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.

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

Advertisement
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.

A Piece of Me #20, oil on panel over collage. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #20, oils

A Piece of Me #20, oil on panel over collage. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #20, oil on panel over collage. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #20, underdrawing over collage..

A Piece of Me #20, underdrawing over collage..

Collage on panel. What can I say? These kinds of panels go quickly. The oil level took me just two hours. Sometimes I think I should put more time into them on the final stages but then I remember how much time I put into getting the collages right, so I don’t.

This time around I did the underdrawing slightly differently though (pictured to the right). The panel posed a further challenge after resolving the underdrawing adhesion issues that I had had earlier. That’s because I didn’t want to create a large cross-hatched value using a pen nib for the black shirt area. instead I wanted to set in a darker wash quickly and easily, plus I knew the collage with its uneven surfaces would present challenges to a pen nib, anyway. So I mixed up a thin wash of mars black oil paint and laid it in with a brush. After a few days of drying time it helped me to achieve a dark, undulating mass rather quickly.

The linen jacket to the left required the most “effort”. I put that in scare quotes because it’s actually a process of discovery which, though it does take time, does not feel like work. The reason being that because the collaged shapes did not entirely match the highlights and shadows of the jacket folds in the original design, I had to do some tweaking. In the end I’m really happy with how it turned out. It reads quite well and I think will pair nicely with its neighbours in the final assemblage.

A Piece of Me #13, encaustic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #13, encaustic

A Piece of Me #13, india ink underdrawing

A Piece of Me #13, india ink underdrawing

A Piece of Me #13, encaustic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #13, encaustic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

This is the final panel of the encaustic series. It’s been an interesting journey dipping my toes back into melted wax. I’ve learned a number of new tips and tricks, many of which are best summarised in my recent post on my companion website atelierartisanal.com.  I also have understood how important it is to protect my own health. The fumes arising from the melted varnish (which is combined with the beeswax to create the medium) are bad enough but then you also need to avoid oxidizing whatever solvent you may be using – even so called “bio-solvents”. By the end I was wearing a vapour mask from outer space as well as goggles. No gloves or hazmat suit, though. 😉

Thematically this panel was an important one: one-quarter of my face, plus part of the neck and shirt of the lady standing behind me. I had left it for the end, knowing the subtlety that would be required for those precious skin tones. And even though I did have an electrified painting nib, I did not use it(!). Instead I discovered that small bright bristle brushes (held together by a metal ferrule), could be warmed on the palette so that the paint would retain its fluidity a few seconds longer. Of course, this tended to destroy the bristle brushes but it is well known that encaustic eats brushes. So I just buy plenty of cheap bristles and throw them away when death is nigh.

I am pleased with the way the skin tone shaped up. Lots of small strokes which allowed the green underpainting to poke through here and there. That mottling became contrasted to the long strokes of black for my shirt, blue for the lady’s shirt or the waves of the linen jacket. I used  my electrified drawing nib for all the fine, linear details. See for example my necklace. In the end it reads well and I am happy to move on the fifth and final series of this overall project: oil.

A Piece of Me #28, encaustic over collage on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #28, encaustic

A Piece of Me #28, underdrawing in pen and ink.

A Piece of Me #28, underdrawing in pen and ink.

A Piece of Me #28, imprimatura and underpainting.

A Piece of Me #28, imprimatura and underpainting.

This is/was such an interesting panel to do! The design call-out for it was collage and encaustic. Two very textural and graphic media. You put the two together and the effect can be exponential. On top of that, it was a strong composition: strong contrasts of black (shirt) and white (pants). Gestural elements of a wavy linen coat flowing into a resting but sculpted hand. I enjoyed the result at each step along the way. The finished collage was enticing (no photo of that); the underdrawing phase, too (see above, left). I could almost feel that hand. Well, of course I could since it’s mine, still it was being objectified in black and white. So from the beginning his particular panel reinforced my goal for the overall project, I want it to speak viscerally to the viewer.

To begin the encaustic phase I laid in a coat of yellow ochre and proceeded to melt it back off. This had the effect of unifying everything in a golden imprimatura glow. Unsurprisingly the melt off accentuated the textures of the collage, creating white ridges. See the side-lit photograph above, right.  Then I painted a green tone to the skin and melted it back off, too. Again, see the hand in the photo above, right. This concluded my prep.

A Piece of Me #28, encaustic over collage on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #28, encaustic over collage on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

With the exception of the skin tone, the black shirt, white pants and linen jacket went quickly and were pretty straightforward. That was because so much textural variation had already been built into the under layers. However, achieving a variegated chiaroscuro skin tone of the hand in encaustic was more difficult than one might imagine. I opted for creating a sculpted, veined hand in variants of warm and cool tonalities. The result reads well enough for my purposes. Though I must say I had increased respect for those Fayum mummy painters of old.

Somewhat surprisingly, the biggest challenge arrived in the “burning-in” phase. This phase happens when you have completed your painting but you still need to rewarm/remelt the whole surface in order to fuse the paint to the panel. I use a hand held heating lamp for this step. However, because it is a collage, the surface is heavily sculpted: it is not flat. The wax melted and pooled in ways “retrograde to my desire”. Edges blurred. Contrasts merged. So I had some clean up to do after the burn-in. No problem, a small scraping tool along with the little encaustic pen (with its drawing and painting attachments) could be pressed into service. Once completed, I was ready to hang up my guns and call it a day (or two).

Technical write up of using encaustic for an indirect painting technique here.

A Piece of Me #53, encaustic over linen on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #53, encaustic

A Piece of Me #53, underdrawing in pen and ink.

A Piece of Me #53, underdrawing in pen and ink.

A Piece of Me #53, encaustic over linen on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #53, encaustic over linen on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

I’m nearing the end of the encaustic series. This panel was both interesting and challenging at the same time. I had white pants, a very light yellow wall, some skin tone and tan socks, so four different regions of highlights and quarter-tones. The subject (me) is strongly lit, which created strong shadows particularly between the two legs. How to render this in encaustic in a way that stays true to the subject matter but also creates an attractive painting?

First step (after already laying in the underdrawing see right) was to cover the surface with yellow ochre and then aggressively melt it back off. This left me with a golden imprimatura. Nice. Then I did the same thing but this time only to the skin tones by adding green to the two leg sections and melting that back off. Then I had the distinctly green underpainting that I wish for in my skin tones.

After these preparatory steps I set about painting in the various sections: the white pants with its shadows, the skin tones, the shadowed socks, the wall (with its big shadow in-between the two legs), and the shoes. When I had something that appealed to me I decided to try to gently melt it off. Principally, I was not happy with the big central shadow section. It was too dark and too opaque. So I knew I needed to lighten it up somehow. The iron/cheescloth routine beckoned. So I set about it, and as usual, took off too much. 🙂

The electrified encaustic pen with three attachments, a pen nib, a brush nib and a small iron.

The electrified encaustic pen with three attachments, a pen nib, a brush nib and a small iron.

BUT, no problem, the underdrawing began to shine through in all the places where it had become lost. I liked that. Encaustic is such a thick, impasto, opaque technique. It’s the opposite of what I have been trying to do for so long in using an indirect technique to make use of layers to build up a painting. So suddenly I had an underpainting where all the different regions, with their shadowed sections were already very well indicated. This could be something to build on. Painting backwards in encaustic(!). Some forward moving opaque touch ups to give it all body and I might be done?

I came back the next day and did just that. Some large swathe brush strokes of white on the pants leg. Some quick highlights and shadows in the socks. Skin tone modelling. Redid the light plaster wall. That worked fine for the large fields but I had to pick up the electric pen nib (see right) to add in the finer details that are otherwise so difficult in encaustic. The shoelaces and fine lines on the pants leg. This is the result. I’ll take it.

Description of the entire project here. Technical write up of using encaustic for an indirect painting technique here.

A Piece of Me #18, encaustic over pastiglia on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #18, encaustic

Finally I am able to return to finish off the encaustic series. I had to stop for two intertwined reasons. First and foremost, I realized the the N95 mask I had been using may be good against covid-19 but it was not protecting me from the encaustic fumes. So I stopped and ordered a 3M certified vapour mask. Also, at that time it was the end of July and the studio was pretty hot even though I had a fan running and a door open to the garden. It seemed best to set it all aside until I got the right equipment and the temperature was a little kinder.

A Piece of Me #18, underdrawing

A Piece of Me #18, underdrawing

A Piece of Me #18, encaustic over pastiglia on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #18, encaustic over pastiglia on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

The panel composition for this one was mostly green sweater, with a bit of a hand, leg, wall and floor tile  thrown in for grounding spice. The preparation of the substrate included pastiglia, so the shapes were in light relief. I had laid in the design with india ink but before I began working with the melted wax I realized I had neglected to specify that the sweater shape also included the man’s forearm. So I added that to my drawing (not illustrated here) and set to work.

The delight in this panel consisted mostly in using the strokes of the melted wax to define the form. I had recently done another sweater panel in acrylics which had been quite successful in using the strokes to follow the flow of the form. Here I added some shadow chiaroscuro and the belly began to bulge.

Me in my new 3M vapour mask.

Me in my new 3M vapour mask.

Then came the man’s pant’s leg in the middle ground with its shadows, plus the hand, wall and floor tiles. That proceeded fairly quickly. In fact, I had already done those areas first before approaching the sweater (because it’s always best to work from background to foreground) but during the process of working on the sweater I had gotten a little too enthusiastic with the iron-cheesecloth method and had accidentally melted everything back off. Oops. Start over. So I did and this is the result.

Oh yes, and here to the right is a selfie of me in my new mask. An alien invader crashing the studio? Perhaps.

Description of the overall project here. Technical write up of using encaustic for an indirect painting technique here.