Category Archives: Figurative

Many of the pieces listed here are full on live figure studies. Others are pieces of deconstructed realism based on a photograph. Relative to the live studies, in 2011 I was lucky enough to find a regular figure drawing session in the studio of a local artist in Bruges, Belgium. Bruno cranks up the jazz and off we go with short or long poses. The four minute poses are great for capturing the gesture quickly and decisively; the fifteen minute poses allow for more refinement. The photo-based studies shown here are alternate ways to explore the human figure.

silverpoint composite underdrawing

Silverpoint Composite

silverpoint composite underdrawing

Composite silverpoint underdrawing, silverpoint on pastel ground over tinted acrylic gesso on HDF. Final size: 106.5 x 168 cm or 42″ x 66″

It’s taken me approximately one year to complete this series of sixty four panels. Not that it should have taken all that time – it’s just that life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans. However, all sixty panels are now completed such that the composite image can be assembled. And here it is. The final size is approximately 3 1/2 feet x 5 1/2 feet. So, almost life size.

I love the soft daguerrotype atmosphere that the silver creates. Also, how the somewhat fuzzy, sandpaper-like pastel ground that I applied over the tinted (acrylic) gesso panels adds to that softness. Drawing in silverpoint necessarily means a compressed value range, which in this case, I was able to increase through the addition of white highlights.

Silverpoint assemblage along the way.

Silverpoint assemblage along the way.

As I have insisted all along though, my aesthetic intention for these panels is that they serve as an underdrawing for the final painting – yet to come. Now, due to a number of technical considerations, I will need to perform a few experiments before I apply further layers of paint, fixative and/or varnish – not necessarily in that order. Thankfully, the University of Delaware hosts a forum, consisting of professional artists, expert conservators and product creators who freely offer sound, technical advice to geeky and experimental artists like myself. What a gift! Here’s the link for anyone who may be interested. So, though it may take awhile I truly hope I will be able to post the final outcome sometime in the (relatively) near future. Stay tuned. 😉

 

#13 Silverpoint on tinted panel, highlighted with titanium white.

Silverpoint underdrawings, batch #4

Perhaps because I haven’t posted in awhile, a number of friends have asked recently if I am still working on my silverpoint drawings. The answer is emphatically: “Yes!”. Since I’ve had a few other projects on my plate, I just haven’t done a post. So here is batch #4.

Actually, I am coming down the home stretch of these sixty four (underdrawing) panels (there are still twelve left to do). Each is a jewel in its own right, though clearly some are more interesting compositionally than others. I had  about thirty panels to sort through in order to select these five to showcase here.

As you’ll see, the panels that contain body parts with differing textures and conditions of light make for the most interesting compositions. It’s important to recognise that the silverpoint can never create a really dark line. The best that’s achievable is a 50% warm grey (which is drawn on a panel already tinted with a terra verte toned ground). So after transposing the basic form-describing lines, I fill in the dark values with silver cross-hatching. Through this process, the three quarter tone, deep shadow information inevitably gets lost however the composition does come to life when I introduce tints of (acrylic) titanium white.

Underdrawing in silverpoint #36 over toned ground, highlighted with white.

Silverpoint underdrawings, batch #3

Silverpoint underdrawing #38 on toned ground highlighted with acrylic.

Silverpoint underdrawing #38 on toned ground highlighted with acrylic.

After a long hiatus (at least from here) I’ve got another batch of silverpoint underdrawings to publish. These were created during our recent trip to California – in my new studio there. The new studio is in our garage, so besides the new working-space, I envision that I will have more room there to create larger pieces (who needs cars anyway?). My current working-space here in Belgium measures about 4 x 10 feet but since Euro-compression-design rules the day I have been able to pack many useful features into it. Still. it’s cramped.

Underdrawing in silverpoint #57 on toned ground highlighted with white.

Underdrawing in silverpoint #57 on toned ground highlighted with white.

When I began this project I knew of course that the silverpoint pencil nib is quite restrictive, so the challenge in these panels is how to render various highly textured, amorphous and abstract shapes with a very fine, low in value line. Mostly impossible. For many of these compositions then, if I were to use just silverpoint, I’d have only very flat uninteresting underdrawings to offer. But since they are executed on a toned ground, the addition of the while highlights (using tubes of titanium white in acrylic) allows for greater manipulations. Washes quickly establish the tonality, texture and gesture – things which are otherwise difficult to achieve in silverpoint alone.

Underdrawing in silverpoint #36 over toned ground, highlighted with white.

Underdrawing in silverpoint #36 over toned ground, highlighted with white.

The silverpoint then establishes the basics of the design and hints toward the darker values, while the white moves the image forward. I enlisted the help not only of brushes but also sponges, hands and fingers. And since each panel is about the size of a standard book, I could rotate the panel to get my washes to drip in whatever direction I needed. Nice. That’s really hard to do with a big panel or canvas. 😉

Underdrawing in silverpoint #58 over toned gesso, highlighted with white acrylic.

Underdrawing in silverpoint #58 over toned gesso, highlighted with white acrylic.

All in all I created fourteen panels during this recent time. They are still resting in their little beds in California, however I was able to take some photographs of them before leaving. I’m hoping to put the whole series together during our next trip, where I will have enough space to throw some paint at the final assemblage. As ever, we’ll see.

Silverpoint underdrawing on toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Silverpoint underdrawings, batch #2

Silverpoint underdrawing #05 on toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Silverpoint underdrawing #05 on toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

I’ve completed six more panels, so I figure it’s time for an update. Illustrated here are a few of those that I that have found to be particularly interesting/beautiful for various reasons. The most evocative appear to be those whose compositions include human beings or parts thereof. It’s as though each one is from some unwritten comic book – captions not included (Hergé would have understood). Additionally, the abstract panels cause me to wonder/admire anew at how the iconoclastic impulse of Islamic art continues to produce such interesting varieties of texture and pattern.

Silverpoint underdrawing #07 on toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Silverpoint underdrawing #07 on toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Further, one very general note. I feel I am serendipitously creating 21st century daguerreotypes(!). (Who knew?) It’s as though by using silver to recreate images based on a digital photograph the mechanistic process has come full circle: human to machine back to human. And again, because the drawing stylus is silver it’s almost impossible to achieve a line that is darker than a 50% grey value. All values are compressed thereby, necessitating a multitude of small decisions. Adding in the white highlights makes each panel come alive – my own gevoelsmatig pleasure.

Silverpoint underdrawing #11 on toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Silverpoint underdrawing #11 on toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

The raison d’être for these remains as underdrawings. And I have no doubt that their beauty and subtlety will contribute to the whole in as-yet-to-be-experienced ways. However, some will be held back for individual display and appreciation. For this, I think I have a plan…

Silverpoint over tinted acrylic gesso ground, highlighted with (acrylic) titanium white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 /1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Silverpoint Studies, Batch #1

Panel #10, Silverpoint over tinted gesso ground, highlighted with white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 /1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Panel #10, Silverpoint over tinted gesso ground, highlighted with white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 /1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Panel #01, silverpoint underdrawing over tinted gesso, highlight with white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Panel #01, silverpoint underdrawing over tinted gesso, highlight with white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

I’ve been doing some underdrawings for a new project. It will be a different approach to the same image/subject matter as the “A Piece of Me” project, completed in December 2020. However, instead of being executed in a full textural and chromatic range this one will be untextured,  monochromatic and ghosted back. It will be done in silverpoint on acrylic and overpainted (in acrylic or oil, TBD) on sixty four panels.

Here’s a selection of some of the individual panels I’ve created so far with some notes. 1) Using silver point means that I can never reach a rich dark value (this is not india ink!). So that’s fantastic and exactly what I’m looking for. 2) In addition, since I’m creating them on tinted grounds, the darkest value provides less contrast than if I were starting from a white ground. Again, excellent! 3) The tinted ground itself establishes a middle value and allows me to lay in white washes to bring in some highlights. 4) Inevitably, the value range is compressed and subtlety reigns. Nice.

Panel #02, silverpoint underdrawing over tinted gesso, highlighted with white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Panel #02, silverpoint underdrawing over tinted gesso, highlighted with white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Panel #03, silverpoint underdrawing, silverpoint on tinted ground touched up with white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Panel #03, silverpoint underdrawing, silverpoint on tinted ground touched up with white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

I can already see that, when the composition warrants it, a few of the panels are or will be worthy of individual display, though I’m not sure how to handle that. Should I create them (only) for integration into the final piece? Or should I create some for appreciating in isolation (only)? It’s a great problem to have which, at the moment, I don’t have to solve. I can simply create the little panels, fall in love and see where it all goes.

Anna, Back. Multimedia on panel. 44.5 x 63.5cm or 17.5 x 25 in.

Anna, Back – a Mixed Media Project, March 2021

Anna, Back. Multimedia on panel. 44.5 x 63.5cm or 17.5 x 25 in.

Anna, Back. Multimedia on panel. 44.5 x 63.5cm or 17.5 x 25 in.

I recently completed the back side to this double sided portrait painting. See left and above. The front had been completed in 2011, however for many (mostly technical) reasons, I had not been able to fully realise my original vision until now.

Anna Front. A mixed media painting on panels. 44.5 x 63.5 cm or 17.5 x 25 in.

Anna Front. A mixed media painting on panels. 44.5 x 63.5 cm or 17.5 x 25 in.

The front side consisted of 25 independent individual blocks, which were painted separately. See linked image on the right. However, I had always wanted the back side to present an etherial yet unified mirrored image of the front. That is, an image of the inherent witnessing consciousness of a human being. However due to the piecemeal nature of the substrate, the whole had lacked any structural unity for realising such a vision. So I had to create it. See glueing and framing Anna on my companion blog site atelierartisanal.com.

Original egg tempera underpainting for Anna - Back. 2011

Original underpainting in egg tempera for Anna – Back. 2011

As for the painting of the back, my idea was simple enough. Create a chromatic underpainting in egg tempera as a mirror image of the front, yet lighter in value, say, 50%. See left. Allow that egg tempera to cure long enough – which turned out to be 10 years! (certainly not my original intention). Then add in some white (oil) scumbles (to lighten and unify) followed by a transparent blue glaze (with clouds) to send her skywards. But since ten years of storage had elapsed – as well as the intervening necessity of glueing the substrate together – I had some additional preparatory work to do before realising these plans. You can read about grouting and glazing Anna here.

In addition, texture had always been part of my original vision. So, because some of the front panels were textured, their mirror image on the back was, too. That meant that besides the grid as a definitive texture, there would also be a variety of textures on some panels. These elements would influence the global glazing in a way that was not under my control(!). Nevertheless, after letting my white scumbles dry, I took a deep breath, lay in a transparent blue glaze and threw in some energetic white clouds for accent. After forty years (of leaving the unpainted blocks to languish in storage), ten years (of curing the egg tempera), two months (of repairing) and forty five minutes of actual painting I was finally done. Whew!

I don’t think I’ll try something like this again. Ever. 😉

Two birds, inseparable companions, perch on the same tree,
one eats the fruit, the other looks on. The first bird is our
individual self feeding on the pleasures and pains of this world;
The other is the universal Self, silently witnessing all.
From the Mandukya Upanishad 3.1.1

A Piece of Me, mixed media collage. 168 x 106.4 cm or 66 x 42 in.

A Piece of Me, the final assemblage

A Piece of Me, mixed media collage. 168 x 106.4 cm or 66 x 42 in.

A Piece of Me, mixed media collage. 168 x 106.4 cm or 66 x 42 in.

A Piece Of Me fully assembled and hanging on the wall. 168 x 106 cm or 5'6" x 3'6''

A Piece Of Me fully assembled and hanging on the wall. 168 x 106 cm or 5’6″ x 3’6”

I have finally been able to create a digital version of this mixed media painting project, A Piece of Me. The physical assembly is illustrated here on the right. After the painting of the individual panels was complete, the assembly entailed framing each one, mounting a backing board onto a wall and then velcro-ing each panel into place. That took me about a month to do. The digital version presented here on the left and above is a pretty good representation of the in-the-flesh version, though the physical version seems to reflect even less dissonance. Who knew?

This then is a life size self-portrait in sixty four pieces. But it’s not about me. Actually it’s about you, since you, as viewer will have to create that unity for yourself. Or not. Alternatively, you are welcome to wander in the individual panels, each of which I strove to create as stand-alone aesthetic unities. The panels were divided into five different painting techniques: egg tempera, encaustic, mixed technique, acrylic and oils. Additionally, approximately fifty percent of the panels are highly tactile. Some were collaged, some were pre-sculpted, some were created with the painting knife and some were done in encaustic (which is already a highly tactile medium). That means that it is half painting/half sculpture – something to be encountered and to allow it to encounter you.

 

A Piece of Me #05, oil on panel over cotton. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #05, oils

Underdrawing for A Piece of Me #05.

Underdrawing for A Piece of Me #05.

A Piece of Me #05, oil on panel over cotton. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #05, oil on panel over cotton. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

I can’t believe it, but this panel marks the end of the line. It’s the final oil panel as well as the final panel in the whole project of sixty-four. Soon begins the work of mounting and assembling. And from there, tweaking decisions. I am expecting and welcoming a certain amount of visual dissonance but I also know that (just like in American politics) too much dissonance can destroy the unitive vibration of the whole. So there may be some changes to make? We’ll see. But for now there’s cause to celebrate! The champagne is in the fridge. It’s been almost two years.

So again, this was the last panel. One quarter of my face. For those of you who have been following this project you will remember that in any particular medium I tend to leave the more important/challenging panels for the last. I begin with the abstract compositions, then proceed to the body parts compositions, then the complex figurative groupings, leaving my face (which was cut up into four sections) for the last.

To render this panel I began with the underdrawing in pen and ink over a yellow imprimatura. See above, right. Then I covered the face area with an underpainting of terra verte (green) and let it dry. After a few days I laid in a  clear glaze and set to work, moving from background to foreground. There was: the back wall, two heads of hair and one face. After three hours of work I had achieved what I was looking for – a rendering of the forms with spontaneity and freshness. I’ll leave it to dry and see if anything else begs for my attention. But I’m pleased with what I have so far. If I make further changes they will be small ones.

A Piece of Me#30, oil over acrylic modeling paste on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #30, oils

Underdrawing over yellow ochre imprimatura for A Piece of Me #30.

Underdrawing over yellow ochre imprimatura for A Piece of Me #30.

A Piece of Me#30, oil over acrylic modeling paste on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me#30, oil over acrylic modeling paste on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

Wow, sculptured texture. Twice. This panel is a celebration of the painting knife. It all began on the preparation phase. I applied an acrylic modelling paste to the lightly primed panel. (The design had already been transferred.) I started with the rear tiles and worked my way forward, the fabric folds and my beloved leather handbag. At that level it was white on white: a polar bear in a snow storm (toting a handbag).

After that dried, I covered the panel with a light yellow ochre imprimatura, and transferred the design (once again), this time to lay in the underdrawing (see above right). I find as I work on these panels, in acrylic, encaustic and (pure) oil, that the hard lines of the pen nib are much preferable to the light washes created  by a brush. Both can render a design and set up formal values, but the nib sets up texture in such a way that a few covering strokes can soften but not eliminate them. Nice! Egg tempera and the mixed technique – as media – do not possess the covering power needed to soften this harshness, so it’s necessary to use washes for the underdrawing.

Underpainting for A Piece of Me #30, oil on panel over pre-sculpted acrylic modelling paste. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in..

Underpainting for A Piece of Me #30, oil on panel over pre-sculpted acrylic modelling paste. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in..

During my first painting session (see second image, right) and after a few hour’s work I had introduced the main colours of the compositional forms. Overall, it looked good but was too coarse, light and sketchy. Something more was needed. But what? I let it dry for about a week as I wondered.

Then yesterday after detailing the tiles, my linen jacket and glazing the lady’s blue shirt with some ultramarine blue, I decided to bring that blue glaze into the purse. Everything darkened in a nice way but now there was nothing left to do but reclaim that beautiful russet glow of the leather with the painting knife. I spread on burnt sienna, just like buttering toast. A delicious bodily opacity emerged. Oh yeah, this is going in a good direction. Then I had to dig out the highlights and shadows describing the form now buried under this avalanche. I added detail where needed, letting the form tell me what to do. (See above left as well as the spotlighted image in the online view of this post.) It took me about an hour, but wow, just as dinner was ready, I was satisfied, ready to surrender to different kind of knife.

A Piece of Me #25, oil on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #25, oils

A Piece of Me #25, underdrawing.

A Piece of Me #25, underdrawing.

A Piece of Me #25, oil on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #25, oil on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

The challenge on this panel was simply dimensionality. The man’s pants and sweater were both quite dark, so it was difficult to read where the fabric folds and shadows were. Of course, I could guess a bit, given its placement relative to the whole image, but in any case, I wanted to create interest and motion there. So I introduced that in the underdrawing. See the image to the right.

Thus on the oil level I had three basic shapes to render: the ledge, the pants and the sweater. I rendered the pants in dark gray and reserved black only for the creases and deepest shadow accents. Same with the sweater, two tints of dark green accentuated by dark gray and/or black for the deepest creases/shadows. As it turns out, the buttons on his pants piqued the interest, interrupting an otherwise monovalumatic field of grey (hey, I just created a word!). BTW: those buttons were created by removing paint so as to expose the substrate rather than adding white back in on top (which I avoid whenever possible). It’s one of my pet-painting-peeves.