Nicholas Baxter

Blog posts tagged “studio practice”

Miniature Landscapes

This past month I unearthed a bunch of tiny frames from my studio storage for the purpose of painting little gifts for friends and family this holiday season. I’d been collecting these things at various vintage stores and yard sales for the past several years for just such an occasion. Looking to tap into the peace and simplicity of painting outdoors during this colder (mostly) indoors season, I decided to attempt some miniature landscapes for these frames.

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Various miniatures, oil on canvas paper, 2015

For the first time since embarking on my landscape painting journey about a year ago, I worked from photos rather than “en plein air.” Although unable to immerse myself in the atmosphere and unique light properties of the setting, I found the photos an incredibly effective practice modality due to the minimum of mental conversion needed in the controlled studio environment. The unchanging two-dimensional photo and the optimal lighting conditions were a great way to narrow down the variables in the artistic equation, freeing up my memory to attempt to rekindle some of the original vibe of these landscape locations, as well as focus on fundamentals like color matching and painting technique. I imagine this being somewhat similar to what the Hudson River School masters experienced in their studios, working strictly from memory and their plein air field studies.

 

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Miraflores Beach at Night, oil on linen panel, 4 x 6 inches, 2015

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Full Moon Sunset Over East Austin, oil on linen panel, 4 x 6 inches (oval), 2015

Each of these tiny paintings were completed with the alla-prima technique over the course of a single 2-3 hour session, including the lone non-landscape study of the inside of an apheresis blood cassette (random, I know…more on this in the coming months, hopefully…), which was a gift for my phlebotomist friend.

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Daily Rituals & Creative Routines

This year I’ve been picking my way through the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work in little bits and pieces and being thoroughly entertained by the habits and daily minutiae of some of recent history’s greatest thinkers and creators. I can’t recommend this book enough to any alienated, existential-crisis-prone artist in order to be reassured that:

  1. You’re not crazy
  2. You’re crazy

Here’s a fun infographic that some cool person made to give you a brief glimpse into some of the inspiring and/or wacky daily lives of some of the greats.

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Transfiguration: Process

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

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Tracing, on the projector and ready to begin.

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

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

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Hands like spiders everywhere.

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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.

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Working on the finishing touches…

transfiguration progress

From projection tracing to completed painting.

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

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Projection Tracing

Starting Grisaille

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The Special Sauce

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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 The Studio 3

Some of this past month’s progress shots from my massive 4-foot square painting currently in progress. Hoping to have it completed by the end of the year…

 

The start of details, a.k.a. the fun begins.

Notes & Advice 1: Stepping Back

Words of wisdom, from the astoundingly skilled, 26-year-old, San Fransisco-based painter Hsin-Yao Tseng:

“It’s important to squint your eyes while studying your subject and to stand back from your painting frequently. Squinting simplifies the details so you can see the big shapes and value patterns of the subject. Also, you get a sense of the lost-and-found edges. Standing back from your painting lets you evaluate the unity of the piece. Seeing the unity prevents you from overworking detailed areas or making unnecessary brushstrokes.”

(Seidner, Rosemary Barrett. “Born To Paint.” The Artist’s Magazine. October 2012: 44-51)

Great advice for perfectionist, detail-obsessed realism painters. Although aware of this advice long before reading Tseng’s feature this week, I too often forget to practice it. It was a timely reminder, as I was just about to put the finishing touches on a new experimental painting.

The more experimental or unfamiliar the territory that an artist is navigating, the more important it is to have his trusty fundamentals and basic skills by his side, like a compass, should he suddenly realize how lost he is.

So, Inspired by this painter wise beyond his years, I spent a recent afternoon in the studio focusing on this teaching. Being mindful to step back and gaze loosely at the overall image every 30 minutes or so, I found it a very refreshing practice. Note to self: do more of this.

In The Studio 2

After completing painting #12 in the Apostasy series this week I cleaned out my solvent rinse cup which I’d realized had possibly reached an all-time record toxic sludge accumulation. Over the past 9 months of painting this series (and a few randoms) the usual 80/20 solvent/debris ratio had been reversed (no wonder my brushes weren’t getting too clean anymore?). And it had turned a weird gray color? Not sure what that’s about. Naturally, I had to document my little contribution to the degradation of ecosystems and immortalize by posting on the internet–life, circa 2012.

Oil paint sludge: the excrement of art.

 

In The Studio 1

I had these studio pictures laying around, so I figured I’d post them.  They’re from my recent series “The Apostasy” which is still on display for a very short time at Last Rites Gallery in NYC.  See the blog archive for previous posts about the series, and view it now in its entirety by navigating through the “2012” category to your left.

Thanks to the generous collectors who bought paintings!

“Baptised” in progress, with reference, November 2011.

“Baptised” palette madness.

Painting the final image of the series, “Communion” at the Paradise Artist Retreat in New Mexico, February 2012.

Realism Techniques 5

Just as a tiny version of a future full-size drawing is referred to as a thumbnail sketch, the term study is often used to refer to a smaller, quick, “warm-up” or practice version of a future painting.

If memories of sitting in your school library reading textbooks in preparation for a final exam come to mind with the use of the term, you’ve got the right idea. Artists’ preliminary studies are exactly that: a chance to recap the ideas and memorize the information before embarking on the final challenge, in order to ensure success. It’s a professional artist’s studio practice dating back hundreds of years, becoming a necessity for many artists as they began to undertake works of monumental complexity and extreme precision.

The practice of completing preliminary studies wasn’t something I undertook until I started painting larger dimensions a few years ago.  I had always found that the time and work involved in painting at extremely small sizes didn’t warrant a practice run beforehand, as the potential mistakes to be made at that scale would themselves be smaller in scale–and able to be corrected in a reasonable amount of time. Essentially it seemed like I’d be completing the same work twice.

"Anointing" (Study), oil on canvas board, 12 x 12in, 2011

But as I took the plunge into attempting larger scale paintings, I suddenly realized the larger scale problems that could occur, costing days or weeks of time, money in expensive materials, and frustrated energy backtracking and correcting.  It was time to take up the age old tradition of completing a practice run to head off any potential problems before they occurred. At first it seemed like a hassle–an extra step preventing me from diving right into the joy of spreading those first layers of fresh paint on a new surface. But now that I’ve gotten into the habit, I really savor the opportunity to “prime the pump,” get familiar with the subject matter, acquaint myself with its nuances and palette, work quickly, intuitively and loosely…and most of all, make mistakes as I work out any ideas I may have.

I’ve found that the painting process following these studies goes much more smoothly, resulting in works accomplished in less time with less hair-pulling moments of indecision or bewilderment. As I’ve written before, the degree of meticulous patience and strategizing that goes into the thin layer buildup of my paintings is crucial for their success. Thus, anything that allows for more opportunities to plan and prepare, such as completing one or more preliminary studies, in turn allows for more complexity and refinement of the final illusion, which is the ultimate goal.

The studies you see here were completed in around 5 hours or less, and are actually way more refined than a preliminary version needs to be.  They can potentially be completed in minutes, and can be incredibly sloppy. As long as you figure out what you need to do in the final version of the painting, the study has served its purpose.

(Untitled Study for an upcoming painting) oil on canvas board, 12 x 12in, 2012