New Torano Painting: My Little Boat

I sketched for a couple of hours yesterday and nothing turned out. It was to warm me up, and it would have been nice if there had been some keepers, but there weren’t. They were all 1-minute sketches (I used a timer to keep myself honest). I just load up the projector with all 36 slides from one roll (this bunch was of Torano in the pool, from the shoot at Kei and Dick’s in Hawaii Kai) and draw each one as it comes up, with only 1 minute to capture the whole pose. I’m still hard on myself about the results, but the truth is, I’m much better at this than I used to be. I’ve been doing this for enough years I guess some improvement is inevitable.

One of the images I was going to sketch from yesterday struck me as a potential painting, so I stopped sketching and thought, maybe tomorrow I’ll tackle that. I’ve been itching to do a really loose, impasto-y painting for the last couple of weeks—it’s like a seed that germinates and grows in my mind, and though I usually don’t know what I’ll be painting, I know more or less what style I want to use. And this one, I knew, would be really loose and bold.

Before starting the painting, I scanned the slide so I could fool around with the image in Photoshop. I first heightened the contrast, then lightened the image and saturated the colors. Next I used a filter called Maximum—it’s under Other in the Filters menu—it takes the lighter values and sort of ‘spreads’ them into the darker values. I like the effect it creates. All that tweaking resulted in the image you see on the top at left.
Then I posterized the image, which is the bottom image you see. Posterization just reduces the possible colors/values to a very few—in this case, 7. What I like about it is it makes for very clear delineations between light and shadow areas, which means I have to work less hard to see them. When I’m actually painting, I work from both the original photo, with all its subtle light-and-shadow changes, and the tweaked images, which have much less information but give me useful suggestions for simplifying the image.

Then I was ready to start the painting itself. I drew the image onto the canvas (notice that I added some space between Torano’s feet and the edge of the pool—that is, I dropped the figure and the boat a bit for the sake of composition), then covered it with a dioxazine purple wash, as I usually do.

Then I began mixing my colors. I decided to make all the colors even brighter and more vibrant than they were in the tweaked images. Main colors I used were cadmium yellow medium, phthalo blue and ultramarine blue with some dioxazine purple, and of course burnt siena, yellow ochre and alizarin for flesh tones—with the addition of cadium red medium here and there. I began painting by laying in broad areas of blue for the water and some of the yellow rubber raft.

I haven’t painted in a few weeks, so I was concerned I wouldn’t be loose enough to make this work, so I looked at some reference photos of other people’s art with really loose, rough brushwork, and that helped. As I began painting I was able to keep myself loose and unworried about details. That’s not as easy as it may sound! I kept the brushwork loose as I continued laying in the rubber raft, then the fleshtones of the body. When I got to the face I had to really discipline myself, because it’s way too easy to care too much about the face and get really fussy. I did pretty well at not doing that.

I had begun about midmorning and it was now after noon, so I quit for lunch. As soon as I finished, though, I was right back in the studio because I didn’t want to lose my momentum. I was excited by how quickly the painting was taking shape. I finished laying in the basic colors and shapes of the face, then began laying in the highlights on the body.

That’s always a fun part, especially when the light is dramatic, as it is in this painting. Putting in the highlights brings the image to life, and in a few strokes can take the painting from rough and unfinished to polished and alive.

The only real problem I see at this point is that the water under the raft is too dark, so I lighten a big area of it. That helps quite a bit. In fact, the painting is looking close to finished. Next I spend a half hour or so refining things, mostly on the face and body. It’s now about 230pm and the painting is almost done.

I wouldn’t have been able to complete a painting like this so quickly a few years ago—in fact I wouldn’t have been able to do a painting like this at all a few years ago. There’s a confidence in my work lately that comes not just from having done this for 25 years, but also from the fact that I’m growing up and letting go of a lot of old hang-ups and fears that no longer serve me. I’m bolder, more confident, more assured. I’m embracing life more fully, and it’s showing in my painting.

At about 3:15 pm, I stopped. Had to go for my Portuguese lesson. It was actually a good stopping point. So I went to Mocha Java at Ward Center and spoke Portuguese with Luzia for an hour, then hung out at the bookstore, then came home and while I was heating up a Stouffer’s frozen lasagne dinner, I put some finishing touches on the painting. It didn’t need much—just a little work on the face—and it’s done! I’m going to call it “My Little Boat.”

I love the painting. But even more than that, I love the day I had painting it. It was intense and exhilarating and fun. I almost want to keep working on the painting. But I know it’d be a mistake to do anything more to it. I know when a painting is done!

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