Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why I work the way I do!

“Why such a detailed drawing for under your painting?”

 "Behind the Shed" - Under drawing

I am always asked why I draw such a detailed drawing for my paintings on the canvas (board) before applying the paint. Actually I don’t consider them so detailed, if you put one of my “under drawings” next to one of my “finished drawings” on paper they are nothing alike, in my eyes. Simply put……………. this is how I taught myself to paint!

 "Behind the Shed" - Toned Canvas (Board)

I have been drawing since I was two, as my mother will tell you, and I just recently started painting in 2005. I had wanted to paint for a long time but just couldn’t figure it out; color adds a whole different level of creativity to the picture. Don’t get me wrong, my passion is graphite pencil but there is just something great about a nicely painted image. 

 "Behind the Shed" - Blocking in layer one of color

In high school I tried several paintings and quickly trashed my attempts and found that I had a pretty good grasp on colored pencils. So I was able to create some colored pieces using those, don’t worry I will not be showing you any of my high school art work! 

"Behind the Shed" - Layer one of color finished

"Behind the Shed" - Finished!

College was very discouraging for me, here I was a realist being told that I had to paint abstractly and more to the point “abstract expressionism” which loosely defined is…

Jackson Pollock "Autumn Rhythm"

A painting movement in which artists typically applied paint rapidly, and with force to their huge canvases in an effort to show feelings and emotions, painting gesturally, non-geometrically, sometimes applying paint with large brushes, sometimes dripping or even throwing it onto canvas. Their work is characterized by a strong dependence on what appears to be accident and chance, but which is actually highly planned.

If you know my work I am so far from this it’s not even funny! Then to top it off the faculty is told basically what to teach and given a time frame to do this in and then they pack the classes with so many students that you really couldn’t get any help. I continued to draw realistically and did study abstract patterns which lead me to the work of Robert Bateman who always has a strong abstract pattern under the detail of his work. I almost failed in all of my painting classes that I took because I just couldn’t figure how to make the paint work the way I wanted it too, Watercolor and gauche worked for a bit but it just wasn’t my cup of tea and acrylic just dried way to fast. Enter “oil paint” into the picture, I LOVED IT but still couldn’t get it to do what I wanted it to and to be honest I didn’t know what I wanted it to do. 

I had two professors that changed my life in college, they don’t know it and they probably don’t even know what they did to change my view. To tell you the truth I didn’t realize it at first either. First, my drawing professor Robert Foster made this comment one day to me, it was so fleeting, “You know Robert, have you ever tried coloring your drawings before?” It would be years before it would hit me to do this, this method as I have come to know it is the “Venetian Technique” Of course my “under drawings” are a bit more completed then what the old maters did, what they did was known as grisaille. Grisaille is a style of monochromatic painting in shades of gray used as under paintings.

Copy of Johannes Vermeer's Head of a Young Girl, oil on panel,
18x15, executed by Virgil Elliott in 1985.
Transparent and opaque color over grey opaque painting

A brief note about the Venetian technique which was first known as the “Flemish Technique.”

…painting on wooden panels primed pure white with glue-chalk gesso, as well as the working out of the design for the picture on separate surfaces. Once the design was completed on the cartoon, it was transferred to the primed panel, refined further, and then gone over with ink once the artist was satisfied with it. The paint was applied with small soft-hair brushes, much as in the egg tempera techniques, but the range of possibilities was greatly expanded by the transparency, slow drying and greater viscosity of the oil vehicle. The tendencies of the individual pigments toward transparency or opacity, which could not be fully exploited in egg tempera, could be employed systematically in oils for a much more convincing illusion of reality. The deepest darks were rendered transparently, and the lightest lights opaquely.

The second professor who had the greatest impact on my painting life was Durwood Dommisse. I believe to this day if I had been in a smaller class and he hadn’t a time schedule to keep to that this man would have taught me everything I could ever know about painting. It was his class that I almost failed; honestly I think he passed me just so that I could move on. It was in his class that I was introduced to Johannes Itten and in turn to Albert H. Munsell. Again it would be years before I garnered all the information from these two individuals that Durwood introduced me to but I paint the way I do today because of his class. 

My process of choosing and mixing colors, which I call color mapping, is a topic for another posting but if you are interested please let me know and I will be more than happy to take the time and write a posting, actually this topic would probably take several postings.

So there you have it, I create a finished looking “under drawing” also known as a grisaille and then color in my drawing by applying thin coats of color also known as glazes. It typically takes me two layers of paint to achieve the look that I want.

You can see the process in several of my time-lapsed videos if you are so inclined.

Work in Progress, “Crow” – this is a playlist of five videos showing my complete process.
“Cow on a Hill” – shows the under drawing and then the layers of paint being applied
“Reflected Green” – Same as “Cow on a Hill”



Sheona Hamilton Grant said...

Thumbs up Robert for a fascinating post! I totally relate to your feeling during your college years:D
Your work is amazing and discovering the behind the scenes makes it even more so!
Sending you tones of best wishes for a cracking New Year!

Steven S. Walker said...

This is a great post! It's even more interesting to hear since I was on the brink of failing some of those classes along side of you. It's been a long road but you have arrived. Happy New Year Robert!

Robert L Caldwell, Artist said...

Thank you Sheona!

Right Steven... you almost fail?

Happy New Year to you both!!!

Steven S. Walker said...

Ok, maybe I wasn't on the brink of failing but I definitely remember a lot of yelling and shedding buckets of tears...Happy New Year!

sfox said...

Great post! It's fun to read about how other artists work.

Within certain limits that I've figured out over time, compared to you, I work without a net. I've thought about moving more towards a formal grisaille, but for me it would be too much like doing the same painting twice. I like to lay the paint down all over and gradually pull things together.

Please do the color-mapping post. Pretty please?