Saturday, July 31, 2010

IMC 2010: Values

I have a love/hate relationship with charcoal. Vine charcoal is great for gestural studies, especially on a rough substrate, but it's incredily fugitive. All you have to do is breathe on it and it goes away. Compressed charcoal in stick form gives you some of the deepest, velvety blacks, but it too smudges easily, and usually manages to creep under your fingernails where it remains for a day or so. Charcoal pencils, on the other hand, offer by far some of the best control and cleanliness, but the charcoal tends to break easily, leaving behind a craggy wound that forces you to either sharpen or whittle way another inch of material. But when they cooperate, they offer an excellent range of marks.
Fortunately, I had a couple of sheets of Canson Mi Tientes shipped up to Amherst with some of my drawing and painting supplies. I also had plenty of charcoal pencils (Genereal's® 6B, 4B, 2B). My first "value study" (translation: stalling before diving into the painting) was done on newsprint, and pretty saturated with blacks. Dan Dos Santos suggested that I do a much larger rendering in order to gauge what kinds of strokes and marks I might want to use for the final painting. That was the first time anyone related the strokes in the preliminary drawing to the strokes in the final painting, but it made perfect sense.

I love to render intricate details in dry media, especially graphite. Most of my larger acrylic paintings have carefuly rendered graphite underdrawings drawn directly on the gesso. I tend to avoid charcoal becase it's so easy to smudge. But because contrast was such an important part of my concept, I decided to use charcoal in order to get the darkest possible blacks in the shadows.

I ended up making her head too large for her body, but I was happy to erase it and redraw it. Charcoal is very easy to erase and reapply. What surprised me about the final drawing was how it really didn't get as dark in certain areas as I imagined it would. I usually render with a light touch and gradually build up tone with a very sharp tip. Even witha few accents of white charcoal, the range of values I was shooting for just weren't happening. (The values in the first, smaller quick sketch are closer to what I had in mind) Maybe I could make them happen in the final painting through translucent layers of paint. I also noticed how the newly articulated tusks might make or break the final piece. This tends to happen when I get a little careless as I work. Sometimes, my mind wanders a bit, and I start introducing new details as an exeperiment. It could be that I still was not satisfied with the simple tusk concept and wanted to see how far I could push the concept of fully articulated bones without muscles and tendons. So, this is were I was with just a couple of days remaining for the mounting and painting phases.

Next: Painting (Again)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

IMC 2010 : Models and Maquettes

The first time I tried making something with Super Sculpey® many years ago, I was surprisingly comfortable with the material. It was pliable like a firm oil-based clay without the odor and residue. There was no cracking or flaking, and it held a lot of detail. To date, I have finished only two figures and two small creature figurines. At this year's IMC, Sculpey® was included on the materials list for the James Gurney demonstration, but it was another student in our (Michael(?)) studio who really inspired me to attempt a sculpt of my creature in order to really nail its design, and to have something to light and photograph.

The first version was very rough and included small tusks, a trunk, and ears made from thin sheets of the clay. At one point, I experimented with giving the ears tattered edges, a feature that found its way into one of my value studies, but was not used in the final piece. Again, the idea of having the tusks behave like arms cradling the woman came up, which led me to eventually rough out a figure and place it in the tusks.

Scott and Jeremy paid me a visit and really got into helping me to better compose the piece. At one point, Scott sat nestled in the cushioned chair with his legs over one of the arm rests, and Jeremy holding it up with the right amount of tilt to show me what they had in mind. It was a great idea. So the challenge from then on was to find a model.

I think it was during breakfast that I saw Brian Bowes sitting with a young woman who would have been perfect for my piece. Unfortunately, there were no spaces at that table, so I couldn't join them. As much as I wanted to just walk over and ask her to model for me, it just didn't feel right to interrupt their meal with such a strange request. Brian found me later that morning and promised to help me out if he were to run into her again on campus or in the dining commons. And sure enough, Brian came through. He not only found a model for me, but he also brought her into the studio to show her around and immediately introduced us when I walked in. Michelle agreed to pose for me that evening, and turned out to be an excellent model.

About an hour before the shoot I scrambled to get everything ready. I borrowed a bunch of white towels from the dorm and a clean white sheet from my room. The sheet was to cover the chair, and the towels were to be rolled into a makeshift trunk for Michelle to hold on to. During the shoot we tried Scott and Jeremy's pose, as well as a few with the fetal position from the older sketches. Donato had demonstrated how to use the strobes earlier that day, so I also got to try different colors of gel and lighting arrangements. I was worried that I would not be able to use the strobes because my camera didn't have a hot shoe for the transmitter, but to my surprise, my camera (Nikon P60) somehow triggered the strobes when I took photos with the flash turned off. The entire shoot lasted just under an hour, and I had more than enough to work from for the next phase of the illustration. One challenge was choosing the best shots to work from. I had to force myself to pick three favorites and archive the rest. With that done, I was ready to prepare maquette for a quick shoot. Michael gave me some of his sculpting mesh, which was made from an incredibly fine grade of metal, probably aluminum. I used it to refine and stabilize the ears. Without it, I doubt that I would have been able to get a good shape with a thin sheet of Sculpey®.

I guess in any project, there's a critical moment where you have all of the parts in place, but you still freeze up a bit. I had a few unanswered questions about how things should look. Should I use oil or acrylic or both? Should I do one more small, tight rendering or a large one? What about the colors? Then, something unexpected happened. I loaded up my palette with black, white, raw umber, and purple, and tried a loose, full-sized sketch of the scene. It was pretty messy, but Julie Bell suggested that I consider taking a chance and approach the final painting using a similar approach. She reminded me that it's that kind of risk-taking that helps to distinguish a given artist from the countless others out there doing more or less the same thing. Although I ended up reverting back to painting how I like to paint, I kept the loose painted sketch posted near my easel for inspiration.

I learned from this phase of the process that making decisions and committing to them definitely helps to keep the ball rolling. It's okay to have too much in the way of images and ideas for various details, but eventually, you have to cut away the fat move on. It was also great to get requainted with my love of model-making. As a child, I probably build well over 100 plastic model kits ranging from military aircraft to Japanese robots. So visualizing things in the round comes somewhat naturally to me. But I'd never before had access to the kind of lighting setup they had at IMC. It really opened up a range of possibilities for lighting the Michelle and the maquette.

next: Rendering in Charcoal