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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

Crystal Decanters, photographed with my Nikon Coolpix L120 set on default, transferred
to the computer picture program and enhanced in Jasc Photo Album.  I should think that
all these programs must be synchronized to get the best print.
This photo is a reject. It's too painterly and not
sharp enough, but it would be fun to paint blown up ala Chuck Close .
on a backdrop of Willem DeKooning.

I've gotten myself into weeks of something totally foreign to my aesthics!  The Venetian Technique is Photographic Realism. After one class,  I know one semester will not yield one finished painting.  The Venetian Technique--translated to this week, in this decade, in this century-- is highly dependent on  photographic skills--which I have a few, but not on the level required to get a high definition reference photograph suitable for the course.  I do not own extensive Photoshop software. My camera is nice, but not over-the-top.  I'm sitting here the day after class one, hovered over my owner's manual and surfing digital photographic information online--like What's ISO? What's" White Balance?  How many pixels in high definition resolution? My homework is to come up with a subject I won't mind spending weeks or months painting and a reference photo of it that's as sharp and clear as they come.

What better reference for a monochromatic
underpainting than a black and white?
Why struggle?
Driving home yesterday, I decided a definite prerequisite for this class is a class on digital photography. The instructor offered his photographic services--he has a Minolta D7 or something; it's in my notes--and he also owns Photoshop and all of its software.  But, being the stubborn, self reliant person that I am,  I prefer to rely on myself and what I can do with what I have.  What's the sense in learning a technique that I would have to depend on others for the reference or buy a lot of fancy equipment?   

Having not taken Digital Photography and barely understanding my camera's menu.  All I can do is fool around with various simple subjects till I get a photo that will allow me to take it through the steps of the Venetian Technique.  They are very easy--actually the Venetian technique strickes me as more of a method or just a way to start a highly realistic painting. 

1. Take a high definition photograph of a subject you love so much, you will be glad to spend months painting it.  I do love my shoes, but I think that's too complicated.  I need a subject that I can set up to photograph with a dark background and one light source.

 Last night, I thought my crystal decanters might be interesting to work on for a period of time.  So I washed them (it's been ages since the last time), put together a still life set, mounted the camera to a tripod and clicked away. Then...

2. transferred the photos to computer, cropped, enhanced  and blew up in proportion to the canvas I bought--24 x 26" (small compared to my classmates'). Then rejected it. it was too complicated, as you can see. If it hadn't been,  I could have proceeded:

3. Draw a grid over the photograph.  When I've done this before, I put the photo in a cellophane sleeve and drew the grid on that--that is if I cared about the photo--if I didn't, I drew the grid directly on the photograph.  Incidently, while Richard Schmid favors alla prima or the direct method, the Venetian Technique is an indirect method. These are two techniques are total opposites. (I'm hoping I will find a way to combine the two.  The decanters would be that kind of subject).

4.  Using a 2 or 3H sharp pencil, draw a proportionate grid on the canvas. 

5.  Carefully do detailed contour drawing on the canvas. It's important to be accurate and light handed with the pencil--says me who is heavy handed and impatient.

6. When the pencil contour is finished, go over the lines with a fluid oil paint in a dark color with a number 1 sable pointer. Burnt Umbra and Ultramarine are the darkest paints on the required palette.

7.  When the drawing is completely dry, tone the canvas in preparation for the monochromatic underpainting.

8. Totally finish the underpainting so it could stand on its own if you didn't care to go further--which I may not. 

White Fountain, oil, Todd Burroughs
I see class being over sometime during the painting of the underpainting--or at best the next step when local color is laid in.  There were clues.  There were previous students who were taking the class again who had paintings in various stages of progress.  Over-sized still lifes seemed to be a favorite subject. One woman was painting a bouquet of flowers.  Dark backgrounds were the norm.
I saw one portrait, but the artist was a real beginner.  I don't understand why the canvases have to be so large. Having a practical nature, I think 16 x 20, 18 x 24 would be fine for people new to this method, but Todd said working larger makes it easier.  Could be?  But not after class and having to tote the large wet painting through the building and the parking lot.  I was surprised the association didn't have the drying facilities that the colleges do. 

So on with my quest for a simple, sharp photographic composition for my first endeavor.  The crystal decanters are way too involved. They look to be a full years work.  Todd's beautiful White Fountain took him eight months--and he knew what he was doing. 

ALSO OF INTEREST:  the return students had Kinko blowups of their photographs the size of architectural plans.  Then they also had sections blown up so they could see every detail down to the  twig on a tree.   They all seemed sane, but I'll need some proof before bringing anyone home. What have I gotten myself into?



  1. "Venetian School" a clever title for a painting course photorealistic !!!
    Now take the best out of this experience that is far away from your way you doing / feeling art!
    More than a new camera  or a new graphics suite, they must explain well how light works only on one side, 45 degrees, and the dark background to get lights similar to those of Caravaggio (Caravaggio did not, however, the camera ...) for your future painting photorealistic !!!

    1. I'll survive. It's good to know other ways "to start." We're not restricted by lighting, but high contrast with limited midtones is traditional. Handling the paint with finesse is an objective and this is the class that stresses that. Plus: I am out of my studio and out among peers. I was getting a lot reclusive and that's not healthy.

  2. I have no doubts that you will take away so much from this experience. You'll find your way and you'll make it your own.
    Then, when you're done... get back to what you do best. Painting Linda Roth style which in my opinion is far better than photo realism.

    1. I must say I do admire the patience and control photo realistic artists have. A little more patience wouldn't hurt me a bit and having control over our mediums is a must. I wouldn't have signed up if I didn't think the course had something to offer. I was surprised however about the added requirement of photographic skill--or ownership of skillful equipment--the technique required. I'm pretty sure the Venetians in the 16th century didn't have the technology we have today to make our work easier. Seems to me, we should be able to do the calibre of work they did using a so so photograph. We do know how to draw and can see shapes and textures.

    2. Well said. You might pose that question in class- it would be interesting to hear the instructors take on it.

    3. Writing this post has clarified a lot for me with regards to the differences between the VT and PR--not much. Edges perhaps? Limited palette perhaps? I'd have to make a museum run to be sure. In the Venetian style paintings I saw class members doing, the edges were less crisp and the lighting is from a single source. I haven't examined PR enough to talk about the light sources. I'm not a fan. Anyway. I am spending some time with my Nikon Coolpix L110. It was a reasonable priced digital with high resolution from what I've read the last hours. However, you know there's a difference between the picture as seen in the camera, then transferred to the computer, then sent to the printer. All the devices give you a different take and several computer adjustments have to be made to get the printer to print some image close to what was in the camera. There are devices however which synchronize all your picture taking devices. I just haven't splurged on one yet--and maybe never? They are about $500. Between the class and upgrading my paints and brushes, that's enough spent this month--this year. It's no wonder there are five digit price tags on these paintings. They are costly in materials and very costly in time. Eight months to paint one picture is incredible. But when it comes to portraiture. I am positive that the majority of folks prefer the Venetian style over the gestural that I, a painterly painter, love. Maybe it's time to make a buck--or at least be able to. :-))

  3. You're very curious and always ready to learn new things. I agree it's really good to paint with others sometimes, I do it too and enjoy every moment of painting and exchanging with others. Good luck Linda!

    1. I met a gal named Mary, a guy named Joe (he's a fixture in this class), a gal name Terry who has never painted with oils before, just acrylics, and a gal named Patrice who is almost finished with the painting she started last semester. There's about ten in the class. It takes a while to form peer group friendships. I might have to take another class or five? But in the Spring. I avoid leaving my studio in the dead of winter. That's a time to hibernate around here and fly solo with the information I will file away the next twelve weeks.

  4. Oh BOY! Chin-up Linda. Stride in there and own the room.
    Grid from a photo - I cannot think of anything more confining. Back in the day they would use live models or objects. ..but I do like what you acknowledged about being with your peers. It can be a solitary life as an artist. And sometimes you will learn more from the others in class about something of interest relating to art, different than what you are taking.
    I think you will find the difference between photo realism and the Venetian School will be edge control...subtle transition values instead of knife sharp ones. Totally valuable skill no matter how you paint.
    I will be thinking of you.

    1. I got that right off. I figure a dry, clean brush should be kept handy. The edges were not crisp or Chiariscuro; they were discreetly softened. What I loved about Todd's latest painting was it's poetry. He had several images combined to express an allegory: his daughter dressed in a tutu, dancing down a country road away from the foreground toward a dirigible. there's a sharp scissors in her hand. The hand holding the scissor is in first thing we see. It's in line with the back of her head. Then we see the dirigible. Very poetic. Thought provoking. This is not photo realism. It leans towards Dali. It showed the literary potential that the Venetian approach offers. Very powerful. A museum quality painting.

      Alas, I am not poetic even though I often use metaphors to prove a point. Right now I have to be a photographer. I keep looking at everything around the house and judging whether it, as subject, will hold my interest as long as this experience will take. I am also looking for symbolic meaning in items. I refuse to do anything with stuff from the kitchen. :-)) Overdone.

  5. I am sure you will do great in this class. This photograph is really beautiful. I agree...I would never ever want to paint it ---but there is no question that it is a compelling image!

    1. I have no doubt I will do well. Worries --or first day out of my studio jitters--are gone. After two years of renewing my acquaintance with oils and a summer this year studying Schmid, this will be the other polarity. I'm talking about reference photos here. I don't think they have to be that high of quality to do a near photographic representation. I have drawn all my life. My eyes know what they see and how to look at something--even if the photo is a bit off. Edges seem to be the difference. The edges I saw on Monday were harder. My next question, next class is what happened to chiaroscuro? Being a tad nearsighted, Chiariscuro was never a problem for me. The paintings I saw were 20/20. Fading back seems to be done with values, dark fading into dark? I better go back. I didn't learn it all. :-))

  6. Oh, dear. I also don't see where photo realism comes into it. Did the Venetian painters have photos? The paintings aren't photo realistic, so how will it help? I would have expected to have a model sumptuously swathed in silks and Satins! Learn a technique as it would have been applied, then take it away and play with It! I actually think an ultra - realistic photo is very off putting. You need to put it way over the other side of the room. Having said all that, I envy you this experience, which, I have no doubt you will glean everything you possibly can, and eagerly await the next chapter.

    1. Well when the brushstroke is undetectable, isn't that photorealistic? There are no brushstrokes on a photograph. :-)). Don't get the wrong idea. The paintingsI saw were amazing--very different from what I love about Schmid's work--what I love to do when I am painting. I am anxious to begin. BUT I NEED A CRISP, SHARPLY FOCUSED PHOTOGRAPH OF SOMETHING I WON'T MIND SPENDING TWELVE WEEKS ON AND MORE. Crystal isn't it. I like people. Maybe a self portrait--not all dressed up and swell, but haggard and worn and full of character. I do find age more engaging than youth. Also, when learning something new, it's a good idea to KISS, (keep it simple stupid).