Painting with Rock Stars…or would they be Paint Stars?

Last week renowned artist Sherrie McGraw visited Provo for a series of lectures at BYU. She also spent a little of her precious time in the Bonneville Beach Studio for an informal painting session.

Bill asked if I wanted to join in. I said I did, but any time I was not drawing, or the model went on break, I scurried for the shadows and looked on with trembling reverence as the north light streaming in softly illuminated these two rock stars of the art world (was that an angel chorus?).

Seriously. Both Sherrie and Bill in one studio. I will admit I was very, very intimidated. Working alongside them, I felt like the clumsy kindergartner holding the fat blunt crayon. I could feel them in my mind looking down on me, “Oh, she’s drawing. How precious.”

Here are the results after about three hours. Our model, a lawyer and friend of Bill’s, was very animated during the session, which certainly made it interesting. The first painting (below) is Sherrie’s, the middle is Bill’s, and the drawing belongs to yours truly.

In other news, if you haven’t picked up a copy of Southwest Art’s September issue you should! I was featured in their annual 21 Under 31 article, a spotlight on the best of emerging artists who “represent the future of realism.”

You can also read the article online here and be sure to check out the fabulous talent of the other artists chosen. Although, compared to the opulence of awards and recognition garnered by Bill and Sherrie, this article seems like my equivalent of a gold star sticker. But you know what? We all have to start somewhere!

Fruits Basket

Welp, 2014 hasn’t lessened my stress load but I’ve seized the new year with fervor and ambition. Artist Mia Bergeron’s most recent blog post has given me a lot to think about recently. I am both very private and very much an introvert. If I didn’t love Chipotle so much I would probably be a recluse (Seriously. Whenever Bryan and I have to pay a bill we mournfully enumerate how much Chipotle we could have eaten for that amount). Being an artist is both incredible and wretched. I think the job description defines a very sensitive type of person. Mia is fearless in her portrayal of the artist’s angst. She says it the way it is, and in the process of her reflection she’s given me a lot to think about and relate to, and has driven me to do more, especially when I don’t feel like it.

One of her goals is to stay in the studio an hour longer than is comfortable. For me this feels so big, because I am already emotionally and mentally drained before I go into the studio. It’s hard to keep up the momentum when I don’t have a lot to begin with. This month I’ve gritted my teeth and committed to it though, staying longer or going in when I’m plumb tuckered. And I’ve been pleasantly encouraged by the change in my work.

Recently I have focused on painting petite still lifes. I’ve been wanting more life experience and there’s a lot less pressure painting a piece of fruit or a teacup than a portrait. This focus has also given me more practice working on ABS and understanding how to use it. I’ve also played around with brushwork, edges, and gutsier paint which is HUGE for me. I am usually obsessed with creating a glossy smooth surface and there would be days I would spend more time trying to remove a hair or piece of lint or fingerprint from a painting than well, painting. It was Bill who reminded me art buyers buy art for those bits of painting debris. It says this was created by another human being. Something you would certainly never see in a print.

Here’s a demonstration of a recent painting I completed.

This is the ABS panel adhered to 1/2″ Gatorfoam. I barely used any Oleogel when laying in the drawing, mostly just the Transparent Red Oxide with a large hog bristle.

This is my first pass with color which took about fifteen minutes. I got Michael Harding Oils for Christmas (woot!) and this is my first painting using them. I think they’re going to take some getting used to, though. The colors feel so saturated and luminous, which of course is awesome. I just don’t know how to handle the awesomeness yet.

This stage is where things get ugly and rather embarrassing. It’s like the pimply brace-faced middle school kid. It’s just a phase, but whenever someone wants to see my progress IT NEVER FAILS THIS IS THE STAGE THEY COME IN TO SEE. And, like the middle school youth, they will always see the awkward phase and never the final version. So keep in mind I’m baring my process to you. No judging until you see the swan.

I used a soft dry sable to pounce at the painting, softening edges and redefining forms. I drape a stack of shop towels on my thigh to wipe my brush and not muddy my paint (a Bill Whitaker trick).

I do steps #2 and #3 again. Rinse and repeat. Each time my paint gets thicker, my strokes smaller, and my pouncing barely touching the surface of the painting.

And here’s the finished piece. The middle pear was distracting so I took it out. The pair of pears compliment each other much more nicely, I think.

Here’s a sampling of some of my other petite still lifes. I’ve decided to not focus so much on what I should do when I paint but to embrace what I naturally want to do. For me that means softness to the extreme and no hard or defining edges.

Painter’s Polka

Here at the Whitaker Studio we started a new live model session. Bill has always been open sharing everything he knows and seized the opportunity to demonstrate some key painting points:

1. Don’t begin a painting by drawing in the lines, because they will become “Holy Writ.” In other words, we as artists tend to grow very fond of the things we draw. We smugly pat ourselves on the back after rendering The Most Perfect Eye Ever Drawn In the Entire Universe even though it was drawn in the wrong place. We will then proceed to create an entire drawing on a poor foundation until the whole thing falls apart (but hey! Splendid eyeball, remember?). If you drew it once, you can draw it again. I used to feel like a failure if I didn’t get the drawing perfect on the first round. Now, I wipe it down and start over like a boss (okay. Maybe the third time around I start to feel a tingle of Woeisme Syndrome). When beginning a painting Bill suggests blocking in big shapes with a big brush. Use patches of color and value to draw.

2. Paint against the form. Marks should be measured, but also fresh and unexpected. And don’t blend the life out of it. Let some of those swishy, scratchy marks show.

3. Use thin washes of dirty color when laying in the drawing. Then use thick patches of clean color to build the form. This is an old master’s trick.

4. Move around! Don’t aimlessly noodle one spot. Paint with purpose. Move around the form. It’s also important to move in front of the easel, or do the “Painter’s Dance.” Bill calls it the “Painter’s Polka.” He says this is how he gets his daily exercise.

Here’s the completed demo. This was rendered in less than thirty minutes. In the bottom left corner Bill illustrated a boring “Barn Door Painter,” and then showed how marks should be painted.

Bill also discussed not getting caught up in details too soon. He says this is much easier for guys. Girls, on the other hand, just love to get in there and noodle eyelashes. Each mark was made to give the impression of the form, knowing full well it may or may not need altered.

Here’s the palette Bill used: Ivory Black, Raw Umber, Transparent Red Oxide, Asphaltum, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Terra Verte, Ultramarine Blue, and Lead White.

After the demo, it was our turn. Here’s my setup. Our beautiful model, Rachelle, is in the background. This was rendered in the first twenty minute session.

Here’s Brendan’s setup, an absurdly talented student of the Whitaker Studio.

During break, I snapped a couple more photos of Bill’s studio.

Here’s a detail shot of my current favorite Bill Whitaker painting. Obviously the photo doesn’t do it justice. In life you can see the luminous depth of her skin. He truly is the master of skin tones.

Painting with north light is ideal as the light is constant and does not fluctuate throughout the day.

Brendan using clean patches of color.

Here’s where I stopped at the conclusion of the day.

Rather than wait on the edge of your seat for this painting’s update, get up and do the Painter’s Polka.