Finishing Old Paintings

So, I’ve been working with glazes this morning on one of my current paintings. When I finished, I thought that, instead of throwing away the leftover glaze and cleaning my palette, I would use it to try and finish this painting that has been lying around the studio for a long time now (I think I had the original sittings with the models in July 2013).

"Relationships Series - Stephanie and Kirsty No.2" 2013-2016
“Relationships Series – Stephanie and Kirsty No.2” 2013-2016

I do have a problem working on these older pieces. The sittings are usually from so long ago, that I can’t recall exactly what I had in mind as I directed the model. But most importantly, this painting belongs to a body of work that I was working on over a year ago. It’s only natural that my compositions and also my technique will have changed during this time.

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At the moment, I have in my studio a collection of unfinished paintings; some of them started well over a year ago. Although anxious to resume work on my “Feast of Venus” project, I shall try and finish some of these pieces first. They are all important to me, and are only unfinished because of the wretched time I’ve had this past year in finding a suitable studio.

Feast of Venus – problem pose

feast of Venus work in progressFor the past few weeks I have been working almost exclusively on my interpretation of The Feast of Venus. I am getting to the stage where I can define the figures, and set them in space. I’ve made some adjustments along the way, and am happy with all the poses, bar one. The third figure from the left – the figure bending over and looking back over their shoulder – has been a nightmare. My last two sittings ended with the life models getting quite fed up with my instructions to “bend forward and curve your back!” Human anatomy being what it is, their backs just would not bend so, which leaves me with a compositional problem. That curve is essential for the composition, and at the same time the pose has to look mildly erotic. I think I may need to hire a contortionist.

The artist Inga Krymskaya,  is inviting other artists to contribute their own interpretations to her ongoing project:
“3045 Variations on The Feast of Venus…..an ongoing project by the Dutch artist involving the adaptation and reinvention of the Flemish Baroque painting by Rubens entitled”.

Feast of Venus – preparatory sketches

Sketches for feast of venusI have just finished a third sitting with life models in preparation for my “Feast of Venus”. It went quite well, and I think I have finalised most of the poses. There’s one pose that has presented some problems, and I may still need to organise another sitting just for this one figure. I imagine it’s a problem that Rubens often had, where actual human anatomy did not conform with his designs. I’m sure he also heard his models complain that their backs wouldn’t bend like that, or they couldn’t twist their bodies so.

Feast of Venus – Update

I had my first sitting in preparation for my “Feast of Venus” piece. I have ten female figures in total in this painting. I’ve reserved the “erotic” poses on the left of the painting for a model who’s more experienced at glamour work. Today I worked through the poses for the central three figures (with Venus in the middle), and the two figures in the top right, which were the least defined of all the poses.

feast of venus, latest sketch

I’m very happy with how the sitting went, and quickly defined the poses for the top right figures. I’m undecided about whether I need to hire an additional model for any of these poses. I’m happy with how all these poses have turned out, but it might make for a more interesting painting if there was more variety in body-shape.

sketches of model for feast of venus

The Feast of Venus

Peter Paul Rubens The Feast of Venus
I recently came across an interesting project by the artist Inga Krymskaya, where she is inviting artists to contribute their own interpretations to her ongoing project:
“3045 Variations on The Feast of Venus…..an ongoing project by the Dutch artist involving the adaptation and reinvention of the Flemish Baroque painting by Rubens entitled”.
I usually have absolutely no interest in creating pieces specially for themed shows. The pace at which I work normally excludes me from any such activity. The generous deadline for this project, 26th February, 2016 (nearly four months from when I write this), is still a bit tight, and I don’t expect I can get anything worthwhile completed to my satisfaction in that time…, but still I keep thinking about it.
layout for feast of venusWhat started as a casual perusal of this particular Rubens painting, turned into a more detailed analysis of the composition, and the treatment by Rubens of this subject. And then I started to consider how I would approach the same subject. Well, the Cherubs would have to go, as would the Satyrs; they just don’t have the same meaning in our modern artistic vocabulary. But the underlying themes of the painting are just as valid today as when Rubens put brush to canvas. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I’d like to arrange the figures in my composition, and spent a few evenings working through endless compositions. Eventually I settled on a layout that borrowed enough from the original, whilst being a continuation of my current work, and able to convey a meaning to a modern audience. By now I realised that I was working on my next painting.
It has been a few days now since I first came across Inga Krymskaya’s project, and I have barely worked on anything else. I have arrived at an initial layout, with alternative poses for most of the figures. The background is rather less defined at present. I believe I can make do with as few as three different models, and have already arranged a sitting with one model for the preparatory work; in order to work through most of the poses, so that I’ll have drawings with which to start arranging the composition on the canvas. It is only then that I can settle on the composition. From there I might have a better idea which models will best suit each figure, and I can only hope that I will finalise the poses for their figures with one sitting each. That 26th of February deadline is beginning to look very close!

sketches for the feast of venus

New Studio, New Work…, a new start

For various reasons, I’ve ended up having a very difficult nine months, work wise. I’ve barely finished anything, and paintings that I started over a year ago have been stuck in an artistic limbo. A studio move earlier in the year did not turn out as I had hoped, and so I was not exactly full of confidence when I set up a new studio space just over a month ago.
new studio and works in progressI need not have worried. The new space is large, bright and quiet. It’s taken me a few weeks to get into the right frame of mind and to dispel that sense of gloom that has been hanging over me for so long, but I really do feel that I have found somewhere that I can produce some work. It is a great help that it’s a large and uncluttered space, allowing me the luxury of being able to view my work at a healthy distance.
drawings, sketches
The drawings above date back quite some months. I had a vague idea for a painting, with my life model Maxine posing with her arms out while in the background stood a male figure, possibly in a crucified pose. The two sketches on the bottom left were from the first sitting, where I tried to develop the ideas. As is usually the case, my original ideas for poses just did not work. The three drawings at top left were from the next sitting, where we worked through alternative poses. I was much happier with these, and put them up on the wall as soon as I moved into my new studio. I was trying to decide which pose to use for my painting, when one day it suddenly struck me that I could use all three poses.
work in progressNot satisfied with starting my first new composition for many months, I even managed to make a start on a painting I had originally planned when working with the life model Kaya. She brought along some wonderful masks to the sittings, and so helped me develop an idea for a painting that I have had for a very long time.
work in progressWhen I was looking for a new studio space, I had concentrated my search in London, thinking it better to be closer to the main “art scene”. I viewed a number of places there, but none were quite suitable for my purposes. I was somewhat disappointed when I ended up renting my present place in Westcliff-on-Sea, more out of desperation; my studio had been packed away for months, and I was desperate to find somewhere, anywhere, that I could start working again.
Apart from having the main requirements of a studio – light, space and quiet – I am beginning to appreciate now just how important the location is. Below is the view just twenty yards from my front door. It might be professionally advantageous to be located in East London, but it’s certainly healthier and more enjoyable to have the big skies and sea breezes of the seaside.
view at end of road

Work in progress – Evolution of a Painting

I have had a number of life drawing sittings with the same model, Kaya, over the past few weeks. It’s strange how my original plans for what I wanted to achieve from these sittings were abandoned one by one, and new ideas have slowly evolved from the results of each sitting. Here’s Kaya standing next to some of the drawings from these sessions, along with the newly started painting, which will (if ever finished) be the end product of these past four sittings.
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The top most drawings in the photo above are preparatory sketches for another composition. I had discussed with Kaya how I wanted to paint figures wearing masks, to explore to what extent the masks affect how we perceive the model’s identity or personality. Having recently studied on a course in physical theatre, Kaya was helpfully able to bring along a wonderful white mask for the past couple of sittings, and so this vague idea for a painting is now taking shape.
I commenced this series of sittings working with Kaya,  with what I thought was a very clear idea of my objectives. None of those original goals has been achieved, either because of failures on my part, or by happy accidents occurring in the meantime. Instead, this process has taken me in a completely different, and unexpected direction. And I have no idea yet if the end product will have made it all worthwhile.

New studio and old model

After extensive delays caused by my preparations for moving house, various “family events”, and my dog being diagnosed with heart failure, I have finally started working in my new studio. It’s not always easy creating the right environment to produce paintings. Adequate space and light are essential, as are cleanliness and absence of distractions. All these requirements were compromised to some extent in my previous work space, and it was severely impacting on my ability to produce artwork. My new workspace has a particularly large and bright room that I can use for sittings, and I have been particularly  looking forward to the opportunity to have models pose for me here, and being able to work from life again.
charcoal life drawingsI am always surprised by how some artists will choose to work from photos, even when they have the option of working from life. Much of my painting has to be from reference photos out of necessity; I could not possibly afford to pay models to pose for the time it takes me to finish a painting. The process can become quite tedious, especially after working for months on a painting. So I am always pleased to have the chance to work from life. To be honest, it is the only time I truly feel like an artist. Shown above are preparatory drawings for my next paintings, where I’m trying to work out the best poses and lighting.

Works in progress, a crucifixion and looking for a male model

crucifixionWith the New Year looming, I’m already planning the composition of some paintings for next year. One of the compositions will have a crucified male figure in background, with a female figure in foreground. I’ve already worked on preliminary poses for the female figure with my regular model, so I’m just in need of a male model for the crucified figure. I will be looking for someone of slim/athletic build under thirty, who is prepared to work for very low artist rates. I may have to avoid mentioning the crucified bit in any advert.

This past couple of weeks I have been working on some old, unfinished or abandoned paintings. One of them dating from 2010. Although I try to be methodical in my approach to work, it’s always a mystery how a painting will evolve. I might labour without success on what I thought was a straightforward composition, while more ambitious works might just emerge on the canvas, seemingly under their own volition.
Sometimes I just lose my nerve. I might have worked on a painting over a period of a couple of months, which will be the culmination of work started months earlier with a model posing in my studio; so I often feel quite nervous when applying the final glazes to a piece. I am aware that if I get it seriously wrong, I could ruin the painting. That is why I found it so relaxing working on these “abandoned” pieces. I had already given up on them, and had expected to paint over most of them. Although I haven’t finished them, I’m generally pleased with the results.

works in progress
works in progress

Works in Progress – Three Graces

I’m working on a couple of paintings at the moment that are a slight departure from my recent work. My Relationships Series of paintings generally had a narrative content, either implied, or conferred on them by the viewer. With these new works, I have removed the narrative content, by using the same model for each of the poses. In so doing, the viewer is free to study the relationships of the separate figures on the canvas.
The larger size of one of the canvases has presented a few challenges. Although I worked  through each pose with drawings in previous sittings, I also sketched directly on the canvas whilst working with the model. The canvas is 1.2m tall, and I had quite an elevated viewpoint – standing on a chair. It entailed lots of stretching up and bending down; I can’t recall a painting session that was so physically demanding.

work in progress maxine
work in progress – maxine

The second painting is more modest in size – 80cmx80cm – and is based on The Three Graces.

work in progress three graces
work in progress – three graces