Friday, April 30, 2010


I'm getting close. I'm going to avoid going back into his face and concentrate on trying to get his hair and his shirt set. But I feel like I'm getting close.....

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Eyes Have It (Sort of)

I've really been struggling with Zack's eyes, as I had feared. I alternate between panic attacks and satisfaction. In the end, I keep fiddling with them. Good thing Arches paper is tough.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Happy so far

Here's my progress to this point on my portrait of Zack. I'm trying to darken some of the areas along his jawline, so that's why it may seem uneven from one side to the next. I'm also trying to blunt the sharpness of his chin a bit.

I should also post the photo reference so you can see how close I am to capturing a likeness so far:

I'm really worried about his eyes. They are deeply shadowed in the photograph, but, based on my preliminary value drawing, if I try to match the deep shadows, he appears to have black eyes and bruises. So I think I'm going to have to find a happy medium to make his eyes work.

But the larger question still looms. Does it look like him? Sometimes I think, "yes." But then I find something that's not quite right. And, as I learned with the value drawing, what likeness I've captured can easily be lost with some ineptly placed values.

Friday, April 16, 2010

AWS awards

Saw that the American Watercolor Society had announced their award winners for this year. Two of the top winners are among my favorite contemporary watercolorists.

John Salminen was the Gold Medal winner, and Dean Mitchell was awarded the Silver Medal.

John Salminen's work first attracted my attention when I saw the painting "Cadillac Sign, Times Square" in an art magazine. It had won first place in the National Watercolor Society exhibit that year, and I was amazed at the subject matter and the painter's approach to composition and design. His winning AWS painting this year is "Morning Fog."

Most of John's paintings reflect similar urban, fractured scenes, which are held together by judicious value-based compositions. He's prolific, regularly recognized for his work in national exhibitions and magazines, and keeps a busy teaching schedule.

Dean Mitchell caught my eye when I was looking through the winning paintings in the now disbanded Arts for the Parks exhibition (the competition in recent years has been been folded into the PaintAmerica organization).

I can't be certain of the specific painting (and the old competition website is no longer available) but I think it was "Rustic Elegance" (click on the link, then scroll down the page and click on the thumbnail to see the painting in a larger format).

For those who know me, you also know of my love for architectural elements in paintings. Edward Hopper famously said "Maybe I am not very human - what I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house." Well, sunlight on the side of a house transfixes me, and Dean Mitchell's ability to transform that light into lyrical passages stopped me cold.

More of Mitchell's work can be found at one of his representing galleries, Bryant Galleries of New Orleans, and there you can see more of his amazing landscapes and architectural paintings, but you can also see the scope of his work, including his gift for figures and portraits.

His winning AWS painting for this year is "Sunshine in New Orleans."

The AWS site is

Another great piece of news from the AWS is that the traveling exhibition of the show will come to this area! From March 11 to May 8, 2011, the show can be seen at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, Md. Can't wait to see it!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Portrait Class

I attended a watercolor portrait class this past weekend in the Shenandoah Valley.

Sponsored by VECCA (Valley Educational Center for the Creative Arts), the class was taught by Janet Wright. She said this was the second time she had taught a portrait class (the first being with the Shenandoah Valley Watercolor Society, based in Harrisonburg, Va.) For this being only her second time, I thought Janet did a wonderful job, and I learned quite a bit about mixing colors for portraits in a very short time.

Here is Janet working on a painting during the demo portion of the class. In the background are some of her paintings that she brought as examples of her work.

Here are two more examples of Janet Wright's work (sorry about the reflections from the overhead lights). I'm really partial to the portrait on the left because I love the loose background, and I love the challenge she posed for herself in completing the piece. The painting is done using only three colors, a blue, red and yellow, which are visible at the top in the flowing background. All of the colors are mixed from that triad.

I'm working on a painting of my nephew Zack as a result of the class. Prior to the class, Janet asked us to complete a sketch of our subject and transfer it to our watercolor paper.

In addition to my outline sketch, I also worked on a value drawing before the class met. It's still not finished, but it's close. I'll post it when it's done.

The class began with a discussion of everyone's sketches, and tips for approaching some of the difficult areas. Then Janet began work on a painting while we all gathered around and watched. I paid close attention to how she mixed her flesh tones, and how she blended the paint around the face of her subject. Everyone nearly gasped at the intensity of her first washes, but she emphasized that being bold is essential. Tentative washes lead to tentative paintings.

After she finished her demo, we all went back to our own drawings, and tried to emulate what Janet had done. I know I struggled at the onset, but after being convinced I had ruined my painting within the first few strokes, I got into something of a rhythm and made some good progress.

I didn't finish a lot of detail in the painting of Zack during the class, but I think it was a good start, and I'm amazed at some of the colors to this point. Janet said she bases her palette on the palette of Jane Paul Angelhart, which is made up of many bright quincridones and other bright, transparent pigments. To see some of Angelhart's work, see her Web site:

Here's where I am to this point:

Now, let me also say a few words about the group that hosted the class: VECCA is a nonprofit organization that has been working to provide arts education and art opportunities for several years. Based in Woodstock, Va., many of the organization's classes are held at the Old Edinburg School in Edinburg, Va.

To see VECCA's Web site, including more classes and workshops planned over the summer, click here.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mt. Hebron Cemetery

I wandered up the street at lunchtime earlier this week and positioned myself on a comfortable bench in the Old Lutheran Cemetery portion of Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Winchester. From this vantage point, I sketched the striking Mt. Hebron gatehouse.

The gatehouse, dressed in locally quarried bluestone, was designed by architects James Stewart Barney and Henry Otis Chapman of New York, the same men who created the stunning Beaux-Arts Handley Library a few blocks away.

The design of the gatehouse, however, certainly does not match the flamboyance of the Beaux-Art library. A recent application to the National Register of Historic Places describes many of the gatehouse's elements to be Chateauesque, with additional nods to medieval castles, complete with decorative arrow slits and rounded turrets.

I completed this sketch in about 20 minutes. I don't think could have focused much longer given the blinding sunlight that afternoon.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Life lesson

Given the sadness that has permeated the last two weeks, I look at this little painting and try to draw some comparisons to life.

My conclusion: It's not the ending that matters so much as the journey. Enjoy the journey and learn from it as best you can.