Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Art of the Animal Kingdom XIV

I'm very pleased to learn today that my bald eagle drawing just recently completed has been accepted in the international exhibition "Art of the Animal Kingdom XIV" in Bennington, Vermont, USA. This entry title is a link to the Bennington Center for the Arts where the annual exhibition is held. I have enjoyed being invited to be part of this prestigious show several times over the years. My wife Shay and I always look forward to a quite weekend trip to Vermont for opening weekend events. There is a great brew pub in town I love to visit and get a growler filled!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Experimenter Effect

Exactly one week from the start I have finished this drawing with results that please me very much. I was interested to see that from a distance (25-30 feet) this looks similar to other drawings I've made in the past few years but as you move in, an entirely different story takes shape. A close up inspection of the work shows the broad strokes of large, coarse charcoal and overall lack of fine detail. That was the part that made this drawing so damn much fun! The other major advantage was the elapsed time from beginning to end.

A drawing of this size (17"x40") would have taken me weeks to accomplish the way I previously worked. Achieving better results in a fraction of the time? GOOD DEAL! This is a great success from a productivity standpoint alone.

I titled this entry 'experimenter effect' because it was inevitable that I would influence the project to fit my style. I kind of thought there would be more of a departure from "my look" but perhaps that will come as I fit into this new technique. I guess that deep down I didn't want to change the results so much as improve the process and I feel I've done that.

My troublesome mistake was messing with it once lines, strokes and smudges were put down. I tried to control them too much. That's a confidence aspect I'll build on as I progress but I'll take these initial successful steps and apply what I've learned on the next one. A fire has ignited!

Oh yeah, the title is "Paradigm Shift".

Detail images

These details of the drawing will give an idea of just how abstract it looks up close. The top shows the beginning area of the work from my first entry on this experiment. It may not be visible on a monitor but I quickly learned that not all vine charcoal is black or gray, one I used gave a lavender or orange hue, yuck! I tossed that one out quickly.

The middle shot shows the chest where some of the heaviest strokes were layed in. I like how that texture gives the appearance of some detail. That is why I get to work so large without the tedium of infinite detail and I love it!

The bottom image shows the only detail area and how every so often I'll get a surface texture that works perfectly to my advantage. That one stroke of gesso just above and to the right of center acted as a beautiful feather highlight. I just accented the underside and let the bump do the rest.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Required detail

I needed to detail the face of this eagle but attempted to do no more than absolutely necessary. Once that was done I spent some time on the background. Eventually I'll get to work on the feet and talons.

Spring is here in the Adirondack region. I could not resist setting up an easel on the porch to work in the sun. Working in my customary vertical position also helped me get the face drawn in. So far so good but where it will go from here is hard to say. I'm just going to feel my way through.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Paradigm Shift

I have found that my work follows a series of what I would call spikes and plateaus. I will work at a level for a period of time and then all the sudden I get this feeling that a spike is pending. There is a feeling that is like a thought that has remained just outside your awareness. We've all felt times when we have something on the tip of our tongue and just can't formulate it into words. It can be very uncomfortable.

As artists I would guess we all go through this differently but that is how I would describe it myself. Once that jolt hits nothing is ever the same again. The work I just posted recently seems years ago, by another artist but it was just a few weeks ago. That's how much things can alter. It was not as instant as it seemed, the plateau was the incubation period. A time of subconscious growth while working away at the drawing at hand.

I don't think nerve, confidence or bravery has much to do with it. It is just something that needs to happen or I burst! It's part of the natural growth process. Someone much wiser than I once said something like this... "a mind once expanded by knowledge can never resume it's original shape". I have to learn who said that, it sums things up pretty well. Might have been Oscar Wilde.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Carefully Planned Spontaneity

I'm not really sure what I'm doing here but I'm liking what I see. Looks like a mess right? I deliberately tried to create this drawing right on the borderline of loosing control. I had confidence and rapidly lost it only to regain my direction and take back the reins on the work. Back and forth it goes. In the end I am confident I can prevail.

Lots of cinders are scattered over the board and I am grinding them in with my finger as I smudge over the surface. I picked up a sharpened carbon pencil to delineate some areas but overall the edges are very rough and free. A famous painter, Richard Schmid once stated that "edges are everything" and I couldn't agree more.

I'm pulling out highlights as I work with a kneaded erasure. I use stiff brushes to stab the charcoal down into the deep valleys of the gesso surface. So far this has been done mostly with a 1/2" diameter vine charcoal.

This is the most fun I've had with a drawing since I can remember! This completely changes the way I look at my work. Even if I don't ultimately conquer this thing my experiment has already proven successful for me.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Labratory Experiment

I got up the nerve to attempt a totally new approach to a drawing I've been thinking about for a long time. As I've mentioned, I don't get to make very many large drawings in a year so I work very hard to make sure each one really pushes my boundaries. A great deal of visualization goes into it. I spend significantly more time thinking about drawing than I actually draw. I feel that is my way of practicing.

This is the first time I've put down a drop cloth underneath and lowered my drawing board down almost flat. I'm giving up complete control on this. I found a large chunk of charcoal made by General's. The label says "hands-on primitive art", (I couldn't resist) using the oldest drawing medium known to man!

The subject is a bald eagle, wings spread, mantling over a salmon. The board which is very heavily gessoed measures 17"x40". So far I'm using only vine charcoal and that big chunk. There are crumbs and dust all over the board and my hands look like I've been cleaning the chimney. Just the way I wanted it.

This is as far away from detail as I can get and still have it look like a bird. Since this is a total experiment I have no idea what I'll end up with. Primitive to be sure, hands-on no question, exciting without a doubt. Just the way I wanted it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rules? We don't need no stinkin' rules!

An interesting thing happened to me today... again. A friend is currently taking a drawing class at our local community college. Charcoal is the medium being discussed and used, the professor exclaims that you should NEVER mix graphite with it. (Oops, I missed that memo).

A few months ago I had a young wounded Soldier spend some time in my studio sharing our interest in drawing. He is a very accomplished artist and was taking drawing with the same professor. You should NEVER mix charcoal and graphite he was told!

I should give some history here in order to make my point. A number of years prior to all this I had a one person show at the college in question. I met the professor back then and was invited to speak with the drawing class. I explained my technique to which I was told I couldn't mix them together. (Ooops) The speaking engagement never happened and I can only surmise it was because I would contradict the doctrine of the professor.

Each of the students that I mentioned talked with me before they came to that part of their class so they were prepared for the "rule statement". They chuckled to themselves. I had preloaded one of them with a small portfolio of mine which he pulled out to offer a debate over the issue. Even with evidence to the contrary the professor continues to teach the "rule".

Why are there rules in art? Who made them? Should we believe them? I am pleased I have no formal fine art training because I may never have put varnish on a charcoal and graphite drawing. Ooops!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Varnish a Charcoal?

As I mentioned in my last entry, I have given the drawings several coats of spray acrylic clear coat and today I applied the liquid (satin) MSA varnish. Once I used matte and I couldn't tell it had been coated. I like the satin look much better.

I can varnish the drawing because it is done on a gesso covered hard board. I use a spray fixative before the spray clear coat and that stabilizes it enough to brush on the liquid. Once it is dry the drawing is sealed between the varnish and the gesso substrate. I imagine this has been done by others but in all my years as an artist I've yet to run across this process being used. I love the results and I find it unique to see a drawing framed without glazing. This helps my effort to stand along side painting as an equal medium.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bald Eagle Portrait

Since I was in the groove I got this small portrait finished up this past weekend as well. This is the latest in a series confined to this format. I find the size and orientation interesting and am always on the look out for a bird I can fit into it. The size is 9"x24", charcoal and graphite. I spray fixed this along with the osprey while I was at work today. There is a great spray booth there that is perfect for it. Next step will be two or three coats of acrylic spray varnish, then liquid MSA varnish. I'll be able to frame this like a painting without glass which I think makes for a very interesting presentation.

Friday, March 6, 2009

"Aerial Strike"

Finally finished, "Aerial Strike" 27"x40"

I've had to wait over a week to put the final touches on this bird. This evening I highlighted the wing edges which helped to separate the bird more from the background water.
I'll put fixative on this tomorrow after one final look in the morning. After that the varnish process will start. VARNISH? Yup, I'll explain later. It's another benefit of this gesso technique.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Style development continued...

During the past decade I've worked to perfect a technique that is well illustrated in this detail image. I greatly admire painters and skilled brush work. Being committed to black and white drawing and loving quality paintings I wanted to find a way to enjoy the best of both worlds. I also wanted a way of loosening up my work from highly precise detail. With a great deal of thought and practice I have found something that excites me very much. It has opened up a whole new world of possibility and fueled my lifelong passion for drawing. Now each new work demands a fresh approach and problem solving sessions. I find I have so many exciting subject ideas that I can hardly contain myself. The frustration is that my time is so limited.