Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Work in Progress: The Reference & Underpainting

Here we have the very beginnings of a new painting. I'm working on stretched linen using Chroma Interactive acrylic paints, ultramarine blue and transparent red oxide thinned with fast medium. Below you see my reference photo that I took at the Clermont Mansion on the Hudson River, during my painting trip last month.

While I love painting en plein air, I don't get out as much as I'd like due to family circumstances and I also like to work large, which is more difficult outside, so I've learned to make good use of reference photos.

One piece of advice I'd like to give first and foremost is, use your own photos!! A recent situation involving several artists I know has driven this point home loud and clear once again. Of course you should NEVER use someone elses photo without written permission. This goes for magazines, newspapers, Flickr, blogs, postcards, calendars etc. IF you are copying strictly for educational purposes that is permissable, but remember that you can't show or sell the work. In my mind that includes posting the work to a blog or website even if it is not for sale. If you use sites like the reference image library remember that you can still run into trouble because you may create a painting extremely similar to another artist's and nasty accusations of copying can begin to fly!

This also goes for copying other people's paintings, and even trying to closely mimic their style. Please don't e-mail artists and ask to copy their paintings "to learn from". Artists have enough to do to develop their own unique style, find subject matter, arrange compositions and lighting, choose color palettes, decide on size format and painting support, etc. They will not be flattered that you want to copy them. There are no short cuts when learning to paint, you must put in the work yourself and not copy someone else. Besides, art is supposed to be your means of personal, unique expression. Be yourself, develop your own work and style.

I found this article Ten Zen Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy Life More
filled with very practical suggestions that help me slow down. This year that's been one of my themes, slowing down, and doing less, but doing it better. That is no where more evident than in my paintings. I have dropped the pattern of creating quick daily paintings in favor of spending the time it takes to really refine and push each piece to create the best possible painting that I can each and every time. Even my plein air studies are taking more time. I get one 6x8 in an afternoon of painting instead of 2 or 3 hastily done ones. Each piece truly becomes an etude in which I take time to carefully choose a setting, and spend time absorbing the surroundings before I ever put brush to canvas. Then I find myself taking a break at the point which I would usually call the painting "done" and I then I go back and observe with a sharper eye and spend time on (gasp!!) details! I'm beginning to like detailed work, something I always avoided like the plague. One of the reasons I think I like it more now is because I'm allowing myself to take the time necessary to paint in more details. Always changing, always growing, always exploring new directions that is the joy of painting!


Susan Martin Spar said...

Looks like you're off to a good start, Jan. How do you like the interactive acrylics? I'm a died in the wool oil painter but I've been considering them for plein aire work. Do they blend easily? And how about color - I find that most acrylics lighten up when they dry. Drives me crazy. I'm tuned in for your answer! :-)

Jan Blencowe said...

I love the Interactives. They make a "slow thick medium" as well as a clear painting medium with a moderate dry time which allow for beautiful blending. These paints also stay open and workable with just the addition of a spray of water. After 24 hrs. use their unlocking formula to re-open a previously dried area. The pigment load is exceptional and the value shift is very slight. I actually don't notice it at all.

It's really nice to be able to throw a dry painting in the car at the end of the day!

Susan Martin Spar said...

Thanks Jan! I never thought I'd say this about acrylics, but after that testimony, I'll give em a try.