Posts Tagged ‘oil painting’

Getting My Bell Rung by a Fifteen-Year-Old’s Still Life in Oil

April 12, 2013
Still Life in Oil, by a "gifted" student

Still Life in Oil, by a “Gifted” Student

There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual–become clairvoyant.  We reach then into reality.  Such are the moments of our greatest happiness.  Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom.

It is in the nature of all people to have these experiences; but in our time and under the conditions of our lives, it is only a rare few who are able to continue in the experience and find expression for it.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit 

Last Wednesday afternoon was a quiet and serene one that found me sprawled across my bed, working on school assignments.  In the midst of the stillness, a text suddenly chirped in on my phone.   I was surprised by a message from my private art student from last year.  Since the Spring of 2012, I had gotten occasional messages from her mother concerning her progress in her new school.  But I had always wondered about the young student’s work, if she was happy and thriving.

For those of you haven’t picked up these stories from last year’s blog, let me fill you in with a quick sketch:  As a ninth-grader, this girl had been attending a private school in my vicinity.  I  was referred to her in December 2011, as her parents were looking for someone to coach their daughter in pulling together a portfolio.  She was making application to the prestigious Booker T. Washington School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas.  They had been told that only one tenth-grade student from outside the area would be admitted.  The girl was an extremely gifted artist, but needed a portfolio of approximately 25 works to present as a part of the application process.

For four months, I had the privilege of working with her, and was astounded every week by her ability, her focus, her eagerness to pursue new avenues, and her never-ending drive to create art.  I saw her come into the studio, physically weary from soccer practice.  I saw her weak from allergies.  I saw her stressed from all-night preparations for exams.  But one thing I never once saw in her was a lack of enthusiasm to draw, to paint, to design, to question, to push into new frontiers.  Her energy and skill seemed boundless.

This young lady showed facility with pencil, charcoal, pastel, ink, watercolor, clay sculpture, and ultimately, oil painting.  I posted paintings in earlier blogs that she had done in oil, from figure studies of ballerinas to self-portraits, looking in a mirror.  I watched her go after oil without preliminary charcoal sketching–she went at the canvas with a brush, loaded in oil and turpentine, and applied the sketchy wash with confidence.

She was accepted into Booker T. Washington, and that was the last I saw of her.  I was thrilled at her accomplishment, and sorry to see her leave my studio.  Her work and dedication had truly fueled my inspiration, and I never stopped thinking about her over this past school year.

After a year of silence, she texted me last Wednesday, to notify me that two of her pieces had been selected to hang in a gallery show at the Booker T. Washington School, and the reception was the next night.  How could I not be there?  The next day, I left immediately after school for Dallas, and spent the afternoon bathed in the sunlight of the Dallas Museum of Art sculpture garden (the museum is on the same street as her school).  It was a delicious four hours.  I read from Mark Rothko’s The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art.  I enjoyed coffee and salad from the museum cafe.  I wrote in my journal.  I breathed in the spring breezes of a 70-degree afternoon.  And I reflected on all the hours of pleasure I had once known, watching this young girl grow in her knowledge and pursuit of the visual arts. She reminded me of myself when I was in high school.  I could not get enough art from my daily classes.  I would come home and arrange still objects on my desk, adjust lighting on them, and draw them in charcoal for hours.

Once the reception time arrived, I walked down the sun-washed sidewalks along Flora Street until I arrived at the school.  Entering the gallery, it didn’t take me long to find her work.  I recognized the “signature” of her brush work from twenty feet away.  The magnificent oil-on-canvas still life posted above filled me with awe and delight.  The light and reflections off the objects made me feel as though I were gazing at a Jan Vermeer painting, I was that mesmerized.  This girl has not yet turned sixteen.  I cannot imagine what she will be turning out by the time she is ready to enter the university.

Her parents were as gracious as I had known them from last year, as was her younger brother.  Together we admired her work, taking pictures, and perused the other pieces in the expansive show of student work.  Then we traveled across the street to an Italian restaurant where they treated me to dinner and splendid conversation.  We unknowingly closed the place, hours later.  I felt that we had just gotten started in conversation.

I close this post by saying delightedly that I am being reunited with my former student.  She and her parents have expressed the desire for us to work together again, and I can hardly wait.  I have never had a student such as this in my creative environment, and I am proud beyond words.  How funny that I myself returned to the still life genre in watercolor, having not touched it since I myself was in the tenth grade.  I have found endless fascination in the subject matter, and was wishing recently that I had someone with whom I could discuss these dynamics.  It’s going to be interesting, seeing how she pursues her studies in oil while I continue to figure out the dynamics of watercolor.

Thanks for reading.

P. S.  I am almost finished with these #!$$%!$$#%#!%#! taxes!  When I lay them to rest, I will finally get after that vintage tackle box, chock full of brightly-colored lures!  My watercolors are crying out in neglect from the Man Cave nearby.

I paint to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Ballerina Oil Painting Completed

January 30, 2012

Completed Oil of Ballerina

The hour is nearing midnight.  I have a ton of art history to prepare for tomorrow’s classes.  But I cannot avoid posting this completed oil painting from my private student.  Out of respect for her privacy, I have refrained from posting her identity, her school, her city, etc.  And in that way, I feel that I have withheld giving her her due.  But you understand.  What I must say, however, is that I have never in a quarter-century of instruction encountered a ninth grade student with this level of skill and confidence.  I’m thrilled to watch someone pursue the bliss of painting the way she does, and I’m also grateful to see such supportive and proud parents who watch her development with enthusiasm.

My student worked diligently this evening, refining the tutu and reworking the background as she saw necessary.  I thought the painting looked good as it was left Saturday afternoon, but tonight’s finishing touches certainly lifted the entire work to a new level of excellence.

Tomorrow she starts on another adventure, and I look forward to seeing what kind of painting emerges from her brush next.

Thanks for reading.

Degas Redux

January 30, 2012

Ballerina in Oil

Over the weekend, I spent more time watching my private art student paint than engaging in my own work.  I’ll post my own watercolor momentarily, but first wanted to show you this piece.

I am posting the results of the second day spent on this oil painting of a ballerina.  My student spent the first day toning the background and blocking in the body without the tutu.  Today, she continued rendering the shadows and highlights throughout the body, and then scumbled the first layers of the tutu.

As I watched this painting emerge from the gloom, I could visualize Edgar Degas carving out a female form on toned paper, with a stick of pastel in hand.  Indeed this young student seemed just as fast and deft with a brush as I imagined Degas in his studio.  Watching this ballerina come forth from the gathering darkness was quite an enchanting experience for me, and I am sure my student felt the same level of thrill and accomplishment.  What an amazing experience the artist knows, watching life emerge from the abyss, knowing that s/he is the one making it happen.

Again, I must express amazement at this student’s level of concentration and focus on the work at hand.  Viewing a projection of a black-and-white photo of this subject, this young artist chose a sepia background, mixing her own combination of green oxide, cadmium yellow deep, ultramarine blue and burnt umber, with traces of cadmium red medium.  Turning to the figure, she chose to work lavenders into the shadows and yellows into the highlights, again using no “factory” flesh pigments, but blending her own flesh tones from a combination of primary and secondary colors.  This canvas is approximately 14 x 16″ (not in my possession at the moment) and my student has put in about 3 hours on it so far.  She will probably complete it at the next session.

I cannot express my level of pride in her work.  As stated in previous posts, she is currently in the ninth grade, seeking entrance into a magnet school for the visual arts in the fall.  She is about two weeks away from submitting her portfolio of drawings and paintings.  I have had the privilege of working with her only since last October, and am amazed to see what she has produced.  She has so much to offer to the world of visual art, and possesses as much enthusiasm as ability to create.

Can Painting be Taught?

January 25, 2012

Young Art Student in the Studio

In earlier posts, I have highlighted the work of a ninth-grade student whose parents have hired my services to assist her in preparing a portfolio for application to a magnet school for the arts.

In my two-plus decades as an educator (over 90% of it teaching academic subjects), I have encountered less than five truly “exceptional” art students, geniuses.  This is one of them, and she is in the ninth grade.  I sincerely doubt that I will ever encounter another one so young with this level of skill and intelligence.

I recall Woody Allen’s remarks at the beginning of his film “Husbands and Wives.”  Playing the role of a college professor of writing, he said:  “You can’t teach writing.  You expose students to good work and hope it inspires them.  Some can write, others will never learn.”

Without trying to discuss the particulars of my pedagogy, I just want to point out that I really do not know how to teach skill to an art student.  Like the Woody Allen sentiment, I find myself drawing extensively from art history to show students models of the kind of art they are  pursuing, and hope it somehow rubs off.  As I watch a student work, I often make corrections, sometimes demonstrating ways to improve on a particular technique.

The picture posted here is of my student closing in on the finish of an oil portrait.  She chose a painting by Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun that we projected onto a giant screen in my darkened classroom.  Then, with a broad brush loaded with turpentine-thinned paint, she blocked in the composition, using neither pencil or charcoal, and very rapidly built up this oil portrait, mixing most of her colors from pure pigments, avoiding neutrals on her palette.  Burnt umber is her only neutral.  She uses no black.  She has no “flesh” or “light flesh” or “blush” colors–everything she mixes herself, with very little re-direction from me.

There is a large part of me that is deeply satisfied knowing that I am putting a part of myself into the next generation of artists.  At the same time, I remind myself that over 90% of this girl’s work is coming from herself–I feel that I am doing very, very little as I stand and observe her in action, every now and then offering a correction, a modification, an improvement (I hope!).  But for the most part, I am watching a young genius develop, and it gives me boundless pleasure.

Thanks for reading.


One-Hour Oil Portrait Sketch by a Ninth-Grade Student

January 14, 2012

One-Hour Oil Sketch by Ninth-Grade Student

In another post on this same day, I introduced my private art student, Maddie, who has studied with me since last October.  Here, I have posted a one-hour oil sketch that she did as a preliminary to the finished portrait that I posted earlier.  They are two separate paintings.  I cannot express my pride in this young ladie’s work, seldom do I encounter students so young and so serious to learn their craft.  Maddie never took a pencil or charcoal to this canvas; the portrait sketch was begun with turpentine-thinned oil for a sepia wash.  She blocked it in quickly and accurately, then layered her paints following the preliminary sketch.

Thanks for reading.

A Re-Discovered Joy, Teaching a Young Art Student

January 14, 2012

Oil portrait by ninth-grade art student

Though I have used this blog to promote my own art work, I cannot help but post a couple of images of work from one of my private art students.  Maddie is a ninth-grade student, seeking admission to a fine arts school.  A portfolio is required, so her parents have hired my services to assist her in building a portfolio of 25 pieces to submit when she applies.

All I can say is, I have met very few students as gifted as Maddie.  Her eye is so good, and her intellect so keen that she seems able to do anything she attempts in the field of art.  I have never touched a brush or pencil to her compositions, but have only stood nearby coaching and re-directing as necessary.  She only has to be told once, and she gets it.

This is a life-size oil portrait that Maddie spent 2 hours creating, while viewing a large projection of an oil painting from centuries past.  She never touched a pencil to the canvas, but began with turpentine-thinned oil on a brush, blocking in the portrait with a sepia wash, and then building from there.

I think the painting is magnificent.  I don’t know when I have felt more proud of a student with this kind of willingness to come into the studio after hours, following her own daily school and extra-curricular schedule.

Thanks for reading.

First Attempt at Plein Air Oil, Crested Butte, August 12, 2010

August 12, 2010

First plein air oil painting attempt, Crested Butte

It’s getting late (and cold) in Almont, Colorado.  Like Eddie Albert on Green Acres climbing the utility pole to use the phone, I have to leave my cabin, cross the street and sit on the front porch of the general store of Three Rivers Outfitters to access their wireless Internet.

I didn’t have the courage to post a close-up of this painting, so I photographed it lying in the back of my Jeep.  Finally I worked up the courage to attempt a plein air oil painting.  Sandi and I were in Crested Butte all day, and it rained off and on throughout the afternoon.  Finally, I set up my French easel and went to work on the same church cupola that I watercolored en plein air from a different angle the other day.

It constantly drizzled on me as I toiled over this, but I’m not using that as an excuse.  I found myself in unfamiliar territory as I worked oil on canvas, and very little of it I found pleasant.  I guess I expected too much of myself on the first attempt.  It will certainly not be my last.  I’m glad I gave it a shot.  And I’m glad I was in Colorado when I did it.  I really wanted to try this in Kremmling several days ago, but the days were dark and overcast.  I also brought my equipment to Creede, but the constant thunderstorms also led me to decide against it.  Were this not my last day in Colorado, I would have allowed the weather to postpone my attempt as well.  I’m glad I saw it through.  Once I return home, I plan to set up the easel in the backyard and work further on this piece.

We leave tomorrow morning, early, for Lubbock, Texas and triple-digit temperatures.  I may find some plein air opportunity if I can find decent shade.  Not sure what I’ll find there.

Thanks for reading.