Studies of Howard

Painting at the Ottawa Art Association earlier this year.

Howard is a stalwart of the local life modeling scene. Always willing to model, he invariably turns up with a selection of hats and recently he’s also brought his own folding chair – making sure he’s not at the mercy of the vagaries of the Ottawa School of Art’s admittedly funky studio “furniture”. Over the years, I’ve captured Howard in a variety of media and styles.

For this year’s annual Selections Exhibition at the Skenkman Centre, I’m showing a study of Howard that started as a demo for the Ottawa Art Association. I started this acrylic study with a low tone foundation that remains the underpinning for the image and was how I ended the demo. For a subsequent class, blocks of colour were applied thick from the tube, partially mixed, without water and a minimum of medium. I worked quickly to achieve an immediate “sur le vif” effect, as shown. A little work on the eyes afterwards and it was ready.

The Selections Exhibition runs from September 21 to October 17, 2017. at the Shenkman Arts Centre, 35 Centrum Blvd, Orléans, ON. K1E 0A1. The gallery is open to the public Monday to Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. There’s a Vernissage on
Thursday, 21 Sept., 7 p.m. (Unfortunately I may not be able to be there.)

Howard, Acrylic on canvas, 20″x16″, 2017

I thought this was a fine opportunity to put together some of my many studies of Howard and so created a gallery of work from the past few years.

Howard, everybody, I hope that you enjoy!

After giants…part 1

Acrylic on canvas paper, after Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin

The time-honoured practice of copying or painting after masters gets a bad rap in some quarters. I don’t think they spend much time on this in many art schools and well, try submitting a derivative work into a local art competition. I’m not a natural copyist but have taken time to warm up to the practice. Issac Newton famously said “If I have seen further than others, it’s by standing on the shoulders of giants”.

Before photography, reproduction had an intrinsic value….transporting images between far-flung countries, audiences and studios. It was also employed to teach artists their craft and the two went hand in hand. Even then, there were “copies” that took an image in a very different direction. In our own National Gallery, Rubens “The Entombment“ parts company from the Caravaggio original in scale, tone, composition and message. Caravaggio, all dramatics and tragedy and Rubens, more intimate and sensitive.

Caravaggio’s “The Entombment”  was interpreted by Rubens, right.

Working from a masterwork can be a creative imperative too. Take Francis Bacon’s fascination with Velázquez’s magnificent Pope Innocent X. Bacon, by the way, never saw the original – copying the original was not his intent!

Velázquez’s portrait of Innocent X was, centuries later, an inspiration to Francis Bacon

Perhaps the best way to see another work is through some form of copying, really getting close to the design, the values, colours and brushwork – perhaps even transporting you to the artist and their times, their life, their travails and resulting intent.

France and her tribute to Théodore Rousseau’s “The Old Park at Saint-Cloud”

Acrylic on paper

"Beach Refrain", acrylic over watercolour

“Summer Refrain”, acrylic over watercolour, 22″ x 15″

For quick studies, I invariably enjoy using acrylic on paper. Watercolour-like washes, cemented into opaque passages and the potential for some impasto. It offers the freedom to explore fluid effects, continuing into the realm of more painterly approaches – perhaps integrating watercolour and dry media along the way.

I often use watercolour paper, but any stiff paper or card will work. That said, watercolour paper is designed to control wet effects and washes which can be moved around in much the same way as any other water media. In contrast to canvas – or any other impervious surface – paper welcomes the paint, and it’s texture becomes part of the work.

I start with a loose approach, sometimes as for a watercolour or perhaps just ladling on a base of opaque paint. I’m already having fun – here are a few examples!

Check out the gallery on:


Mona Lisa smiles…

Mona Lisa combo

That elusive smile…

I’ve long been fascinated by the way images resolve differently, up close and at distance. This was a theme of last year’s exhibition, the Descendants, where my segmented and pixelized images worked differently from various viewpoints.

Part of the intrigue of portraits generally is that how you look at them makes a difference: lighting, distance and viewpoint all have an effect. Last year I found that my pixelized images looked quite surprising when viewed from the side. It was a revelation.

Researchers have now applied the same sort of intrigue to the Mona Lisa’s smile. Apparently Lisa smiles more when you look at her obliquely or blur the image. When you engage with a straightforward stare, many folks find that her smile “disappears”. An example of how focus affects perception: too direct an image and you can’t see the woods for the trees. The elusive Mona Lisa Smile: read more about the study

I thought it might be interesting to see if I could coax some of my portraits to change expression in a similar way. I didn’t find any hidden smiles. What I did find is that the expression changed – the aggregation of space forming a new image or at least an altered perception. A hidden expression.

I think the researchers may have missed something: For me, a smile emanates from the eyes and blurring slightly narrows the gaze and creates a more sympathetic feeling. It’s said that you smile with your eyes. What do you think?!

Carolyn smiles...

Carolyn smiles…

Finishing Touches…

It's always good to start with value!

It’s always good to start with value!

For most of the last term, I carried around a quick demonstration study. I originally did this to show the start of a portrait and I’d use it periodically to remind students that it’s always good to begin with value.

This study started with a mid-tone wash in burnt sienna, dulled with a bit of ultramarine blue. I followed this with a darker mix using the same two colours – but more potent and perhaps a touch bluer.

And there it sat for months, until I recently decided to finish it.

The foundation of the original blocking is still very evident through the screens of some warm tones (alizarin crimson and Hansa yellow) and cool accents (cobalt blue), applied judiciously.

Studies can be a good opportunity to go expressive with hair and experiment a bit…..well, it’s a study and should be spontaneous!

The finished study, 15"x15", watercolour and charcoal

The finished study, 15″x15″, watercolour and charcoal