Nicholas Baxter

Blog posts tagged “process”

Blood Rituals: Redux

Photoshoots for last year’s Blood Rituals series of still life paintings yielded several interesting macros which did not fit the aesthetic of classical still life that evolved out of my initial brainstorming sessions. I extracted four compositions from these photos, and after perfecting them in the digital darkroom, recreated them as hyperrealist oil paintings. This miniseries pursues a different avenue of exploration of the same subject matter, presenting another aspect of my artistic vision and skill set as a painter.

These claustrophobic and intimate closeups border on the abstract, as the complex color patterns of wrinkled plastic bags and condensation covered glass lose their original context of setting and scenery. Within this unfamiliar space, the jarring appearance of blood is a beautiful, rich and vibrant color that makes these compositions pop, while providing symbolic depth. The narrative of what’s happening and why is largely absent from these images–intentionally–as they strive for a disorienting sense of wonder by honoring the genre of true photorealism. Uncanny likeness to the “real” provides an illusion that in turn may open up new ways of perceiving the ordinary, mundane objects of the world around us.

Our physical reality contains infinite detail, but to help us move efficiently through the world, our brains eliminate much of what our eyes are capable of perceiving. When given an up close, sustained glimpse of the material complexity we inhabit, the result is often overwhelming, surreal, and disorienting, as our simplified view explodes with new detail. This is the point at which assumptions and certainties are compelled to crumble, opening the intellectual space for new truths to be realized and deeper understanding to form.

 

BLOOD RITUALS: REDUX

(untitled), oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

 

(untitled), oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

 

(untitled), oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

 

(untitled), oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2017

In The Studio 5: Reworking Plein Air Landscapes

Something I’ve never been a fan of doing is revisiting older paintings after some time has passed. The process of reconstructing or even merely re-approaching the original mindstate, inspiration, and vision for the painting feels spiritually regurgitative in some unclean way. Like digging up a dead issue in a relationship with your partner. I’ve never been one to want to dwell in the past, favoring the pursuit of new goals and the exploration of new territory over the retread of old ground.

But since embarking on a landscape painting journey over the past few years I’ve seen some of the masters of the genre doing just this–picking up old plein air studies to breath new life into them, perhaps making them more presentable as a truly finished piece to a buying audience–and had stared at some of my early plein air studies long enough to realize how I too could push the sense of drama or atmosphere in them.

View From The Studio, before (L) and after glaze layer.

Not to mention, more hours logged in the practice of landscape painting, more hours logged studying weather and outdoor light with more intention and discernment, has had the natural and inevitable effect of expanding my critique ability of what I’ve previously done as well as eased some of my fears about ruining those original results. This shift is the tangible, or at least quantitative, proof that learning is happening–awesome!

So in a brief fit of discontented boredom lately I pulled a few early landscapes off the wall and put my glazing knowledge learned from many hours of studio still life painting to use on some formerly alla-prima studies that looked a little flat.

Oil glazing truly does replicate the phenomenon of translucent–but not completely transparent–atmosphere that we live in and see through every time we gaze into the distance. Which makes it a perfect tool in the landscape painter’s skillset. For advanced stages of realism in any genre I find it to be absolutely indispensable, and enjoyed the practice of applying it to my new pursuit of landscape painting mastery.

A little 4 x 6 inch study of my former backyard bridge, given a more dramatic late afternoon shadow treatment.

Notes & Advice 11

The popular text message shorthand TMI, as most of us growing up in the cell phone era know, means “too much information.” Normally not a good thing–except when it comes to my realism oil painting strategy.

To be specific, I find it useful to paint as much information as possible in the beginning stages and opaque layers of my photorealist paintings, so that I can pick and choose where to obscure it during the final (semi-transparent) glazing layers. There’s perhaps a bit of inefficiency involved in this approach, but it allows for a more organic development process overall, and a greater degree of control during the final artistic choices of what to emphasize or subordinate into shadow.

Dying In America-shadowglaze1

“Dying In America” (detail). Before and after the final shadow glazes. Note the subtle loss of detail/information in the rose petals.

The human eye is capable of seeing every detail of any given view, but the brain, our computer processor of sorts, is wired for efficiency and baseline survival, and as such is instinctively tuned to only allow us to focus on what is most important in any given view. Details and countless bits and pieces of any scene get stitched together from memory, assumption, and expectation, while a vast majority of the remaining minutiae are simply discarded as inessential to whatever task is at hand.

Some of my favorite realism artists were masters of this concept, knowing exactly what to emphasize or subdue in order to pull the viewers attention towards their focus and tug at their heartstrings with an effective narrative or use of symbolism.

Notice in John Singer Sargent’s portraits how little attention was paid to large areas of dress, allowing inessential areas to become black or brown silhouettes with no detail. He created a hierarchy of importance within the picture that mimics the way our brains naturally function, using the aforementioned technique to subordinate certain areas.

Madame_X_(Madame_Pierre_Gautreau),_John_Singer_Sargent,_1884_(unfree_frame_crop)

John Singer Sargent. “Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau),” 1884, oil. The dress and background, which comprise nearly all of the painting, are almost entirely flat areas of dark value.

Andrew Wyath used the technique of reserve just as brilliantly towards the goal of depicting scenic vistas and landscapes with a completely lifelike–yet surprisingly graphic and simplistic–appearance, setting the often somber and peaceful mood with just enough detail to draw us in and keep us looking.

bca808651127103ffc3f45c7c49cee68

Andrew Wyeth. “Sea Boots,” 1976, tempera. Details in the boots and foreground tempered with the geometric simplicity of everything in the top half of the composition.

scanned from 8 x 10" ct 11/13

Andrew Wyeth. “Barracoon,” 1976, tempera. Just enough accurate rendering in the figure and folds in the fabric, juxtaposed with large open fields of color and diffused texture.

 

And so I too try to keep the artistic concepts of hierarchy, subordination, and reserve in mind while envisioning my final result, with the goal of creating a visually appealing image, rather than chaotic overload containing a factually truthful amount of information, yet lacking cohesion and harmony.

I think these concepts become especially important when painting anything approaching the photorealism genre. Micro details are common and often necessary to complete the desired illusion in this style of painting, and yet conversely, a closed-minded and strict devotion to every detail of one’s photo reference or still life arrangement can result in a less aesthetically pleasing work of art.

"Dying In America" (detail).

“Dying In America” (detail).

Visual information, as with most things in life, can in fact become too much of a good thing. To make sure I hit my desired sweet spot on the information spectrum, I’m not afraid to paint more detail than will ultimately be needed, only to lose it in deep, rich, believable shadows. The most effective of these shadows will still contain the faintest traces of the details underneath, yet not so much detail as to clutter and distract from my desired focal point.

"Dying In America," 2015, oil on linen panel.

“Dying In America,” 2015, oil on linen panel.

In The Studio 4

After an awkward and disconcerting hiatus from regular painting while my new studio space was being built and furnished, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend the past month back at the easel on a regular basis.

I’ve been working on a half-finished painting that was begun after its original spark of inspiration occurred during the early summer months of 2014. It was then picked at sporadically through the fall and left dormant in winter, until finally undergoing the last push toward completion in the past few weeks.

Occasional and intermittent work on a serious and challenging painting is one of my least favorite phenomena. On the contrary, steady and regular progress on a painting keeps the spindly and often ephemeral thread of inspiration intact long enough to keep the nipping dogs of self-doubt and overquestioning at bay. So now I have uncertainties about some of the choices made in the progression of this painting, but done is done. I’d love to carry on the themes and subject matter of this one into future related works, though. We’ll see how that pans out. So many ideas and images in my head…so little of it turns into a physical object in this shared reality.

Here are some progress shots from last year and this month. The completed piece will be unveiled soon, after I hopefully think of a title.

singularity1-1

Grisaille.

Color block-in.

Color block-in.

singularity1-6

Applying splatter texture to the block-in.

 

singularity1-5

Building up rust textures.

Adding fine details and highlights before the final shadow glazes are applied.

Adding fine details and highlights before the final shadow glazes are applied.

 

 

 

 

Notes & Advice 8

If you’re into oil painting or realism and somehow not already a fan of Jeremy Geddes, do yourself a favor and check him out. He is a modern master of the fantastic realism genre. When I found out that he recently did an interview about his process and thoughts on realism art, I eagerly read it and found some pearls of wisdom in his humble and deftly concise responses.

Especially helpful to me as a painter were a few choice reminders about the process of completing larger or more ambitious works, including this advice:

One mistake I often catch myself in is launching into a full sized painting before I have addressed and resolved all the potential problems in small scale studies. It means I can spend days or weeks in rework for an issue that could have been sorted out in hours if I had followed the correct procedure. Tampering down enthusiasm with pragmatism can be a tricky thing to hold onto sometimes, but it is almost always worth it.

And then there’s this insight regarding the public perception of “fine art” and the communicative power, which is a timely reinforcement of some of the conclusions about modern art I described in my “What Is Art?” essay:

…the disconnect between the intended meaning of a conceptual work and the meaning that  ‘Joe Public’ will take from it is obviously huge, the work is most likely buried in decades of obscure theory that the public has no knowledge of or participation in.

You can read the entire Geddes interview (as well as interviews with three other great modern painters too!) on the noeyeddeer blog.

Shenpa II

Here’s a process sequence for a tiny diptych painting I did a few months ago related to the recurring theme in my work of healing wounds.

shenpa2-stages-lowres

Tinted panel with drawing, color block-in, building detail, adding final glazes and highlights, and finished painting.

 This tiny little pair will be included in the forthcoming art catalogue Pint Size Paintings Volume 2, which compiles these small paintings completed by members of the worldwide tattoo community, and features them in a traveling art show.

Shenpa2-lowres

Shenpa II (Toward Healing), oil on panels, 4 x 3 inches (diptych), 2013

I wrote about the Tibetan Buddhist symbolism surrounding my use of the hook symbol last year, after completing Shenpa I (which now resides in the collection of the amazing and prolific figurative painter Shawn Barber!).

shenpahook-lowres

Shenpa (Toward Healing), oil on panel, 11 x 14 inches, 2013

Painting Gallery Updates!

One of my smaller New Year’s resolutions was to update this website with all of the paintings I’ve done over the past two years. Well, I’m happy to say I can cross that task off the list, so please check out the new categories in the lefthand navigation column. The last time I’d added anything to the gallery pages was early in 2012 after finishing the first 10 paintings of my Apostasy series (exhibited at Last Rites Gallery that year).

Since then I’ve been blogging steadily about newer completed works, enjoying this venue as an opportunity to share progress photos, technical instruction, and to dive into the thought process and symbolism behind my paintings. I’ve fallen a bit behind on writing about some of my newer pieces in the midst of some distracting life events, and I may write more here about these paintings later on, but for now they’re all posted under the new 2013 category.

I also want to say THANK YOU to all the generous collectors who’ve bought paintings and prints over the past few months. I’ve had an extraordinary run of sales lately, selling out my aluminum print editions and parting ways with a handful of various smaller paintings completed in the last few years, placing them in collections here in America and around the world. I feel incredibly grateful for the financial support, and honored to have my creations appreciated by others…not to mention relieved to clear some much needed space on my crowded studio walls.

Of course, many of the paintings just posted in the galleries are still available (as well as various pieces from my last few series that have been posted for a while, Reclaiming and the aforementioned Apostasy), and are noted as such in the image details. Feel free to inquire if interested.

To end this on a more interesting note, here are some progress shots from a recently completed painting. I can’t post the finished piece in its entirety just yet, as it’s slated for exclusive release on a magazine cover later this year. But for now, enjoy this sneak peak into the process:

vanitasprogress2blog vanitasprogress3blog vanitasprogress6blog vanitasprogress8blog vanitasprogress9blog vanitasprogress10blog

Invocation Of Trust

invocation_of_trust-lowres

Invocation Of Trust, oil on panel, 4.5 x 8 inches, 2013

Here’s a recent piece I completed for submission to an upcoming charity art exhibit at The Egan Gallery in Fullerton, California, curated by friend and fellow artist Cody Raiza who is a passionate animal welfare activist.

 

Rescue me flier frontandback - web

This tiny painting was inspired by events this summer at my house in Austin Texas involving the rescue of 2 baby raccoons from a rain catchment bin in my backyard by my partner and I. These two little fuzzballs, normally capable of being quite ferocious, were reduced to  feeble, trembling snugglebugs by their traumatic night spent flailing and trying not to drown. They instantly grasped and climbed my extended arms seeking warmth and comfort, and stole our animal-loving hearts in the short time before we entrusted them to the care of an area wildlife rehabilitation center.

Of course, never one to miss any artistic photo-op, I snapped away with my iPhone camera and ended up with some gorgeous, heartwarming shots, which after the usual in-phone editing, made their way first to Instagram*, and then to the easel when I realized they were perfectly suited to the theme of this upcoming art show.

invocation_of_trust-reference

Edited reference photo from my Instagram account.

 

Here’s the evolution of this image, which just as the title declares, was intended as an invocation of trust in my life, to overcome barriers of fear and isolation, and to elicit sacred tender moments of unity between humans, other beings, all life.

invocation_of_trust-process-lowres

Pencil transfer drawing and Grisaille, followed by color block-in and 2-3 layers of color adjustment and glazing.

 

(*This is the first time I’ve painted an image originally intended solely for my Instagram gallery…not sure how I feel about that. I routinely attempt to post content there which is reminiscent of my paintings, and certainly aligned closely with my overall artistic aesthetic, often self-critiquing them afterwards as if they were paintings…but I really despise the over-saturation and cultural-race-to-the-bottom of social media, despite my own degree of participation in it. I’m curious to see how the Ig creative outlet will affect my art in general. To be continued…)

Transfiguration: Process

Here are some studio and process shots from the few months’ timespan of painting my latest large work in the Apostasy series:

tracing

Tracing, on the projector and ready to begin.

skin with reference

Starting the block-in of color, working from a small reference.

optical illusion

Optical illusion: new painting in front of recent finished piece Glorification.

2 paintings

Hands like spiders everywhere.

wound progress

Wound progression.

white glaze process

Adding the final translucent white glaze to the gloves for that milky latex look.

shadow glaze process

Applying the final shadow glaze.

me painting

Working on the finishing touches…

transfiguration progress

From projection tracing to completed painting.

Grasping

I unearthed this old thumbnail sketch recently while searching for some reference photos in an impossibly overstuffed manila folder, a visual treasure chest where all manner of computer printouts, random newspaper and magazine clippings, and sketches from the last 10+ years are stored.

grasping thumbnail

Grasping (thumbnail)

This tiny drawing marks the genesis of my 2008 painting Grasping, which uses a visual metaphor to represent the human struggle with craving and addiction:

grasping2008-2

Grasping, oil on panel, 10in x 20in, 2008

Many of my paintings start out this way, with the quick thumbnail sketch being the most efficient method to record a momentary flash of inspiration or percolating idea for later use, before it’s gone forever. (I mentioned thumbnail sketches briefly in this older post about what is quite often the next stage of the painter’s creative process.)

Glorification

My latest installment in The Apostasy series, and the last for 2012, is now complete.  Four times as big as the next smallest piece in the series, and by far the largest painting I’ve attempted in oil at 48 inches square, this was a grueling endeavor.  Quite frankly, I’m just relieved it’s over, but on the positive side, I feel much more prepared and able to take on the next (and second to last!) piece in the series, which will be in the same large size range.

Here is a visual walk through the process of making this painting, which for now I’ve tentatively titled Glorification:

oil on canvas board, 12 x 12in, 2012

Glorification (study), oil on canvas board, 12in x 12in, 2012

projection

Projection Tracing

Starting Grisaille

4footgrisaille

The Special Sauce

paletteandfeet

skinprogressmidway

skinprogress1

gloveprogress1

IMG_1006

woundprogress2

woundprogress1

woundprogress3

IMG_0960

mepaintingglorification

IMG_1014

IMG_1026

finishingpalette

Glorification-lowres

Glorification, oil on panel, 48in x 48in, 2012

Happy new year everyone! May we all enjoy success in our continuing endeavors, and a progression in awareness, happiness, and health from an individual level to a global scale.

 

 

 

In Review: Union of Art and Sport

The Rules of Basketball: Works by Paul Pfeiffer and James Naismith’s “Original Rules of Basket Ball”

September 16 – January 13, 2013

Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin

In an unlikely combination of history and psychology, this exhibit pairs basketball inventor James Naismith’s 1891 document “Original Rules of Basket Ball” with contemporary artist Paul Pfeiffer’s basketball themed digital works. In hindsight, the Naismith material seems like it’d be merely a passing curiosity for most, and only significant for true sports geeks and devout basketball fans, as the real philosophical and entertaining meat of the exhibit is the collection of work by Paul Pfeiffer.

This basketball-specific compilation of pieces is dominated by enormous C-prints of mostly vintage and notable game photographs whose removed logos, names, and team colors imbue them with the ghostly hollow silence of a haunted house. Interspersed among these are tiny viewing vessels affixed to the walls, where short-length video clips run in fast highlight-reel styled loops.  Pfeiffer’s knack for selecting just the right 3 seconds of game footage to convey his symbolism is evident in the same unexpected walk-through-a-graveyard, eerie feeling they impart.  Some of the images and video border on absurd, utilizing the unreal juxtaposition of blanked-out team jerseys with highly memorable sporting moments. Taking all of this in, I found myself suppressing alternating fits of amused, snickering laughter, chest-vibrating tension, and fond childhood sentimentality.

Paul Pfeiffer
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (08), 2005
Fujiflex digital C print, 60 x 48 in.
Collection Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman NY, Courtesy The FLAG Art Foundation
©Paul Pfeiffer. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Like nearly all contemporary art, this work is primarily conceptual, deeply embedded within the theoretical realm of symbolism rather than in the organic lineage of traditional craftsmanship…what most tend to quickly appreciate as “skill.” As such, sadly, only the most informed viewers are likely to truly appreciate the full significance of what the artist has made (“Some photoshopped video clips–so what?”).  And this, of course, embodies so much of what’s wrong with art in postmodern society, and isn’t necessarily the average viewer’s fault (but that debate gets complicated, and needs its own future blog post or 7).

But, as guest curator for the Blanton exhibit Regine Basha insightfully describes, “Paul Pfeiffer frames media, spectacle, and masculinity [and, I’d add–race] in a way that sheds new light on the game of basketball.”  His clever digital work “adopts today’s frenetic visual language in order to consider the role that mass media plays in shaping consciousness,” according to the exhibit’s press release.  As such, Pfeiffer’s retouched photographs and manipulated video clips are sneakily at the epicenter of some of the most pressing and pivotal conflicts smoldering, unresolved, in the heart of our first-world empire of consumption and spectacle.

In Germany in 2000 the Kunst-Werke Berlin e.V., Institute for Contemporary Art, presented the first comprehensive one-man-show of Paul Pfeiffer, offering a beautiful description of his symbolism and process:

Pfeiffer’s digital videos are “moving still-lives,” challenging human perception as well as exploring long-standing issues of painting. Due to the accelerated repetition of short sequences, the essential codes of perception, such as the instant recognition of fore- and background, depth and surface, motion and unmoving, blur or cease to be of relevance. For example, in JOHN 3:16 Pfeiffer took found video footage of a basketball game and re-edited it in order to place the ball in the central foreground of the screen with the play swirling around it. The seeming fluidity of the image belies the painstaking nature of the production process: over 5000 individual video frames have been enlarged and repositioned to create the moving image of a ball in play.

(http://kw-berlin.com/deutsch/archiv/pfe/pfe.html)

John 3:16, 2000 (Filmstill)  ©Paul Pfeiffer

As a lifelong sports fan, artist, and cultural deconstructionist I had three inherent and unlikely leverage points with which to appreciate this exhibit.  Having long ago dissolved the barriers of the self-limiting, culturally-reinforced disparity between “jock” and “artist” stereotypes/archetypes within myself, I felt as though Pfeiffer’s work was made for–and was speaking intimately to–me. I was thrilled to stumble upon these eerily-altered iconic sports images on my recent museum trip, having planned my visit around the Blanton’s simultaneous exhibit of classic Western Americana paintings.


Fragment of a Crucifixion (after Francis Bacon), 1999 (Filmstill)  ©Paul Pfeiffer

In one short video clip that’s both instantly terrifying and hilarious, digital editing and repetition turn the post-dunk celebratory scream of a basketball player into an unnerving, awkwardly aggressive expression of rage.  What gives this art added significance to me–perhaps belying the original intent of the artist, who has purposefully removed any team, league, corporate or personal identifiers from the scene–is that I know the basketball player is former college and pro star Larry Johnson, who in Pfeiffer’s video was playing for the Charlotte Hornets, and whose promising career was disappointingly cut short due to injury.  I used to watch him enact that primal ritual on live TV as a child, reveling in his athletic prowess, imitating it in my makeshift driveway basketball court, and collecting his basketball cards. It’s in this sentimentality that the work touches a deeper human chord within me, and I feel like a participant in Pfeiffer’s visions, embodying a small part of the very unresolved conflicts that his work calls forth.

Passion

In between paintings of my ongoing surgical theme (The Apostasy), I’ve been searching for little sparks of inspiration for my next series of paintings. Attempting new subject matter and freeing myself from the confines of a very specific painting process are two strategies I often employ for a creative jumpstart.

So, last month I finished another experimental painting involving a splatter process and a strange juxtaposition of subject matter. I wanted to revisit what I’d tried in my recent still life Denial Vanitas with that splatter technique, and get even looser with it. As the painting came together over a few weeks, it increasingly reminded me of an older piece completed in much the same way, and with a similar aesthetic, called Comfort.

Layer 1: multi-colored splatter.

Splatter detail.

Layer 2: blocking in and establishing form.

Block-in detail.

Adding the final shadow glazes.

More of the final glaze layer during application.

“Passion”, oil on panel, 16in x 9in, 2012

“Passion” (detail)

 

Realism Techniques 7

I finished painting #12 in the Apostasy series, now tentatively titled Sacrificial, a few days before my recent galavant to Galapagos. Didn’t get a chance to post anything about it before I left, but let me just say: That trip was crazy. So crazy that re-entering the studio upon my return was like landing in a time warp to a long ago era. Like a cat in a new home I sniffed out the place to make sure it was still real, still my life(?), in this current place and time, and then gratefully got the fuck to work on some prints for an upcoming group show (more coming soon on that).

Good to get outta here for an adventure, but good to be back in the creative womb with some new entries in that cluttered/overflowing filing cabinet called mind.

So, to get myself caught up, here’s the now foreign-seeming latest:

“Sacrificial”, oil on panel, 12 x 12in, 2012

Mini-Layers

For anyone actually reading this blog on the regular, the technique of layering to achieve high levels of realism should be at least somewhat familiar by now.  Yet, within this broader process of applying paint in separate layers lies the specific technique of applying paint in small amounts, during the progression of a single painting session, or layer. In other words, a wet-into-wet paint application which mimics classic Alla Prima techniques, yet occurs within the quite contradictory process of indirect (or layered) painting.

For example, the basic form and colors of the gloved fingers shown below had been established after one opaque paint layer (which I usually call the block-in). After that first layer of opaque paint was dry, subtlety and detail were added in the subsequent layer shown, but this increasing complexity, not surprisingly, requires increasing care during application. Towards this end, paint is added sparingly, in thin amounts, and blended down to join it seamlessly with the dried block-in.  I move through an area, micromanaging approximately 1 inch square sections of the painting, each receiving the same apply/blend treatment.

I use Galkyd Slow-Dry medium with all of my paint mixtures, and pay close attention to the viscosity of the paint when mixing on my palette, since overly fluid or thick consistencies can make this stage of the painting process incredibly difficult.

Finally, where mini-layers come into play is when the application and blending process is repeated during the same painting session. I revisit many of the 1 inch square areas while the paint is still wet, and re-apply another thin layer of color, blending that out very carefully so as not to destroy the first application. …And so on, until these wet mini-layers have accumulated thick enough that I deem the layer no longer workable. At this point, the session is finished and I wait for that layer of paint to dry before revisiting the same area again.

The sequence below shows some of these steps. If you look carefully, you can see tiny areas of paint being applied and then smoothed out. These same areas were worked over once more in the same fashion, with certain areas receiving a third pass during that same day’s work.

Look at the purple shadow area first, then the off-white knuckle wrinkles, then the orange and deep red under-lighted areas.

 And lastly, a studio shot of my reference for the piece, which was perhaps the most complex and densely detailed of the series thus far:

The scalpel was a final addition to the already heavily-Photoshopped reference image, replacing a much more modern cauterizing scalpel, whose unsatisfactory look of a Lego toy betrayed its badassness. See this blog post for more on the intricacies of reference usage.

Realism Techniques 6

After a few experimental forays I returned to the studio recently to continue work on The Apostasy series, which has been my major ongoing project for the past year.  Due to time and size constraints, only the first 10 paintings in this series debuted at Last Rites Gallery for my solo show in May and June.

I’m still very inspired by the themes and subject matter of these images, so it was great fun diving back in–I felt like I picked up right where I’d left off before my show.  The most recent painting I completed was a perfect example of the realism artist’s need to deviate from a strict reproduction of the reference material in order to maximize the intended symbolism or desired aesthetic qualities.

Using Reference Effectively

In this case, my reference image, which in itself had been highly manipulated from its original photographic state with Photoshop, featured a metallic instrument rather starkly silhouetted against a harshly lit background of tender skin.  I was faced with the artist’s “executive decision”: to ride the simple, graphic power of the flat black silhouette, or to increase the nuances of its surface texture in order to emphasize the effects of the hard light behind it.  Either choice works just as effectively within the overall composition, but caters ever so slightly to a different level of meaning within the piece. Power of steel instrument to manipulate the fleshly realm, or power of the light of truth usurping man and all his manipulative tools?

I chose the latter. So, this involved the invention of some extreme lighting effects on the surface of the instrument. These I hoped would more fully express the metallic nuances and form of this foreground object, as hard backlighting bends around it, creating a bit of a warm flare.  In general, I thought this increased action would add some more life to the piece. You can compare these deviation attempts in the provided sequence of photos, which starts with the specific area of my reference image, and ends with the corresponding section of the completed painting. (Image of the full painting coming soon…)

Intentionally painting the instrument too light at first allowed more control in creating subtle variations of lighting on the object.

Ultimately this entire issue is of minimal impact to the outcome of the entire image, and for those unfamiliar with the quirks of extreme realist painting, may seem like an exhaustingly trivial matter.  However, I enjoy it as yet another example of the myriad opportunities for creativity in a genre often mistakenly deemed uncreative.  Often, the creativity in ultra realistic styles simply operates at an unexpected and far subtler level than most viewers are trained to recognize.

Far from a mere copy-machine, the experienced realism painter works often with fully premeditated intention on every minuscule aspect of the painting, making a countless number of creative decisions and unique departures rarely noticed by the undiscerning eye. In fact, if the artist’ technical skill is strong enough, there’s no way that these aspects can be noticed. Like a magician, full acceptance by the audience signifies completion of the ultimate illusion.

Realism Techniques 4.5

Here’s the followup and conclusion to my earlier post featuring a texture experiment with some new subject matter. The results are now in, and personally I feel that the styrofoam packing peanut texture attempt #1 was a success.  Here’s a detail sequence of the major steps of the layering process.

Descending into madness, otherwise known as, the building of styrofoam texture.

This painting will debut at a Copro Gallery group show curated by renowned dark pop-surrealist Chet Zar, which promises to be an amazing display of the elite fine art talent in the tattooing scene–which has long been denied access to and credibility within the mainstream, or establishment art world.

But, times are changing, and Chet is an impromptu ambassador of sorts, working on the forefront of this shift while treading the boundaries between several art scenes with his own career.  Many thanks and much respect goes out to him for his efforts.

Realism Techniques 3

Working Smarter, Not Harder

Here are two more quick paintings from my visit to Jeff Gogue’s studio last summer, which I’ve blogged about here and here.

These paintings were executed (almost) entirely in Jeff’s very direct Alla Prima working process, with his stripped-down palette of Titanium White, Alizarin Crimson, Prussian Blue, and Transparent Orange.

"Extinguished 1" Oil on Panel, 12 x 12 in, 2011

The goal during the several hours it took to paint each of these was, first and foremost, to let the spontaneity and expressiveness of each brushstroke remain apparent, to let the paint breathe in all of its wet, visceral uneven glory. In other words: not turning into a self-indulgent artist and over-brushing everything to death. Or, in other, other words: not using my normal sharp-focus realism techniques or process.

"Extinguished 2" Oil on Panel, 12 x 12 in, 2011. These candles are a metaphor for the passing of time and worldly things, the aging of mind and body. The still-smoking wick represents the fundamental stillness of mind, accessible through meditation, which becomes clear once all thoughts, concepts and constructs have been extinguished. The half-melted candle represents the slow aging and decay of the body, our physical vessel.

The theory behind this approach is that over-working the paint takes you out of the moment, masking the raw emotion that may be transferred from body to brush to canvas, that infuses a picture with a sense of life and mystery.  Emphasis is placed on accurate and efficient reproduction of what you’re seeing: hold brush confidently, make your mark with discriminating force, leave it alone.  As a realist, this exercise is a valuable lesson in efficiency, allowing you to access the ability to commit the most information with a single stroke. More accuracy with the least amount of physical brushwork or artistic manipulation.

Its simplicity is quite beautiful, really, like Buddhist meditation practices.

It’s also quite painful for the neurotic who wants everything to be smooth and perfect, everything resolved and solved so that the final illusion is primary while the physical surface of the painting melts into oblivion.  The working process I’ve developed over the years is patterned after many of the Renaissance masters who used many layers and subtle glazes to achieve convincing illusions.  These results are often dependent upon a process of highly refined brushwork, and arrived at through precise technique, planning, and strategy. So, needless to say, each of these candle still lifes were a monumental struggle from start to finish, as I forced myself to make marks and then leave them alone–moreover, to make “mistakes,” and then leave them alone.

Ultimately, I’m pleased with the results as well as the experienced gained from the exercise. When I returned home and began painting again in my usual manner, I found myself able to loosen up my brushwork to achieve illusions more efficiently. Incorporating the ‘observe, make mark, move on’ attitude helps me, as a painter of realism, focus on committing only the necessary information, more accurately and more quickly. I see this as the next level of learning, after an artist learns simply how to work with paint. It’s the process of learning how to work smarter, not harder. To achieve greater results, in less time and with less struggle.

Realism Techniques 2

After recently finishing my newest series of paintings for my show in May/June at Last Rites Gallery, I had a chance to revisit an experimental painting I’d started this past summer while attending a workshop by my friend Jeff Gogue, a phenomenal painter and tattoo artist in Grant’s Pass, OR.

To backtrack a bit: I convinced Jeff to lead a workshop for me in an attempt to break away from my well-worn habits and artistic routine.  I find the intentional abandonment of familiarity and comfort to be a crucial element of any learning process, and knowing that Jeff has a drastically different technical approach than I do, I knew I could round out my own knowledge and expertise by absorbing some of his.

Jeff and I in his studio.

This proved to be quite challenging and downright frustrating (perfect! or in the words of comedian Will Arnett, “that’s how you know it’s workinnng!”), as I grappled with my ingrained artistic tendencies. (Side note/Cliffhanger #1: I’m preparing a thorough explanation of this concept for a future blog post).  

I started a simple painting that week, abandoning myself to Jeff’s process, with no clear vision of what my end result would look like nor how I would get there. My stay in Oregon ended before I could see this painting through to its conclusion, and I quickly forgot all about it for months while keeping busy with other projects.

How it looked when I left oregon.

Fast forward to March, and here I am with a unique challenge of revisiting what I’d learned at the workshop in order to finish what I’d started several months prior.  I finally had a vision of where I wanted to take this piece, and I made the decision to adapt the foreign process I’d started the painting under, to my own familiar process for finishing pieces, creating an interesting synthesis of two peoples’ techniques and approaches.  A mental collaboration, with only one person executing the plan.

Here’s a step-by-step document of a portion of the painting, consisting of wafting tendrils of black smoke, being completed with my familiar glazing process.  Glazing over previously dried layers is the only way to build up smooth transparencies of color–perfect for the illusion of smoke. I’ll post the entire completed painting once it’s been properly photographed.

(Interesting side note/Cliffhanger #2: In deconstructing this process by studying the progress photos I’d taken, I realized a much more efficient method of layer buildup that I could have used, which I predict would also be conducive to even more realistic results. A compare and contrast to the 2 approaches will be the subject of a future Realism Techniques post.)

The smoke was completed in 5 stages, each a transparent glaze layer, consisting of a high alkyd-to-pigment ratio, applied over paint that had been allowed to dry completely.

Realism Techniques 1

This is the start of an occasional ongoing series on this blog where I’ll be discussing the process and techniques of sharp-focus realism oil painting.

Here’s the evolution of the painting I began at my parents’ house during a recent visit.  The phases of development you see here represent approximate divisions into layers, i.e. major progress stages of the painting (click on the image below to make it larger). In actuality, there were a few more partial layers and back-and-forth adjustments made to various areas of the piece which are not shown here, as they didn’t constitute major turning points.

Generally speaking, after the first two complete layers, it’s then possible to break off into intense development on one section of the piece if desired or needed, since at that point enough information has been recorded to establish a failsafe foundation upon which to build endless subtleties. I believe that the most convincing photorealist paintings cannot be achieved through anything other than this subtle progression of multiple layers.

This piece is part of a new series nearing completion, which will debut officially on May 26th at Last Rites Gallery in NYC.  More details of that show will be available in the coming months.

Hands painting stages

Value study, block-in, development of detail and form, final adjustments and refinement.