Saturday, January 13, 2018

Dreamland - 8" X 10" Colored Pencil on Ampersand Pastelboard

Dreamland - 8" X 10" Colored Pencil on Ampersand Pastelboard

New Year and finishing old paintings:

As 2017 came to a close I found myself trying to finish some abandoned pieces in the studio, ones that had their starts for various reasons and were set aside for a moment, then another moment.... and so forth.  Commissions get in the way, teaching and so does life it seems.  When my work takes a back seat, it always seems that "artist block" has a little more to do with my not getting back to "it".

This little portrait study was intended to be an exercise in the shadowed skin tones on an infant as well as a subject for a demo I did at the gallery I show my work at, Crossroads Art Center.  The sweet little guy in the photo is not a grandchild but a family friend's baby.  An innocent sleeping babe's photo whose devoted mother posted on Facebook.  It was a photo that I found very intriguing, as well as full of softness.  After commenting on her sweet photo that I would one day like to paint her sweet baby boy, I couldn't get it off my mind.  She of course gave me permission to use it as a reference for a future piece.  (Getting approval before using someone else's photo is a MUST, I wouldn't have otherwise.)
Demoing at Crossroads Art Center Reception

My intrigue was a self imposed challenge of sorts, one I have mixed feelings whether or not I have succeeded.  But of course we artists have always been afflicted with the "Artists Curse", self critical to the tenth degree, as well as the plague of "Am I finished----no wait-----maybe just one more ---- tweak".  We all suffer from it from time to time, oh yeah, how many years and paint over's did the Mona Lisa get?  Even Leonardo had the curse.  But he had the luxury of using oil, usually an opaque media that can be painted over or wiped off.

Colored pencil is not as forgiving.  Depending on the surface used you can make some major corrections but rarely do they completely go away.  The sanded surface of Ampersand Pastelboard can successfully be erased with a vinyl eraser with the hopes that only a ghost of an image remains.  See my older post: "Powhatan's James River Plein Air Study - Sticking It Out In The Rain"  for a sampling of what can be painted over in colored pencil on this pastelboard.

But I digress, the conundrum for me on this piece was NOT major erasing or corrections at all it was the later, endless tweaking.  You see the challenge for me was "Can I create a painting in colored pencil of this sweet baby softly sleeping WITH all the dark shadows caressing him as he sleeps, WITHOUT creating skin tones that make him look ashy or dirty?????  For colored pencil the translucence of layering skin tones on my normal white background isn't too difficult, but settling the figure INTO the shadows of a sleeping baby's crib?  Well that was it!

I did lighten the image up a bit from the photo his mother sent me.  And made it a tad larger so I could see all the gradual changes in tone.  I cropped in to focus on the highlights and then shadows under of his lashes and to the light that catches on his rounded sweet features.  My rendition is lit a little more yet, but I think doing so helps show the internal glow of this innocent soul.

I actually love creating skin tones on the sanded surface because it takes so much of my waxy Prismacolors.  With the combination of my heated Icarus Board* and brushes to soften the waxy pigment and blend the pencils "like buttah".  Applying many many layers, building numerous colors lightly, brushing, and building over again, the sanded surface slowly fills with pigment and the shades blend into skin.  You see it's the filling of the surface for me that helps with the painterly look which is my style.  No surface speckle remains.  And when sprayed with fixative and then several layers of varnish the sanded board is completely smooth to the touch.  Thus making it difficult to tell what the media is.  I love that!!!!

*The Icarus Board invented and patented by Ester Roi and built by her husband Mario, is a godsend to colored pencil artists who love wax based pencils.  No solvents are needed, no odors, toxic fumes to blend the pigment, just warm heat.  And in January this is a welcomed thing.  Please click the link above to her website and enjoy the art and information she shares about it's use.  I recently purchased the larger fully heated board that can strap to my drawing board or easel if needed.  The larger heated surface helps me work faster and bigger as needed.  I used to use my previous board only when I need to blend backgrounds, make highlight corrections to soften edges at the end of my process.  But I have found that I love the larger board over my older version (half hot and half cold).

I had great fun creating the woven thready look of the baby's trusty companion bunny, snuggled up close to his face.  And it was a source for noodling and fiddling to get the sewn on eyes to look thready and stitched.  I've since learned this bunny had a washer/dryer debacle and I think lost the battle.

If you feel I have accomplished my goal of a "soft shadowy portrait without an ashy look"  let me know in the comments below.  And as always your comments are appreciated.


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