Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Alla prima portraits

Recently I have organized with a few other local artists to paint portraits from life in my studio. We have started a regular routine of painting "alla prima" portraits of paid models, family and friends. "Alla prima is a style of painting where, instead of building colors up with layers or glazing over an underpainting , the painting is completed while the paint is still wet. Strictly defined, an alla prima painting would be started and finished in one painting session"
We're having lots of fun and want to do it regularly every week. We pay 60$ per session, which lasts a few hours with breaks. Last night we painted my brother-in-law, Ryan:


I find direct, one-session portraits to be a real challenge. I'm quite sensitive to color nuances so I have a hard time balancing my tendancy to describe every small color shift accurately while leaving time to actually render the likeness and details. To help this, I have been using a limited palette which has been great for removing some of this distracting choice from my color range.

My current palette is:
  • Ivory black
  • Burnt umber
  • yellow ochre pale
  • Alizarin crimson
  • White
  • (optional) Blue or green as needed for clothing and background
Hopefully in a year I'll have a big pile of portraits and be good at it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Weekend artwalk

It was a great experience this past weekend to participate in the local Edmonton Art Walk. Celebrating its 15th year, the Artwalk is a showcase for 300 local artists on the city's busiest avenue at the busiest time of year.
This was my first "retail" experience, where I'm selling physical work and being an "artrepreneur". As a new freelancer, I'm learning some some things about what and how to sell. The Artwalk is geared towards the general public, and as such is telling of what the majority of everyday people are interested in spending money on.

The physical display aspect of my presence went really well. Originally, I had planned to make a display with 2x4s and peg board. Thinking this was going to be an ordeal and likely result in something cumbersome, I decided to check out a store supplies retailer. This was a godsend, as I found everything I'll ever need for display and tradeshow purposes for reasonable prices. I purchased the standing racks as shown below for my still lifes, and had an attached basket which held some fantasy drawings. My initial thought was that the drawings were just an addition to the more marketable works, so they weren't displayed with any fanfare.


I brought along one portrait to show and also had some signage advertising workshops. Thinking that my prices were going to seem high to the average buyer, I made the sign below to help explain how value is derived:


I was definitely off the mark here, as I didn't look at what other vendors were selling their stuff for, and eventually realized that I was under-priced; especially in regards to my drawings.
The photo above shows how I was positioned, and it worked out great. With my back to the crowd, there was no intimidation or sales-pressure for people looking at the work. Customers could watch me draw which gave people insight into the time-consuming creative process and appreciation for the craft and effort in the work. Sitting directly next to the work allowed for an obvious link to who made the art and how it was done. Conversation with people caused others to stop and listen in, and if a sale was being made, it created a sort of "feeding frenzy". When other customers saw the conversation and sales happening they are more likely to buy themselves. As compared to the second day (below photo) the first set up was optimal.


While there was much praise and interest in all my work, it was actually my fantasy illustration drawings that made up the bulk of my sales. The reason is likely the lower price compared to an original framed painting, but there was also definitely an affection to the content. I'm surprised how well the fantasy art was received outside of an illustration-specific venue or convention. Many more people than I expected responded favorably to the narrative work, especially the classically-inspired fantasy scenes that I enjoy, such as "Perseus and Andromeda". (I sold all of my narrative drawings, and only 2 paintings.) I assume it was the novelty and uniquness of the work, and I could sense an appreciation for this direction as opposed to strictly wall decoration. This response has inspired me to focus more on these things instead of watering my production down with items that I thought were more "accessable" and saleable. Instead of making 2 distinct bodies of work (wall art and commercial art), I can now feel comfortable in sticking to my "bread and butter" with confidence that the work will sell as originals outside of a fantasy-specific setting like a convention.

Its gratifying when people spend their money on your work, and makes you feel more confident that the things I personally like and create are appreciated by others. When someone buys a narrative or creative work, they are buying my art and personal vision, rather than a decoration or a technical piece or labor.

For my next convention or artwalk, I'll get prints made of the pieces that resonate the strongest, and maybe brand my sign and "booth" more strongly in the illustration direction. Having some finished illustrations and painted fantasy art would help in this regard as well. I'll display the drawing more prominently so people don't have to discover the basket and sort through them. An important aspect I realized was eye-level, or making sure the work was hung high and easily accessed at a glance. Patrons walking down a crowded sidewalk filled with art aren't going to read small signs or search for gems, and they need to be "hooked" by the art that is most interesting. I heard and saw that the common price-point for the Artwalk that facilitated sales was in the $75-$100 range. People often have a budget and are looking to "collect" a few unique items from various artists, and so don't want to spend all their money on one piece.
Next year I will keep in mind this price range and have more options and product choices for that budget for my narrative work.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Raccoon skull final...

I was waiting until I had the chance to take a proper photo of this using the 4 light/ polarized filter method, but it looks like it may be awhile until I can use my friend's equipment to do so.

Anyhow, here is how the still life turned out from last week. Not the best photo, but you get the idea. I have an Ebay-bought antique gold frame for it that looks pretty sweet and should increase my chances for a sale.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

More rendering...


Rendered the skull, feather and candlestick, established the proper background tone, and nudged the lone flower to the left.
Ideally, I would paint for full days, and not just for a bit in the evening. If this was the case, I would have more adjacent wet areas to blend and soften into, rather than painting one object at a time as I'm doing now. The transition of the fabric to the dark background tone is a good example of this: It would be better to have painted these areas together, allowing the wet paint to be blended and softened for a subtle effect. Instead, I'm relying on trying to exactly match the values and hoping that this accuracy gives me a similar effect, without a patchwork look.

A key aspect of oil painting related to this is the "sinking in" of paint, where an area dries matte and looks lighter (and cooler) than when it was freshly painted.
Look at the image below:
Most apparent in dark areas, we can see how the fabric looks when wet (left) and dry (right). This sinking in of the tones makes it difficult to work on areas related to the dry part, and can be solved by spraying a "retouch varnish" over the surface to get the gloss and even depth back into the whole surface. I will be giving the picture a spray before I go too much further, so that I can properly see if my transitions look natural, or if the objects look too "cut out" from the process of painting them at different times. A remedy to this can be to add some fresh paint to both sides of a transition and make a new blend, but the surface must be uniformly glossy for me to discern what is needed.

Once I'm done, I will take a proper photo with 4 lights and a polarizing filter, and you'll see how even the surface actually is. These process photos invariably look poor due to specular highlights and uneven gloss/depth of tones. An example of this difference is shown here.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

getting into the details

Now that I'm into the second layer of paint, its looking more solid and the values are becoming convincing. I've blocked in the feather and leaves on the right and turned the flowers on the book so they are grouped with no space in between to lessen the random spotting of light shapes.
The foilage behind the skull has been added to a bit, but it's still looking somewhat random. I'll likely get rid of the leaf sticking out of the center of the skull at the very least.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Raccoon Skull: second sitting

Using large brushes, my aim for this stage is to fill up all the white canvas with a close approximation of the major tones. Due to the properties of oil being not totally opaque, this lay-in stage sets me up for the details to come. I still need to address the right side with another element.

I am tilting the canvas slightly forward to reduce the glare for the photo.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Memento mori: Raccoon skull

In a couple of weeks there is a local street sale, the "whyte Avenue Artwalk", which I will be (hopefully!) selling at. I thought I would whip up a few more still lifes to bolster my stock of sellable works.
Here is session one from last night: sketch in raw umber. I placed the scene a tad too much to the left, so I will likely add some rosary beads or something to fill the right hand empty space.