Workshop Wednesday; Casey Childs’ Painting Oil Portraits From Life

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Casey Childs’ finished portrait demo of our lovely model Nataliya.

When I take my copious notes during workshops I have a system of highlighting certain passages by assigning a number of stars to them or by calling some things out as “money tips” (my terminology for thoughts that truly add value to your painting). When I looked over my notes for Casey Childs’ painting workshop, I found stars and comments littered through out the pages. What I am giving you here is some of the best advice to painting that I have heard, at least that is the way it struck me. Part of Casey’s genius as an instructor is that he is a really good communicator and can easily explain both his working process and (more importantly) his thought process in ways that students can digest.

The following  notes I took during Casey’s Painting Oil Portraits From Life Workshop in October of 2017 at Francie’s Studio in Purcellville VA:

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Casey Childs in action during the block in stage of his demo.

-Casey believes it is good for your painting to work on charcoal drawings in between, because it forces you to work on values.

-Working with a limited palette is also good if you are having problems with color.

-It is well documented that Sargent used lots of paint. You should too!

-Casey uses a palette of 3 reds, 3 blues and 3 yellows. Ivory Black, Flake White (lead white -does not use titanium white). Genuine Naples Yellow Light (Vasari), Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, Transparent Red Oxide, Cad Yellow, Cad Red Light, Alizarin, Ultramarine Violet, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Viridian, Bice (Vasari), Ultramarine Blue,  [Writer’s note: may not be transcribed as a complete list of his palette nor in the correct order].

-Casey believes in pushing primaries together to make subtle grays. He finds & mixes color accordingly.

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Casey Childs’ demo just past the block in stage,

-Makes his own panels with gatorboard and linen canvas that he glues together using  Beva Glue Film. He hand irons it together.

-When beginning a new painting he lines up the canvas at eye level.

-Starts with a thin wash of neutral color. A red + a blue + black.

-If anything is too warm he hits it with the complementary color. He is always thinking  what he needs to adjust.

-Then he begins to wipe (with a blue paper shop towel) out shapes which immediately makes him think only in regards to lights & darks.

-Raw Sienna + Alizarin + Blue for the under-drawing. Today he is pushing the mixture towards warm because of the models red hair.

-“Get the shapes to relate to each other and you can start to get a sense of likeness without even drawing.”

–“This simple block in approach is so important – spend the most time on that. You can’t fix poor drawing with colors or edges.”

-“Try and be a perfectionist. If you are tackling portraiture you have to be.”

-Maintain the relationships of light & dark. Meaning, keep the values in the general same range.

-Starts working with color by jumping  into the darks (Aliz + black).

-Observing where else you can use a specific color is a good way of harmonizing a painting.

-“Think of the biggest brush you can use for something then go one brush bigger. You get better marks that way.”

-Uses the following mixture as his initial flesh tones; Ultra Violet + Lead White + Cad Red Lite + Yellow Ochre + Bice.

-Lays in color swatches to test value.

-“I’m slowing down. Just looking at big shapes.”

–He purposefully dulls down the flesh color so he can sneak in more primaries, pushing the greys into one chroma or another.

-Casey observes on the model a blueish tint in between the shadow & the light (known as “the last light”) and paints it that way. He uses subtle color to turn form. It is one of the cornerstones of his painting.

“I am trying to build the eye without building the eye (by building the large shapes). I put in my shadows, then suggest a color and then another value change. All those little notes come together & build the eye.”

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With this photo you can see Casey’s approach to painting eyes, literally laying the color onto shapes of value.

-“The areas that are not necessary I blur out or leave intentionally out of focus. With eyes for instance, I take my time & detail them well and in focus.”

-“I often draw something by drawing the things AROUND it.”

-“People often make the value of the crease near the nose way too dark”.

“You can hold more paint in a bristle brush than you can with a soft hair brush so I often switch brushes to lay in more detail.”

-“As I lay down piles of paint, I utilize them in creating new colors– it helps harmonize the whole painting.” Grabbing from the “mother puddle” to create new tones.

-When working on larger paintings he often starts the under drawing in charcoal and then works in a similar way to his demo, working general to specific. He works ALL the figures up at the same time. This allows him to bring areas into fuller focus and leave other areas more finished which gives more life to a painting.

-“Notice that I haven’t really drawn the eyes or nose. I’ve been concentrating on the big shapes but because I have done that it suggests the other parts.”

-Highly recommends Harold Speed’s Painting Book.

-“Sneak up around the eye. Find the eye socket first then suggest the eye –only then do you add eyelashes.”

-Thinks darkest dark, lightest light. The highlight on the eye is the purest white. All other lights are local color.

-Always maintain the relationship between shadows and lights.

-Local face color usually appears in the following “banded” manner (based on the amount of blood seen under the skin)—Forehead: Yellow, Nose: Red and Jaw: Green.

-Around the eye sockets things lean more blue.

ON REFINEMENT

-“Lead your viewer to the areas you want to stand out by how much refinement you do to that area. Think Rembrandt. Closer to the light has more detail. You can focus on a couple of features and bring them to refinement–but be choosy.”

-He prefers filberts in bristle rather than flats.

-Makes corrections first (color, drawing etc.) when choosing what areas to start back into.

-“I paint like I am a millionaire (meaning use paint like cost is not a concern).”

-Color has a tendency to cool as it goes into shadow (last light) although on fleshy areas like cheeks & nose it can be warmer.

-“When painting the iris I am going to make that whole circle dark & then place the color on top. It is more pleasing that way.”

-Likes using Trekkel Brush Restorer for keeping the shape of his brushes.

-Likes to paint with the corner of larger flat brushes.

“I think in terms of time when painting, especially in front of the model. For instance I will say to myself “spend 20 mins on that eye and then 20 mins on the other eye.”

-Eyebrows–make lighter initially and then darker as it turns.

-Paints the darker circle of the pupil and then places the highlight on top.

-Don’t paint a hard edge around the pupil.

-Load up the brush and add the lead white highlight to the eye, but be careful & delicate when placing! For this application he uses a Rosemary 279 flat 0 though he would have preferred a 2 or 3.

-In general key the nostrils lighter.

-“Refinement of value is all you need to turn the form on the nose.”

-“It is important to work in value strings so that you can go up and down in value as needed.” Incidentally, his value strings are not grouped by color so different colors merge together according to value to create his value strings.

-“Value is more important than color. If the color is close that’s good but what is important is the value.”

-He built his eye (with this particular model) using the value of the neck shadow and then simply adds more strokes of value on top, either lighter or darker, to build form as needed.

ON HAIR

-Lays in a middle value then will paint the darks & lights over that. Using a #6 brush or bigger. #10 for laying in the initial color. Used a palette knife on the shoulder to scrape back a little.

“Squint and paint the passages of light over the hair. Paint hair in one session because it will change.”

I will end this post with one of his best tips so far: “Start everything with the middle tone value & then paint lights or darks into that (air, jewelry, features etc). And paint back to forward, always thinking about things in terms of depth.”

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Casey Childs’ demo nearing the finished state.

Casey will be returning to Francie’s Studio to teach another Oil workshop this April. He is honestly one of the best instructors I have studied with.  I would highly recommend him to all of you and there are still spots available in this workshop. If interested, please email me at lagoarthur_studio@yahoo.com for more details.

Root to Bloom at Principle Gallery

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I am really thrilled to say that I was juried into the Root to Bloom exhibit at the famed Principle Gallery in old town Alexandria (VA) by the amazing Teresa Oaxaca. There are so many great artists in this show that I feel humbled to have my painting, “Feedsacks” (above) included. I am told that they had nearly 1,000 submissions to the competition and only 73 artists were selected overall.

There is currently a social media competition happening at the Principle Gallery for this exhibit. The artist who gets the most “likes” on their painting in the link below will win an award. I would really appreciate your “like” on my painting. Simply follow the link and click on my painting and hit like. https://www.facebook.com/principlegallery/photos/a.10154652878153383.1073741843.98926243382/10154652879903383/?type=3&theater

And I hope some of you will come out to the opening on November 11th from 6:30-9 PM. Thank you readers!

Abuelo and Alexander

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“Abuelo and Alexander (Portrait of the artist’s father, Carlos Lago and her son)”, Oil on canvas, 30″ x 40″, 2013-2016

This past August I finally finished a very personal family portrait of my father and son which turned out to be a true labor of love, begun 3 years ago. My patient father simply waited until I was able to work on it, a little at a time, in between my portrait commissions.

My father is a passionate gardener and the background of this painting is my father’s very own garden depicting his collection of azaleas, deciduous azaleas and rhododendrons. It is a fitting tribute to him and to the loving relationship he shares with my son. My favorite part being the tender gesture of their hands touching each other.

 

2016 WLAST Studio Tour

 

A small sample of the artwork I will have available for sale on the WLAST tour.

I will be exhibiting again with the Western Loudoun Artists Studio Tour (WLAST) next weekend June 18 – 19, 2016. Come see my work along with the work of potter, Carrie Althouse and jeweler, Dana Jansen at STOP #1 on the WLAST tour. In addition I am excited to share that all 3 of us will all be conducting art demonstrations,  Tarara Winery will be giving wine tastings, Jules BBQ will have his yummy food for purchase and there will be LIVE music performances on both days of the event! Pack a picnic blanket and make a real day of it. Afterwards continue your tour at the other 30 open studios across Western Loudoun Co. If you live in the Washington DC area, this is an event you will not want to miss!

 

WLAST STOP #1
June 18 – 19, 2016
10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
42498 Farm Lane, Leesburg, VA 20176

The sign on RT. 15 North in Leesburg, VA  marking STOP #1 on the WLAST tour.

 

 

Workshop Wednesday: Robert Johnson

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Robert Johnson demoing during his recent workshop, June 2016.

Twice now I have had the  pleasure of taking a Robert Johnson workshop. Both at the private studio of a wonderful friend of mine in Purcellville, VA. This most recent workshop occurred during the record breaking deluge of rain we received in Northern Virginia. However, despite the rain spirits were bright and the painting “spell” cast by Johnson was magical.

Robert Johnson is a master painter of exceptional skill and technique. His marks are in essence calligraphic–and he admits to having been inspired early on by the Japanese art of Sumi-E painting. This influence is evident in his work and separates his approach to oil painting from his contemporaries. The way he  applies paint is a performance all on its own. He delicately controls the lift & pressure of his brush to  accurately render the ephemeral quality of his subjects.  Any opportunity to study with him is not to be missed.

One of the highlights of this recent workshop for me personally, was meeting an honored participant, the noble Statesman from Virginia–Senator John Warner. Senator Warner  stands with other notable Statesmen (such Winston Churchill), who have turned from  politics to painting later in their career. I thoroughly enjoyed the Senator’s recollections of his time both as Secretary of the Navy and as a United States Senator as well as his anecdotal stories of celebrities and personalities he has known along the way.

Below are my notes that I took during both of Robert Johnson’s workshops. I have placed them in categories to make them easier to understand and apply:

 

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Robert Johnson’s initial drawing in Transparent Red Oxide from the first workshop, June 2015.

Composition

-Decide which direction the viewer will travel through your painting.

-Concentrate on negative shapes, variety, design. Decide whether your design will go off the canvas–if so, let it go off in several directions or it will look like a shortcoming.

-You want variety in your set – up. Its inherent in nature.

-Seek a feeling of movement. Good proportion: mass of flowers to greenery to container.

-Using the convention of “polarity”-the juxtaposition of opposites, allows both objects to acquire visual impact. i.e. vertical/horizontal, bulky/delicate.

“The function of the background is to support the “prima ballerinas”. It should not detract from the main event. The background should not be as thick, the values not as saturated ed, the edges not as hard, etc.”

-“Strive to get depth, even on a front to back composition.”

-“The eye goes to hard edges, more paint & bright colors. Be aware of this and design accordingly.”

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Robert Johnson further along is his demo. Here he is working on the design of the rug, June 2015.

Materials

-Works on double primed lead supports.

-Preferred medium mixture: 5 parts stand oil, 5 parts Gamsol (OMS), 1 part damar varnish.

-Lays in an “imprimatura” wash with cobalt, viridian & transparent red oxide. Puts down marks on top in a rhythmic patter which he sometimes allows to show through in the final product.

“What do mediums add to your painting? They loosen up piles of paint, make longer brushstrokes like in the background and can create transparency”

-“You need flat brushes to get at the delicacy of the flowers. Paint them with the thought that if you blew on them they would move.”

-“All brushes should come to a nice sharp edge. Even your filberts.”

-Begins laying in his drawing very loosely-brush held way back, long brushstrokes. Thins down paint with turps (OM).

-Paints with only one glove on his “painting” hand.

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Robert Johnson’s palette.

Rendering

On levels of importance: Values, then Edges, then Colors

-Johnson wipes out the flower masses with paper towels from his initial drawing to set up the structure . He lifts quite often.

-He recommends creating charcoal drawings on toned paper to get used to “lifting out lights. Wipe out like an artist–your touch should have the feel of going over a peony.”

-“Paint the subject as if it is a under single source light. Ignore the ambient light.”

-“Don’t ever leave anything on your canvas that is confusing. Make it clear.”

-Johnson often redesigns as he is painting. He will mutter to himself, “Let’s make this little guy (a yellow peonie bud) white.”

-“The moment you touch your canvas, everything should be done with artistic intention.”

-“Don’t think about sugar bowls and roses-think about shapes and how they relate to one another.”

-“There is no democracy in art. The big forms always win.”

-“Get to your final painting stage quickly so that all you have to do are revisions. Finish the big statement as quick as you can.”

-“Always remember that perpendicular planes reflect the light the most. If you are having problems seeing or drawing try to remember that principle.”

-“Try to put the light down horizontally-it will stand out more. Implies ridges.”

“The Rembrandt effect”: Horizontal then vertical marks, ending on the vertical.

-THE 5 MIN RULE: “When you make a bold statement there is this instant fear that you have done something wrong. When you have that urge to change it-ignore it. Take a deep breath, recognize what is happening. Give yourself permission to modify it–but only after 5 mins.”

-“Strength and boldness lead to more strength and boldness. This is the purpose to the 5 min rule.”

-“Learn to make good descriptive brushstrokes. As the painting evolves each stroke should be laid down as if it is never getting lifted.”

-“Maximize the utility of the highlight. Give them breathing room in your design.”

-“The light (within a painting) can describe the intensity of the light on the subject, the surface texture, direction of the light, the contour that it is going over.”

On painting flowers: “Start with the outside shape of the flower, get that accurate. Then strive for the dimensional -the light and dark of it. Only then have you earned the right to paint a petal. Work abstract to detail.”

-“Say the most with the least. Be precise and you can get away with suggestion.”

-On the second day of a painting Johnson begins reworking the canvas by reapplying the background color so he has something to paint into.

On painting rugs: ” Try to establish a pattern. Don’t be a slave to it. Rugs should have a clear, paintable pattern to them. Use the weave of the canvas to describe the weave of the rug (sometimes scratches the paint away with the side of a palette knife to reveal the weave). Say the most with least. Allow the materials to do the work for you. Go back in and restate the design of the rug but avoid getting mechanical & uniform with your brushstrokes. Use a light touch, get the paint just on the tip of your brush and drag it into place.”

-“Brushwork should be a muscle memory thing. You should be able to render the object just by looking at it with your eyes.”

“Just lay the paint on. No scrubbing. The paint will look better if you just allow it to do what it naturally does.”

-“You need a blend of soft and hard edges. Let the soft edges dominate. Use hard edges sparingly. Especially in the background. ”

-“If you can do it in one stroke it looks better. Start with a very light touch and then apply pressure-the stem will be painted naturally going from thin to thick.”

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Detail from Robert Johnson’s finished demo, June 2015.

Values/Colors

-Follows thick lights/thin darks rule.

-Gets a highlight on quickly to key in the values.

-“A trick from Sargent’s portraits: Add more light/color to the shadow of a subject–just past its contour. It helps turn form more and gives a sense of air.”

-“Within the dark areas there are accents. The opposite in value of highlights.”

-“We never think “dark” (values) with flowers but we should.”

On foliage: “Layer light over dark, dark over light–adds dimension. Overlapping planes also give you dimensional”.

“Cast shadows are extremely important. Get them in early. They keep everything honest, related. The main thing I think about here is getting them dark enough and in the right places.”

On greenery: “Ultramarine blue + Cad yellow pale + something from the red family. Always sneak red into your greens.”

On painting red roses: “Don’t make lights, lighter- make darks, darker. White only makes red look chalky.”

-“Be careful painting yellow roses. It is the color most easily adulterated. It turns the key way down when other colors are accidentally introduced to it”.

 

Recommended Reading

-“Painting Techniques of the Masters”, Hereward Lester Cook

-“Russia, the Land, the People”

-“The Painted Word”, Tom Wolfe

 

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A comparison of Robert Johnson’s subject and painting from the second workshop, June 2016 (unfortunately the photos are not taken from the same exact position). Notice how beautifully nuanced he pairs the background color to his rug. He changed the hue to suit his artistic statement.He also turned up the chroma in the design of the vase for the same reason.
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The finished demo painting, June 2016.

 

 

 

 

What’s on my easel: “Abuelo & Alexander”

WIP_AbueloandAlexanderWIP. I am almost at the finishing line of this portrait of my Dad and son. Yay! The reference here was taken 2-3 years ago. I started it and then had to put it on hold for a while due to commissions.

There will still be some refinement done to the figures and background before I am done. The next time you see this painting will be when it is finished and I have had my photographer take the official picture of it. I will blog about the creation of the painting then. For now, please ignore the glare in this cell pic.

 

The Making of “Mortui Spinus Tristis”

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“Mortui Spinus Tristis”. Oil on canvas. 8 x 10. Artist, Suzanne Lago Arthur. 2015.

I thought it would be fun to show some process shots of one of my most recent paintings. I found this sweet little goldfinch one day after she flew into my window. Once I got over the sadness of the whole thing, which took about 30 seconds, I ran into the house to get a freezer bag because I knew she would be the subject of a painting one day. Fast forward about a year, I found myself recently in search of a still life subject to paint under artificial light because it had been raining day after day and the light was horrible for the projects I currently had up on my easel.

So I pulled Franken Goldfinch out of the deep freezer and began placing her on objects in my studio. From a previous experience with a Franken Rooster, I know that frozen birds tend to thaw out really quickly under hot artificial light. So my strategy was to paint the bird alla prima (in one session) which took about two hours from start to finish. This includes redrawing the initial under drawing a couple of times until I had the composition just right to line up with the golden ratio.

The next day I began working on the plate. The following day I finished the Blue Willow design. I did the painting in about 8 hours spread out over a couple of days which I was able to accomplish because I put my covered palette, my painting and my subject back in the freezer in between sessions. I simplified the Blue Willow pattern considerably as I was only interested in getting the “feel” of it. However in future attempts at blue & white pottery, I know I will want to approach the design more abstractly.

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Process shots showing the set up and painting in a couple of stages.

The title of this painting means “The death of the Goldfinch” in Latin. Spinus Tristis is the Latin name for the American Goldfinch. Coincidentally, “Tristis” means sorrowful in Latin. It adds to the significance of the painting which for me is an homage to a delicate and beautiful life.

My Canoness Talk

Canoness talk

I will be giving a little talk today on my Canoness copy from the National Gallery of Art. Specifically who was the Canoness, the painter Nicolas Largilliere (shown above) and my experience of copying at the NGA. I hope you can come join me!

Where: Trinity House Café, Leesburg Va 20176

When: Saturday March 21 @ 7:00 PM

And here is the handout I will be giving for those of you who are curious but are too far away to attend.

The Canoness-Final

Caroline & Annika

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“Caroline and Annika”. Oil on canvas. 30″ x 40″. Artist, Suzanne Lago Arthur.

I am happy to share with you my last painting of 2014, a double portrait commission that I have spent most of this past year working on. These two beautiful sisters, separated by 10 years in age, were an absolute pleasure to paint.

[Unfortunately due to being sick right before the commission was due, I did not get it professionally photographed. Please excuse the quality of my cell phone pictures for now.]

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Detail of Caroline.

 

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Detail of Annika.

 

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Detail of Annika’s hands and dress.

 

 

Art Video Review: Donato Giancola’s “Joan of Arc”

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Donato Giancola. “Joan of Arc”. Oil on panel.

This post is the first in a series of reviews of art videos I have in my personal collection.

Several months ago we made the decision to lose the extra cable box we had in our bedroom and use the bedroom TV to watch videos exclusively. Little did I know that this decision would lead to me being more productive & organized as I have taken to folding laundry while watching my many art DVDs. Before now, I never seemed to find the time to do either. Now it is something I dare say, I almost look forward to.

What sets Donato’s video apart from other art videos I have seen is that he shares his entire process from conceptualization (which includes thumbnail sketching), compositional design, historical research, photography of models and source materials to preparing a surface, underdrawing, underpainting and through all the stages of painting his large multi-figurative narrative piece, “Joan of Arc”. Joan of Arc by the way is one of my favorite saints because she is the patron saint of female bad assery. Donato is a much revered artist in the illustration and imaginative realism fields and has studied with some big names in the fine art world including Vincent Desiderio and Jerome Witkin. I think it is his unique perspective as an artist in these particularly deadline driven fields that has allowed him to create and hone such a strong working process which for me tends to be a bit of a moving target.

My favorite take aways are these:

-Use chroma shifts to help turn a form, not just value shifts. This was a timely nugget to absorb as I was able to use this technique a lot on my current portrait commission.
-Donato refers to his paint palette as his “mud pile” and will pre-mix all his colors along with all the chroma shifts possible prior to painting his subject.
-Keep a good book on anatomy handy as you model the form and constantly refer back to it for greater definition of the figure.
-Donato is constantly referencing a lot of Master painters and their paintings to help inform his painting such as Rubens, Van Dyck and Bouguereau which I found really inspiring.

To purchase Donato Giancola’s “Joan of Arc” click here. I highly recommend it.