Monday, February 13, 2017

Tea Time Sketch

G. Sivitz, drawing, sketch, tea pots, graphite, white charcoal, colored paper
Tea Time (Alternate title: "Dueling Teapots")
Graphite and white charcoal study on Strathmore 400 Series Toned Tan paper

It's raining here today, instead of snowing - hurrah! Good weather for a cup of tea.

It's also good weather to stay in my studio. I've been playing with these teapots all week, arranging and rearranging the composition. This started out as just a rough sketch to consider the potential of this set-up for a painting, but I ended up not being able to put the pencil down. The placement of the teapots is still bothering me though.

While there are some interesting negative shapes, many of the teapot lids, spouts, and handles are all gathered along the same horizontal line, and the little teapot kind of disappears into the big one, so I'm not done working out the grouping yet. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Making Lemonade Out of Failed Woodcuts

A few less-than-ideal proofs

I'm discovering that you can accumulate A LOT of "failed" woodcut prints. There are smudges, bare spots, prints where the register was off, areas where I either over-inked or under-inked the block, or prints that I discovered later had random bits of detritus accidentally adhere themselves to the print and are now an unwelcome part of the artwork. (For a good overview of the most common problems in block printing and how to fix them, check here). My pile of rejects is towering over my pile of acceptable prints, and it is rather disheartening.

As I delve deeper into the world of relief printmaking, I've been making a general pest of myself with other printmakers, asking all sorts of questions and soliciting advice. Thankfully they all seem to be a very generous and patient bunch. The other week I was having an email conversation with the wonderful and talented printmaker Belinda Del Pesco about a totally unrelated issue when she happened to mention using colored media on the reject prints. My brain packed that little nugget away, but it didn't take long for it to come in handy.

One of the most challenging pieces I'm working on is a woodcut of a tree in winter. I love the image, but have been having the hardest time getting it to print the way I want. Part of the problem is that I live in a very dry climate. (I'll be posting about the problems of and solutions for printmaking in a dry climate sometime soon) The wood just soaks up any ink I put on it. The other day I was looking at all the sad proofs of the tree print in my studio and Belinda's comment popped into my brain again. I took a proof off the pile, reached for my watercolors that just happened to be sitting close by, and...

Tree in Winter
5.5x5 inches, woodcut with watercolor

In some ways, I actually like this better than my intended vision for the woodcut. The color seems to bring out the texture in the tree bark and the cold wintry feel of the night. Suddenly that pile of reject prints looks more like a pile of artistic gold!

Obviously a huge thanks to Belinda Del Pesco for making this blog post possible. Belinda has a time lapse video on using watercolor on a woodcut print. Check out her other printmaking videos on her YouTube channel here.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Cellist - Part II

G. Sivitz, oil painting, portrait, cello, cellist, art
Study for The Cellist
oil painting work in progress - Take II

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to work with a cellist as my model. It was an amazing experience which you can read about here, but while the study from that session was very spontaneous and fresh, it was also very rough. Since the cellist was willing to sit for me again, I jumped at the chance to improve upon what I had already done. I've been learning in leaps and bounds during these sessions, pushing myself waaaaaay out of my comfort zone and really surprising myself with what I've been able to pull off. I'm also falling into some classic beginner portrait painting traps. I think stating "I don't paint humans" is a defense mechanism so I don't have to feel bad if the piece doesn't come out. For example, the proportions of the cellist's hand and arm are off compared to her face, but I can just shrug my shoulders and say, "Well, what did you expect? I don't paint humans." While this keeps me from beating myself up about any mistakes, I have to be careful: I'm starting to really like painting humans...

Monday, January 23, 2017

Live Model Drawing

Still working on humans. Here are a few drawings out of my sketchbook from a couple of live model sessions I've attended in the last month.

Sivitz, sketch, woman, graphite, white charcoal, figure drawing, art
Model with head scarf
Graphite and white charcoal pencil on tan paper.

Sivitz, man, male, drawing, sketch, graphite, white charcoal pencil, figure drawing, art
Model at Sketch Club
Graphite, charcoal pencil and white charcoal pencil on tan paper.

You may have noticed that most of my sketches have the model turned away from me. It's because I'm terribly intimidated by drawing faces. I forced myself to draw this model's profile and thankfully it didn't turn out half bad. Maybe I'll be a little braver next time. Then I have to conquer my fear of drawing hands...

The cellist I painted in my last post sat for me again this weekend! The study of her that I've been working on has come a long way. As soon as I can get a good photograph of it, I'll post about it.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Can I Paint You?

cello, musician, sketches, graphite
Warm up sketches

Although I enjoy painting and drawing people occasionally, I don't think of myself as a portrait or figure painter. I tend to do it as an exercise, but the more I've been attending live model sessions, the more I've been noticing people in general; the way the light shines across someone's face, or a particularly interesting-looking person in a crowd. A few times I've seen someone who I desperately wanted to paint, but had no idea how to go up to a perfect stranger and ask, "Can I paint you?”. Er, awkward! 

Even though we live in a smaller city in a rural area, we do have a surprisingly good symphony orchestra. At a concert last year I noticed how one of the cello players and her instrument had a perfect combination of lighting, colors and form. Every concert we attended after that, I'd sit there and try to figure out how in the world I could get a chance to paint her. "Just go up and ask her after the concert." my husband would say. Uh yeah, right.

Finally this past November, after a particularly wonderful concert, I figured what have I got to lose? So at the end of the performance while the musicians were packing up their instruments, I pushed my way through the exiting crowd to the base of the stage. I managed to get the cellist's attention and introduced myself, complimented her on that evening's performance, and explained that I was an artist and I wanted to paint her playing the cello. I handed her my business card and told her to check out my website, think about it, and if she was interested, to email me. She didn’t back away from me or call security, so that was a relief, but I was surprised when she sent me an email two days later. She was interested!

Our schedules finally coincided last Saturday and we met at our local art center. This was the first time I’d ever arranged a model for myself, and her first time posing. In a lot of ways this felt like a first date back in high school, with all the awkwardness and worry. I was nervous about what she would think of my art. What if I accidentally offended her with poor painting skills or a less-than-complimentary likeness? I also wanted to make sure she had a positive experience. I knew that holding a pose is hard work and since she was new and volunteering to do this for me, I didn’t want to ask too much so I just told her to practice and I’d work while she played.

We both warmed up with some exercises; me sketching and her tuning up and playing scales, and then we both launched into our respective art forms. I’ve had music on while I’ve painted before, but having someone play live while you are working adds a whole different dimension to the experience. I picked up on the energy of the music and the musician’s movements. I found that I wasn’t thinking - just reacting with my paint. My brushstrokes were much looser than usual. It really was an incredible feeling. It was challenging to paint someone who was constantly in motion, but in hindsight, I think it would have felt very stale if she had held a pose, pretending to play.

musician, painting, oil, cello, portrait,
Study of Cellist - WIP
16x20 inches, oil on canvas

Fresh snow was beginning to pile up outside, so we ended the session a half hour early. My mental energy was starting to lag anyway, after such an intense bout of painting. I asked her to get in touch with me sometime if she was ever interested in modeling again. Much to my surprise, she texted me later that evening and said she would like to! I am definitely looking forward to the next session.

Technical notes: A week after I first approached the cello player at the concert, I saw this article online about asking strangers to model for you. It would’ve been helpful to me to read beforehand, but it also felt good to know I’d navigated the process on my own. I’m sure that not everyone I ask is going to have a positive reaction to me wanting to paint them, but this was certainly a good first experience. 

If you are painting someone's likeness, don't forget to consider if you should use a model release contract. Here are a couple of articles on the topic: here and here

During the painting session I used a Thomas Sully palette that I was introduced to during a figure painting class at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with Ted Xaras in 2014.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Printmaking Exhibit From Last Summer

Stock Market
Ted Davies, 1959
Woodcut with gold leaf

With the Thanksgiving holiday and family obligations, I haven't had much time to paint lately, so thought I'd share some images from Breaking Ground: Printmaking in the US 1940-1960, an exhibit I saw at the Philadelphia Museum of Art last summer.

This first piece is a woodblock print by Ted Davies (1928-1993).  I don't have the exact dimensions of the print, but it was a good 3 ft. wide. What appears to be tan ink in the photos of this piece is actually gold leaf.

Stock Market detail from lower right hand corner

The details in the piece really blew me away. Each person is unique and doing their own thing. Look at the swags on the window drapes in the detail below.

Stock Market detail from upper left hand corner

Next up is The Hydrogen Man by Leonard Baskin (1922-2000).

The Hydrogen Man
Leonard Baskin, 1954

According to the label for this piece at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, "...Baskin made this life-sized print in response to the US testing of the Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands." It's a pretty powerful image, gruesome yet captivating. My photo doesn't do it justice and doesn't convey the size of the piece.

Detail from The Hydrogen Man

The intricate maze of veins must've taken a lot of patience and a very steady hand to carve out of wood.

Harry Bertoia, c. 1942-43
Color relief monoprint

I really liked this monoprint by designer and artist Harry Bertoia. Unfortunately the label for the piece didn't offer any information about it. A quick google-search didn't produce any further insight into this particular piece, but the website for the Harry Bertoia Foundation talks about how in 1943 Mr. Bertoia sent around 100 monoprints to the curator Hilla Rebay at the Guggenheim (then known as the Museum of Non-Objective Art) for a critique. Much to his surprise, she wanted to buy the entire collection for the museum! I can see why.

I took photos of twelve of the pieces in this show, but no matter how hard I tried, many of them ended up with harsh reflections in the glass from the gallery lighting, so they aren't worth showing here. It was really quite an inspirational show, and we caught it just a week before it closed. Of course the Philadelphia Museum of Art regularly has special exhibits of famous artists and artwork, but they also have these smaller shows of works on paper which gives the visitor who is willing to explore the museum a little deeper a real treat with the added bonus of not needing an extra ticket or having to try to view artwork in a crowd. Truth be told, they are my favorite exhibits.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Blackbird Woodcut

I may have mentioned in passing that aside from oil painting I'm crazy about printmaking, specifically woodblock printing. I've tried linocut printing (carving an image out of a block of linoleum) but there's something about working with wood that I really love. I usually work with white pine, since it is a soft wood and easy to carve. Over the last couple of months I've been working on a woodcut of a blackbird in reeds.

The inspiration

During spring migration, male yellow-headed blackbirds congregate in huge numbers at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah, just north of Salt Lake City. On our annual trip to the Refuge, we see hundreds of them at a time and this year the image of them in the reeds really struck me and ideas for a painting began to form.

While I was sketching studies and thumbnails for a painting it occurred to me that the scene would also make a great woodcut image, so I changed gears and began working on a print.

The bird's face reminded me too much of the bald eagle in The Muppets.

At first my plan was to use just one block of wood and black ink, however I was not happy with the bird's face after seeing the first proof. The only way to change the face was to completely carve it away and create a second block with a new face carved into it which would print over the first block. Since I was going to the trouble of carving a second block, I decided to change a few other things, too. Can you spot what I changed?

The new face

I printed the original block of wood with gray ink and printed the second block with black ink on top of the gray layer and got some interesting results. This got me thinking about printing with multiple colors. I think this might be part of the reason I love working with woodblock - it seems that every step leads to a new idea.

The brown layer.
When I inked the block, I wiped the brown ink off the area of the bird
before printing so that the bird's black ink layer would print clean and sharp over top.

So I printed the original wood block with brown ink, then inked the second block of wood with blue in the water areas and black on the bird and printed that over top the brown layer.

The completed image

The random black marks in this print are happy accidents. The unexpected things that happen with printmaking is one of the things I love about working in this medium.

For now I'm pretty pleased with this print, but I may make more changes as they occur to me.