How a drawing can change

In July 2015, I threw this piece called (Illusion of) Abundance together in record time to make deadline for a show. My models were tomatoes and some basil from the local farmers' market, arranged into a few casual poses for reference photos. At the time, I was experimenting a lot with acrylic (calligraphy) ink washes. The colors used here are yellow, red, purple, green, white, and black. Most of the shadows on the tomatoes come from purple washes, while the shadows on the green areas are from black ink diluted down to various levels of gray.

State I

State I

A number of viewers commented on how they enjoyed the brightness of the reds. In fact, most compliments related to the values being so high-key. That was good to hear because I wanted it to be more about design sense than detail, and about grabbing attention rather than encouraging contemplation. This was to be a piece for a restaurant, not a museum.
Thing is, when I work for myself I lean more towards the "museum" side of things, and for that reason the drawing always felt somehow incomplete. After spending months focusing on watercolor almost exclusively, I took a crack at updating the whole piece. My objective was to increase the ranges of color and tone, so I applied washes of cadmium yellow, alizarin crimson, and Cotman's "purple lake" over the tomatoes. The stems and leaves were glazed with lemon yellow, viridian, and more gray ink. The cast shadows are cerulean blue neutralized with cadmium red light (I used a student-grade kit, so all the colors are "hues" rather than being the real thing). I also heightened some linework with pen and black ink. The result:

State II

State II

The lighting conditions were obviously different for each photo.
I'm not one to say that either version is "better" than the other, but the feeling of the piece has clearly changed from spontaneous to deliberate. The revision has increased in warmth and weight, but at the sacrifice of immediacy and, perhaps, directness. Which is the clearer expression of a tomato? What do you think?

This month's show

It's always a good weekend when a gallery debuts a few of your recent pieces, but even better when one of them makes it on TV.

The Wild show reception was hosted by the Fraser St. Gallery on November 6. For the remainder of the month, it will feature a suite of drawings I've been working on since last spring called Flowers of Death Metal, including The Infernal Elegies of Catullus (at far left--the other pieces are by other artists.) Flowers of Death Metal was inspired by a series of photos I took at an orchid show last spring. This project was stewing away for quite some time and I'm pretty pleased with the results, as they're my first attempts at a serious application of color theory via watercolor.
They're flower drawings. Drawn while I was listening to death metal. Pretty simple. According to my statement, they explore "dualistic, non-oppositional impulses that combine beauty with repulsion, intuition with rationality, and creation with death, while displaying the psychic violence resulting from attempts to fit them into formal structures of logic, language, or aesthetics." OK, maybe not so simple. But that's what artist's statements are supposed to do, right?
Anyway, you could wait until the end of the month to see Infernal Elegies and "Silence, Persephone" posted here, but why not just visit the show and come to your own conclusions?
 

Summer recap

I'm happy to say that this summer has been full of projects. My big commission finally came to a close (and I got paid), I've had four shows in as many months, I'm collaborating with a great group of artists on a PR/marketing campaign to support local art, and the work just keeps cranking itself out.
Here's a panorama of a small exhibit done as part of a downtown improvement-type effort in which several businesses took part:

My location was a pizza joint. It worked out well and as you can see, it's a nice little spot. Management and staff alike were super helpful, accommodating, and enthusiastic. So the next time you're in State College, eat at Rotelli! They support the arts.
I had no sales, but I got a lot of positive feedback at a time when I was struggling with something of a crisis in confidence. It was a reminder that if you're offered encouragement, accept it. If you're provided with an opportunity, take it. Whatever keeps you producing the work: that's what matters.
More exciting projects are in the pipeline. I promise to get better about updating this section!

 

Late

Wow, everyone. Sorry it's been so long since I've posted. Between getting moved in, having a gallery show, the winter holidays, hacking away at a big freelance gig, and my ordinary day job, I've been (very) lazy about keeping the blog up to date.
The good news is that Ghost is completed and was well-received at the show. It's the thumbnail for the "Land Lit By Shadows" gallery and can be visited there. Since I stopped offering regular updates, I'll just say that it progressed through many rounds of pen-and-ink work alternating with ink washes--each round increasing in pigment saturation--and finally finishing with highlights of white gouache and gouache/ink mixes. I've found that mixing touches of gouache into some slightly diluted (with water) acrylic ink A: gets you a wider variety of colors than by mixing inks alone, but also B: dries more evenly and smoothly than gouache alone and C: offsets some of the color changes that happen to gouache as it dries.
I've been so pleased with this combination of acrylic ink and gouache that I used it as the basis for my next work, Maledictus Lucus, Nihil Vitae, which can also be found in the "Land Lit By Shadows" gallery. I'm using this gallery as a storage spot for thematically similar works--namely, ones focusing on manmade ruins that have been overgrown by nature.
In fact, I've been so lazy about keeping up the blog that I'm already more than halfway through a large (16x20") still life that I'll submit to another show in May. Since it's almost finished as well, I won't blog about it, but I promise I'll have at least a sneak peek here before it gets a live audience.
In the meantime, here's a photo of Ghost sitting in its frame used for publicity/social media back in December:

See you soon(er) next time.

Halfway point

Sorry it's been so long since the last update, but I've been busy moving into my new apartment. Here's a photo from about three weeks ago, the last time I worked on this piece in my previous studio. At that point I was still building up color by adding layer after layer of acrylic ink wash. Incidentally, this is not only the largest drawing I've yet attempted, but also the only one in which I haven't used a pen.

Between the time I took this photo and the time of this post, I actually completed the piece. It'll be on display through the end of the month at a local gallery starting this Friday. I'll take a picture of it before it goes to hang in its big debut and post it here.

First washes

When the pencil sketch is finished, my next step is usually to block in big areas of foundational color with wet-in-wet washes. Sometimes I do this with gouache, but gouache has a tendency to lift off the paper if it's re-wet. This picture is going to involve lots of layering, so the first washes are going to be of ink. Once ink is down, it stays down.

This image shows a few of those first layers. The palette is very limited--scarlet red and indigo blue acrylic inks and india ink, all diluted to varying degrees with distilled water.

Blog winners

I had to take a week off from your regularly scheduled blog project to work on these watercolor sketches for the blog "winners" when the site went live. For sake of speed, I kept the preliminary pencil work to a minimum. As a result, the brushwork is considerably looser than my usual--something I'm trying to embrace. But as three little vignettes they're not too shabby.

Each 5x7", ink and gouache on watercolor paper (so if you're looking at these on a desktop screen, you're probably seeing them larger than life).

"Maples at Oak Hall"

"Pennsylvania Heavy Metal Part I: Scotia Slag Pit"

"Suburban Sunset"

Pencil underdrawing

The color studies with ink left me wanting to proceed from a different angle and make real progress, so rather than continue with gouache studies, I decided to jump right in and develop the composition in pencil.

First, I want to delineate the major forms to see how they fit together, as if they were pieces of a puzzle. Second, I want to focus on the textures in the arrangement of the building's broken stones, which I find the most interesting part of the image.

It's just an underdrawing, so a basic set of 6H, 4H, and HB (no. 2) pencils will get the job done.

This stage always ends up being more grueling than I expect, because of the patience required to get all the proportions correct. But at least for now I can still use an eraser.

Color studies, Part 1

What to do after letting the black-and-white compositional studies hang on the wall for over a week and concluding that they're satisfactory? Integrate color.

At left is a homemade color swatch with extensive notes. I devoted a few sessions in their entirety to developing it. Having worked almost exclusively in black-and-white until less than a year ago, my understanding of color theory is still rudimentary. Furthermore, I'm going to be using acrylic inks for a good portion of this drawing. Since they don't mix or dry in the same ways as watercolor or gouache, I want to learn as much as I can about the way they handle before starting the drawing proper.

I can't overemphasize how much easier the color study (at right) was made by putting in time on the swatch. Don't dismiss purely technical exercises--their entire purpose is to get you to a point where you don't need to think about technique! Now I can file that swatch away and use it for reference on future projects, or hang it on my studio wall, where it will look super cool and very professional.

I love Old Master drawings done in sepia and gray, so I'm happy with the subtle variations among the earth tones so far. But the study already indicates places where I need to accentuate contrast and bring out texture. For the next round of studies, I'll experiment with a few more media to see how this might be accomplished.

Welcome / Introductory Compositions

Please bear with me, as this is my first attempt at blogging. Initially, I wasn't really sure the website needed one at all. But after giving it some thought, I realized this could be a great way to (1) document a creative process; (2) keep me motivated (there's nothing like a weekly deadline); and (3) allow visitors to communicate and participate.

Part of what I consider when approaching a new piece is how I can push, modify, or expand upon the previous one. This could mean new media, new techniques, new subject matter, etc; but this time it's new size. I'm going to be working 20x16"--my biggest drawing yet--so I'm particularly aware that whatever issues I can resolve in the preparatory stages will save me twice the effort during actual production. And this all starts with composition.

Above are three quick studies I did over the course of a four- or five-hour session to get a rough idea of the proportions and values I'll be dealing with further along. How rough? I taped the sketch paper directly to the wall and hacked at it with nothing more than a good-old number 2 pencil. You can see where I've written notes in the margins and used red pencil to correct some proportions.

The studies are based on a series of reference photographs taken late last fall, but they're not literal transcriptions. Although the photos were all taken at the same time and location, no one photograph contains all the elements found in these compositions. For example, the tree in the foreground is taken from one photo and the building in the middle ground is taken from another. This means that I can work in a traditional, representational style while also giving my imagination some room to play around. I have specific reasons for doing so, but I prefer not to reveal what they are. I'd rather complete the drawing and give it a title, then allow the viewer to engage with it in his or her own way.

But we're still a long, long way off from that. So stay tuned--there's much more to come.