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Ecce Homo

One of the hallmarks of middle age, at least for me, is that sometimes when I look in the mirror, I think, "what happened to my face?" Have I lead such a debauched life to justify the ravages to a once noble visage? Occasionally, though, a glance in the mirror will result in me nodding briefly in approval, accompanied by a declaration along the lines of "not too shabby". Not sure how subjective those pronouncements are, but what is not up for debate is the fact that I still possess a head of thick, luxurious, non-gray hair, and that surely means something.

So anyway, with the onset of the warmer weather I went out and got a haircut, the sort of which renders combing optional. And I deemed the finished product acceptable. So on a whim I have decided to post a photo, something I've never deigned to do on LJ before. But what the hell, it's not like I handle State secrets on a regular basis...

Weigela

In another couple years that Japanese maple is going to have it completely in the shade, but for the moment, the weigela is pretty happy.

Another Peak Behind the Curtain (Part IV)

And now we have the denoument. A flotilla of clouds are "firmly" in place, and there are numerous finishing touches here and there, including to the castle, which seemed to require its own tree, if nothing else than to add a desperately needed touch of color to the masonry-cumulous assembly.

In the foreground are reasonably accurate representations of my nephews, playing in a sandbox not unlike the one I had as a child. You don't know how I struggled with the perspective of that square object! As it turns out, I am pleased with the outcome, except that I wish I had made it bigger, so the boys would be bigger. It seems no matter how big I make my paintings, the faces of people invariably end up being no larger than a postage stamp, and here I am like a dummy trying to pull off a quasi-portrait when in actuality I am merely hoping my 00000 brush can put the eyes in a remotely accurate location! I should have taken a photo of what they looked like half-done to disclose my process: I actually do a paper sketch of the exact size and then cut it out with scissors. I use double-sided tape to tape the figure where I want it to go, and then use a pencil to trace the outline of the figure onto the painting. I remove the paper cutout, and then make a completely white "sillouhette", which after drying I paint in the clothing and then do some glazing for the shadows and skin tones, which works really well here because my nephews are quite pale. (It's also the only glazing I did here, except for a slight wash of yellow over the tree in the center to tone down the orange a bit.)

Anyway, as I implied before, the floating castle's shape was chosen for a reason, and that was so that it looked like something that could be modeled in sand, for the boys have shaped a castle similar in form and layout to the one in the sky. The question is: is the sand castle a reflection of what the children see (Art imitating Life), or does the floating castle just represent the imagination of the boys - what they envision their creation would look like if real? Hence my chosen title of the work: "Ambiguity". Even I don't know.

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Another Peak Behind the Curtain (Part III)

Now, things are moving (in fact, I should have taken another photo before this)!

The foreground has been established: a fan brush was used to give a sense of depth and contour to the ground, using various shades of green and khaki over a brown/black undercoat. So again, the technique is starting with dark, and building up with lighter and lighter shades, shaping as you go. The challenge is to give an indication of perspective and distance - I mean , just how far is it from the bottom of the painting to the water line? 30 - 40 yards, maybe?

The floating fortress is now defined, aside from a few finishing touches, though it lacks the clouds that will serve as its effervescent foundation. It currently occupies a hazy patch of indeterminate identity. I chose this type of castle for very specific reasons, as shall be seen in the next photo. For research, I must have looked at 200 pictures of castles! I'm so tempted to pack it full of tiny details, but I keep reminding myself it is in the distance, and details necessarily become obscured with distance...

The colors are starting to pop, which pleases me. Red and orange draw your eyes to the center, but there is a great bit of care lavished upon the leaves along the periphery as well. Layer upon layer, the illusion of depth manifesting.

This is about 75% complete. I've set the stage, but now the hard part really commences: the fine detail work, and all those little extra touches that create the elusive realistic quality that allows the viewer to suspend disbelief, if even for the briefest moment. And oh yes - I need to actually put something in the foreground besides grass!

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Another Peak Behind the Curtain (Part II)

A bit more progress here: the bank of leaves on the right have been more filled in, with the brushstrokes becoming more judicious, and then I went back and reinforced and refined the tree trunks. On the left I have started to add the unlit background leaves (the light will be coming in high and in front), careful to maintain the gap where the floating castle will be seen - hopefully without the gap seeming contrived. And more development in the midground, keeping with dark, dark components giving way to bursts of autumnal color. And there's a lake now - why not? I still had some blank real estate to spare. Too early to tell if this will be a success. But it's not yet a failure either.

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Another Peak Behind the Curtain (Part I)

As promised, here is the first installment of my latest painting. Nothing too interesting yet - just getting the proportions and overall feel set (color selection and style of brushwork). The tree trunks set the stage, framing the center of the composition and narrowing the focus. The sky is uneven in tone - but that's OK, because THERE WILL BE CLOUDS, and a lot will end up being covered over anyway. Some of the background foliage is being sketched, and I got to break out a fan brush for the trees in the middle ground. Then I stabbed in a mishmash of different "naturey" colors to begin to create the impression of dense foliage. As I said, not too much accomplished here, but a good session's work and several decisions regarding position and viewpoint have already been made. Oh, and see that faintly defined creamy colored mass of polygons in the sky there? That's going to be a castle.

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Source Material

All right, so I just completed a painting. This week I intend on doing another series like last year, where I display a sequence of photos of a painting in stages of increasing completion. But first, I wanted to show the photo that originally inspired me, taken by a high school classmate of mine who just happens to also be a professional photographer. I hope it to be a successful synthesis of real life and fantasy, fulfilling one of my ling-term artistic goals.

This was actually taken in his back yard... (which makes me a wee bit envious, though my yard possesses its own charms).



Consider, if you will, how I adapted the spirit and feel, the inherent drama, of this photo - not merely the graphical similarity as you see the painting take shape over the next week.

Turnover

My mentor, who I have worked with for the last 19 years, and has been with my firm since 1977, is retiring at long last tomorrow. For several years he has been only working part time, but he's 79 years old, so I suppose the retirement is due! There is going to be an emptiness when I go into work next Monday that will be difficult to suppress.

Today he bestowed upon me all his engineering books. Some of them are from the 50's when he went to college, or even earlier! Despite my mood of poignant wistfulness I nonetheless harbor this small giddy sense of satisfaction as I regard these tomes, like some mage being gifted with a carefully curated private collection of grimoires, with which I can work puissant wonders.

Who doesn't want a 1940's edition of Timoshenko's "Theory of Plates and Shells"?

Still, the bulk of the knowledge he passed on to me was transmitted orally, small lessons at the right time, handy "rules of thumb", expeditious shortcuts, and correct outlooks and attitudes as well - the sort of thing that is not dispensed via the classroom. Solutions are much easier found with the right mindset. All this he showed me in a patient and good-humored fashion.

Who shall I learn from now? Perhaps it is now my turn to pass on the hard-won truths of my profession. But I don't feel quite ready for that role just yet. Plus, I like to see the young struggle. It builds character.

Heirloom Hyacinths

These are some "wood hyacinths" (a.k.a. bluebells) slowly naturalizing throughout my yard (a couple hardy pioneers have even made it into the front lawn). They have quite the pedigree. My mother gave them to me. But originally they were from my grandparent's house in Cleveland, where some were transplanted in the 1970's to my childhood home. So these bulbs have an illustrious lineage indeed.

Work Station

Actually, it's the room I use as a studio. The Great Mound of Debris I must navigate to get to my chair is behind the camera. Everything is configured to facilitate painting, though not comfort. The oak chair from the dining room, for example, is as hard as granite. But one must expect to suffer a bit for one's art, no? All I really need is some good light, which this chamber has in abundance.

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