British) singer/celebrity Amy Winehouse. No missing this story- those online news services have posted dozens of articles about it over the past couple of days. No official cause of death has been determined, but the universal assumption is one of the many substances she regularly abused must have finally caught up to her, adding her to a long list of musicians and singers dead at age 27. If anything, many are surprised she lived this long. She leaves behind a few hit records (though they may owe their success to the musical backing of the Dap-Kings as much as her vocals) and a long trail of documented bad behavior. This behavior was a staple of the celebrity tabloid shows for years, so there a lot more people around here who know who she is than know about the painter whose work appeared in prestigious galleries and museums for the past 50 years. A decade from now she will largely be forgotten (the current pop music world has a very short memory) and he will likely still be hanging in the museums and being shown to young art students, but for now the attention given seems all out of proportion.

She does have at least one connection to fine art that I know of, and that's in my work. Three years ago I included a few images based on her in the first boardwalk print. The full story can be seen here, but the short version is that I decided to let her represent a category of typical game prizes. Several dolls in her image can be seen in the print detail above, just over the shoulder of the girl running the game. When I created this print I thought of it as one of the present day scenes, but her passing will now cause me to think of this as a moment from a specific past.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Called on Account of Sun

These past few days the east coast has caught up to the triple digit temperatures that had blanketed much of the country. It's been making me think of some past experiences in art. My grad school studio was in the upper floor of an old factory building, and in the summer it would get hot. As day turned into night it got worse, measuring well over 100 degrees inside. Trying to finish work in time for my summer MFA show became a challenge (not easy to hand print when you're dripping sweat on the paper), so I had to abandon my more natural late night hours and get to the studio by around 7:00 am. By early morning things had cooled down to about 80 degrees in there, and with two fans on me I could get in a few hours of work before things got too hot again.

Under normal circumstances today I would have put in a few hours at my current Studio, continuing the cutting of my current block, but even being in the relatively cool basement is no help on days like today. Things are expected to cool in the next few days and I'll get back to it then. However, I did get in some morning art work, meeting up with project leader Kat and a few of our regular volunteers to finish the mud mural project that has been going on for the past month in Belmar. Temperatures were already around 90 degrees at 10:00 am when we started, and I was dripping sweat, even with the partial shade provided by the canopy. (at least I wasn't being attacked by flies the way some of the women were) But thanks to ample help, we got everything done in about two hours. And then I went home to sit in air conditioned comfort.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Beating the Heat

The usual Wednesday night drawing session that would have been last night was preempted by an event at the Boatworks, but we were able to reschedule it for tonight. The news said that we reached 100 degrees or very near it all around the state today. Luckily our building has a couple of air conditioners and they work. Sometimes the models, unencumbered by clothing, request that we cut back on air conditioning on these summer nights, but tonight's model was happy to be right it in the path of the cold air. The above 45 minute charcoal has issues (her arms and hand look bizarre, but partly obscured by her face and the blanket, that's what they looked like) but it was the better of my two drawings tonight.

Smoking Figure part 24

Each day hotter than the last around here, so once again I made my visit to the Studio earlier than usual today. I aimed both standing fans in my direction and it was tolerable. Went straight into cutting, with the goal of finishing the head and neck. Cut out the white shapes first, since they are the most obvious. The above photo shows how it looked at that point. Then I went back and started cutting gray tones into some of the remaining dark shapes, based on the different values of ink wash in the block drawing. The photo below is from after the second step, and some slight differences are visible.

I didn't decide what to do about the eyes yet, but otherwise I accomplished what I wanted to do in about 2 hours. I won't know how well the various value tones work until I ink the block, and that's not going to happen until the whole thing is cut and that's at least weeks away. If all goes well, only minor adjustments will be needed between the first inking and the final print.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Smoking Figure part 23

I got up to the Studio relatively early today in an effort to beat the expected heat. Once again Molly was already there, printing part of a massive t-shirt commission. My original thinking was that I might start cutting today, but I decided to take care of some other things first. I figured it would be good to go ahead and remove all the masking tape that I had used to make changes to contour lines all throughout the figure. I peeled each piece carefully, using a marker to redraw the lines under the tape. Luckily, no splinters came up with the tape. Tape was removed from the face, shoulders, and skirt. Besides changed lines, some of the tape had covered areas that had value tones (bricks, etc), so I used brush and ink to fill in some of these new blank spaces. I also redrew the Chinese characters one more time, making them smaller (but still legible) and put some light ink wash over the rose tattoo. The above photo shows the current state of the block. The line drawing still looks pretty much the same, just without the lighter color patches of tape. I didn't get to any cutting today, but before I left I did take the time to sharpen a few of most commonly used tools, so they will be ready to use the next time I'm in there.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Smoking Figure part 22

The dog days of August seem to have arrived early in a lot of places, including the Jersey Shore. It was so hot that when I arrived at the Studio today, Molly was working in there with the window closed. Usually she loves the fresh air, but days like this, our un-air conditioned basement space is still more comfortable than the hot air that would pour in the window.

Minor adjustments today. I redrew the Chinese characters on the right side wrist (above), making them a little larger. On the left side shoulder (below), I decided to go with a two flower design. It's based on one seen in a magazine photo, but the roses themselves were originally sketched from living specimens in my back yard.

Molly liked the roses tattoo the most, agreeing that it definitely adds to the character. She thought that the wrist tattoo didn't work as well, saying it might be an unnecessary distraction. I like that it adds some interesting lines in that area, but I may try to make it smaller again if I can keep it readable. In the end I will have some kinds of tattoos in those spots, and if I decide in the final version that they don't work, I can just cut them off the block. No harm there, since those two spots would otherwise just have been blank. Below is the current state of the whole block.

I'll head back to the Studio in a few days, and unless I have some different thoughts before then, I'm going to start cutting the block.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Smoking Figure part 21

This morning I was walking around town and took advantage of my location to study more bricks. The building that most inspired my background has relatively clean neat brick in front, but the back side bricks are pretty old- cracked, missing chips, occasionally misaligned, things I may add to my brick wall. Thought about that when I got to the Studio today, but erasing all that ink will be a pain, so I'll just deal with that as I'm cutting each brick. So instead I thought about tattoos. Although some who attend our critique seemed horrified by the thought, I have always intended to give the figure at least one tattoo- nothing as elaborate as my original model, but enough to make it clear that this is a contemporary image. I'm thinking something relatively commonplace, so today I did a few pencil sketches of flower images on her upper arm, as in the photos above and below. Just some ideas I'm playing around with.

Another idea I'm considering is a wrist tattoo. (actually a recent suggestion from the model, though she doesn't have one there herself) For this one I'm thinking a few Chinese characters, something that you see here and there. Again, this is just some sketching- if I decided to go with this it will be completely redrawn.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Leaves of Mud

I was back working on the Belmar mud mural briefly this afternoon. Saw Kat at my day job and she said she was ready to work today, so I joined her at the site by 4:00. At that point she had added another bamboo stalk on the left side (see above) and was ready to add some leaf shapes, also based on bamboo plants. We debated as to what size to make them, rejecting the small size that would be accurate to the actual plants, in favor of larger leaves that worked better compositionally. Kat had me sketch the leaves, using the water brush to mark and soften the exterior contours, then the brush handle to scratch the lines into the wall. I then brushed more water into the shape, and left it to Kat to apply and shape the mud. However, she wasn't satisfied after the first one, feeling that having the leaves projecting from the wall surface in the same way as the bamboo killed any sense of space.

She suggested an alternative- just marking the leaf shapes on the wall, but leaving them flat, and then using color to make the leaves during the painting part of the process. So that's what we're doing. She did apply a little new mud to the leaf areas to provide a smoother painting surface, especially on the left side where the straw was more prominent on the wall's surface. I then redrew the exterior contour of all four leaves, wetting with the water brush and lightly scratching the edges into the wall. Unless Kat decides to do some touch-up work, this should mark the end of using the mud on the wall. Tentative plans are to have one more group event in about a week, and invite people to come apply paint to our letters and other decorative reliefs. After that the canopy will be removed and we'll let nature run its course.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Drawing With Mud

About a month ago we started a community art project on the grounds of the Boatworks, a mud mural. I've helped on it a little bit here and there, alongside one or more other people. We're in the phase of adding three dimensional elements to the wall. Kat and I decided to use bamboo inspired designs, reflecting the material that formed the structure of the wall itself. I have volunteered to help her with this, but so far our free time schedules have not matched up, plus we've had a few rainouts. So over the past week she's molded a few bamboo stalk shapes to the wall- verticals on the outer edges and one curving in on the left side. Today she was busy and I wasn't, so I decided to put in some work by myself and advance the project a little. Our mud pool had all dried up, so I had to add water to make more mud, then mix in the sand to get the right consistency. I didn't want it to be completely symmetrical with the other side, so to her two vertical stalks on the far right I added two more, one curved, one angled, the dark brown shapes above. Below is the whole wall as it looked at the end of the afternoon, though by tomorrow my additions should dry to the lighter color of the rest of the wall.

I believe the plan is to add some bamboo leaf shapes next. If I am involved in that I'll post the results here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Smoking Figure part 20

Had a 2 part agenda for art today. First, in the early afternoon go up to the Studio to continue work on the current block. Spent about an hour there, adding ink washes to the window area, darkening some shapes and clarifying the divisions of value in that part of the block. The version shown above is probably about as far as I can go with india ink on that window. The trick will be interpreting this with the cutting process. The whole block as it stands today can be seen below.

Getting close to the end. I'm still considering giving her a tattoo, and I may sketch in details in the bricks to give them a little more individual character. With luck, I'll be able to start cutting sometime next week.

The second part of my plan today was to stop in Belmar on the way home and add a bit to the mud mural we have going there, but Kat called me while I was still inking to tell me she had to postpone her participation, so I decided to also skip it for today.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Big Crowds in a Small Rooms

Like a lot of days, it seems I spent this one running around from one place to another. I got up to the Studio around 6:15 pm, a little later than I had hoped. Normally this would be very early, but I was planning to drop by a new arts group meeting a block away in Asbury, as well as to do a little more work on my block before our critique group at 7:00. Molly was already there in the building, working on something down the hall. Since she would be there for any early arrivals, I did take that quick walk over to Lake Avenue to check out the new group. There was a pretty good crowd in their small space- no organized activities, just a bunch of artists noisily chatting, including a few people I know. Eventually they would get a formal meeting going, but I had to get back to work.

Before the crit I wanted to fill in some ink in the window area of the block, based on the paper ink sketch I did a few days ago. I only had about 20 minutes, so I could only do one layer of ink wash. I did my best to follow the pencil sketch, at least as far as not going too dark in any of the areas. What I did can be seen above. I'll go back into it again before it's done.

Gradually the people started arriving- mostly veterans, but also a few new faces who were invited by regulars. A few more came just to watch, and by the end we had almost 20 people crowded into our space. Molly's occasional collaborator Kristin was in attendance, so she requested to go first, and showed us the start of something in the hallway- using the transparency of her monocle bear image to paint a blown up version on a large sheet. It is intended for use in one of Kristin's dance pieces.

We returned to the Studio for the rest of the crit. Some of the work we looked at included (above) Tim's mixed media splatter drawing, two of Michelle's carnival influenced objects, a new painting (for an album cover) by Jill, three dimensional paintings (with bits of plastic) from Edy, and a graphite drawing from Katie. Below are more of Molly's pieces, cast plaster sculptures by Adam, and figure paintings from Vince.

Toward the end of the evening Lisa showed a star shaped hanging sculpture made of straws and the pieces below, shoes used as planters for a variety of dirt, rocks and small succulents. (ants and a stink bug were also present, but I wasn't sure if they were intended to be part of the piece)

My piece was reviewed toward the end of the evening. Some loved it as it is, some people wanting changes. Of those suggestions, I do intend to include some textural variety in the backing wall (not every brick will be the same) and I will likely experiment with some of the proofs that come off it after it's done (adding color, mixed media elements, etc). The figure itself and the basic composition should remain as is. As always, everyone seemed to have a good time, including some first time visitors who seem likely to come again in the future.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Reflections of Belmar

Summer is a busy time in Belmar. Over by the Boatworks we've got the new mud mural in progress, and near the corner of Main Street and 16th Ave we have a more traditional painted mural going. A steady stream of cars poured into town this morning to enjoy another day of this sunny summer weekend, so the sounds of automobile engines and honking horns were all around us as began painting. The basic design had been sketched out with markers on the wall last week, so it was just a matter of filling in colors based on a digital rendering. Unlike the last one I worked on, no scaffolding will be set up, so we were all up on ladders for at least part of the session. I'm the one in the red shirt in the above photo, one of a crew of four working today.

I was asked to work on various blue hues today, all representing water. The areas that I completed can be seen above and below- the deep blue ("Blue By You") and the aqua blue ("Aquarium").

By early afternoon we were ready to clean up and call it a day. The above photo (click on it to enlarge) shows our progress from today- pretty good for about 4 hours work. More scenes of the painting can be seen at the BAC blog. I'll post more here on any days that I am part of the process.

Saturday, July 09, 2011


Spent the morning doing errands and yard work, and in the afternoon I watched Derek Jeter get his 3000th hit (and then some). Art became part of the day late in the afternoon. My town was hosting an art and music fair up and down Main Street and I decided to check it out. One of the advertised events was a portrait painting demonstration by local artist and gallery owner Lea Colie Wight. The subject of the painting would be my uncle George, who also happens to be the mayor of our town.

Some chairs were set up and in those seats were a couple of women I know from the Belmar Arts Council, who both happen to be regulars at the critique group that meets there. The oil study was completed in a single three hour session, and turned out to be a pretty good likeness.

During and after this I was involved in a few discussions on the topic of drawing and/or painting portraits from life, involving the artist, the subject, and the audience. I don't consider the portrait to be the focus of my art, but it's something that has always interested me and is part of my work. My uncle came in with the least experience with this process, and was surprised that the artist was able to complete the painting so quickly, and that she still had energy to spare when she was done. This didn't surprise me, as I know that speed and facility with representing people comes with repetition, and when an artist gets involved with a project, the hours can fly by. (it's not unusual for me to have to tell my students that we've come to the end of class and they have to leave)

There was some discussion of the different feel between a quick study and a fully realized portrait. While the latter will typically have more resemblance to the subject, the former can have a liveliness that can be appealing. Work of mine from this past week can demonstrate this. The model I drew from this past Wednesday really liked this 30 minute charcoal sketch, even though it was not completely accurate to her appearance- she was reacting to the energy of the mark making and the expressiveness of the face and hair. The smoking piece involved the model posing for two hours and a more careful study of her face and body, as well as a few hours of careful adjustments after that. It's a pretty good resemblance to the subject, and the face and body are logically proportioned. To keep the whole thing from feeling too stiff (more still life than life) I use a brush and ink as I fill in value, which I think gives it the more gestural feel of my quick charcoal drawings. It seems to work- whatever issues that some people have had with the piece in progress, everyone who has commented has seen attitude and emotion in her face and pose. That should carry through to the final piece.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Smoking Figure part 19

Got my Studio session in today, there for a few hours in the afternoon. However, that was only after some local morning research. Before doing anything more with the window in my image, I decided to collect some more observations. So after completing a local errand, I walked up and down Main Street, taking notes as to the effects of reflections of buildings, passing cars, and someone standing in front of the window, all in relation to window lettering and the values of items seen through it.

In some earlier versions of this block drawing I had put the reflection of my smoker in the window and I decided to bring it back again. The shape is based on a reflection of the model in the glossy enamel door she leaned against while posing. My morning observations revealed that exterior reflections don't show up against the lettering, so those will remain all white. The dark silhouette of the smoker will add a darker tone to whatever value shapes are seen through the window (unless those shapes are already black). I'll likely stick with the abstracted interior shapes that I had before, but I think that I may put a bit of reflected exterior architecture in the upper part. For now I put in a little bit adapted from a local business. Below is a quick rough ink sketch of how this all might look.

This sketch breaks things down into just 3 tones- white, light gray, and dark gray, but I would expect variations within each of those ranges in the final version. Next time I'll try drawing something similar on the block.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Change of Plans

Had a lot of plans today, many of them art related, but things didn't quite work out as expected. After some local errands, I was planning to head up to the Studio for a little while to continue with the smoking block, then down to Belmar to meet up with others to add more 3D elements to the mud mural. Figured I'd hang around there during dinner and be ready for figure drawing in the evening.

Well, got to the post office and supermarket, took advantage of an early crop of peppers in the backyard garden to make some tasty jambalaya for lunch (and a few meals to come), and even made a sandwich to bring for dinner, but I was running late, so I scratched the Studio visit from the list. Then as I was packing the car to head to Belmar, a massive thunderstorm rolled in, and the idea of working on an outdoor project seemed a bad idea. (the storm was even worse up in that area, so we made the right call to postpone a few days) But eventually the storm passed, the floods drained away, and I at least got to get in some evening drawing. Even that almost fell through, as the scheduled model called out just a few hours before the session, but our leader was able to get a last minute substitute, one who was new to me but had worked at the BAC in the past. I did two longer drawings and one short one. The model liked all three, but was most excited by the 30 minute drawing above, so that's the one I posted tonight.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Smoking Figure part 18

With rain falling off an on all day, I was relieved of any yard work responsibilities and free to work on some art. In the afternoon I first stopped by the Boatworks to see if anything was going on with the mud mural project...and there was. So I put in an hour or so, molding mud mix to create 3 dimensional letters and working out plans for additional visual elements to be added later. (photos will be posted when it's all done) The sun even came out for a while, but the canopy over the structure would have protected us from the weather if it had been an issue.
From there up to the Studio to get back to the smoker block. Some minor changes today in the window area- slight proportional adjustments to some letters, and penciling in a few compositional lines that will represent shapes seen through the window. It will do for now. More obvious in the photo is that I got out the brush and ink and started filling in some things to get a sense of the value proportions. I put in the black border all around, the solid black window frame, and the cornerstone lettering. For the bricks I just put in some random washes of varying strengths. I don't know that these will be exactly the same in the final version, but I do expect that to have different levels of value scattered throughout the brick wall. Next time I'll maybe try inking the window (most of the area around the letters will be various grays or black) and see if it works as expected. If so, I'm close to beginning the cutting of the block.