"Glossai Pyros" 18x24" Oils over acrylic on panel
(detail view | purchase info)
For the fifth year running, I attended a fall painting retreat last year. It continues to be an amazing highlight of each year. You'd think I would get blasé about it, but it's still a pinch-me sort of experience.
All but one year, I've worked on a studio piece, not a client illustration. As if fate was shaking its finger at me for the one year I brought a client commission to work on, it turns out that that particular painting got stuck in development limbo and has still not seen the light of day, despite being done 3 years ago!
(L:) Hard at work. Lauren will kill me for this photo, but it was the only good one of me working
This year, I was hugely busy leading up to the retreat. I spent a few months on a big, frustrating project that in the end went nowhere. The retreat landed right towards the end of it, but I certainly didn't want to spend my retreat working on it. I had an idea, but the time was approaching and I had not so much as a thumbnail, though I did have an idea in my head. I was getting worried that I would show up unprepared.
The weekend before leaving, I contacted a couple of models hoping to book a last-minute reference shoot I could take with me. I also reached out to a young lady I'd met a month before. I had asked if she'd be willing to model down the road, thankfully, and she was. She was the only one to respond with such short notice. As she lived out in the area I'd be in, we arranged for her to come down on Monday, while at the retreat. Whew.
The first day of the retreat is not always that productive. I brought a small side thing to work on a bit, but there are only a few hours after setup to work until dinner happens. Being everyone's first day in, we're all eager to catch up with one another. Afterwards, my model showed up and with the help of Lauren Panepinto--book designer extraordinaire--we set about shooting reference. Poor Lauren, she spends a lot of time attending photoshoots with illustrators, and here she was having to do it again on her "off" time. Well, it was a working retreat.
Prior to the trip, I ordered some string LED lights, and did a couple of self-tests to see if they would work. They don't let out a lot of light, being like very thin glow sticks. A tripod and time exposure and a dark room were necessary. With Lauren's help, I wrapped the LED lighting around the model, she'd hold it in place, and I'd go set the camera, shoot, review and reshoot as needed. We tried a lot of variations and got a few fantastic shots. I was thrilled by the results, and that evening got to work.
As with "A Fractured Mind" the year before, I set to work with no prior drawing. I had a board pre-primed and toned with a mixture of acrylic Raw Sienna mixed with a bit of gesso (if I recall correctly). From there I went straight into oils, drawing out the scene in oils directly on the board. As I've been happy with all my recent attempts to work like this, directly on the panel, I hope I can find more opportunities to do so in the future.
(L:) End of day 1 underpainting
The next morning, I had an under painting in Mars Violet with a bit of Alizarin Crimson in it. I thought I knew what I was going for, but just in case I grabbed a small scrap of primed paper and did a tiny little color study. I don't do these often in this way, but it became a very simple and undetailed map of where I was headed.
(L:) Color study, 2.25x1.5" Oil on paper
The notes indicate that the background would be painted in a mixture of Raw Sienna, Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Sienna, (Gamblin) Chromatic Black, and a touch of White
A few people came over that day and made especially positive comments about this little scribble. I thought it was rather funny, I mean they're all accomplished painters and artists in their own right, so compliments can be hard to come by sometimes. This often happens with very, very loose sketches. Perhaps it's that the viewer can at this stage import into the image all the ways in which they can see it turning out more awesome than the artist will actually make it. I mean, the artist rarely hits his own vision, too.
But objectively, there's nothing really there. Ah well, I'll take a compliment where I can get one.
That said, as the piece went on during the week, the feedback was generally positive, which I appreciated. The vibe is always so fun and positive with these fine folks that it really would make a pretty wonderful day-in-day-out work environment, and this from someone who can go all week without saying a word to anyone, if left alone, and be just fine (arguably).
This year, the retreat moved from where it's been held for about ten years to a new venue in rural Pennsylvania, which was gorgeous, and the shared work room had large windows with a beautiful view. As I arrived first, along with Scott Brundage (who has suffered driving me to and from every year), I snagged this prime spot. Maybe an hour or two at sundown the sun would beam straight into my eyeholes, and we had to lower the blinds a bit, but really, it made for a wonderful week to have this out behind my easel.
(L:) Sometime on day two, background blocked in
From there it was just about executing. It was an exhilarating painting that came together last second, with the help of a great model and friend, and painted among inspiring artists, with their feedback. I got about 80% of the way through by the week's end and polished up the rest here and there after.
You can see a large view of it and purchase information for this painting here.