Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Painting a simple still life - I

Three Apples still life, class demonstration • photo © 2011 Karen Lynn Ingalls

Beginning with the drawn-in composition from the last post, it's now time to get out the paint. It is all too human to hear the siren call of little tiny detail – and much trickier to remember to see the big picture (see my posts on Seeing the Big Picture - I, II, and III).

Resist the call! Blocking in the big shapes of the painting will establish your composition, give you a sense about values, and get the white canvas covered. Getting the canvas covered is more important than you may think. If you focus on establishing detail in one or two areas of the painting, and ignore the white of the canvas in other places, that white will become more and more important, and you may feel more hesitant about what to put there. As you wait longer and longer to get something down, it gets harder and harder to decide. Skip the frustration by putting something down right away!

Three Apples still life, class demonstration • photo © 2011 Karen Lynn Ingalls

Once you've got the big shapes blocked in – working all over the canvas – then you can begin to break those big shapes into smaller and smaller areas –

The process of painting is like a conversation. At the beginning of the conversation, you will be doing most of the talking (painting). But remember to pause and listen... the painting will have things to tell you – things you won't know unless you stop, back up, look, and listen. Turn it upside down! Let it talk to you. Sometimes you'll need to wait. Don't charge back into the painting until you know where the painting wants to take you next. When in doubt, keep listening.
Three Apples still life, class demonstration • photo © 2011 Karen Lynn Ingalls

Here, I'm pushing the values darker – these apples needed a little more solidity. The darks won't stay that dark – but I need these darks underneath, to make everything work the way I want it to. Remember, this is a process – don't expect the middle of the process to look anything like the end. The middle of the process is like green goo – it can get pretty ugly. Don't judge it! Just hang in there, and keep going on to the next step.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Starting an acrylic painting with a charcoal drawing

Still life set-up • © photo 2011 Karen Lynn Ingalls

Here's a new way of starting a painting with an acrylic drawing. Above, I've begun with a simple still life arrangement.

I've underpainted the canvas in a mid-value color (in this case, Cadmium Yellow Deep). Since these photographs are of a second demonstration over the top of the first, you can see something of the first demonstration underneath.

Still life composition, drawn in charcoal • © photo 2011 Karen Lynn Ingalls

This method uses vine charcoal, a drawing medium that can be easily erased - but that also can be absorbed into and darken the paints, when you paint over your initial composition. How can you prevent the charcoal from getting into the paint? Some people draw their composition, and then erase it, leaving a ghost of the drawing to guide them. Here's another method that allows you to draw in charcoal, leave the lines, and keep the charcoal from getting into your acrylic paint.

Draw your composition in, using Vine Charcoal (not compressed charcoal). Vine charcoal is easily erased with the edge of a paper towel as you make alterations to your composition. Look at the composition upside down, to make sure it works. Do you see shadows of the alterations I'd made on the first demonstration, underneath this?

In this second demonstration, without the arrangement above in front of me, I also altered it by leaning two of the apples in towards each other, a change that I think creates a more interesting dynamic.

Mixing a gesso solution • © photo 2011 Karen Lynn Ingalls

For the next step, mix gesso (primer for canvases, pronounced jess´-oh) and water in about 50/50 proportions. I prefer to use a pourable gesso rather than a thicker gesso for this. For my demonstration here I've used Liquitex's student grade gesso. Make sure the new gesso solution is not too thin and runny (the results then would be like what you see above, from my first demonstration. The wateriness of my solution allowed the charcoal to run more than you'll want).

Still life composition • © photo 2011 Karen Lynn Ingalls

Next, you will apply the gesso solution to the canvas, allowing it to fix the charcoal drawing (make it permanent, so it can be painted over). The best way to do this is to brush the solution inside and up to the lines, not brushing it across the lines, which will smear the charcoal into the gesso solution.

Still life composition • © photo 2011 Karen Lynn Ingalls

Finally, once each area is covered, go back over the entire canvas, painting the gesso solution over any parts of the lines you haven't covered yet. Allow it to dry, and then you can move to the next step, blocking in your colors.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Spring 2011 painting classes at the Calistoga Art Center

Some of the paintings from the Spring 2010 Student Art Show (you can find more photos of the show at Spring 2010 Student Show pics!) • photo © 2010 Karen Lynn Ingalls

The new year has arrived, and it's time for Acrylic Painting classes to begin again at the Calistoga Art Center. This will be the Art Center's last month in Calistoga's historic Masonic Building, on the main street in town. The light there is spectacular.… Feel like painting objects in light from the windows? This is your last chance.…

Painters at work in the Spring 2010 Acrylic Painting class

The first four-week session runs from January 12th through the beginning of February.

Then the Art Center moves to its new location, in the Cropp Building, at the Napa Valley Fairgrounds, 1435 North Oak Street, Calistoga. We'll have 3,000 square feet of space! With skylights, concrete floors, and a big parking lot! It's going to be a wonderful space for us – I hope you'll join us!

The remaining spring sessions will be:

February 9th through March 18th
March 23rd through April 15th
April 27th through May 20th

You can find more information online at www.calistogaartcenter.org.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

George Washington, Jane Stuart, and California history

Portrait of George Washington, by Jane Stuart • photo © 2010 Karen Lynn Ingalls

Who can predict the ways in which art, politics, and history intersect? Here is the story of one painting and its place in California history....

Painter Gilbert Stuart is most famously known for his portrait of George Washington – in particular, the one Dolly Madison saved during the War of 1812, when the capitol was under attack, and the British burned the White House and Capitol building.

Gilbert Stuart's original portrait of George Washington, in the White House Collection

At the time, painters, sometimes with the help of their assistants, often made copies of their most celebrated paintings. It was a good living - Stuart painted one hundred thirty copies of his most popular portrait of Washington, and twelve versions of the White House portrait. California's life-sized painting of George Washington was painted by Jane Stuart, Gilbert's daughter.

Originally the painting hung in the courthouse in Sacramento, where it was saved from fire by then–Governor John Bigler (governor from 1852 — 1856). Saving the painting was no small feat. Since it was over 7 1/2 feet high and 5 feet wide, with an even larger, heavy wooden frame, he had to talk not one or two, but several men, into entering the burning building — enough men to carry it back out.

In gratitude for his heroism (and, evidently, persuasive ability), the legislature named a lake after him.

Portrait of California Governor John Bigler, by William F. Cogswell

Time passed.... The Civil War broke out. As a state, California sided with the north. But by–now–former Governor Bigler was a Confederate sympathizer. Supporters of the Union protested the honor, demanding that the lake's name be changed, and mapmaker William Henry Knight asked the Land Office in Washington to change the name on official maps. Controversy followed - even Mark Twain complained about the new name, and the state legislature reaffirmed the name of Lake Bigler in 1870.

But the new name persisted, and finally in 1945 the California State Legislature officially renamed the lake – which is why today we call the largest alpine lake in North America Lake Tahoe (not Lake Bigler).

Map source: Wikipedia

And Jane Stuart's portrait of George Washington — the oldest painting in the Capitol collection — overlooks the Senate Chamber to this day.