Enjoy life now... it has an expiration date.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Gracie: WIP #4 - A Book Review - Top Five Art Books List

Okay, here's the fourth WIP of Gracie. Making progress on the face, but since posting this WIP I see some changes necessary in the shape of the eyes. Wonder why it is that when you post your work onscreen, errors jump out with wild screaming abandon? While working on this portrait I'm trying to keep in mind things that I've learned from previous portraits, tips and techniques generously shared by other bloggers and valuable pointers gleaned from art books.... that's a lot to keep in mind! I've also been mulling over the background while working. This was a night time shot so I'm considering a medium to dark blue sky... but not a heavy, saturated blue. I'd like something that is light in saturation... something almost dreamy (like a watercolor effect)? As always, comments and constructive criticism welcome! (I'm also posting the original reference photo for comparison).

The biggest thing I'm trying to do with this portrait is to not re-do! I'm squinting a lot to check the masses and basic shapes and help keep me away from details. I want a fresher look - a touch of alla prima if you will. So, I'm working and spending time figuring out... how to be spontaneous! :-) I have a feeling it takes a lot of knowledge and many hours of practice to achieve that kind of spontaneity and still turn out a great portrait..... so I know I have many hours of studying, drawing and painting ahead of me... which is not a bad thing at all... in fact, it sounds very satisfying.

Over breakfast (Honey Nut Cheerios and 1% milk!) I read back over part of a book I bought a year or two ago. When I first read it, I read it thoroughly, highlighting the things I felt were important. I was amazed this morning to re-read over some of the text and it was as if I'd never read the book! Some things that didn't click the first time did click this time. There were things I'd read that I knew were important, but at that point it was theory, not practical knowledge. After struggling with that very thing and then reading some timely advice on how to correct it, the knowledge moved from theoretical to practical..... where I could use it.

I then realized that, by no means, did I fully appreciate the value of this book until I had struggled for some time by myself. The book is
"Portraits from Life" by John Howard Sanden. I noticed before I bought the book that a couple of reviewers on Amazon had taken issue with the fact that Sanden promotes his own line of portrait oil paints in the book - but he does so tastefully and offers equivalents for those working with other brands of oils. The fact that he uses his own line of paints does not in any way detract from the wonderful advice written for the portrait painter. I'm using colored pencils for my portraits. His advice transcends medium; the basics are still the basics regardless of what type of binder you choose to carry your pigment.

In the section on drawing he begins by saying,

"I don't differentiate between drawing and painting. To me, these are part of the same process. Each time I place a brushstroke I am in fact painting and drawing. The preliminary marks I use to begin a painting of the head are like a map rather than a full-scale drawing. I advise against a full-scale drawing in preparing a portrait not only because it's quickly obliterated, but also because it's too confining." (page 22)

I like that. I guess everybody has to find their own way, but I never understood the need for a detailed drawing showing every shape of every shadow on the face when it will all be covered by the first couple of layers of color that I put down for the skin. All that careful drawing and now it's covered up and of no use to me whatsoever! I like idea of starting with a basic outline and going from there.

For the portrait painter, this book is a treasure trove of wisdom. The book is arranged as follows:

Part One: Studio Essentials and Supplies
Part Two: The Elements of Painting (Drawing, Values and Color)
Part Three: Premier Coup Techniques (Premier Coup is the same as Alla Prima) and his Nine Principles of Premier Coup are:
1. Start with a white, untoned canvas
2. Establish Your Goal
3. Make Every Stroke Count
4. Be Deliberate and Decisive
5. Focus on the Larger Masses
6. Maintain the Drawing
7. Work with Speed
8.Treat Your Edges Softly
9. Overcome the Fear of Failure
Part Four: Two full step by step demos accompanied by lots of photos of the work in progress to illustrate the particular technique he's explaining.
Part Five: A Gallery of Commissioned Portraits

For me, Parts Two and Three are especially helpful.

While writing this review I thought of another must-have, can't-do-without book.... "Eternal Truths for Every Artist" by Harley Brown. Then I thought of a couple of others that are becoming dog-eared and have Post-It notes on various pages to denote important info; the books that don't seem to make it back to the bookshelf because I regularly refer to them and keep them handy. So I thought I'd list my Top Five Most Helpful Art Books, and I'd love it if you would do the same. Would be fun to compare lists and see what everybody's reading that's impacting their art. Do join in!

Here's my Top Five Art Books (in random order)

1. Eternal Truths for Every Artist by Harley Brown
2. Drawing People by Barbara Bradley
3. Drawing with Your Artist's Brain by Carl Purcell
4. Colored Pencil Portraits by Ann Kullberg
5. Portraits from Life by John Howard Sanden

There are lots more books I have that I love, but these are the ones that have the most influence on my art.

Tomorrow morning I'll be back into Portraits from Life to glean more advice - over a bowl of Cheerios of course!


acornmoon said...

Your drawing is coming along nicely. When I was at art college we always referred to observational art as drawing irrespective of the medium. I am ashamed to say that I have never read an "art book" but have lots of books about art if that makes sense?

Anonymous said...

I think your protrait is great. Can't wait to see what background you use. That is something I really struggle with. Just painted a portrait of my grand kids' puppy and ruined it by using the wrong color for background. The more I read the less I realize I know. I am busy re-reading some of my watercolor books. As you said, found things I did not remember reading before. It's a good thing.

Lynne said...

Well I think it's looking good. Most impressed!

Jan said...

Maybe instead of Cheerios, you should have a whole-wheat-oatmeal-blueberry muffin!

Seriously, the portrait is coming right along. I so totally understand about errors popping out in neon once you post online. I sometimes wonder if the imps in the paintpot do it just to embarrass us! Even scanning or photographing then looking at a painting on your monitor before posting doesn't show the errors like posting does!

But you're doing a great job and I can't wait to see it finished!

Laure Ferlita said...

Lovely piece of work you have going there, Ms. Teresa! I think your background depends on what you want as the final outcome. Perhaps taking your image into an editing program and playing with the background will give you a more certain answer.

I too have Harley's Eternal Truths, and probably a 100 others on watercolor and sketching, etc. I have to say that as I progress (read that as build confidence) I find that I don't need every line, shadow, etc. that I did when I first started, So yes, I think you're right when you talk about it being a progression. Evolution not revolution though sometimes if feels like a revolution!

Look forward to seeing more on Ms. Gracie!

Teresa Mallen said...

Congratulations Teresa, this is really coming along nicely. I also enjoy the wisdom of Harley Brown - a very down to earth kind of guy. :-)

Zhao Jinxing said...

Hello Teresa, Thank you for your appreciation and encouragement, wish you have a happy, happy spring

"JeanneG" said...

Don't feel bad acornmoon. I haven't really read any art books either. I have quite a few but just go thru them and check things out. I need to read start to finish. Maybe I would learn something. Teresa I just love the way Gracie's face looks. You are doing such a wonderful job. Just don't over think. Make a several prints of you picture and then try different backgrounds on the practice piece. That way you won't ruin the original if you aren't happy.

Cathy Gatland said...

Gracie is coming on beautifully - I too know that surprise of errors glaring at me from the computer screen that I never noticed before! I don't know any of these books - will look out for them, and think about what my top five might be... time to read them again... it is weird how totally different points jump out at a different stage.

Rosie said...

Your paiting of Gracie is looking good - it is great how you show us readers how you achieve each step of the process. I like Cheerios too, just the plain ones with red top skimmed milk - I can imagine you eating your breakfast at the kitchen table with a beautiful art book propped up in front of you - spoon halway to your mouth because you are so absorbed in the book:)

simoart said...

I think you have a beautiful portrait. I love this piece, keep up the good work.

Teresa said...

Valerie: Yes, your "books about art", but not "art books" makes perfect sense... I have some of those too and really enjoy them!

Jean: The background is tricky, isn't it? I think I'll take Laure and Jeanne's advice and do some experimental samples before I commit to anything.

Jan: Glad to know I'm not the only who gets "neon" errors, as you put it. It really is amazing the way it works, isn't it? If you want to know if there are errors in your work.... just post it on your blog for the whole world to see and the errors obligingly step out into the spotlight!

Cathy: Looking forward to seeing what your five books may be. I sure do love your work so I'll be interested to see who might have influenced it.

Rosie: You pegged me perfectly! Sometimes I'm surprised to find I'm at the bottom of a empty bowl because my attention wasn't on the cereal at all! :-)

Tresses Art Blog said...

What a fabulous job you are doing on Gracie!!! Isn't it amazing how hard portraits can be at times...yet this one is coming out fantastic!
I like what you said about not re-doing what's already been done with the photo...so you make this drawing it's own piece. I don't like to copy every inch of a photo as if I'm a slave to it either. Heck I've already got the picture why repeat it!
Looking forward to more WIPs of Gracie!!
The other Teresa

Jane said...

What a coincidence that I should discover your blog this morning. Just yesterday I came to the realization that it takes a lot of thought and planning to be fresh and spontaneous!

Jo Castillo said...

This is just lovely and coming along in fine fashion. The camera sure helps to find errors. You read and study and I'll learn from you. I'm too lazy to read and study. Depend on you Rose Welty and Katherine Tyrrell. Ha.

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