The Figure in the Landscape: Summer 2012

I just completed a 2-week, six-day workshop on the figure in landscape. I have decided that this year I will concentrate on painting figures and faces, so in June, I reviewed portraiture with Jeff Burke at Hipbone studio (see the previous post). And in July,  I took this workshop.

Our schedule was fairly routine: We did a lot of gestural sketching of the models during the early part of the day and then, just before lunch, we began to lay in the primary painting of the day.

By 4:30, we were supposed to have a somewhat finished painting, in my case on an 18 x 24″ Masonite board. The pace of the sketching and painting was fast, purposely so, as our instructor wanted us to work on the whole scene and not get hung up on specifics of the figure.

The first week we painted in Laurelhurst Park, which is lush and green and lively. It’s an important Portland park, designed by a student and colleague of Frederick Olmstead, using his ideas of what urban parks should be. Laurelhurst is on the National Historic Register because it has kept the basic Olmstead design intact. It’s a magical place to paint.

JOU, Summer Workshop 2012 Day1, 18 x 24″, oil on canvas, 2012

Above is the painting from Day 1, not revised thus far.

Not only is Laurelhurst beautiful, but the models were beautiful, and skilled. It isn’t easy to pose out of doors, even when the weather is fine. We always had two models. We chose one of two different scenes, and the models would alternate between them; the artists would paint both models serially, seeing them together only briefly at the beginning of the long poses. A small group of models, four altogether, reappeared in various couplets during the the 6 days of the workshop.

JOU, Workshop Summer 2012 Day 2, 18 x 24, oil on board, 2012

On day 2, after an extended discussion of color, Impressionism and post-Impressionism, I decided to use arbitrary color, specifically blue skin tones. When I finished at 4:30, I rather disliked the blue skins, but later came to think they worked in a peculiar sort of way. Which, come to think of it, is what was said in the final critique.

Day 3 we came back to the park. I felt more and more at home with two models and the pace of the drawing/painting:

JOU, Workshop summer 2012 Day 3, 18 x 24″, oil on board, 2012

This is the only painting from the workshop that I worked further in the studio. The basics are the same, but some of the colors got pushed in one direction or another. And the instructor had told the male model to sit on a stool toward the end of the session. I painted him in, but later took the seated figure back out.

The sessions were held three days of the week, and the second week arrived with threatening weather, so we moved indoors, to a renovated warehouse in NW Portland.

[Here’s a 2006 article about the warehouse and its primary purpose, to house an extensive model train set-up. Since the article was written in 2006, Larry, the owner, has designed and gardened a natural landscape outside the warehouse for the trains to move through. We got to make use of that landscape on Day 6 of the workshop.]

JOU, Workshop Summer 2012 Day 4 (#1), 24 x 18″, oil on Masonite, 2012

JOU, Workshop Summer 2012 Day 4 (#2), 18 x 24″, oil on Masonite, 2012

On Day 4 (see the paintings above) I began the large painting with a very dark toned board. I usually paint some under-color on my boards, but the darkness of my color choice threw me off. At some point I simply couldn’t “see” the painting any more and the instructor suggested I start a new one. I think I worked on #2 for about 15 minutes before I had to quit altogether. Again, neither of these paintings has been retouched — yet. The computer may have lightened #1 more than it appears in real life — that under-tone was a real pain.

On day 5, we continued in the warehouse, as it threatened rain again. The instructor began with an interesting challenge, having us draw a sketchy door and mat at the top of our papers. We then began quick sketches, as he moved the models closer and closer to the group. What that did was to enforce our sense of spatial distancing through size — the closer the models got to us, of course the larger they appeared. The original door and mat served as reference points for our sketches. A very effective way to make a point, albeit exhausting.

JOU, Workshop summer 2012 day 5 (#1), 12 x 16″, oil on Masonite, 2012

JOU, Summer Workshop 2012 Day 5 (#2), 16 x 12″, oil on Masonite, 2012

For the day 5 paintings I decided to use some materials I had worked on earlier in the summer. I had been painting with greens and had a number of boards whose surfaces were basically 57 or so versions of the hue. These were 12 x 16″ boards, smaller than the others I had brought to the workshop.

The night before Day 5, I scraped and sanded the small green boards, muting the greens, and the next day I used them to make studies for what I hoped would be a larger panel with the wild green undertone. I thought this intrusive undertone would force me to integrate the figures and landscape even as they were separated by doors and walls. I was determined to bring the landscape into the warehouse.

It was a disappointing attempt (I’m showing Day 5 works only out of honesty and a need to be complete). The greens were a muddle, distracting me; the rocking chair one of the models sat in seemed to defeat me; the composition got out of hand. In short I felt these two studies went way astray. Because of this I decided against bringing in a larger green-toned board the next day.

JOU, Workshop summer 2012, Day 6, 18 x 24″, oil on canvas, 2012

I think this final work is the painting I’m most fond of, although of course, it needs more work. We were at the warehouse again, but the weather, while cloudy, wasn’t as threatening, so we went outside into the exotic garden beside the warehouse. The scene included landscape and industrial elements — both of which I’m very familiar with. The two models had been with us off and on for the last five sessions, so they were quite familiar, thus easier to paint. And we didn’t do any preliminary sketches, so I was less exhausted when the process began. In short, this is a work I shall revise, with the thought that I can turn it into a successful final product.

To summarize this experience: I had begun hoping to gain more clarity about the figure within the landscape. I finished with no more ideas about the interactions of humans and landscape  than I had when I started. Figure painting is as stylized as figure drawing, or at least it was in this workshop. There was no instructional attempt to find the relationships between the figures and the landscape in the modeling set-up and my feeble attempts were pretty much failures. On the other hand, I gained confidence in my ability to paint the figure, at least in this Impressionistic mode. I played with color in ways I might not have without the workshop. And I may have a painting or two that I like from the process.

The critique session, begun about 2:30 and finishing at 6 or so on that last day, included comments about my work as “surreal” and “innovative”, (although “not really.”) My own critique about the workshop says that I now have a clearer comprehension of where my weaknesses with the figure lie, and, more importantly, that I have not resolved the issue of the figure in landscape. So I have my work cut out for me over the next 9 or 10 months, as I work further with the figure and with the figure in landscape, and continue to play with the landscapes I love. –June