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Creative Process

This blog will follow the process of my current project: a series of three 5' x 9' figure paintings called "The Feast of Venus". I'll be posting the preliminary drawings and oil sketches as I complete them, and possibly add some commentary along the way. I have just begun this project and am working on the first painting in the series which has the working title "Stirring the Pot". All images on this blog are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Salter and Me

As an artist I am interested in the subtle ways in which ancient patterns of life persist in the present and alter the flavor of experience.

We humans lead a layered existence: part of our consciousness resides in the modern world writing blog posts while another part is still scanning the horizon for prey; the moments when the two realms touch are like tiny stitches linking the opposite sides of a quilt.

One such moment for me is adding salt to a dish: I scoop from a jar, raise my arm so that the salt will distribute evenly, and let the grains sift through my fingers. Salt falls; steam rises. Every time I perform this simple motion I have the fleeting sense that I am performing a sacred ritual in an ancient world; that I have not only salted but blessed the soup. Then I flip on the news, because I have to listen to something while I cook, and I am back in the 21st century.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Three Cooks

When I was in school at The Art Students League I painted a different figure every week. That is the League way: your class is assigned a model for the week; the monitor sets a pose; you grab the best spot you can and that is what you paint for the week. Some weeks we had a nude, some weeks a clothed figure and some weeks a portrait but always one figure. Alone. Truth be told, in those days I had my hands full with just one figure - it was hard enough to get the nose in the middle of the face and keep the paint on my palette from turning to mud without having to deal with more than one figure at a time. But after I left school I started to think about how to put figures together: my ideas for figure paintings always seemed to involve a scene: the first ones I did had two or three figures, the next ones had five, then seven and now I've stopped counting. It doesn't matter because no matter how many figures I put in a composition the building blocks are single figures, groups of two or groups of three.

The three cooks are at the heart of this painting and I have spent a lot of time figuring out just how I want them to relate to each other and to the overall composition. I call the figure on the left the Salter because she is sprinkling salt into the soup while glancing at the Taster for guidance. The lifted arm of the salter is the central gesture of the painting; the gateway into its world. Its shape is echoed by the taster's hand as she lifts the wooden spoon to her mouth; together they form a series of archways drawing the viewer deep into the painting. On the right the Sous Chef scrapes carrots (or are they onions?) into the soup with a decisive gesture that brings the viewer back to the center, to the steaming pot of soup.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

One of the hardest things abut doing a complex figure painting is figuring out what the figures look like, what they are wearing, and how they are holding their arms and hands. Although I have a clear idea of what I want the figures to be doing I still get caught up in a seemingly endless decision process about the angle of a head or the height of an arm. Every slight variation sends the painting in a new direction and it is dizzying to look down the corridor of infinite possibilities and alternate versions.

And then of course there are details, details. I do a lot of the figure work out of my head - models are expensive and I like to be alone in the studio - but it can get tricky to imagine what the little finger looks like when it curls around a knife. My latest idea is to have Tom take photographs of me in the pose and improvise from those photos. Of course I have to change the features or the painting would be completely inhabited with figures that look like me.

The figure on the right of the central group is supposed to be sliding some chopped carrots - or should I make them onions? - into the soup. She changed a little with every preliminary drawing and oil study and so far in the painting itself she has a little bit of all her versions. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Big One

When our story broke off in January of 2008 - is that possible? - I had decided that this would be the new idea for the central group of three cooks. I did a couple of studies and then, and then....and then I did a whole lot of other work including a new turn towards abstraction.

But the Feast kept knocking at my door. Late last summer as the warm days waned Tom and I prepared a 5' x 9' canvas. Preparing a canvas this size is not easy and not cheap. I ordered special stretchers from Canada and a fine heavy linen from Belgium. I also bought two quarts of white lead oil ground - hard to find and precious as gold these days.

The actual process of preparation (stretch the raw linen, apply three coats of rabbit skin glue followed by two coats of white lead ground and a final coat of glue mixed with dry color) was like a scene from a Paul Bunyan story - the one where the pan for Paul Bunyan's pancakes had to be greased by cooks skating around with butter strapped to their feet. At least that's how it felt when I had to stand on a tall ladder to stretch the long side of the canvas and it took 10 minutes for the two of us to rotate the Behemoth Wall Cover for each turn. Finally, the surface was finished and we brought the canvas inside for the winter. And, as I said, there it sat while I hosted a whole new set of ideas about painting.

In early spring my desire to work on the Feast arose once again and the first thing I did was to throw out all the new ideas and go back to the old ones. Think long, think wrong...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Monday, January 14, 2008

This is the new idea for the three cooks. A few weeks ago I was invited to a wassail/house- warming party by a friend who loves to cook. Her new kitchen has a cooktop on an island and she had a big pot of wassail brewing when I arrived. Pay dirt. I spent the evening watching her stir the pot and chat while everybody at the party tasted and made suggestions. The next day I knocked out the little scribble on the bottom; a few days later I took the idea further with the sketch below. The new composition feels right; this is the one.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I'm back. Thanks to the miracle of my new studio (photos over at On the Easel) I am working on the Feast again. I find if I drink a cup of coffee at 9:00 I can work on drawings in the studio at night for a couple of hours even if I have been painting all day; afterwards I am tired enough to sleep despite the caffeine.

I tacked up 5 or six sheets of paper on the big wall in a continuous line. I wanted to start sketching out ideas for the whole Feast - not just Soup, which is what this blog has primarily covered - but also the transition into Baking; I am beginning to see the outlines of Chopping. Almost immediately I went off the rails of Grand Design and started delving into the particular sections and ended up using the lay out as a place to think instead of as a scroll. Work plans are made to be broken; I don't honestly think I have ever adhered to one.

The important thing is that I started to think about the Chopping section which I believe to be at the very heart of this piece. There are so many layers to it: violence, creativity - blood and death - and also the Zen (I think) idea of the slap of awakening, reality vs. illusion...these associations flood me every time I cut up a chicken; they are the driving force behind this painting, the knock that must be answered.