Thursday, September 27, 2012

Apple Tree Progression

 Apple Tree
Oil on Canvas, 30x40, 2012

Ok, so this painting I wasn't sure how to post as it does (obviously) contain some nudity. It is obviously not meant to be pornographic or even erotic, so I'm sure it complies.

With that out of the way, this painting was a bit of a monster. It began a bit different than my others to this point, in that I actually prepped this painting and rounded up textures and materials, planned out my palette, and all that.

This painting started out as just wild silliness and advanced into so much more once I got through it. The original premise was going to be some dude in robes lamenting the fact that he dropped his ice cream in melodramatic, high-art fashion. That was really all it started out being, as a sort of satire of the world of art and how you can take literally any subject and run it through the filter of the high art, or fine art, eye and it will be spectacular.

This is something I've often encountered ever since I started drawing in 2nd grade. I was always told.."you're not creating art, you're merely illustrating" because I'd always be copying some picture or making up comic book characters or something. I always found that mentality rigid, narrow-minded, and condescending...particularly because it was always coming from someone who themselves never created a work of art in their lives, yet somehow know all about what art is and all that.

So I suppose I had a chip on my shoulder about the art world. It never changed how I approached my work....I paint for myself and if someone likes it enough to buy it from me, awesome! I like illustrating and telling stories, so that has always been my approach to art. I've never considered still life or a green triangle on a white canvas to be the creme de la creme of the art world.

That sounds silly, but in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, there is an abstract expressionism section where you will seriously have two lines on a canvas or 3 squares or a triangle ( that one is in a different museum...can't remember which). At any rate, many of these are valued in the millions! Wow, 3 rectangles...pure genius. I'm not saying all abstract expressionism is crap...some of it is quite brilliant, but 3 rectangles....I'm not convinced.

Now, granted, art is highly subjective. I am in no way assuming to be any better or worse. How would that make me any less pretentious? I am simply stating that this is not my take on art, and as such, my art is considered illustration, not art. So that was what I was trying to get at when I started with this dude: kind of a poke in the eye to that rigid definition of art.

Well, needless to say, the painting changed drastically from then to when I actually started painting it. I had problems right from the get go. I initially had him kneeling down throwing his hands in the air in disgust, crying over his ice cream, but I really wasn't stoked on painting that version. Knowing myself, if I don't love what I'm painting, I'll never finish it and will most likely just gesso over it and do something else.

So I had to modify the concept. I thought I could add a female character as well. That is when it started to come together. I now had an interaction that I could explore, with both characters differently expressing their lament.

This is also when I really started shifting focus on the theme. I was no longer interesed in making a just a snide painting, I now had a real theme. What exactly is 'losing your ice cream?' Is it our initial separation from our maker? Is it that we make it a bigger catastrophy than it really is? Was there ever a real separation to begin with? Is it the meaning of life and the notion that we shouldn't sweat the small stuff? The ideas started churning.

Now as you can see, the two are nekkid. Pretty obvious. And part of the reason I decided to do this was laziness...I didn't feel like studying how the clothes would fit on them. However, the real driving force behind that decision was that here you have two reasonably attractive people who have each other, who obviously have no shame in being naked together, yet all they can do is lament the loss of their ice cream? What is wrong with them? What is wrong with us as a people? What is wrong when we have so much to appreciate that we waste so much time dealing with the minor losses and nuisances that life throws in our paths? Was I drawing the biblical notion of what the story of Adam and Eve was trying to say about our nature and how close we really are to pure awesomeness? Dozens of questions ran through my mind.

So was I really still just trying to make fun of high art now? Definitely not. I may approach that subject later, but I probably won't. I'm over it. I've got way too much fun stuff to paint to worry about that. Did you catch that? Huh, just by thinking through my motivation for painting this, the painting itself became a catalyst for catharsis. I definitely learned something about myself and my motivations in this piece, and for that I really got totally stoked to get to work on this painting.

Still, like all works, there were....problems.

I should begin by noting the obvious....gessoed canvas with raw umber oil paint mixed in, same old story. One thing new I should mention here is that I first used the powdered pigment on this painting. You can see a clear difference in the raw sienna here than the last posts I put up. Way easier to handle, and creates just such an awesome base to work off.

Another item of note here is you've heard me mention how my gesso process looks streaky, well you can see it in the above photo if you look at the vertical lines behind the raw sienna of the characters. I'll eventually do a blog from start to finish so you can see all this in action.

Still, and the reason I took this exact picture: there was a huge issue. The action here centers around the woman's arm and face. I tried and tried to get the face to fit. I was working on my triangulation, and the direction I wanted her to face just wasn't fitting.

I also wanted both charactes to be of mixed heritage. He is Native American and Italian, and she was supposed to be Black and Indian (as in from India, not America). No particular reason I chose these skin tones except that I wasnted to try mixes that were multiple steps and more challenging.

Now the dude came together like butter...I can obviously take a photo of my hands and draw his. With a female, I can't do that. Well, I could if I wanted her to look manly, I suppose, but no thanks; I wanted my folks to look good!

At any rate I, short story long, I took this photo to take home from my painting shed to try and come up with a face that worked because I ran the risk of overworking the raw sienna and having to gesso. I normally don't mind gesso, except that in this case, I had painted such a delicate background that was multiple steps that if I started making changes, I'd have to do that again. So that was dialed in, and the guy was dialed in, but she was just stubborn. Part of the problem was this dynamic sort of made me think and work from the outside in rather than the inside out, as I should have done.

So there was that issue. Now I don't have any pics of her original face that I decided on, but I found a face and completed the painting. Now, when you mix skin tones, you need to mix enough to paint the whole character and then proceed to paint it at once. The reason is that if you have to re-mix, you will run into issues if you have even the slightest variation in the quantities you used to mix.

However, when I got done I was incredibly unhappy with how her face turned out. It was way too small for her body, and in forcing her to face how I wanted her to in the name of triangulation, I created this strange looking character that, while she was pretty, just didn't look right. So I stared at it for months, and ultimately decided that it was better to risk ruining the entire painting to get her face correct as the whole action rotates around it. It was just too big of a problem to let it slide.

It was a tough call because I loved how everything else turned out, but I did it. I gessoed over it and crossed my fingers that I wouldn't muss it up. While the face I ended up painting the second time is totally different and not perfect, it is much closer to matching the skin color I chose, doesn't look twisted and awkward, and overall brought a whole lot more reality into the piece. In reality, I think she has a sort of realism to her flaws that make her beautiful, but I'm biased!

So there you have it, my take on the story of us and the story of Adam and Eve. That is the meaning behind the name Apple Tree.

But here is a little more process if you are interested in trying some of these techniques:

This first shot is of the background. The background represents the emotions being felt by the two characters in their loss. The male is more angry, and the female is more lamenting and sorrowful. So I wanted his colors to be intense and reddish and angry like him, and the same for her quiet lament.
For the background wall, I heavily applied some raw umber, full strength, and sort of slopped it on.

Now this process is strange, so you have to plan it, but basically as soon as I got the umber on, I immediately 'ruined' it with a heavy application of turpentine (or non-toxic paint thinner for you sissy boys out there). I applied it so thick that it dripped and drug down the umber with it. This is messy, and you have to have the canvas angle the direction you want the drips to go, so I had to do this process a couple times so I could avoid the characters and not have the drips bleed onto the floor.

Once that dried, I started painting in their "emotions" using full bodied but very small quantities as seen in the wall. Now, I thought humans have complex emotions. Anger isn't simply anger, and sorrow isn't simply sorrow, so I created complexity by toying with different types of brush strokes. In the photo above, you can see what looks like a hawk leaf that was obviously created using a fan brush. There are also crackled areas and some lightning bolts.

So that is the wall behind them.

In this photo, you can see the floor and a detail of the ice cream.

The floor is this mix of white, raw umber, naples yelow (I think. I need to check my notes) layered over and over again and mixed on the canvas itself. Kind of a heavy handed method, but I wanted the floor to look almost bland compared to the wall to represent the clean slate we are all given in life, sort of the base substance we are all made of. That was applied with a saber bristle flat brush, in case you're curious. You can probably tell just by looking at it though.

For the ice cream, I wanted the scoops to represent the people and to tie everything together. So I drew them using the skin tones of the two characters. Now, there is a final bit of information about the painting in the ice cream that I want to briefly point out....notice there is only one cone? That wasn't accidental. Just a little tid-bit for you to mull over.

So here is the final project. I tried to reduce the glare, but it threw off the color in this photo a little bit. It is the most complete shot I was able to get though, so I'm also including another below that is more what the painting naturally looks like.

On a final note, neither of these characters is based off a real person. I always feel like a creep trying to ask people to model for my paintings, so I generally don't ask anymore. It sucks because it is hard to come up with characters using just my knowledge of shape and form, but it is also making me a better artist.

Well, there she is! Apple Tree. I hope you like it. I am almost caught up now, so my next post will be of the available paintings I have that are currently available for anyone who wants a cool piece or simply wants to help support a starving artist. No, seriously, I need a burrito, so holla!

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