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Commissions Under Pressure – Plein Air at Events

Oil painting of Hunter and Meredith dancing outdoors at Grayt Grounds in wedding reception - final piece
Oil Painting of Couple Dancing Outdoors by Bridge, Impressionist Style
May, 2014

Those who follow my blog know that I contract to paint plein air at wedding receptions at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet where my plein air paintings are shown.  I blogged about it in May, “Commissioned Works en Plein Air.” So you might think it would become old hat, painting the same setting.  But the colors are different, the sounds change, the plants change, the people are different, and most of all, the light changes, so the challenges are always there, and I must always grow as a result. If the scene feels too familiar, all I need to do is move my easel a little, or turn my head, for a new point of view. I am not so fast as to actually paint the couple on site — instead I paint the surroundings in the hour before the event, and then I take photos and sketch a gesture of their entrance or first dance or whatever scene they choose, and then I may block in the general silhouette of the couple. I complete the painting in the studio. The biggest challenge, in commissioned work, of course is pleasing the client, and that includes working with color choices that compliment or repeat the design colors of the event, and sometimes it includes altering my painting style to lean towards a particular style the client likes.

Oil painting of the bridge and garden at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, plein air preparation for painting a wedding couple's first dance
Plan A, with afternoon light

My most recent contract was a month ago, in September.  I had gotten the time wrong, thinking the newly wedded couple would be making their entrance around 5:30 instead of 7:30, so I was painting the entire back scene with late afternoon light in preparation for adding the couple when they made their entrance. I had planned to catch the couple coming across the bridge over the coy pond, placing them slightly right of center, against the spray of the green bamboo like plant that grows behind the bridge.

When the couple made their entrance at 7:30, my entire painting was wrong — the garden was now illuminated by string lights instead of afternoon sunlight. Plan B:  Start a second painting!!!  I was only minimally prepared for a nocturne, but I needed to get my painter’s sense of the location, the sounds, the vibrancy of the lights, the energy of the party. By painter’s sense, I mean that visceral impression of myself being a participant in the scene and not just an observer. I needed to be able to recall all of it, not just relying on photo references, which convey only a small part of what I try to project. I set up my little lights, one on my palette and one on my painting, and knocked out a study of the light-wrapped trees and the dance patio to help me do the job right when I got back to the studio.

2014-0920 Grayt Grounds Nocturne Study
Plan B, nocturne study

The challenges of painting a nocturne successfully include first of all, believable colors. My palette from the afternoon painting was not the colors I would have chosen if I had planned a nocturne, but I was under the gun to capture the light-wrapped trees and the energy of the gardens so I used my afternoon palette.  I don’t judge the resulting study — it has so much background energy, it looks like the place is on fire — it was perfect for reminding me of some of the feeling I needed to capture, even though I needed to figure out how to paint the light-wrapped trees better.

A little about composition… When I teach, I suggest that my students stick to the safer “rule of thirds” for the focal point, which means putting the focus of the painting on one of the intersections of the horizontal and vertical tri-sections of the painting. By putting the couple smack in the middle of the painting, I was challenged to direct the viewer’s eye. I didn’t want the eye to go straight to the center and just stay there.  I wanted the eye to circle the painting, returning again and again to center, to help the viewer look at the painting for a longer period of time. That required more attention to the crowd than I was visualizing at the actual event, and especially more attention to the figures at the outside edges, who are intended to help the eye circle, and by their body position also help redirect the attention back to center. The scene is dramatized by the blue and red spotlights that were on the couple during their First Dance.

By writing this, I am reminded how many decisions go into making a painting. When painting plein air, those decisions are made on the fly; they are more considered in the studio. To arrange for me to paint plein air at your event, contact Cheri Peebles at Grayt Grounds: http://graytgrounds.com/contact/.

Oil painting of couple dancing outdoors at Grayt Grounds in wedding reception - final piece

 

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Figure Work After Months of Landscapes

Painting of blue-gowned woman sitting against pillows

Fellow plein air painter Judy Dewar initiated her new studio by inviting a few artists over to work from a live model.  It was a pleasure working beside Judy, Beckie Perrott, and Marian Pacsuto.  I initially intended to paint for the whole session, but a repair contractor was supposed to come to my house, so I needed to be ready to leave on short notice.  I took drawing supplies, thinking I would draw until the contractor called, meet him and let him in and come back to Judy’s studio to paint for the rest of the session.  The contractor had not called by lunchtime, so I never got out my paints.  I enjoyed the 2- and 5-minute warm-ups, using charcoal on good manilla newsprint and on gray student-quality paper before moving on to a 20-minute session using my favorite drawing media – graphite and white nupastel.  I drew on tan-tinted Mi-Tientes paper, which has a nice squared texture.  For my last piece, over the course of two 30-minute sessions, I used some oil pastels which I had never used before.  I had a student-quality set of oil pastel crayons that I’d had for years and years, and a dime-store set of oil pencils for the finer work, both of which I brushed with turpentine after laying in the colors.  I gave that final drawing to the model.  Below are my warm-ups and my two final pieces.  By clicking on them you will get a larger view.

Most of my paintings and images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot

Gesture drawing, 2 gowned females, standing Gesture drawing, female seated in gown, knee up, with attitude Gesture drawing, female seated in gown, holding knee up Gesture drawing, female seated in gown, twisting
Drawing of woman in blue gown, dozing against pillows Painting of blue-gowned woman sitting against pillows
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The Importance of Warming Up in Figure Drawing

I need to warm-up for a little while before my efforts at figure drawing start to flow naturally.  During the initial warm-up period, I try to capture the general directional line of the model, and a few of the light and dark patterns, or perhaps some of the essential contours or textures.  Often it feels like I am drawing a stick figure, just trying to get the general angles and proportions correct.  I draw fast, because our warm-up drawings start with 30-second or 1-minute or two-minute poses.  The model often takes slightly off-balance or less comfortable poses during the warm-up period, knowing that he or she doesn’t have to hold them for long.  I find that effort on the part of the model inspiring, and it motivates me to try harder.  I usually use the broad side of a chalky medium for the warm-up drawings, sometimes even drawing with white nupastel, which helps me to see where the light is striking the model, though white alone usually doesn’t photograph well enough to post here in my blog.  I draw with minimal concern for accuracy, sometimes merely trying to switch gears, from the left-brained thinking about my day-job as I drove to the session, to the right-brain activity of figure drawing.  Drawing is first of all a physical activity, so like an athlete, an artist needs to work at it a little in order to coordinate the hand with the eye, and a period of warm-up drawings helps with that.

As you can see by the examples below, warm-up gestures have strange lines, curves going the wrong direction, places that get overdeveloped, and other places not drawn at all, wrong proportions, and yet an undeniable essence of the figure.  These are warm-up gestures of the same pose from this past week’s figure drawing session at Studio b:  one by me, one by Nancy Nichols Williams, and one by Steve Wagner.

Joan Vienot

Nancy Williams

Steve Wagner

I enjoy the time spent warming-up, but 2-minutes is always too short.  But then too, 5 minutes is too short, and so is 20 minutes, and come to think of it, rarely is a pose long enough for me to feel like I actually finished!  The next drawings include another of my warm-up gestures, and then two longer drawings, perhaps 20-minutes or 30 minutes.  I left early from this session, exhausted from teaching all day, the 2nd of a 2½ day crash-course that I teach at a nearby college, certifying swimming pool operators to meet health department requirements.

Most of my images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot

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Figure Drawing: Commitment to Practice

After warming up with two-minute, 5-minute, and 20 minute drawings, I spent the last hour of the figure drawing session drawing the model clothed, in her blue jeans and her brightly colored shawl.  I had noticed her shawl when she first arrived.  I was the only artist this week, braving the rainy weather, so I had my choice of pose and costume.  I worked with watercolor pencils, which brighten and get runny when wet with clear water spray or brush wash.  I used the watercolor pencils without water while drawing there at Studio b., waiting until I got back to my home studio to do the wet work.

There is a lot to be said for making a commitment.  My commitment, a couple years ago, was to myself, to participate in the weekly sessions at Studio b., making them my highest priority for Wednesday nights.  It has paid off, in that I learn another new aspect of figure drawing every week.  I rarely use color in my figure drawings, so this week when I did, I was very uncomfortable, several times making the decision not to tear it up and start over with my usual white nupastel and graphite, which I very much wanted to do.  I achieved the delicious color-texture of the shawl, and managed to show the slightly worn character of the jeans, but I need to return to her face and try to refine her features.

Below are a few of the warm-up sketches from earlier in the session.

Most of my images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot

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Don’t Worry, Just Draw!

Sometimes the artists will talk during the breaks between the longer poses at the figure drawing sessions at Studio b.  This week we touched on the purpose of our lives, parallel universes, and the annihilation of the solar system that is going to happen in a zillion years.  I have to confess, I have never lain awake at night over any those issues.  It’s challenge enough just being myself in my small world!

My life is pretty basic.  My “day-job” can be all-consuming.  Many of my activities are trade-offs, where I have to give up one thing so I can do another.  But having made those trade-offs, I am so much healthier than I was 3 years ago when I first started working out, and I draw better than 2 years ago when I started coming to the figure drawing sessions at the b., and I have more friends since spending more time paddling the local waters over the last 2 years, and somehow I have managed to find a little time to practice meditation and yoga.  All told, that probably consumes 20 hours a week.  If the economy changes, and my work gets busy again, I’m going to have to make some choices, because that 20 hours is time I used to spend working.  But for now, things are good, and the solar system is not worrying me.  Global warming, yes, acidification of the oceans, yes, but the solar system , no.

I don’t worry about anything very much.  Once in a while, not having a lot of money will make me itch, but not too often, because the experiences I have make me wealthy beyond any amount of money.  The trick is merely to be present, to be looking at what is, and allowing myself to be amazed.  And that brings me back to figure drawing, to my state of mind when I am most successful at capturing the essence of a particular pose.

Both of the poses I show above, were about 30-minutes long.  I roughly and lightly sketched the gesture with white Nupastel, and then refined the shapes and the lighting with both nupastel and graphite.

Most of my images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot

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Figure Drawing Starts With One Mark

I don’t have time for stage fright in figure drawing.  No performance anxiety allowed.  No worries about perfection.  No time to test the water, I have to just jump right in.  I start with warm-up sketches, timed one-minute gesture drawings.  I am drawing so fast and furiously that there is no time to be afraid.  I go through a lot of paper at the start of every session, knowing that every warm-up drawing will probably be thrown in the wastebasket when I get home.

It all starts with making the first mark on the paper, usually a broad gestural sweep showing the general directional line of the posed model’s position.  I like to use something soft, and light in value, a color which can be incorporated into my final drawing.  Soft chalk-like pastels are a little messy because they are so soft, so I use nupastel, which is a little harder, but not as hard as conte which is made of graphite mixed with clay.  I use conte sometimes, for my warm-ups, but with conte I am always risking permanent damage to my paper or my drawing by the unfortunate specks of hard material that are often in conte.  My favorite medium is very soft graphite, in a pencil.  But in my warm-up drawings, I sometimes never graduate from nupastel to graphite.  Instead the whole time is spent building shapes onto that first gestural directional line, correcting and re-correcting to get proportions and shapes more or less “right”.  The 5-minute warm-up drawing at right shows multiple corrections of the position of the left leg.

Below are my final 30-minute drawings for the evening.  I’m having fun drawing on paper that is lightly toned tan or gray, using white nupastel to make the highlighted areas stand out, and using graphite for the darks.  For the midtones I just let the paper show through.  I’ve been using my fingers to mush the media together in places, creating a softer texture.

We draw every Wednesday evening at Studio b. in Alys Beach.  Last night I had the pleasure of drawing beside accomplished artists Nancy Nichols Williams, David Orme-Johnson, Susan Alfieri, and Denielle Harmon.  I was exhausted, having taught all day at one of my other jobs, and then attending the opening of Donnelle Clark’s mixed media show in Rosemary Beach before coming to draw at Studio b.

Most of my images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot

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Showcasing Figure Drawings by Steve Wagner

Drawn by Steve Wagner
Drawn by Steve Wagner
Drawn by Steve Wagner
Drawn by Steve Wagner
Drawn by Steve Wagner
Steve Wagner is a fellow figure drawing artist at the regular weekly figure drawing sessions at Studio b. We had an assignment this week.  The owner, Colleen Duffley, said that a woman had come in to view the “Figure It Out” show of figurative works, and then said she would be interested in a series of poses, all reclining, using a male model.  The preferred style was gestural.  Steve and I were the only artists attending this week, so we accepted the challenge.
We warmed up with the usual 1-minute and 5-minutes poses before moving on to some 20- and 30-minute poses.  The model had an easy night.
Steve’s drawings are in the column at left, with two gestures on top, followed by 3 longer poses.
Steve presents his figure drawings as final products, but he also uses his figures as preparatory work for paintings.  Some of his framed works can be seen in the South gallery at Studio b.  He also shows at World Six Gallery.
Below are a the drawings I did, from the same last three poses.  The first pose is cropped.  Click here for the full pose.
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The Challenge to Draw Fast

Different participants in the figure drawing sessions at Studio b. may have different expectations.  Some are drawing in preparation for a painting, some for technical skill and craftsmanship, some to stretch their creativity, some to improve their ability to see, and some are attempting to complete a finished drawing.

I don’t think there is anything that challenges me as much as working from a live model.  I work towards amost all of the above goals, except that I am never preparing to paint.  A completed drawing is my highest hope and my favorite art form.  That does not mean that every last detail is drawn, but rather that the essential expressive nature of the pose has been captured.

That essential nature of the pose might be expressed in a 30-second gesture.  The drawing at right happens to be from a 30-minute pose.  The model was kneeling, but what most interested me was her upturned face and her hands behind her back.  I’m happy that the pose was long enough for me to make a good effort at also capturing her likeness.  Of course there are always corrections that can be made, and those are usually noticed the next day after a session.  I’ve been meaning to take a camera so that I would have a reference for a correction here or there, but somehow I have never used a camera for this purpose.  Maybe I’m a snooty purist, thinking that by using a photo, no longer would I be working from a live model.  As a result, I have the occasional uncorrected boo-boo in my work.

It is always a temptation to begin a drawing with too much detail.  The initial layout and the basic shapes need to be laid in fairly quickly.  If I start with detail right off the bat, invariably I will get proportions wrong.  So drawing fast is an imperative.  Most of our poses at Studio b. are between 15 minutes and 45 minutes long.  I remember the studio sessions when I was studying art in college, many moons ago, when we might have had the same pose for the majority of a 3-hour class.  It was always a bit of an ordeal, putting the model in exactly the same position after the breaks, and frankly, the spontaneity disappeared for me.  But back then, the goal was technical accuracy and craftsmanship.

At Studio b. we are fortunate to have models who are invested in our work, who ask what sort of pose we would like, who try very hard to hold difficult poses.  It is an intimate experience, to be working from a model who cares about your success.  I think that can lend an energy to drawing from live models that is absent when I practice from photographs.  The challenge though, is that I have to draw fast, and sometimes that makes me huff and puff and sweat a little!

Most of my images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot

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Figure Drawing: Pregnant Again

Studio b. presented us with the challenge of a pregnant model again this week.  She is due to deliver in 6½ weeks.

I usually bring a drawing board full of 18 x 24 papers and my big artbox with all my media, but this week all I had was a small sketchbook plus a few scraps of good drawing paper to draw on, and a small box of water-soluble pens and pencils.   I have included a few of my drawings here.

The first sketches are 1-minute warm-ups, followed by a few 5- and 10-minute drawings, and then some that were 25-minutes.  Out of all of them, I think the first one is my favorite, just a gesture of a few lines to show the essence of the pose and her composure.

Most of my images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot

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Making Mistakes Drawing a Clothed Model

We drew a clothed model at figure drawing at Studio b. this week.  It was challenging.  The striped shirt she wore created contours that helped describe her form, so the stripes had to be believable.  We had quick poses, none exceeding 30 minutes, and several were just 15 minutes.  I have posted a few of them.

The pose at left shows what happens when I fail to correctly proportion the figure in the initial gesture.  With the foreshortening I have shown by making the hips so much larger than the shoulders, the lower legs and feet should be positively huge.  Instead, I drew the lower legs and feet as if they belonged to Tinkerbell.  Mistakes in the initial gesture will remain for the entire drawing and ruin the finished piece.

Below are a couple of other drawings done the same night.  I like how they turned out, even though the distortions and inaccuracies are obvious.  The stool gave me some trouble.  I really don’t like stools — they are hard to draw.  I drew it without really looking at it, and the resulting mistakes can especially be seen in the conflicting and incorrect angles of the cross-bars between the stool legs.  So, either I can try to correct the errors, or just leave them and call them “artistic license”, ha ha!

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