Figurative Paintings


I just received a copy of the video shot during last week’s demo.  It’s long, and also pretty entertaining.

Chris Carter Demo 2013 from John Wolff on Vimeo.

Thank you Essex Water Color Club!

I’ve been working on monochromatic watercolor portraits from photographic references.  It is painful.  I much prefer to work from life than to work from a photograph.  However, I am focusing on creating solid head form and I need to go back to square one.  Photos are the most efficient way to begin again.

Monochromatic watercolor studies

I began working from a pile of magazine clippings I found when cleaning out my files.  I have moved on to family albums.

Chakaia Booker

Pablo Picasso

I had to work into this one with a bit of white gouache to bring back some of the form I lost on the shadow side of the face.

Marcel Duchamp

This is my favorite.  I like the simplicity of line and value shapes.

1952. My father pointing out to us where our house would be built.

I’m the little one in the snowsuit, staring at the ground.  There was a big back hoe behind my dad in the photograph.  As much as I love land moving equipment, it would have complicated the shapes if I included it.

Self-portrait as a baby

After two days of monochromatic painting using ivory black, I had to dip into color.  I look a bit cross-eyed in this painting.  I was feeling a bit cross-eyed as I painted it.

The inspiration for my focus on improving skills at portraiture came from the trouble I have painting female musicians during the blues jams.  Regardless of age, female faces are generally softer, the transitions of planes and forms are more subtle than than male faces.  Originally, I didn’t care that much about creating a likeness when I paint in the dark at pubs, I was more concerned about capturing a sense of the musicians movements and energy.  When I did capture a likeness, I felt a great sense of satisfaction.  I want more of that feeling.  So ….. it’s back to the drawing board to refresh and improve my portraiture skills.

After sifting through the photos I shot in Keyport yesterday, I forced myself to do a quick sketch from one of them.  I don’t enjoy working from photographs.  They don’t give me information regarding color, values or the energy of the places I’ve been.  Maybe I’m just a got-to-be-there snob.

Enjoying the afternoon at Keyport Harbor, NJ

What I decided is that I need to know what it is I want from my plein air paintings and why I am entering the weekend Plein Air Events in my area.  My intention was to visit the harbor prior to next weekend’s event in order to decide where I want to set up.  Driving home, I thought only of the people I met, not of the boats floating in the water or the landscape.

When I tossed the die to see what color scheme would be chosen for me, it came up Extended Analogous Color Scheme with Green as my dominant color.  That would have been fine if there hadn’t been people in the image.  The last thing I wanted to do was to have the people disappear into the shrubbery.  Sometimes rules work and sometimes they don’t.

My plan is to work from the photos all week. Hopefully, I’ll get over my aversion to them and have a better idea of where I want to be next weekend.  Only the paintings done during the weekend event may be entered in the event exhibition or competition (if there is one).

I look forward to seeing the two men on the bench, Joe, Don and Judy Pie (the tiny dog hidden under the bench) next weekend.  They told me they would save me a spot on the bench in case I want to sit down when I’m painting next weekend.  I just might take them up on their offer.

Drawing: Working from a photograph rather than life …. drawn first with fountain pen, followed by watercolor.

Adjacent Double Near Complements may not be an official Color Scheme but it is one I find I intuitively use quite often.  I generally choose either the warm half of the color wheel (skipping the center two hues) or the cool half of the color wheel (skipping the center two hues).  It works well with the in-between colors as well.  Pick any two adjacent two colors, skip the next two colors in either direction and use the next two colors.  It’s simple and it is beautiful.

Harp Player and Sean Daly, The Grisly Pear

This painting, created during the January 30, 2012 Blues Jam at The Grisly Pear in the West Village, illustrates the ADNC color scheme.  (Violet, Red Violet, Orange Yellow and Yellow.

Drawn first with dip pen and black ink, followed by watercolor.

When painting dancers or musicians during a performance there is no time to contemplate what I’m drawing, what colors I’m using or even why I think I can express the energy of the moment in less than a minute with a pen and a brush.  I paint whatever grabs my attention and provides me with a starting point.

Saucon Valley High School Jazz Ensemble

The Saucon Valley High School Jazz Ensemble won second place in the High School Jazz Band competition at SteelStacks in Bethlehem, PA.  As a reward, they opened for Kevin Eubanks last Friday evening.  I was given a table to paint on at the back of the room giving me front, slightly distant view of the stage.  What I saw was a mass of musicians dressed in black sitting on black chairs behind black music stands.  The only shapes that stood out were the brass instruments as the stage lights struck them and ……. the bright red neckties worn by each of the band members.

Two students, Two trombones, Two red neckties

A little bit of color can go a long way to save the day.

Drawings: drawn first with dip pen followed by watercolor

Black ink is great for the initial, dip pen drawing while painting during musical performances.  The black lines bring the color to life.  Colored inks, on the other hand, become part of the color scheme, bleeding into the watercolor and often separating into the various colored pigments that they are made from.  Below are examples of the watercolor bringing out the red in Waterman Havana Brown Ink.

Jeffrey Hills playing Tuba (Sousaphone), SteelStacks Cabaret, Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Ernie Elly on Drums, Preservation Hall Jazz Band

The Havana Brown is beautiful on its own, too.

Frederick Lonzo, Mark Braud, Charlie Gabriel
Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Another example of the ink bleed into the yellows, blues and purples.

Sketches:  Drawn first with dip pen using Waterman Havana Brown Ink, followed by watercolor

'Chrysalis', Texture, Movement, Edges, Dominant Elements

The suggested rules for the last of the throwing dice games has been posted, Extended Game, Game Four: Elements of Art.

In an attempt to find samples to post, it has become clear to me that I do not view myself as the director of my own paintings.  I allow the paintings to direct me.  That is not always a bad thing, in fact, I rather like it that way.

In order to push my work to the next level, I need to be able to play both parts, to act as a director and to act as a channel for the expression of my subconscious experiences of life.

My life as an artist becomes more exciting and fulfilling each day.

In general, a split complementary color scheme consists of one main hue plus the two hues on either side of its complement.

TJ playing at the Blues Jam

In the portrait of TJ, his right hand is the focus, the main hue (yellow) even though it is a smaller shape than the guitar strap and background (red / purple).  His shirt, (leaning toward blue /purple) is the other near complement of yellow.  The three small areas of yellow, his face and his two hands, balance the strong, larger shape of the background.  This is one of my favorite combinations when using a limited palette.  Painting in the dim light of a bar requires limiting my colors so that I am sure I’m not mixing mud.

Painting:  Drawn first with dip pen using Noodlers #41 brown ink (2012) followed by watercolor.  Painted during the Monday Night Blues Jam at The Grisly Pear on MacDougal Street, Greenwich Village, NYC.

A full week of paintings and drawing all day, every day made a significant difference when painting at the Blues Jam last night.

Jim Barden, Blues Harp Player

The primary triad color scheme happened on its own.  I felt like I had crossed paths with an old friend.  Slightly neutralized yellow, red and blue make for a lovely, yet strong image.

Painting: drawn first with dip pen using Noodler’s #41 Brown (2012), followed by watercolor

Analogous Complements are defined as three adjacent hues plus the complement of one of the hues.

Rob Fraser and Steve Decker, Blues Jam

Dutchman and Steve Decker, Blues Jam

Both of these paintings fall into the category of Analogous Complement Color Scheme, though I am pushing it a bit by including the yellow green.  I find it almost impossible to tack a color scheme label onto a painting after the fact.  However, to discuss how colors work together to express mood and movement, a vocabulary must be agreed upon. To recognize  a clearly defined color scheme and one that extends beyond the bounds of the color scheme label is instructive.

Both of these paintings are low contrast paintings meaning that all of the colors are close in value ( white to black on the value scale)  The closeness of value combined with the color scheme of Analogous Complements creates a more subdued tempo of visual rhythm than a high contrast primary color scheme such as the painting below.

Justine Gardner, Blues Jam

Another example of high contrast primary colors where the blue and red are slightly neutralized is shown below.

Mike and Justine, Blues Jam

My point is that no matter what color scheme you choose, the range of values (light to dark) is of primary importance.  I find it more effective to be decisive about value and allow color to be experimental.

Paintings: Painted during the Tuesday Night Blues Jam in Easton, PA.  Drawn first with black ink using a dip pen, followed by watercolor.

Next Page »