portraits


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.

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

Extended Analogous with One Complement

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Links to sample paintings using the various color schemes are now on the Color Scheme Game Page.

Playing the Color Scheme Game every morning is helping to strengthen the colors I use the rest of the day and into the night.  The painting above, painted during the weekly Blues Jam, is an excellent example of unintentional application of my morning experiments.

Painting: Portrait of V.D. King drawn first with dip pen followed by watercolor.  Painted at The Grisly Pear in New York City.

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

Purple and Yellow complements with a neutralized red making the triad.

David French singing the Blues

Most of my paintings from Monday Night Blues Jam at The Grisly Pear ended up being triad color schemes, one of the colors being neutralized.  Perhaps this week’s small oil paintings using Color Wheel Five as a reference influenced where I dipped my brush in the dark.  I find triads pleasing and lively.

Sketch: first drawn with dip pen (Diamine Denim ink) and watercolor wash.

Dominant complements of red and green are tied together with high key (light value) complements of yellow and purple.

Lisa Parry at the Blues Jam

Using watercolor and ink together allows for things to happen on their own.  Colors can bleed into one another, blurring edges beautifully and mixing to just the right color to allow a sketch to come to life.  The red watercolor mixed with the Blue Nose Bear ink to produce a wonderful, subtle (and pale) purple suggesting a slightly shadowed lower face and neck.  It did not bleed enough to reach the cheek and side of the forehead, nor the tip of the ear.  Here, the yellow suggests a bit of light hitting the face.

Sketch: Drawn first with dip pen using Noodler’s Blue Nose Bear ink, followed by watercolor squeezed from a tube.

There is no time to plan ahead when painting musicians jamming in a bar.  I dip into the paint based on the local color value rather than the hue since I can’t really see it in the dark anyway.  Fresher and more inventive color schemes are the result of such blind choices.

Arthur Nielson, The Grisly Bear, NYC

The next morning, in the light of day, the color scheme of a painting can sometimes be labeled.  I end up analyzing the effects of color combinations that please or intrigue me so that I might use them with intention in plein air or studio work.

Paintings that transition along the color spectrum from yellow to purple delight me.  On occasion I have forced this color scheme into a painting and failed miserably.  Yesterday morning when I spread out the paintings I had done the night before at Big Ed Sullivans Blues Jam at The Grisly Pear I smiled seeing this painting of Arthur.  The transitions work effortlessly.

Sometimes it can be an extremely small area of a painting that makes the difference.  In this case, I believe it is the tiny spot on Arthur’s shirt where the red of the guitar bleeds into the green of the shirt. It ties the softer, analagous colors of the top half of the painting to the bolder, sharp-edged shapes of the bottom of the painting where the colors at the other end of the spectrum reside.

The only color missing is blue, though it is represented in the green and in the purple.  Full spectrum paintings are more pleasing to me when one of the six primary and secondary colors is omitted in its pure form.

Painting: drawn first in black ink with dip pen followed by washes of watercolor

Sometimes I need to be a bit more subtle.

Arne Englund, Blues Jam Aug. 30, 2011

I like the bleed of the colors without the sharp bleed of black ink.  The purple guitar strap ties the warm-colored figure of Arne into the cool blue-lavender of the background preventing him from looking like a cut-out, separate from his environment.  Watercolor is an expressive media that is screamingly beautiful when left to do what it wants to do.

Sketched lightly first with pencil, followed by watercolor wet in wet.

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