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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Having fun with portraits

A couple years ago I decided to do a book of family portraits as a surprise gift for my mother.  Since these were for my family I thought I should experiment with a variety of styles to help me learn and also to keep the project fun and exciting.  There is nothing like trying a new technique to keep you work fresh and challenging.  All except two of these were based on black and white photos taken in the 40s and 50s.  In some ways that gave me to opportunity to play with color since there was no bias introduced by the photographs themselves.  Here are some examples and a little bit about each approach and why I selected the style for each painting.



We have all seen the ads from the 40s of the woman holding a coffee cup and of Rosie the Riveter.  These ads used bold colors, bright yellow backgrounds, and a graphic style.  This painting gave a nod to that style, where I simplified shapes using contours and exaggerated colors.  I didn't want the stark yellow background used in many of those ads, so I muted the yellow slightly and sprayed it with water to create spots and soft areas to contrast with the figure.






This painting was based on a photograph of my son when he was drawing.  Most of his drawings are line drawings in graphite, which he then scans and augments on the computer.  I wanted to bring in the feel of his line drawings, so I used watercolor pencil to add outlines to his features and to create his beard.  See the closeup at right to better see the approach.










Since this painting was of my brother and I as children, I wanted a soft painting that portrayed young innocence. Using soft colors for our clothing and the shadows on the birch trees kept the painting light while the dark bark and grass at the base helped force the view back up into the center.  My brother always protected his little sister so his pose with his arm up, although likely unplanned, made me feel like he was providing a shield.  I strengthened the color in his arm to keep that gesture from being lost in the background.





 When on vacation in Deep Creek, the innkeeper where we were staying asked whether I ever painted in sepia.  I couldn't recall if I ever had, but thought that would be a wonderful way to paint one of these portraits since sepia toned photographs were common in the era of some of the source photos.  I started this painting using a grisaille approach, using shades of gray, to capture shapes, their hair, and the patterns in their clothing.  Then I added pale washes of burnt orange reminiscent of old sepia tone photographs.




Similar to the approach used for the portrait of my son above, I used line-work in this painting.  However in this painting I used charcoal, instead of watercolor pencil, to achieve heavier lines.  I had used a bright background that I didn't want to become the focus of the painting and I felt the heavy lines added interest and kept the focus on the boys.










This painting is called Speed.  My brother was so happy in his new sports car that I wanted to paint it as though he was streaming down the road.  I abstracted some of the shapes of the interior of the car to keep the focus on my brother, then intentionally blurred the background as though the foliage along the side of the road was out of focus as he flew by.  I incorporated some of the red from the car in the background and formed it into flames to help emphasize a sense of speed.


I think it is important when doing portraits to include notes about the person or the times to create an interesting story and help communicate a bit about the person.  I think choosing the approach to the painting ended up being an important part of telling each story in a unique way.  I think the same is true when telling stories about places and things and hope my art succeeds to convey a place and time.

Let me know which of these paintings spoke most to you and why.  I'd love to hear whether the approach I used conveyed a bit of the story before you read my explanation.

To learn more about my art and to see other examples check my website, browse my online store, and check the commission page.  You may also want to read my blog post on commissions.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

"Student Brushes" 15" X 21" watercolor

Student Brushes by April M. Rimpo
Student Brushes
Watercolor
15" X 21" image
21" X 27" brushed silver frame
$1100



Recently my family visited to help celebrate my son's graduation from college.  While they were here they browsed through some of my paintings and my ever astute brother, commented that it seemed like I had two styles to my work; some are loose and others are very detailed.  Student Brushes falls into the latter category.  I was aware I did this in my work.  I find that after finishing a detailed painting like this one I feel like I need to do something more fluid.  The shift makes me relax and focus more on responding to what is happening with the paint and less about the details.  What you might find interesting, however, is that those "loose" paintings require so much concentration to pay attention to the paint and respond that they can be exhausting.

So what do I do next?  I start a detailed painting which I have well planned and the cycle begins over again.  At the beginning of a painting like Student Brushes I find I get very relaxed, just chipping away to create the image.  I often have to work out how to accomplish the look of something in the painting.  For example, the brushes with lots of old dry paint were a bit of a challenge when I started, as was keeping the metal ferrules looking shiny, yet dotted with paint.  Once I have figured out how to render the subject I repeat it until the painting is done. I am nearly always really happy with the final result on these detailed paintings since I have done a lot of planning and design before I touch brush to paper.

I am happy to report that not only I liked this one, but so did the juror of the San Diego Watercolor Society 33rd International Exhibition and more recently Sterling Edwards, the juror for the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society's 35th Anniversary International Juried Show. Student Brushes will be one of 120 paintings on exhibit at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, 300 North Street, Harrisburg, PA 17120 from November 8, 2014 - February 15, 2015.

It is fascinating to me that I like both approaches to watercolor and that I actually need both to keep me happy.  Do you find you have any interesting quirks in your approach to painting?  I'd love to hear about them.

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