Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Lively Shadows: Secrets of Chiaroscuro Painting


Here is another example of using optical grays to achieve charming and lively shadows in oil painting, and in particular, oil portraits. In case readers didn’t catch in my earlier post titled Lively Shadows, “optical grays” happen when a warm tone is glazed over a cool tone or visa- versa. This painting technique is most suitable for chiaroscuro painting. Optical grays could be saturated tones, or gray tones – warm-gray over cool-gray. You could even glaze a gray over a saturated cool color like a blue or blue-wash, like I did extensively in this portrait, which would also be an optical gray. The main idea is that the end result, the gray that is perceived, is mixed by the viewer. Now, always remember this technique because it is a real gem of oil painting techniques when properly applied. It was commonly used by the old masters of oil painting. I have yet to thoroughly discuss the magic of this diamond of a technique, and it is multi-faceted, but, only in tandem with all the other techniques for developing a successful and good painting or piece of artwork. I will unravel more about optical grays in later posts.

The picture you see here is a large portrait I did a while back, and is a prime example for this blog. This is a large canvas. If you were to view this portrait in person, it would look life-sized. As a matter of fact, this reminds me of an interesting comment by an old roommate I had. At the time, I had just moved into a house that I was sharing with some roommates, and had this large portrait propped up on a chair against a wall in the living room. My roommate comes to me and sais “Dustin, You know your painting propped in the living room! I was startled as I walked by. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought there was some girl standing there in the room. Or maybe a girlfriend you didn’t tell me about. For real!” I had to laugh. I remember thinking “Gee, I must be on my way in my abilities if I’m getting that kind of reaction.”

I’ve been asked before about the shirt and sleeves and how I painted the checkered pattern. This surely begs its own blog post at a later time. If you are someone with a passion for oil painting, want to dramatically improve your techniques and abilities, and especially if you are striving to master oil painting, I would say this: studying the works of great masters… the old masters of oil painting, will get you far. I mean looking; not reading about. Observing paintings in life or printed in books. That is what I do and have done to learn much of what I know about oil painting. Take the sleeves for example, I had never painted see-through fabric before. But, I spent a good amount of time studying one of my favorite masters, John Singer Sargent, and figured out, in looking at many of his works, that he didn’t glaze black over the flesh to make the fabric look see-through. That would be a big mistake and produce unfavorable results. It would also be contrary to the old rule of thumb: “fat-over-lean”. No, it was clear to me that he left the skin clear and impasto in the middle along the arm. The black fabric is applied in a thin layer of lean paint along the outside edges of the arm. I could see that the flesh tones ran pale and mingled into the black fabric.

There’s a trick in how I did the checkered regions of the shirt. He he ehe hheh he! I have many tricks up my art sleeve. It has to do with the way I layered my glazes and optical grays. I’ll give you a hint. No shading of any kind took place in the layers. No glazes of black to deepen the shadows. There is only one black tone in the shirt and the black does not run over the white checkers… no glazed black. It wasn’t complicated to do. Some of the earlier content of this post should tell you much of what’s going on in the shirt. No painting’s I’ve ever done shows my under-painting or bottom layer more than this piece. To really explain how I pulled this one off is to go down the rabbit-hole of the art of chiaroscuro – painting or sfumoto. I have a lot of ground to cover in my blogging adventures before we go there. This blog will examine true realism in oil painting. Want to be a wizard? I will tell you about some powerful oil painting techniques. One of the things I find so cool about these methods is that they work perfectly fine for just about any personal style or artistic flavor.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Art is

Welcome, fellow painters, artists, and art-enthusiasts! Today I would like to share my spin on an age old question “What Is Art”. I always found it interesting that such a simple question has so many different answers and lacks a clear definition. I think most artists have there own unique interpretation of what art is. Surely there are as many definitions for the word “art” as people asking the question. Art is viewed today much differently than it was during earlier times in art history. But, I won’t go into history lessons here. I’m simply giving my spin on the word. This is not an attempt at a formal definition of “art”. It’s an angle of interpreting where the magic is happening. I’m attempting to sort out where “the art” happens from a craft or creative work. Remember, art is personal to each individual and there is no accounting for taste. This is a perspective.

My view of “art” is orientated more in terms of art as a product of a great mind and seeing beauty primarily in the thought or picture in the mind. All creations come from a thought in the artist’s mind. We use techniques of craft to materialize these thoughts into what we call “art”. It really is creating something from nothing. And where did the “inspiration” come from? Here is my two cents:

Art is…

Art is a song about something visually. It happens in an idea that the artist dances with in their own mind. Passionatelly giving life to the idea and visualizing the completed work in his/her mind. The artist becomes every stroke of the brush, and in the theater of the artists mind builds a visual orchestra to communicate his or her ideas. It is completed in the mind with pure love and passion for the idea. Time stops in those moments for that singular idea. Art is the idea. The finished result is the art piece , which flows out, because it has already been created in thought, though invisible. The thought is where the art happens. Art always speaks without words. It draws the viewer in. It’s dynamic and alive. It’s always new and ever changing. It never loses its mystery. It speaks silently but powerfully in a language that pierces the viewer’s heart and soul. It doesn't have to be beautiful. Sometimes ugliness can have beauty.

If viewers are expected to try to figure out a piece, it is not art. Art is not rocket science. Sometimes artists attempt to compensate for a lack of artistic talent by trying to be clever and create an intellectual crossword puzzle. That is a left-brain activity. That is nothing more than intellectual brivoto bologna. Those are fun games but that's not it. The genius of a creation is absolute when it just is, and stands on its own. It has its own power that instantly appeals to the viewer and speaks to the subconscious. This is the everlasting mystery that the greatest works of art have. That only happens in "passion". I would even argue that great art speaks to a higher order.

No individual can be taught how to create art for true art is born from passion and inspiration. You can't teach "passion". Inspiration is in abundance in a contemplative mind. People study art to gain knowledge. Knowledge enriches art because it gives the artist more building material for their brain, which is the architect. The more knowledge, the more building material. Passion and love are beyond physical explanation. They are the unseen forces that truly create and assemble physical medium into creation. Great art is evidence of the spiritual.

Happy 4th of July! I welcome your ideas. Please add your spin, or mark!

Thanks for stopping in!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lively Shadows


Here's one of my portraits in oil. It employs an extremely powerful technique for painting shadows and gray tones and it's called "optical grays". This technique if used properly will create powerful realism in any painting and there are several other secret pearls to this that I will get into at another time. Not that it's a secret...I will share these techniques. We can't overload anyone here.

This portrait was an experiment for me as pretty much all of my paintings are experiments. I'm always striving to conquer some new challenge or paint something that is greater and more challenging than the last thing I did. I haven't yet got around to doing velvet like I always said I would. Anyway, I was trying out this technique for the first time and was absolutely amazed by the results. Optical grays happen when you glaze a warm tone over a cool tone or visa versa. The viewers eye, when they look at it, mixes the two tones and perceives a gray. This techniques produces lively shadows and tones. As apposed to painting a mixed flat gray. There is a lot of other information about this technique and will cover this in more detail later. Most of my painting after this one use it.

This portrait is from 2005, as the tacky date in the corner shows. The date was a mistake and this is the only photo I have. I didn't have a digital camera at the time I completed this piece and borrowed my friends camera. Which, unknown to me, was set with the date. This oil portrait has been in the posession of the subject and have not yet had a chance to retake the photo professionally.

Also, this portrait is referenced from several photos I took of the subject. I wasn't going to be able to get him to pose for me for any lasting periods of time so I took several reference photos. This composition is actually a composite of many different photos.