Last Friday, the studio space shared by the Old Town Artists was well-lit and ready to welcome its twice weekly guests. In addition to offering very affordable space (available now) adjacent to downtown St. Paul and a sense of community, the Old Town Artists offer open artworking sessions on Wednesdays and Fridays.
I had recently agreed to start helping out on Fridays, and was running late. I screeched into the parking lot, only to find – to my horror – a couple of older artists lugging their portable easels and supplies with some difficulty toward the front door of the ACVR Warehouse building. Confronted with fellow artists in distress, I did anyone would do: pushed past them at top speed, so I could claim I was there on time.
Ron, a studiomate, was already waiting at the door. I sheepishly offered to ‘meet people up in the studio’ and took my leave.
As fate would have it, the shenanigans were only just beginning for the night. Turnout was low – especially in the model department. At five after, the sitter still hadn’t shown up. Sensing an opportunity to redeem my irresponsible behavior from earlier, I volunteered to sit in as model for the night. Luckily for all, Fridays are clothed “portrait” sessions. No matter. Just as I was beginning to get used to the idea of two hours spent in stony-faced silence, the model walked in – with another guy.
The model, it turned out, had fallen ill and was unable to secure a replacement through the agent on such short notice, so he convinced a co-worker from his day job to come and sit for him. The poor co-worker, Robert, looked like he had tried to resist, but had been unable to fake an excuse on the spot. Next time he will surely remember that he has an appointment for ten root canals, or the birthday party for his sister’s friend’s parakeet.
Anyway, Robert was a natural. He graciously assumed a seated position on the model stand, and locked eyes with that blue cross. Free from my duties, I took up a position near the middle of the room, wet my watercolors, and started to paint.
I laid in a quick pencil sketch on the watercolor paper. Then, I paused to mentally plot out my plan of attack. I started with washes of cool and warm colors to establish lights and shadows. White paper was left clean in only the few places where I wanted the lightest highlights: one side of the nose, the forehead, and the hair. I left the eyes free of paint, too, but only temporarily. The whites of a person’s eyes are actually in shadow most of the time, due to our neanderthal-like brows.
The rest of the picture was built up over the next hour or so. The model was afforded breaks every 25 minutes, and while the paint dried on each layer of this portrait, I would switch back to the chair picture from the previous post. Therefore, the amount of time spent actually painting this image was probably under an hour.
The most time was spent getting the relative color, tone, and shapes of the face correct. The paint was applied loosely, but deliberately. By the time that was done, the ruddy-complected visage stared back, dominating the picture. The thing to remember is that so much of what we see is relative. The face became much less gaudy once the even darker shirt and jacket were added in. They balance it out.
Overall, I’m pleased with the results. I’m especially proud of the speed and purpose with which I worked, not getting too hung up with details or trying to make corrections. So, although Robert was no spring chicken, there is a freshness to this face that comes through.
Next time: More mugging!