Friday, January 16, 2009


There is nothing better than when a beautiful model walks in the room and you just can't wait to paint her. Itch....itch..itch.

There is nothing worse than being the teacher in that room  knowing you will have to paint her really fast so you can deliver some good instruction to your students who are also painting 'said' model. I rarely get in the "zone" painting for class instruction purposes. I am not showing my best work but I do feel it important that teachers paint. I would avoid a teacher who never paints in a class like seven day old lox. I  had a couple of those in the early days and they were definitely fishy. I can't believe with the poor instruction they got away with. I didn't know any better.

I do sometimes wonder why I do it though. Students rarely watch me paint for more than a few minutes. It baffles me to be honest.  I understand they want to get on with their own work (really I do!)   but, the thing is, the problems they are facing are the ones I am facing just on a different level. A lot is lost in the learning classroom curve if you don't watch an instructor paint.  

Anyway, today was one of those great days when it all came together, the experience as luscious as a jellied eel. The model, wonderful Stevie, entered the room in a dress she had made and tie-died herself.

 I went "Uh-oh". I am really going to want to paint her. Should I even bother?  Will this be an exercise in frustration for me or, if I get on a creative role, a deprivation to the students somehow. I know from experience it is such a juggling act, the left and right brain slugging it out on the teaching tightrope.

Anyway the luck of the teaching gods were with me and the students and it all turned out great.
 I was pretty happy with the results. It was the best UNWATCHED demo of my teaching career....SSHHHHH....

A big thank you to all my students this semester at LAAFA which finished today.  There was some wonderful work going on, with or without watching me, but I have got to find something to blog about so I take advantage of you here. It is a privilege to share your art journey. And I smell pretty good thanks to Guerlain. Not fishy at all.

Monday, January 12, 2009


There isn't an artist around the L.A. scene over the last 10 years who hasn't painted the enigmatic art model Sara Streeter.   People drool for her. The TV show "Nip and Tuck" used her for a huge billboard on Sunset Blvd. for goodness sakes. 

It is hard to put your finger on her really. For one thing she is as thin as a pin. Transparent skin. Balletic body and a mysterious face that is beautiful in a not obvious way, more European than cookie cutter L.A. She is reserved, clearly intelligent and super professional arriving with the most amazing outfits usually.
I hate models that have been doing the art circuit for a while and they get that haughty BORED look. That look that says "I rather be at Taco Bell eating a bean burrito right now than modeling for you."

Sara is interested in what she does still.

 She also hasn't aged a day in the years I have been painting her which annoys me because I certainly have - just by the sheer volumes of squinty frowns it has taken over a decade trying to capture her magic on canvas. NOT.

So, there she was modeling for my teaching class at LAAFA last week and again this Sunday at the school's open  house, doing what she does best in her most muse-ful way. The demo I did in my class I really rather liked. I never like my paintings of Sara. I just never quite 'capture' her it seems. Looking around, a lot of people seem to have this problem. Her likeness isn't easy to come by, her elusiveness perhaps her endless appeal like the art muses that went before.

It got me thinking. I went back into my studio cupboard and pulled out a few STUDIES I have done of her, all painted from life, over the last decade. The good, the bad and the ugly. My fault, not hers. What makes something work for an artist, and what doesn't? Why do I like some studies and not others? Why do I paint really well sometimes, and then like a Dunkin' Donut others? No offense to them.

I place these studies  in the order I think I did them, the top one being the most recent. A few are really heinous but they do provide a little retrospective of my artist view of her as I tried on new techniques and kept on trying. That is why I tell everyone, KEEP your early sketches from life. I have kept all of mine. They are a hilarious hoot, the early ones,  and a sight for sore eyes. I had no idea I was that bad at the time.

Funny thing is, the very first one I did of Sara I REALLY like (last one in row). I don't paint like that anymore but it is a strong head and most certainly HER.  Almost jarring in its 'in your face-ness". 

Then you take all these lessons, read all these books and too much "thinking" takes over. Paralysis by Analysis.  I think I am finally getting back to painting without thinking so much. I am also painting in a less literal way. I don't want to paint exactly what I see anymore. 

Now if I could just stop the ageing process I would really be onto something.

(All images - single sitting)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


I just wanted to say a thank you to my new friends at The San Fernando Valley Art Club who were just so darn charming toward me at my portrait demo for them last night.

I was amazed as the membership crowd just got bigger and bigger with over 80 artists filling the room to watch me paint my beautiful artist friend Diane.

I hope I did OK...nice things certainly were said  but maybe the coffee was spiked. Someone even said it was like John Singer Sargent was in the room. I wanted to kiss her. Everyone was incredibly warm and generous and I enjoyed judging the members' art competition. Some very fine work there. Obviously a thriving art group, some 65 years old.

To paint in public is not for the faint-hearted; over 80 pairs of artists' eyes watching you, random questions galore, a video camera recording your every word, and your image put up on a huge screen. Wish I had done my roots. You are really doing performance art or a "stunt" as Mr. Everett Raymond Kinstler often calls them and he should know. He can write the book on portrait demos. 

This demo was done in a total of one hour and 15 minutes with just one break.  18 x 24 Phew!

Here are some tips in case you do one:

Have a pee before you start

Don't drink caffeine just that your hand shaking or the video?

Wear something that looks good from behind.

Draw, draw, draw ahead of time. No rusty nails...they come after! Hic!

Make friends in the audience before you start. Who wants a hostile audience?

Don't swear when you drop your brush. That pesky microphone.

Know your model ahead of time. Know what they will be wearing. No crazy kaftan surprises.

Give out LOTS of free stuff. People always want free stuff. I know I do.

Keep it simple stupid! Don't get clever.  Paint what you KNOW. 

Think what you would want to get from a demo. Endless stories told by the artist about him/herself OR endless tips that you can use in  your painting? Durrrr...

Have your cards and mailing list handy...that's what stunts are for.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


I had the most extraordinary afternoon yesterday in the company of  Melanie Gifford,  an art  research conservator in the scientific research department at The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Now this is THE rare person on the planet who is allowed to take paint fragments off a 17th Century Vermeer painting and study them under a microscope- along with other master artist paintings deemed necessary to go under her scientific gaze.

But yesterday it was all about the pearl ear-ring  master from the  Delft as Gifford was giving a talk to a packed room, including me, at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena around it's current loan from Washington of Vermeer's painting "A Lady Writing". It is a gem. On view until Feb. 2, 2009 so don't miss it.

When the talk came to an end all too quickly, I had this desire to rush up to her and offer anything, to take here ANYWHERE for dinner, the most expensive restaurant in town if she chose, just so I could keep hearing her talk, in her soothing intelligent tone, about Vermeer. Instead I had to settle for buying yet another Vermeer book, just released,  from the museum store.  A poor second to the conversation I would like to have had with this very clever lady. 

I wonder what happens if a person who has a job like this shows up to work in a bad mood after a lousy Starbuck's or row with the kids in the carpool,  and then doesn't feel like working that day. Does she sling the Vermeer aside for the day and browse on Ebay instead? Or what happens if she had too much wine the night before and  takes too big a chip off a Vermeer? How does one prevent that? And should we really be taking chips off Vermeer under any circumstances? I personally think not although Gifford did say the chip is taken from an area already chipping.

Why do we need to know how he did it to such a degree? The mystery of Vermeer is part of his magic. He was virtually unknown until the mid-1800's. Died in dire straights, almost penniless. Well, the packed room wanted to know every darn detail of how Vermeer did it down to that nerdy Vermeer groupie with unwashed hair in the room (Yes, me) who asked about the possible use of Venetian Turpentine in his medium just because if she knew, then she could paint just like him.  As if it is all in the tools and mediums!

I have read a lot about Vermeer so had heard a lot of it before. Also, Gifford wasn't one to go off on wild tangent speculation being a scientist. And I so wanted her to. When she asked  me what was my 'source" for him using Venetian Turpentine,   I froze.  She was being quite serious. There was no real discussion if I didn't have a source backed up endless research papers.

So for all you wannabes out there, here are a few Vermeer technique-y things from the talk:

Worked on a grey ground

Worked his underpainting up in transparent earth browns over the grey, building up the lights with white

Sometimes used a pinkish ground...hmmmm

Underpainted using coarsely textured paint in parts, especially the darks, for e.g. charcoal black then moving on to a more refined black

Used Linseed Oil. She doubted Venetian Turpentine.

Liked color harmonies, especially yellow/blue. Well, I knew that!

Used warm browns under his paintings of blue cloths for shadow area

Vermillion and green earth used in skin color added to lead white, other colors too

There is another painting underneath Girl in a Red Hat. That's my favorite painting ever (I share this with artist Chuck Close). Don't chip away to find it. Please. Please.

Used small round brushes ( squirrel hair-ish) with soft tips and they were called "pencils" in those days, not brushes

Stiff bristle brushes were a 19th Century invention.

It seems he took his artistic cues from the camera obscura but didn't necessarily slavishly use this optical device. This device was NOT found in his studio when he died. My info..not hers.

Liked small circular brush strokes in his painting of fabrics. 

Composed his paintings from different images. Didn't have the whole image in front of him at one time while painting.

He was very clever and very good. He remains more clever and more good than most to this day. My words, not hers. 

I have decide to channel Vermeer. It is the only way to get the darn answer on that turpentine issue.

Friday, January 2, 2009


Images here reprinted by kind permission of Mr. Everett Raymond Kinstler, N.A., from his one hour workshop demo at The National Academy of Design, New York, November 200

It takes me ages to process a workshop with Mr. Everett Raymond Kinstler, (hence the delay in posting here). I have to chew over the fat and there is a lot to consider. I have a light bulb moment at every single workshop with him. There is just nothing like watching and listening to a master artist. Mr. Kinstler also teaches in a very hands-on concise way that is clear to understand.

However I do find it  hard  sometimes to put new learning down on my canvas. Rather like a baby, I need burping - all this new knowledge to digest.  Time at my own easel to process. I have often thought I am a very slow learner. But once I get it, I REALLY get it! BURBP!

I remember the first time I saw Mr. Kinstler on stage doing a demo in front of oh, only around 600 people. No pressure or anything. He painted away with such mastery while entertaining the crowd with witty stories.  I was gob-smacked by him.  (British translation..jaw dropped)

He advised that one "paint a mile of canvas" to make real progress and I have never forgotten this except  in my case it might be three miles.

Even though I am posting pix here from Mr. Kinstler's demo, and mighty fine it was, I don't think it really my place to describe his technique. That is for him to do as he does so well. I would however advise that each reader of this blog go to his website, www., and check out his many books and DVD's.  I have two copies of a couple. They are that good.

I think it o.k.  however to give a brief overview, as I understand his approach, around the pix posted here. 

Mr. Kinstler works on a DRIED mid-value canvas. He thinks of value first, color second. He mixes a 'soup' of mid-value color for the flesh, matched against the mid-value of his wooden palette. Everything is related to the mid-value. He will mix his shadows from this soup, placing other colors into the soup to adjust. He makes color vibrate and relate by taking a dab of the same color note, and placing it wherever he sees that color-value appear on the canvas. Marvelous to see him do this! He advises "make you color swim'", meaning take it through to other areas. Cheek color into hair color, underplane brim of hat, etc.

For a demo, where he works faster than the speed of light with great accuracy, he does a quick drawing block-in going for 'signposts' of the features, not thinking likeness but proportion at first. He will advise to go for the big shape of structure and form and the overall simple "light effect".  General to specific.

One thing he says all the time is "to paint the illusion"of what you see. For instance, if you are doing an eye socket don't paint it all.  Squint. Are you really seeing that highlight in the eye? Each individual eyelash hair?  Of course not, silly. I get a bit Zorn-y here. Look at his etchings to see how he keeps the masses simple, simplifying the light effect. Look at Mr. Kinstler's etchings too.

Come to think of it...come up and see my etchings any time. Sorry.

Mr. Kinstler quickly moves on to applying thicker paint to his sketch initially drawn with a big brush in a thin-ish wash. He will often hold onto the the original canvas using the dried untouched areas for a half tone in various places, in the hair, turning edges, etc.  Just yummy. Swish, swash, swish and he is soon done TALKING all the way. His saves his lightest light on the skin for the forehead but this is not a highlight just the lightest plane.  Highlights are for shiny things like eyeglasses and gold, he always points out. How many times have I made that mistake?

Mr. Kinstler talks all the time about values describing himself as a value-painter. People often ask me what is the single biggest thing I have learned from him over the last few years, and this area would be it. An understanding of value painting but many more miles of canvas to go to develop that understanding.

That's where the patience comes in. I have felt incredible frustration in myself at times. Not being able to paint to a level that I want to. Not understanding why I couldn't do this fast enough. 

 Well, darn it, it just takes time.  Repetition leads to mastery it is said. So I repeat, repeat, repeat and then suddenly when you least expect it,  the art learning penny will drop. I will see Mr. Kinstler do something he has done before many times, but FLASH!!! My brain is ready to understand it. It is the SINGLE best feeling in the world outside of childbirth. 

I tell my students you cannot rush the learning process. Ha! You can read the same art book two years later in your journey, and it will be a different book in terms of your understanding.

That's the magic of it in a way.  Now back to that mile of canvas and burping.