Australian Fine Artist

Archive for November, 2012

Portraits in Oils

Venue: Berwick Artists Society

Date: 28th November 2012

Demonstrating Artist: Lee Machelak

Lee is a “considered painter” who puts a lot of thought into her works before laying a singe dab of paint on a surface. I watched before the demonstration as she carefully set up her work space, including lighting for her model and where she would sit. The lights in the room were adjusted and we all moved back a bit to allow her to do the massive amount of walking back and forth she does whilst painting.

Lee came to us with very impressive credentials. Her training includes some time overseas at very reputable art schools and she is a member of both the Victorian Artists Society as a Signatory Member and the Twenty Melbourne Painters Society. She teaches and exhibits her work with many awards to her name.

Having the opportunity to watch and learn from an artist of this calibre is very rewarding and another reason why I keep notes!

Sound observation was a key and important point that Lee wanted to impress on us. Take the time to really look and compare between your subject and your painting. This includes other subjects apart from portraits. If you are trying for a likeness, for animal portraits for example, or even getting a scene to look like it does in life for a commission, getting the scale, proportions and colours are important. Note however that these rules are overshadowed by a major one called TONE. Getting your tonal values right no matter what colour you are using can make or break a work. Not having a wide enough tonal range in your work means that it will look washed out. This can be shown up by taking a photo and reducing the pic to greyscale or using a “red guy” which is basically a piece of red perspex that when you look through reduces all colours to tones.

For the portrait sitting, the subject was placed next to the easel. Lee likes to work on a one to one scale and has a point marked on the floor to step back to for measuring and making her observations. She also had a viewfinder to frame the sitter. This is a great little tool that helps you know where you will put your subject on your canvas. It makes seeing the negative space all around them so easy to see and this in turn helps with getting shapes and proportions right.

Rather than marking up the canvas with lots of marks to measure as other artists have done that I have seen, Lee used a thin wash of burnt umber and ultramarine to block in the negative space around the head and shoulders. The brush was used on the diagonal to keep all the edges “soft”. She likes to squint as she is making these first marks and use a large brush so that the whole work remains loose and large. Details can be refined as you works your way through the painting process.

Keeping the paint thin, the darks in the face and neck were blocked in such as eye sockets, under the nose, lips and chin.

As she got into the next stage Lee started using a mix of medium by adding some Liquin to the turps. She doesn’t always use this as she prefers to use other products, but the Liquin makes the paint dry very quickly which is handy for a demo. Normally the major part of the scene which in this case was the bright clothing would be next to block in but as it was not a main feature of the painting, Lee decided to concentrate on the face. Making up a dark green with black, yellow ochre and a little blue Lee blocked in around the head, cutting in to help refine the shape a little more. For the skin she made up the dark tone on the shaded side on the face by using white, raw umber, indian red and a little alizarin crimson. She mentioned how important it is to check the temperature of the area you are painting. Does it require a warm colour or a cool one? Even if it is reddish it can be a cooler or warmer red. The left side of the face was in a warm light so a warm colour was made up to reflect that. It did look quite dark a first but as the lighter and darker tones were later painted in to model the face, it started to look a lot lighter in comparison. You can always check this sort of thing by either wiping a little back to show the white of the canvas or putting a dab of what will be your lightest light on where a highlight will later fall.

Lee said that you can’t paint things out of context so you need to keep asking yourself at all stages through your painting, what is the temperature, how is every detail working with all the others? By checking one thing against the other you can make sure that you have all the features, especially in a face, in the right place and the right size.

As Lee kept stepping back to check and recheck she refined the edges and shapes so that a real likeness revealed itself whilst we watched.

After the break more refined details such as lips and eyes were painted in. By this stage Lee had a good arsenal of brushes in use. She likes to help keep her colours clean by using a lot of brushes and cleaning them when she pulls one colour in over the edge of another.

As the mid tones and highlights were painted in to start modelling the face, revealing the shape of the nose, brow and chin, the portrait, though still in progress, really took shape and reflected the sitter. Still doing test patches to check her tonal values, Lee was still working colours over the edges of others keeping the soft painterly look.

Since we were short on time, Lee put the details into the eyes to show off the pupils and iris. This is where the character of the person really comes out so this is where putting in the little reflections, reflected light, the look of wetness and the colour of the eye is so important. The painting was not finished, but you could tell who it was and we picked up some great tips.

My thanks to Lee for passing on some of her elite and professional training from such places as at the Florence Academy of Art in Italy and with highly regarded painters such as Alan Martin and  Max Casey as well as her many years of experience applying her craft.

Further Training

It Doesn’t End Just Because we have Finished at Chisholm for the Year

I know many are breathing a sigh of relief and a few may still be stressing out now waiting to see what their assessments will be for the year.

Some are planning to veg-out or take holidays which is all good. For a few of us this is a chance to reward ourselves by going to some extra special art workshops!

I look at these as rewards as they are a chance to network with some amazing and established professionals who can not only pass on techniques in art but also in teaching methods. They are also fun. These are opportunities to try something new, tackle a problem which may have been bugging you or just expand on what you are already doing.

So what do I have planned for my end of year reward?

Saturday 17th November

Oil painting with David Chen

FOLLOW-UP: We had a great day of training with David.  I Produced 2 small oil paintings which were critiqued along with the rest of the class. There was not a lot that was required to bring them up to the next level which is very encouraging. Just a few key colours and a little touch up to push the middle into the back more and tweaking of the focal points. I am signing up with David to do 9 monthly workshops next year as a course for oil painting. I hope to coordinate the activities with what I am doing at Chisholm.

Sunday 18th November

Portrait painting with Cathy Van Ee

FOLLOW-UP: Cathy took me to a new level of achievement with my portraits. We covered measuring out the face, tonal values and composition as well as completing a portrait in oils. The result was so much better than I have been able to get to by myself in the past. I have gone back to the portrait I have been struggling with in my studio with new ideas to improve it after this workshop. I am also looking forward to starting a new portrait in the future armed with the skills I have picked up from Cathy.

Sunday 25th November

Mixed media with Margo Vigorito

FOLLOW-UP: Margo makes everything fun! I have been to a few of her demonstrations and was thrilled to be able to attend one of her all day workshops. With a very different style to what I usually do, I planned to let my creative brain loose for the day. Margo is great with colour and she does more abstract style and themes from what begins as a realistic subject. We were supplied with notes and plenty of materials to use if we needed them which I will make sure to read carefully and repeatedly. As we were trying out mixed media, there were magazines to tear apart and Margo gave a short demo to start with to help us get going.

I used my understanding of typography along with some mixed media of acrylics, a few pics pasted on and finish with black and white pastel. It was a fun and relaxing day – as I knew it would be. It really does pay to try something outside your usual areas. The brain gets some exercise and the mixing with other artists is also very enjoyable.

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So What’s On For Christmas?

I have entered the AGRA Summer Exhibition for January 2013 and a new gallery in Moorooduc Art Haven has invited me to enter their December 2012 Exhibition. I have a piece at Cube 37 in Frankston through Chisholm and several still at Chisholm at their in-house exhibition until December 11th 2012. Summer is usually a quiet time for exhibitions so I will try to get some artworks ready for the Autumn season so I don’t interfere with my studies.

During the break I am hoping to get out with my new camera and spend a day at each of the following: coast ocean beaches, bay beaches, Dandenongs, the zoo a local stud farm where they have rescued parrots of all sorts (as well as some beautiful appaloosas) and Healsville Sanctuary, for reference material for future artworks.

We are also working on the studio to renovate 2 more rooms and hopefully paint the front of the building. I have just planted out the garden in the studio yard and we are looking at getting a toilet up and running so running to the house is no longer necessary.

I am hoping that after applying myself diligently students will be coming to my workshops in a year or so, in my renovated studios here in Pearcedale. We are going to be working on upgrades during the summer for a couple of the areas in the building, one which will be my training room. I just have to get rest room facilities for students which I hope will follow some time next year.

So until I see you all next year (or at the exhibition on the 22nd), keep drawing, painting and applying all your art everyone! Be safe and have a good summer. You all deserve it!!

Also a Graphic Designer

Just in case anyone thought I had lost my design skills or was slacking off now that I have my gear ready for assessment on Monday, here is a little something I whipped up for the Berwick Artists Society today.

Happy viewing. And by the way, I am still available for paid DTP and Graphic Art/Design contracts and assignments for print based projects but as of today, not until mid December. I have picked up a three week contract in the Frankston area starting tomorrow November 15th. They are flexible so I will be able to pick up my art on Monday November 19th and be at the Chisholm Exhibition on November 22nd.

Paint in the Park Brochure

Activities at McClelland Gallery

New exhibits, in and out of the building.

Art workshops for school groups.

After being rained on and blown all over the place last week to have a preview of the new area to be opened soon at the park, this week was a delight weather wise. Not that seeing all the new sculptures (35 of them) was not amazing, it was. I can’t wait to go back and see everything when all the electrics are hooked up and the signage is in.

This week I noticed that there are 2 new exhibits in the gallery building and both are worth a good look. One has some beautiful work using glass and the other has Tertiary Students work from Diploma and Bachelor level students from such places as Melbourne Uni and RMIT (from memory). The work is very professional and well worth a visit.

Today we had a visit by classes of year 5 students for activities around the park and an art workshop in the studio. This was my fourth session and for this one I was in charge. Imogen had left a good amount of local clay and we stocked up on some more natural materials before the first of my two sessions for the morning.

Instead of creating a single subject found materials sculpture today I had the kids use their imaginations to come up with their own figures. They could be something real, something imaginary or a combination, it was up to them to think of what they could create with the materials they had at hand. I was really impressed with some of the items that they created. There was some real talent floating around as far as use of colour and modelling a figure from clay.

I was very happy that I was totally relaxed and felt in control right through both sessions with no stammering and no spots where my brain and mouth lost contact with each other! I also had as much fun as the kids! Having some very polite and well behaved students always helps, and the teachers are there as back up and pitched in when asked. I am so happy that I asked to be involved in these volunteer workshops. It is going to give me lots of experience standing in front of groups and tutoring, working with kids (which I haven’t done before) and relaxing to enjoy my own artistic skills as well.

All in all another very positive and relaxing morning.

The sculpture park is looking beautiful at the moment, there is plenty to see and even just a walk around the lawn and lake at the front followed by a snack in the cafe is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. I am there on alternate Thursdays, so it would be nice to see some Chisholm students popping in for a visit.

The next Art Chat at the Gallery is on December 6th at 3pm and will be a curator talk by Robert Lindsay Director of McClelland Gallery who will speak about the photography of John Gollings. John did a series of photographs about the aftermath of the Black Saturday fires. Some of his work is more like paintings than photography, with some incredible effects. I recommend making a booking if you wish to attend just so they are aware of numbers. Call McClelland on 9789 1671.

Why I Like Criteria

When you know why and how you win or lose.

There are a number of reasons why I like studying at a TAFE or University especially when you can see that the tutors do not have a bias towards one style of art in preference to another. The main reason is simply put, criteria. You are given an outline of what you are to achieve to obtain a passing grade.

For example: Produce a black and white painting. The painting can be done using a tube of black but to mix your own black will show that you understand colour theory better. Adding a pile of other colours means you will not meet criteria. After that basic composition, understanding of the medium, choice of subject and ability to portray either an image or story, anatomy if figurative and so on.

For each one of my paintings for assessment for Visual Art I have produced an artist’s statement which includes the process to produce as well as the reason why if required. The process is nice and simple. I read the criteria, I produce the art, I explain the artwork, I am marked on how I have met the criteria.

When I start getting nervous – and this is a lot for art competitions, is when there is no real target to aim for and you just don’t know if you are near the mark or not. Even worse is when you have no idea why you may not succeed in a particular event.

I have started to really watch demonstrating, visiting and invited artists and judges as they judge artworks for prizes. I want to know how much time and consideration they put into choosing an artwork as a winner at any event. I also want to see how much influence is around them and how much interference. It has been interesting. Some judges take very little time to even look at the works which makes me wonder how they make any decision about the quality of a work given so little attention. Some are so busy chatting to committee members the same applies. Some don’t like judging but want to do the demo so they just pick a few artworks that they like. Others, which are rarer take time to really look and analyse works before making a decision.

It has been sad to see at a few events, people standing in front of works obscuring the view of the judge so that their attention is pointed to other works, whilst they are being distracted at the same time.

What happens at nearly every single event is that there is no list of judging criteria available. There is nothing to look at to see where a particular artwork was selected above another. Often judges do not even want to discuss their decision making with artists and get defensive if you ask about their process. Some in my experience have even been very rude when you do ask. This is where we as artists need to get a thicker skin, I think. You can walk into a competition with a work that has recently won and is in your opinion your best to date only to not even get a mention or a place.

Personal taste of judges is something you can not plan for in all cases and if you start painting to please a herd of different ones for different events your style will go right out the window. You may also cause yourself heaps more stress than it is worth. This is why I like criteria. If I knew that in every event my work was being judged by a set of basic criteria that a lot of fine art is produced to, I would feel a lot more confident.

Let me give you an example:

Does the painting conform to basic criteria for

  1. Composition
    Golden Rule (thirds or fifths) for example.
    If these have been broken, has the artist shown a clear plan as to why and how, for drama or effect for example?
  2. Colour Theory
    Does the artist show a good understanding of complimentaries, using colour perspective etc?
  3. Perspective
    Does the artist show an understanding of basic single or multi point perspective?
  4. Balance
    Has the painting got colour and compositional balance?
  5. Materials
    Does the painting show that the artist has a good understanding of the surface, paints, mediums and application?
  6. Subject
    Does the artist show they have an understanding of their subject?
  7. Style
    Is the painting of an existing style or method and has the artist achieved it?
  8. Presentation
    Has the artwork been presented to its best advantage and in a professional manner?
  9. Does the painting meet hanging requirements for this event?
  10. Do the subject and materials meet the requirements for this event?

The above list is just an example and by not means exhaustive. I am a practising artist and am studying to become a more informed one. I also have a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment which means that I have studied methods of assessment, mostly aimed at art, in my case.

So if I was asked in future to be a judging artist at an event I would be making up a list of criteria to check off as I looked at each work. I would then be able to discuss with any participating artist what my decision making process was and what it was set against. Of course this is going to take longer, but at these events the demonstrating artists are usually paid for judging. It would also reflect a higher standard of professionalism for everyone concerned.

So I really like criteria. How about you?

Craig Penny

Topic: Landscape in Acrylics

Venue: McClelland Guild of Artists

McClelland had the pleasure of seeing Craig produce one of his landscapes in acrylics for their last demonstration for the year. Craig arrived with tubs rather than lots of tubes of acrylics (although he had some of those as well). He works on a fairly large scale so buying tubs is a much more economic way of buying paints.

I noticed as he put it on, his protective apron was stiff as a board from wiping his paints on as he works. I personally have towels handy at my workstations for the same purpose as I don’t want to get into the habit of wiping paint on myself just in case one day I am not wearing the apron! If you work in oils I especially wouldn’t recommend using this idea.

Craig also had business cards and an A3 folder of prints of his works. Showing your works and having cards handy is always a good idea. People may not be able to purchase on the day, but may want to at a later stage. Prospective clients may also not know that you do more subjects than you are demonstrating on the day.

Craig’s paints were mostly Matisse with some Golden acrylics which are more expensive but give a very nice effect and are lovely to use. The paper being used was Arches 360gsm water colour. The paper had been painted on before so had been sanded and re gessoed for a new work. It was stretched and stapled to a board and had masking tape around it to show where the image area would be. Craig does use canvasses as well and prefers to get them made up to order. If buying them he stressed to check that they are square and not over bleached by looking at the backs. Something that I do now if buying them which gets strange looks from other customers in shops. I am more recently making up my own canvasses and enjoying have more control over that area or producing a painting.

The subject was from a photograph of an old rural property near Hamilton. This was only used as a guide and not to be faithfully reproduced with every detail. Sometimes what looks like a poor photo can be used as inspiration for a very good painting if you are willing to use your artistic licence and imagination.

Craig used large flat brushes to quickly get the surface covered. He started with the sky and then painted in the buildings over the top. He briefly covered two point perspective to explain how he puts in his buildings and gets them looking correct.

By using a couple of tubs of clean water, which he changed regularly Craig used the paints straight out of the tubs with minimal mixing on a palette. He explained that the small amount that stays in the tubs of paint usually only created more interest when he used that colour again. He also has a test area around a painting so can swipe off anything he doesn’t want from a brush.

By using large brushes Craig was able to get a lot down very quickly, and his more impressionistic style lends itself to broad areas of colour and texture rather than small detail. Using a rigger brush impressions of weatherboards, wires, highlights, shadows and grass were able to be quickly and lightly put into the painting. Scratching back with the back end of a brush to reveal the colour underneath was a method to show long grass in the foreground before going back in with dabs of warms and cools to create interest.

The whole painting was completed within the time allotted for the demonstration. Apart from making a demonstration better, setting a time limit to complete a painting or drawing can be a great idea. It helps you to get straight into thinking about what you need to do in an efficient manner. No fiddling and no overworking.

Here are a few of ideas for small tasks you can set for yourself in your own studio. I have tried these recently and they do help you to produce some amazing results.

  1. Set yourself a drawing or painting to complete and make a time limit to get it completed.
  2. Select a very limited palette such as the three primaries and white.
  3. Try selecting a limited palette of three or four other colours. Try a crimson red instead of a warm primary red, or a more purplish blue or a paler or stronger yellow.
  4. Try painting with just white and a black you have mixed yourself. The black can then be either a little warm or cool depending on what colours you use to create it.
  5. Select only 2 brushes to use for an entire painting. Try different combinations to see which ones work best.

Action in an Hour

Just in case you thought you have to labour over your artworks, here is a little item I just finished (sorry the paint is still wet so there is a bit of glare).

Acrylic on board. Painted from start to finish in an hour! No preliminary sketches, straight out of my head! Nice and fresh, with lots of broad loose brush strokes.

I actually like this one so much I have framed it and am putting it in for assessment! Sorry Jon, but you did say I could put in as many paintings as I like!!!  😉

Acrylic on Board. Painted 1 November 2012 in an hour.