Saturday, February 23, 2013

Painting Over Photos... Really?!

Last weekend I had my paintings on display in Charleston, SC for the annual Southeastern Wildlife Expo. I always look forward to events like this. Aside from talking shop with the other artists, thousands of people pass through the doors, so it's a great time to meet and greet the public... and just maybe sell a few paintings.
As people stroll by throughout the course of the show, the comments... some meant for me to hear and some not...can be amusing, puzzling, or downright maddening. Yet there is one comment that I've heard several times over the past couple of years that I'm not sure what to do with. It usually goes something like You're just painting overtop of photos, right?
I'm not aware of anyone really doing that, though I'm sure it's probably happening somewhere. That comment/accusation always catches me a little off guard and I'm never quite sure what the hell I should say. The thought that immediately comes to mind is to flash a glare that says Move along before I bust you in the mouth! (my sister calls it my "stink eye"). However satisfying it might be to send some uninformed little pest scurrying down the isle, in situations like this it's rarely productive (not to mention I'm getting too old to really pull it off and/or back it up). In public, I try to keep the stink eye under wraps.
Of course if I protest too vehemently (perhaps as I'm doing now), I look guilty as sin. If I say nothing, folks automatically think they're correct. I guess the answer is somewhere in between. If people are really interested, I usually try to explain a little about my process, though I'm never quite sure if the message gets through.

Of course I use reference photos. That's no secret. It would be impossible for me to achieve any reasonable amount of believable accuracy in my work without them. In reality, most of my paintings have elements from several photos pieced together to create an interesting composition. Most of the time, it takes a fair amount of planning and drawing to correct "flaws" in those photos that can be distracting to the overall motif. That's pretty basic for most representational painters. Some just do it better than others.
I've recently wondered if I should keep a half-finished painting on hand at these shows just to smack down the notion that my art is nothing more than paint layered on a photo poster I had made at Wal-Mart. How devastating would it be to my career if people actually started to believe that's what happens in my studio?! Sometimes I feel like I'm pounding my head against the wall.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Reworking the Blue Jay

Sometimes I really misjudge a painting as it comes off the easel. I was really happy with this little 5x7 blue jay study last year (image on the left), but it never got a second look at either of the shows it went to... and that's unusual for these mini bird studies. So I put it back on the easel for a little makeover last week. I really liked the bigger soft brush work in the background of the earlier version and I'm kind of sorry I lost that, but the added warmth if the updated piece is pretty appealing. I'm not really sure if I made it better, but it's certainly different. We'll see if it gets any more attention at SEWE later this week!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

"Little Red"

"Little Red" 7x5 acrylic
This is the final painting for the SEWE show in Charleston, SC. I'm looking forward to seeing some old friends and a bit warmer weather.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"Early Arrival"... the Process

This small painting tested me a bit. I composed it more than a year ago and have been putting off starting it due to some of the challenges involved. I knew exactly how I wanted the finished painting to look and quite often, that narrow minded focus can stall the process of making art.

I started with a quick (maybe 30 minutes) underpainting. That underpainting took on a look of some of my plein air oil work and had some qualities I was particularly fond of... especially where the taller trees meet the sky. I wanted to keep that loose brushy feel, so I was very careful when adding the next layer of paint to that area.

I was determined to put goldeneyes in this painting to contrast their stark black and white plumage against the colorful background. But that posed a problem. Goldeneyes are cold weather ducks and are rarely seen in such a setting. My solution was to add some snow to the scene and in my mind, tell a story of a freak October cold snap that drove this small band of ducks down from their northern haunts. That happens often enough to be believable and is where the idea came for the title of the painting. So my next problem was actually adding the snow patches without screwing up the rest of the painting.

Next, I quickly blocked in the flying ducks taking care not to paint too much detail. I wanted the birds to have some movement, so loosing the edges on the wing tips helped to accomplish that. Goldeneyes fly incredibly fast and their wing beats are very rapid. By blurring them a bit, I feel I've portrayed that adequately.

"Early Arrival" 5x12 acrylic
As it turned out, the piece came together quite well. I'm not sure if it's because I took so much time thinking about the challenges and solutions, or because I simply overestimated those challenges in the first place. In any case, I'm pleased with the results... and yes, it looks exactly how I'd imagined. Nice :)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

"Riffle Riser"

"Riffle Riser" 8x8 acrylic
It's been quite some time since I last posted. It seems the issues I was having with image uploads have been resolved (at least for the time being), so back to the important stuff.
I love painting trout... especially when I have outstanding reference material to work from. Photographing trout underwater is quite a challenge and more often than not, I end up with a whole lot of useless images on my camera. It's at least a two person operation. On the rare days when I can get someone to go fishing with me, there has to be a decent amount of sun (or the images end up blurry) and, of course, we need to fool a couple of fish. When it all comes together, I end up with a painting like this :)