Thursday, 31 May 2012

Day 8 - A major stroke of luck in Florence

Our first full day in Florence was punctuated by visits to the Uffizi and then to the Accademia Museum with other sightseeing and free time around it. In the evening ten of us met up again and sat down to great social meal and I had proper Italian fettuccine bolognese and vino rosso followed by gelato and it was all quite delicious. Afterwards I opted for an early night followed by a lie in and a late breakfast and felt a bit more human this morning.

Quite by chance Jeff our walking encyclopedia artist companian had spotted some posters for an exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi just two minutes from our Hotel. Entitled Americans in Florence - Sargent and the American impressionists it was just perfect timing as Sargent is an important influence of Zhaoming. So the plan first thing this morning for those of us who hadn't seen it the day before was to check it out. Despite Jeffs enthusiasm my expectations were still greatly exceeded. It was an excellent collection of very well known and some lesser known artists who had all painted in Tuscany. Some of the paintings I was already very familiar with and never thought I would get to see. Cecilia Beaux self portrait has long been a favourite of mine and along with that there was one by Sargent and one by William Merritt-Chase, all three having originally been commissioned by the Uffizi. There were portraits, landscapes, still lives. Oils, watercolours, sketches and some photos from the era. There was work by Duveneck whom I have only just recently been introduced to thanks to fellow blogger Dave, and Mary Cassatt, Whistler, Thomas Eakins, Frederick Childe Hassam, and some important Italian artists who worked alongside these luminaries.

It was just brilliant to have this opportunity on top of all the others thrills to be found in Florence. A perfect day.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Day 6 - Plein air and Florence

The weather has become a little iffy here, but an overcast morning turned out to be ideal for our first plein air of the workshop. We drove about 10 miles out of Corciano to a dilapidated farmhouse where Zhaoming did a demo for two hours or so - totally fabulous of course. These are some of the notes I took, a bit jumbled I'm afraid but one of the first things you discover on a proper plein air trip is how organised you have to be, you need about ten pairs of hands and a pretty decent set of muscles too. I was a bit all over the place. Maybe this is why Jason feeds us so well, you need to build up your strength. Many of us hadn't done plein air before so Zhaoming pretty much had to start from scratch. Here are the notes:-

Landscape, think about the mood.

Same three value pattern as for the figure.

Paint rooftops like heads, the underneath matters less.

Usually look for a pattern of three planes, foreground, mid and background with the mid ground being the important area. In our demo he chose the view based on the hills as the background, farmhouse the mid and hills as the foreground.

On a dull day the shadows may be warmer so he opted to use a burnt umber under painting. On a sunny day he would have chosen ultramarine blue.

Sketch in the loose shapes, he simplified the shape of the background hills.

Block in colours, cooler and less saturation for background. Remember the atmosphere (perspective) and distance all over.

When doing the sky make one side a different colour than the other. The same for top and bottom.

Big shape, big value.

Less drawing, more composition.

The brush stroke is important to describe the object, differentiate. The gesture of nature.

Paint the dark shapes first with no lights (tree) add the lights after the same principles of hard and soft edges apply, one side hard, the other soft. Up, down, diagonals, look for the contrast and variation. Keep spaces uneven.

Zhaoming talks about Masses - the big shapes, Lines - his marks and flourishes and also the line of the composition I think. Points - the small details. I will have to go over this again with him for further clarification. He says it's like music.

Some more of my observations. Zhaoming rarely uses a palette knife but he does use a fan brush frequently and not just to blend. He also uses the bottom end of a pencil or the end of a brush to make marks, scraping back the paint for fine marking and texture. He uses Utrecht paint. He has just started using wedge brushes and seems to be getting on with them. He likes brushes with flat and fine edges which he can twist back and forth.

Oh and Jason who also teaches art shared a few tips for buildings on the ride home. When painting windows don't do them too dark even if they are. The same with cracks and textures on walls, go in with a lighter tone.

We packed up for the day at 3.00 pm, whizzed back to the villas to wash our brushes and grab our things and then set off for yhe two day trip to Florence and Siena. We caught the 17.17 train and an hour and a half later after a very scenic journey through the Umbrian and Tuscan countryside arrived to the very buzzy and happening city. Zhaoming wanted to take us for a traditional Chinese meal so the 12 of us enjoyed a pretty unusual but apt mix of cultures. We had a great night and are looking forward to the Uffuzi and Accademia museums and many of the other delights of Florence. Art and shopping, what could be better?


Monday, 28 May 2012

Day 5 - Painting and pottery

We woke up to a cool and showery day today, it was practically British weather. It was supposed to be our last day of painting the figure before a two and a half day trip to Florence and Siena followed by four days of plein air. However due to various complications the trip was put back by a day so we will do a days plein air tomorrow and then go to Florence in the evening.

Today under Zhaomings guidance we finished the painting we started and then afterwards went to visit a local pottery to have a demonstration of the art of making a pot, several of the group even had a go themselves. It was really good fun and I took a lot of photos with potential as future paintings. This was followed by a lovely meal and a glass or two in a rather fabulous restaurant on the way back to our villas. A very good day.

I found this painting harder going even though I spent longer on it but maybe that's because there was so much more thinking going on. I wasn't overly happy with my capturing of the gesture but pushed along doing much adjusting and readjusting. Zhaoming recommends constant reckecking of the drawing. He is also trying to get us think about the overall design, value pattern, rhythm and flow and a good understanding of which areas to emphasise and which to downplay. In other words the artistry not just the technical stuff. My head is full of it all and I need to plug the gaps to make sure it doesnt escape. It's not really about the paintings one goes home with although they are valuable physical reminders of the lessons, more important is the knowledge and I am keen to find out how much I will have taken on board.

By the way Zhaomings wife is painting with us too, she is a very talented artist too. Her name is Qiuzhen Wei and she has one many awards with the Oil Painters of America - go look her up!

Not sure when I will be able to blog again but I shall be visiting David and will let you know how he is as soon as I can.

Day 4 - Revision, emphasis and another demo

Zhaoming did another demo for us this morning which really helped reinforce the teachings again after taking up the brushes ourselves. The model was in modern dress this time although I find any clothing a bit odd to be honest. He stressed the importance of contrast in all elements again and again. Warm, cool, soft and hard edges, light against dark, balance between left and right and above and below complimentary colours. I am pretty sure helicopter pilots don't have to think about this many things. Simple areas and more complex, muted colours against brighter, textured areas and plain. Is it sinking in yet? Oh and one thing he said which I really latched onto was if you are doing a high key painting then you paint the darks (really make sure the shapes are accurate) and on a low key one you paint the lights. I shall consider that carefully for a while, it's not something I have heard before and i shall study at his and others work with this in mind. He reminded us again how important shapes are and also to always set three values wherever they are in the piece.

In the afternoon we started our own painting. I will continue working on this again tomorrow and strangely this seemed a lot harder than the last painting so things went more slowly.

Here is the WIP from Zhaomings demo and the start of my painting.


Sunday, 27 May 2012

Day 3 - First full day painting plus trip to Perugia

We had the same pose as the previous day but I opted to start a new painting. The following notes are what I took down from the demo which are basically a summary of Zhaomings painting method and other things as they came up.

He normally does his under-paintings in burnt umber for indoors, (warm shadows) and ultramarine for outdoors (cool shadows). The stages are:-

1 Placement - do an envelope of the total figure, look at negative spaces and the big shapes.

2 Get the gesture down, map in the key joints accurately and get the proportions right at this stage. Zhaoming measured but I am not sure that he wasnt just setting us a good example. I would think he could give you the dimensions of a pile of zebras at 100 ft with his ability to see detail and well trained eye. Whatever, It worked for me and I measured too!

3 With a big brush mark out the dark accents and star creating a two value statement - just light and dark. Unify the shadows, just look at the shapes and don't worry about what It is. For me trying not to lose the landmarks was important but of course there will always be some of the joints in the light and often that's where the light and darks are clearest.

4 Start working on the mid tones and do the colour block, adding white here but keeping the darks transparent. Remember the contrasts, warm/cool, (colour compliments) and exaggerate the colours to your taste and to reflect the look you want. This is still a big brush block in, detail must be resisted. Separate the brushes between tones, light darks and mids. Push the lights and the darks to leave a wider range for the mids even if later on you move them back in. In the mid tones focus on colour not detail. Only indicate the detail at critical parts and save the white accents for the end. Dark accents at the start, white at the end.

5 Modelling the form. Lay in all your planes, and look for the shapes of colour but still only suggest and indicate and don't go too heavy on the detail.

Emphasise just one side or another with soft and hard edges, don't outline things.

Pay attention to depth, make sure things further away don't jump out, atmospheric perspective.

Add small amounts of a complimentary colour in the shadows.

Save all the detail for the lights, keep the shadows simple.

There is more but its a full scedule and even getting time to write up the notes and thoughts for the day is a challenge so for now here is my painting from today. I say mine, but really it's a collaborative piece with Zhaoming demonstrating some of the finer points relevant to me on my actual painting which was really helpful but I can't claim it as my own. He did some work on the hair, simplifying it where I'd got over fussy. He also lost the edge of the upper left arm, tidied the bodice area and the lower right sleeve and also reduduced the contrast in the light part of the skirt. So the improvements are clear to see, actions can definately speak louder than words, but hopefully with the next painting I will do more of this for myself. Zhaomings said I was ok with my drawing, block in and values but need to work on the modelling, detail, atmosphere and finish. I couldn't agree more.

So after a full and intense day of painting we had half an hour back at the villa before setting off for an evening at Perugia. What a suprise that turned out to be, a fairly big town but with an old town within the new packed full of history and architecture and lots of interest and it had a great vibe. We did a whistle stop tour, took loads of photos then had a meal in a local restaurant which would have been perfect except for three of us didn't get our meals until everyone else had eaten theirs. Boar is pretty popular around here at the moment (boar season?) but I had beef and rocket with parmesan and a glass or two of Chianti. Anyway this is Italy and we have to remember to always expect the unexpected. It was a great way to end the day but we didn't stop from 8.00 am till 11.00 pm and so i think we all fell into bed pretty exhausted.

What a day! Couldn't be better, oh and he weather is just perfect, nicely hot days and cool evenings.


Friday, 25 May 2012

Day 2 - Master demo and my first painting

Couldn't sleep last night despite being exhausted, too much excitement, nervousnes and anticipation perhaps. The villa is lovely, my housemates are excellent company and although Jason's personal mission seems to be to get us to eat every conceivable Italian dish possible we are managing some art between meals. I was lucky to get to sit next to Zhaoming at dinner last night and got the opportunity to talk to him about his working methods and philosophies as well as discussing a few contemporary artists and influences. Dinner was fab, bruschetta to die for, melon and prosciutto, wonderful pasta's as you would expect. I had chicken cacciatore and to their great surprise Zhaoming and his wife were both served the biggest steaks any of us had ever seen, even the people from the US.

Today we had the first demo, a local girl in costume. It was incredible watching the magic happening in front of our eyes and we were permitted to take photos as well as making notes. I took a lot of pics on my SLR but cant download them till I get home so took a few on the iPad for posting. The benefit of watching a live demo is you can clearly see what is painted accuratelysad seen and when artistic decisions have been made. As ever when watching expertise at work it looks easy but after lunch (proper Italian pizza) when we all did our own paintings I found myself being veering between my established practices and the new approach just demonstrated. It'll take a while to get into the swing i think and already I have concluded I need some new softer brushes.

I'll document the details of the notes later as I need to sleep now, but here are a few photos from Zhaomings demo. I forgot to take a photo of my painting, ha!

iPad post


Thursday, 24 May 2012

Day 1 - Arrival in Rome

Having an early start of 3:30AM to fly out to Rome and arriving somewhat bleary eyed at the departure airport I was slightly put out by having to pay an excess baggage charge. I wasnt completely surprised as packing enough clothing and personal stuff for two weeks along with art equipment and a digital SLR was pretty challenging. I was wary of the fact that I needed to be able to carry/pull/lift or drag everything myself and tried to keep it to a minimum but I may need all those shoes, clothes and handbags. :)

Jason the organiser reckoned he would be the only one wearing a cap and therefore easily recognisable in the airport but the octogenarian I was following turned out not to be him although eventually I did meet up with them all. So we set off on the 100k journey to Corciano travelleling through glorious countryside and getting to know each other a bit on the way, two British, six aAmerican, and an Australian plus two Chinese American. Corciano is a tiny little gem of a place, a really picturesque medieval town on a hilltop with lovely friendly local people and the places we are all staying are very comfortable and spacious .

This afternoon we met The Master (and his charming wife) had a tour of the studio we will be working in and then this evening all went out together for a traditional Italian meal.

Tomorrow the work begins.

iPad post


Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Paint, charcoal and packing

At last weeks life session I used a scratchy linen matboard which made the paint application difficult and I didnt get anywhere near finished but a few things worked.

Oil on matboard 12" x 16"

This week I didnt take anything with me but a skip and a smile and used the gallerys paper, charcoal and chalk.  I went really big too just to mix it up a bit - I've not used charcoal for ages and really enjoyed it.

Charcoal and chalk on A2 tinted paper

Now I have to finish packing for Italy, yeay!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Workshop in Italy

So finally its nearly here, the highlight of my year and an important milestone in my artistic journey.  Later on this week I am flying off to Italy to attend a workshop with Zhaoming Wu the San Francisco based artist and teacher.  We are staying in Corciano in Umbria and will be studying the figure and lanscapes with trips to Florence, Montepulciano, Perugia and Assisi too.  Earthquakes permitting (that was terrible news this weekend) I shall be fully immersed in nothing but art for two weeks - heaven!  Watch this space.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

iPad posting no. 3 - Sunday Life

The reason I have started trial posts from an iPad is because I hope to blog from it when I am on an art workshop in Italy in a couple of weeks time. I invested in the Blogsy app which seems to be most recommended. Really, I don't want to become a total techno geek, just to have basic functionality and to spend my time making art so hopefully this will work out.

So today's life session has been photographed, edited and posted using the iPad. So far so good.

Oil on mat board 16" x 12"

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Red and yellow and pink and blue

A couple from the last two weeks life sessions.  I've changed my basic palette to warm up for a workshop I am taking in Italy at the end of the month.  Its with a highly esteemed international artist and I am very much looking forward to it but more on that later.  So for these I have been trying to both tame and push the colours a bit.

Oil on board and drafting film 12 x 16" (one cropped)