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.

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.

A Piece of Me #04, acrylic over collage on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #04, acrylic

A Piece of Me #04, underdrawing in ink wash and pen and ink.

A Piece of Me #04, underdrawing in ink wash and pen and ink.

A Piece of Me #04, after the imprimatura.

A Piece of Me #04, after the imprimatura.

Finally, the last of the acrylics series. I saved this panel for the last knowing it could be quick work if I was lucky, but I would have to be on top of my game.

Compositionally this included a section of my face and hair against a background of architectural shapes. The light came in strongly from the right.

The work up for the panel was collage. So I used sections of an old pleated linen shirt for the background, then cut up long, thin strips of cloth for the strands of my hair. When it came to sculpting my face I used thick pieces of linen and even glued in a thicker piece underneath for my eyebrow.

I drew in the composition with washes of india ink (above, left), then coated the panel with yellow ochre for an imprimatura and added in darker accents with pen and ink (above, right). On top of that I gave the face a green underpainting (no photograph of that stage). Painting skin tone this way always looks so ghoulish at the start but it’s fantastic for achieving chromatic dimensionality very quickly. After all, blue veins do pulse under our warm, translucent flesh.

A Piece of Me #04, acrylic over collage on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #04, acrylic over collage on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

During the alia-prima painting phase I painted in the white tonalities of the background first, then proceeded to the hair and face. Things began to come alive very quickly. After the (cool, pinkish) skin tone dried I laid in a glaze of yellow ochre to warm it all up and decided to stop. Some might consider this to need more work, that is, to bring it to a fuller, more developed state of completion since the underdrawing is still quite visible in places. But I fear if I continued I would lose its freshness and spontaneity. There is plenty of suggestion; already there is a lot going on. So I will stop and call this one yet another haptic-happening.

Description of the overall project here. Technical write up of my use of acrylics for indirect painting in this project here.

A Piece of Me #26, acrylic on panel. 21 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #29, acrylics

A Piece of Me #26, underdrawing in pen and ink.

A Piece of Me #26, underdrawing in pen and ink.

A Piece of Me #26, acrylic on panel. 21 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #26, acrylic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

This panel presented an interesting contrast of values and hues. Strong black shirt and effects of light and shadow contrasted to a muted linen jacket and nuanced flesh tones. Additionally, the panel was untreated. I am coming to recognise this treatment (or lack thereof) presents a particular challenge to the painter. The paint is simply more difficult to manipulate.

Given all that I am pleased with the outcome. The jacket undulates, the shadows read, the flesh pulses. I wonder what time it is on that watch?

Overview of the entire project here. Technical write up of my use of acrylics for indirect painting in this project here.

A Piece of Me #09, acrylic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #09, acrylics

A Piece of Me #09, underdrawing in pen and ink

A Piece of Me #09, underdrawing in pen and ink

A Piece of Me #09, acrylic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #09, acrylic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

Moving into the figurative pieces now especially those with serious flesh tones. This composition was mostly sweater, a little shirt and a piece of neck.

The approach called for an un treated panel (so no cotton or linen glued to the substrate to soften the blow). That meant that the strokes would speak for themselves and also would be a little slow in drying. If you take that into account, no problem, but if you try to work too fast (which I did) you can experience “holes” where the paint suddenly lifts off the surface whenever you work back over it. So this happened today while working on the man’s neck. The paint lifted off revealing two green blotchy holes (exposing the underpainting) in the highlighted area. Ha! I had to just stop and take a break. An hour later the surface was dry enough that I could stipple in a patch to match. This evened it all back up. No problem.

Nevertheless, the skin tone itself was a success story of indirect painting. I laid a green toned underpainting over the yellow ochre imprimatura. Then I mixed up three tints of venetian red (the Renaissance painters called that sinopia) to develop the form. When that work dried, I sponged in a yellow ochre glaze. Pop! Yummy flesh.

Another fun challenge was the sweater. I wanted to give it some movement as well as indicate the chiaroscuro of the body form beneath it. The underdrawing already indicated some movement, so I tried to let it speak though my strokes. After I was done working in the large forms and movements, I adjusted the colour with a sponged in glaze of cadmium yellow (bright!). That turned it from an almost dark-olive grey to a bright, delicious green. I’m pretty happy with the way it all turned out.

I might not want to eat that sweater but I wouldn’t mind a quick snuggle.

Overview of the entire project here. Technical write up of my use of acrylics for indirect painting in this project here.

 

A Piece of Me, #12. The mixed technique over collage. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in

A Piece of Me #12, the mixed technique

I’ve finally reached the last in this series of panels using the mixed technique. This last one, like the one previous to it, was a landscape composition containing elements of background, middle ground and foreground. In this case, the foreground and middle ground were figurative elements: the foreground was a quarter slice of my face; the middle ground contained a number of figures, four distinct ones and miscellaneous body-parts of two others. (Geez, this sounds like a post-mortem.) In addition, since the underpainting for the flesh tones was done in the standard convention of terre verte (green), it even looks ghoulish.

A Piece of Me #12, egg tempera over india ink on collaged substrate.

A Piece of Me #12, egg tempera over india ink on collaged substrate.

A Piece of Me, #12. The mixed technique over collage. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in

A Piece of Me, #12. The mixed technique over collage. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in

So I was interested to render these elements carefully in terms of hue and value. For example, the lady in the centre of the middle-ground had on a very pink shirt in the original photograph. I toned it down because I didn’t want it to attract too much attention. However since my face is strongly lit, I’m wearing a black shirt with an oatmeal coloured coat I wasn’t too worried about the contrasts of the foreground. The only challenge wasto render it well. In the end I’m pretty pleased with the result and of course, the underpainting, underdrawing and collage all play a formative role.

Full description of the whole project here. Write up on the mixed technique here.

A Piece of Me #02, the mixed technique. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #02, the mixed technique

After a long, partially self-imposed, partially corona-virus imposed hiatus (no, I was not sick, just stuck for awhile on Gilligan’s Island) – I have finally been able to return to the drawing board in my Bruges studio. Hooray!!!

A Piece of Me #02, the mixed technique. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #02, the mixed technique. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #02, egg tempera over underdrawing.

A Piece of Me #02, egg tempera over underdrawing.

This then, is one of the last panels executed in the mixed technique. The composition for this and the final one (still yet to come) are both challenging and interesting at the same time. They contain elements of a traditional landscape layout, that is, foreground, middle-ground and background. So for me, as a painter, that primarily means I want to control both my chromatic and value contrasts: the foreground can contain the warmest hues and the strongest values; while the middle ground less and the background even less.

Actually during the oil level I rendered each of these elements separately, then balanced them up at the end. The man with the cap in the foreground came last. The figure in the centre (I call him Joe Biden), was  a quick fix, following the architectural background, which also happened relatively quickly (due to the work up of my previous layers). My interest has always been in having each panel function on its own as well as having the capacity to integrate itself into the finally completed whole. Due to their landscape elements these panels should be able to do both rather well? So, of course, I’m looking forward to putting it all together at the end!

Full description of the whole project here. Write up on the mixed technique here.