“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” -Pablo Picasso
This past winter I decided to take myself on a trip to New Mexico, a place I had never stepped foot. I was searching for a workshop of sorts and stumbled across a Georgia O'Keeffe retreat hosted by the Ghost Ranch. I decided to sign up and spend the week and a half following the retreat driving across the state.
The workshop was hosted at Casa Del Sol in a restricted part of the ranch. O'Keeffe's iconic ranch house is located along the drive. We took day trips to painting locations, walking where she walked to see what she was inspired by. An assistant by the name of Margaret Wood came to talk with us one evening about what it was like to work for Mrs. O'Keeffe. She wrote a cook book which includes many of her recipes. Before this trip I appreciated O'Keeffe as an artist but now I really admire her spirit of independence and grit especially in an era that most women were constrained to traditional female roles. Most of the days it snowed but there were occasional breaks in the weather where we could see Padernal across the valley. We used the time to sketch and paint whatever inspired us.
I then traveled south to Santa Fe where I had an appointment at the Georgia O'Keeffe museum to see her personal notes, color chips, and sketches. No photos were allowed. Seeing these artifacts really created a sense of intimacy. I really enjoyed seeing how she worked. After, I wandered around the city exploring and met some great artists. Took a couple day trips, one to Madrid to visit Harvey Shugarman's chocolate shop, and another to Taos.
Then I was off to Silver City to explore the Gila National Forest, visit artist studios, and meet more amazing people. I fell in love with New Mexico and hope to return again soon.
Last weekend we had such a good time at Cunningham Studios! Five students came to learn about how to create a convincing trompe l'oeil (french, to fool the eye) iron grille. We learned about light, shadow, and temperature. We also learned about various tools and techniques to improve efficiency and painting skills. Each student did amazingly well and took away something valuable that they will apply to their own work. I will be offering this class in March so stay tuned for dates!
Taking classes to continue my personal artistic growth is something I always love doing but finding the time (and money) is difficult. Last month I took the third class offered in William Cochran's Trompe L'oeil Mastery Program- Portraiture. Each time I take a class with William I find that take away something that doesn't present itself until later. The immediate return is usually that I suck and I should hang up my brushes. However, after a few weeks the information absorbed at the time somehow begins to come together. Our first day was revisiting color theory. Elementary as it may seem, there are hundreds of pigments and we each chose a palette to work from. My colors were Hansa Yellow Opaque, Phthalo Blue Green Shade, and Pyrrole Red Dark. Adjusting for the intensity of the pigments, we each created a value scale moving through each color as well as across the wheel through neutral grey. Once complete, we began the portrait workshop in earnest.
We worked from a live model as well as a photograph. This was extremely difficult. Ideally the model would be present the entire time, but that isn't practical. We began with setting up the backdrop and her attire, changing things based on how they reflected against her skin and hair. Once we settled on the look we shot a series of photos. This whole process took an entire day. The photography process could be a class in and of itself because there is so much to understand like lenses, lighting, distance, etc.
The difficulty in this class was having to move from the photograph to the model when she was present. In the photograph the values and temperatures were completely different. In real life these things were much clearer and more vibrant if you really studied her. In starting out I did my usual thing of blending tiny brush strokes and by the end of the first day it had no dimension. Up close, yes, but when you stepped back everything collapsed. So I began round two and finally hit my stride. I stood back at arms length with a long handled paint brush and contemplated each stroke of color. This also made it easier to paint with the type of paints we were using; Golden's Heavy Bodied Acrylics. I'm used to using Golden's Proceed line of mural paints which have a much longer open time and are less opaque, thus requiring a different method of application- multiple translucent layers.
Painting skin is a whole different ballgame than painting other surfaces. There is a luminosity and depth that is hard to achieve. The tricky part is capturing the subtle temperatures of the values; warm darks, clear and vibrant midtones, cool lights. And this can all change depending on the lighting. I spent more time looking and studying than I did putting paint on the canvas. I hope with practice I'll be able to identify these types of things more efficiently.
I am usually a fast painter and I think that I should have stopped while I was ahead but having about a day and a half left I continued to tinker with it. Which is fine because no one is paying me for this! I switched over to Golden's Open Acrylics which are similar to the Proceeds but have a heavier body like their regular line. This allowed me to blend a bit more and smooth out some values. But stepping back again, things began to fall flat. I wasn't worried as much this time because I felt I had gotten what I wanted from the exercise.
My dear friend Jeanne stayed with me during the week and we had amazing philosophical discussions about art and life. Jeanne and I met while working for William on his project, The Dreaming, in Downtown Frederick, MD in 2006. She came up a few summers ago to help with the Extreme Makeover Project I was involved in. Jeanne is a free spirit, full of energy, extremely talented, and I wish she lived closer.
On Saturday after the class, Jeanne and I headed down to DC to visit the National Portrait Gallery. Its a shame that I live so close to such amazing museums and I've never been to this one. We spent the day there, seeing as much as we could. With new eyes, I was able to really study the brush strokes and color. Some of my most favorite are below.
We had a BLAST this past weekend at the studio! Henri Menendez and Chris Burke, aka the "Faux Team" hit it hard with their expertise on cabinet refinishing and faux finishing work. We learned about how to apply professional finishes to cabinetry and furniture and Firenze Plasters. A lot of knowledge was shared and students came all the way from Upstate New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina....and TAIWAN!! Thanks to everyone for making it out, I hope you enjoyed Ellicott City and can't wait to come back! To find out about upcoming classes, be sure to sign up for our newsletter!