October 18, 2012
I had such a good experience painting “Steve with Towel” using sponges (see Painting Without Brushes), I decided to undertake something more challenging.
I was looking through my photos of Rob in Palm Springs and found one that I really liked. Not a nude, but that’s okay with me; these days I’m thinking more about gallery shows and I’m liking the idea of doing works with a broader appeal. I’ve painted so many frontal nudes in my career I finally feel I can do something less confronting without feeling like I’ve compromised.
Above is the photograph I decided to use for my next painting. This is an image I wouldn’t have undertaken not too long ago. You know I love painting the figure with just a plain blue (or yellow or orange or whatever) background, so all I have to deal with is the face and figure. There’s a whole lot more going on in this one.
But there’s been a tectonic shift in my painter’s view of the world in the last several weeks, and that’s because of my new understanding of color. The previous two paintings and lots of practice pieces in between have really cemented my new awareness of color temperature (warm vs. cool).
Because of this, I look at this image and see relationships I wouldn’t have seen in the past. Instead of just seeing dark greens in the background, I now see COOL dark greens. And I see the warmer greens against the cooler ones. In the middle ground I see the cool purples and the warmer greens and oranges. In the pool I see the difference between the cool blues and the warmer blue-greens. And on the figure, I see the purples and greens in the shadow areas. What used to be a sea of complexity that overwhelmed me is now a set of puzzle pieces I feel competent to put together!
But to make it even easier for me to see and deal with all the puzzle pieces, I did my usual Photoshop tweaking of the image. Using the Posterize filter, I altered the image so that I had a clearer breakdown of both values (light and dark) and hue (colors). Then, with both the unaltered photo and the tweaked version as references, I have more information available. (Compare the water in the pool in the unaltered photo and the tweaked one and see how much easier it is to see what’s going on. Now it’s possible to see it as abstract colored shapes. That is the way you have to see it in order to paint it.)
This was to be another big, bold sponge painting, so I cut myself a piece of canvas that would give me plenty of room to work. The dimensions for the painting are 36×48 (91x121cm), or 3 feet by 4 feet. A big painting, for me.
(One of the issues for me in the past with attempting a complex image like this was that there was a lot of detail, and a lot of differing kinds of detail. That’s no fun when you’re painting small. But until recently I hadn’t even allowed myself to consider painting really big. Thank goodness I got over that! Because an image like this becomes MUCH easier (and more fun) when it’s big enough that you’re not having to work into tiny, detailed areas to get something right. Of course with sponges you don’t even have the option of doing tiny, detailed areas—and that’s a good thing.)
Above you can see the initial reference drawing, then the next stage where I’ve done a brownish wash over the whole painting, then begun laying in the background and some of the water in the pool. I’m using sponges for all of this and doing my best to keep it really loose—although I got a little carried away and did more detail than I intended on some of the plants. They didn’t need to be that finished this early in the game. But that’s okay; that will all be changed when the painting is more complete anyway.
In the above in-progress photos you can see I’ve blocked in more of the pool and begun laying in some flesh tones to see how it’s all going to fit together. It’s never a good idea to finish one area of a painting at a time—it’s much better to skip around and work in several areas of the painting, because every time you add color or values to one area, it changes the areas around it. A painting is a dynamic thing; you can’t expect it to ‘hold still’ while you’re finishing one area of it. When you work all over the painting there’s a much better chance it will all work well together in the end.
At this point I have been working on the painting for a couple of days. You can see it’s starting to come together. Mixing the colors has been a challenge. Knowing what I now know about warm and cool and how they alternate, it’s been much easier than it would have been in the past. But it’s still been challenging, and often I’ve found when I apply the shade I’ve just mixed on my palette, it’s not right and I have to try again. This has been especially true of the fleshtones, because in this painting, mostly they’re not what we think of as flesh tones at all. Instead, they’re cool blue-greens and warm lavenders, with a bit of orange and some yellows in the highlights.
The next day, I bring the work further toward completion by finishing more of the background, the water in the pool (notice I’ve added the white splashes), and continuing to work on Rob’s flesh tones. I had to paint, and repaint, and repaint again, to get just the right colors and values in his body. The light is rather complicated, plus with acrylics they always dry darker so sometimes it’ll look right when it’s wet, but then it dries and you realize you have to repaint it—AGAIN.
Approximately 5 days after beginning it, I finish the painting.
Final touches included getting the flesh tones just right (FINALLY!), adding the chrome railing, and adding some final touches in the foliage in the background. I’ve decided to call it ‘Palm Springs 6pm’. I feel it’s a big breakthrough in several ways: the size of it, the fact that I did such a complex work using only sponges (and not getting caught up in detail!), and the fact that I was able to use my increasing awareness of color temperature to bring more life to the image.