Hard Man is an exploration of masculinity, in particular behaviours passed on from fathers to sons. Unlike Australian painter Ben Quilty’s focus on the vulnerability of young Australian males leading to risk-taking, I’m interested in male conditioning and parenting, ideals about masculinity passed from working class men to their sons over many generations, originating in the perception that males need to ‘harden’ in order to fight for survival and that a “soft man” rates not at all.

I began with working ‘Victory’ Brown, a microcrystalline wax, easily manipulated when heated, and experimented also with polymer clay. The wax quickly became more important since I wanted an expressionistic surface treatment rather than a smooth surface texture. I was interested in the ‘additive’ sculptural techniques of Giacometti, the combination of naturalism and abstraction evident in Henry Moore and the combination of the realistic and the mechanistic in the work of Ipousteguy. Less important to me were the smoother surfaces in the work of Matteo Pugliese. The head and torso forms were drawn from Nuragic sculpture from Ancient Sardinia, a close look at all the European Ancient sculpture traditions, as well as Japanese yoroi armour. The exhibition of work from the Benaki Museum in Athens on show at the Hellenic Museum in Melbourne was very useful, as were the Rayner Hoff reliefs at the Sydney ANZAC Memorial.

Scale is significant. I wanted the final product to be small, representing my individual, personal power over the ‘syndrome’ of male conditioning, thus limiting the size of the final work at around 100x100x50mm.

The following photos shows the sequence from wax and polymer clay studies to silicon bronze casting from wax, to patina through the application of base metal paint overlaid with a violet solvent mixed with beeswax.

Photo 1. Polymer clay, exploring smooth surface texture.

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Photos 2 and 3. Wax studies. The issue of a plinth arose at this time. I was careful to create a hole potentially suitable for a rod for a standing position, echoing the work of Giacometti, but I was also happy with a lying-down position with no support or plinth, echoing the fallen warrior series of Henry Moore.

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Photo 4. Untreated silicon bronze casting, in a matt ashen grey colour, fresh from the foundry, Shaw Process Casting (Mortdale, NSW, Australia). I was forewarned that I might lose the ‘tail’ at the bottom of the torso because the wax was too thin; one of the arms was also perilously loose. The resulting cast had two interesting features: a bend in the head and a very sharp bend in the ‘cod piece’. Serendipitously, the sculpture became self-supporting, resting on one hand, the codpiece and one of the arms, thus resolving issues about a plinth.

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Photo 5. Bronze casting patina: two layers of Bronze B Metal Coating (Barnes, http://www.barnes.com.au), producing a bronze/copper look. Despite having an overall “painted” appearance, the layers didn’t obliterate my fingerprints in the wax original.

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Photo 6. Bronze casting patina: Solvent Dye Color – Violet from SculptNouveau (www.SculptNouveau.com, distributed by Barnes Products, http://www.barnesproducts.com.au) mixed with liquid beeswax. I adopted a ‘warm’ colour for the patina, wanting to ‘domesticate’ the work rather than elevate it to the position of “High Art” with a traditional green or black patina.

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Last night, I had the good fortune to attend a lecture, entitled “Art as a Business”, given by the Arts Law Centre of Australia. St George School of Fine Art graciously provided the venue and the event was supported by Kogarah Council. It was well attended both by student colleagues and by members of the St George Art Society.

Here is the ‘Top 10’ advice I took away from the event.

1. Re-read Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way or any other of her books). And put her ideas into sustained practice.

2. Decide whether you’re an Anonymous-Attic-Artist or an Artist-who-Operates-in-the-Public-Domain. Consult http://www.artslaw.com.au and http://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au for more information.

3. If you an artist operating under your own legal name, there’s no need to formally register a Business Name. Operate as a Sole Trader using your legal name (see business.gov.au).

4. Get an ABN (even if you don’t make the minimum threshold tax level of $AU18,300). Keep in mind that formal arts funding, e.g. grants from local Councils, usually requires one since they most often fund auspiced entities and not Sole Trader individuals, given their stringent                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    reporting responsibilities and transparency to LGA ratepayers.

5. GST only comes into play if you’re making $A75,000 or more.

6. Check ASIC Connect and ATMOSS to see if another artist somewhere else is already using a name identical to yours. Be clear in your own mind about the differences between a Business Name, a Trademark and a Company Name.

7. Registering a Company is expensive and onerous in terms of reporting and compliance; too difficult for a Sole Trader.

8. If working collaboratively (especially over a long period of time) with another artist, consider a written/signed/witnessed Partnership Agreement to minimise misunderstandings.

9. If receiving income from several revenue streams (e.g. day job, part-time jobs) including working as an artist Sole Trader, you’ll be taxed by the ATO as a single tax-paying entity. Write off art production expenses against the whole-of-income. Don’t worry about whether your art is a loss-making enterprise year on year, the ATO is only interested if you don’t declare income, not if it makes a profit or not.

9. Check your insurance: not just personal injury but things like home studio, theft of expensive cameras, external visitors visiting your home as part of your business activity.

10. If insurance is difficult/expensive, actively consider mitigating or limiting the risks. Keep in mind that galleries will often insure your work during an exhibition, but you will have to insure work travelling to and from the gallery: check the gallery’s fine print.

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Polyvinyl acetate

oil on canvas panel, 6×6″

I’ve returned to a Morandi-style still life of plastic containers today; very rough-and-ready. After nearly three weeks of palette knife, I’m looking forward to using a brush again.

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Thirty Paintings in Thirty Days, January 2015, organised by Leslie Saeta (http://lesliesaeta.blogspot.com.au).

Reference: Stern, Arthur. How to see color and paint it: a series of projects designed to open your eyes to colors you never saw before. New York, Watson-Guptill, 1984.

 

 

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Two seashells

oil on canvas panel, 6×6″

In his section on Ideas for Independent Study, Arthur Stern includes some examples under the title of “Paint Challenging Surfaces. They include a painting by Richard Gleason of a very large conch shell. While this is a essay in tackling surfaces which are shiny, iridescent and sometimes translucent, it’s also about rendering magical inner light causing the subject to glow.

One commentator mentions the interest by Dutch 17th-century still life painters in shells being allied to an interest in that new-fangled thing, Chinese porcelain.

My study attempts the exact opposite of what Balthasar Van der Ast was achieving with his paintings of sea shells, back in the 1640s in his hometown of Middelburg, one of the six Dutch cities associated with the VOC, the Dutch East India Company. While he went for detail, extreme botanical accuracy, I am working at the absence of detail, aided by the palette knife. How much detail is required? Can I make the shell “readable” without its surface variegation – in this case lots of brown dots?

Fuchs’ discussion of still life painting raises lots of questions and issues for today’s painters – about what they paint, whether the subject matter is consciously different or the same as historic precedents, symbols then and symbols now. Do we introduce magic realism: subjects which are “unreal” (Bosschaert’s flowers couldn’t have bloomed all at the same time)?; the staged juxtaposition of ‘dead’ objects (sea shells) and imagined ‘live’ subjects (butterflies and caterpillars).

In painting daily, there is an implicit link to painting the everyday. We pursue the stillness that Vermeer captured so well. Is painting today a vehicle for quietude and stillness? For our own quiet or the quiet sought by our viewers? Do we paint objects from our own daily lives, like table settings (see Pieter Claesz and Floris Van Dyck) or do we engage with exotic? The Orient was foreign and exotic for the 17th-century Dutch; what is foreign and exotic today? What about the subtext of colonialism then and post-colonialism today? In acknowledge something like luxury and the magnificence which attracted Kalf (gold, china, lobsters and tropical fruit), what are we saying about the economics of contemporary life?

 

References

Fuchs, R.H. Dutch Painting. London, Thames & Hudson, 1978.

Stern, Arthur. How to see color and paint it: a series of projects designed to open your eyes to colors you never saw before. Watson-Guptill, 1984.

 

Further to tracing #1 in Proko’s new Anatomy for Artists course, I thought I’d play around with linking my new anatomical understandings to some other photographic references, while adopting some of the aspects of Proko’s Figure Drawing course.

The muscles are over-developed but that helps me “see” a bit more clearly. By contrast, the drawings in, say, Civardi’s books assume and obscure a lot, simply because the models are much more natural-looking.

At the moment, I’m using A4 photocopy paper, drawing on both sides. This helps me to (a) not be too precious about the results; (b) work reasonably quickly (so I can translate this pace to life drawing situations) and (c) help keep my figure drawings separate from other work.

With Proko’s Figure Drawing course, I’ve been drawing on A4 photocopy paper with a graphite HB pencil. With a pencil that’s any softer, I tend to get too fluid and expressive and make too many marks (though I make too many marks anyway instead of “ghost” drawing before making a mark on the paper!). With a harder pencil, I tend to work too slowly.

Today, I’ve used two pencils, a generalised figure underdrawing (gesture and structure) in HB, then some overdrawing in graphite 4B, exploring some of the anatomy. Of course, the anatomical over-drawing has a tendency to “flatten” the result, so the outcome is a mash-up of the expressive with the mechanical. A way of avoiding this problem would be to do the underdrawing more strictly following the Proko Figure Drawing course and then do a tracing of the anatomy over the top with tracing paper, in the style of the Proko Anatomy course.

There are plenty of faults and weaknesses in these sketches, but I’m happy about improvements in my “seeing” things like the top of the traps at the skull and the presence of the C7 verterbra. Plainly, I have a long way to go in working with the scapula muscles, especially the teres major.

I noticed by the fourth drawing that I was starting to add large areas of tone, mostly because of the lighting used by the photographer – there’s a certain tussle or struggle between drawing what I can’t see as well as needing to learn to draw from my imagination. They are starting to look like Steve Huston drawings and having later flicked through a book of paintings in the Vatican, I notice this technique of large areas of shadow is very prominent in Michelangelo frescoes and paintings by Tintoretto.

Tomorrow, I move on to the female model and a front view.

tracing 1 supp 1tracing 1 supp 2tracing 1 supp 3tracing 1 supp 4

After preliminary sketching on the first day (all were discarded) and settling on a cartoon by lunchtime on Day 2, came the transfer to 16×20″ canvas panel on the afternoon of Day 2 and working on mid-tone flesh colours in the succeeding days. By rights I ought to have kept drawing till I was 100% happy, perhaps even until the end of Day 4, with some risky alla prima painting on the final day.

I tried to leave intact as much of the Raw Umber imprimatura as possible and fiercely resisting tackling any of the lights. The paint is applied in the early Flemish style, with no use of mediums or solvents or turpentine at any time – just ‘glazes’ of unadulterated thin paint, applied leaving no brushstrokes and with the canvas texture intact.

Because of my lack of interest this week in pursuing furniture, soft furnishings and context, the painting remains largely monochromatic. I watched my colleagues apply colour to the dark olive green drape behind the model and the bright blue sheet the model was draped on, but the colours were so garish I decided not to go down that path.

Working with the less-than-competent drawing and cartoon caused endless frustration. With that frustration leading to ‘tunnel vision’, my best option was to short-circuit everything and work up a portrait on a separate A3 canvas panel so I could approximate some of the larger paint areas adopted by my colleagues.

At each point, I had to say to myself, “This is as good as I can do at this time,” and move to the next process.

I tried to transfer all of the good qualities of the larger, A3 portrait to the smaller face on the figure without success. After scraping back three times, I abandoned the face – my hog bristle flats were simply too big for the job.

I was able to construct a grid of paints on the palette (Ivory Black, Van Dyck Brown, Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Titanium White) from which to construct my own mid-tone flesh colours, given the moreno complexion of the South American model.

Of utmost important were the unity of the flesh across the figure and maintaining the integrity of the tonal values. On the morning of Day 4, I had to stop “painting” and make some drastic alterations through the act of “re-drawing”. It wasn’t enough to fix the underlying errors in the cartoon but helped significantly. The ‘re-drawing’ decisions were made two metres back from the easel. It’s worth mentioning that I wasn’t able to see the whole model at any one time because of the closeness of the other easels which may have contributed to disparity in the legs.

On the last day I paid attention to edges, aiming for just one sharp edge and “losing” all the others. My paint surface wasn’t as ‘creamy’ as that of my colleagues (they retained a graphic quality from separating the tones much more clearly than I did) but I was able to make the paint thicker and more opaque as required on the lights, leaving the darks as warm as possible with the Van Dyck Brown and as thin as possible.

The photos were taken every four hours and I’ve duplicated the sequence in more detail at http://rwb-art.tumblr.com

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Day 2, late afternoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 3, late morning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 3, late afternoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A very relaxing morning’s sketching with talented Sydney Sketch Club colleagues for the international event, SketchCrawl. The overwhelming impression I gained from the plein air sketching was the truth espoused by the painters of the Heidelberg School about Sydney Harbour being rendered best at dawn and dusk. After 11am or so, everything becomes washed out in a still clear light. Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts and others were painting just a few bays along from where we were working today and it was great to take in what they would have seen.

Here are two “modified” sketches: guidelines in very light graphite pencil (which are retained throughout, even though they don’t come up on the scans) followed by heavier contour in pencil. The “modification” comes in the selection of particular lines and tonal passages. I’m learning from online sketching that Anything Goes. I retain the guidelines and additional detail, since they might be useful later; I use the heavier line as a concession to scanning and digital reproduction – the best of both worlds! These two were only 20-minute “sketches” (since I literally had a ferry to catch!), done half-blind contour as much as anything else. I see now that this contour work involving planes and perspective, with a minimum of tonal work (and ideally with some variety of marks to create interest) might become my ‘short’ style: when I’m intrigued about something compositionally and want to ‘just see how it turns out’. 

Platform 2 on Circular Quay Railway Station was delightfully deserted. In the interests of public safety, fences and barriers I find are a major part of the landscape in Sydney, blocking views. I choose not to ignore them since they reflect contemporary preoccupations. They form an ongoing commentary on shielding people from beauty. Unfortunately Platform 1 on Circular Quay Railway Station was closed for weekend trackwork, so I will get back to the planned drawing of the AMP Building and Customs House at a later date. At 8.15am, the Opera House was draped in shadow, not reflected in my quick sketch; in the afternoon sun, it takes on its sparkling white-light quality.  I was intrigued how the bulk of the moored liner, Rhapsody of the Sea, completed dominated the Sydney Harbour Bridge; hinted at here, but not entirely captured as I would have liked. 

Once full of passengers, the ferries take their time getting going. At Manly proper, I ventured a little along the 9km Manly Heritage harbour walk towards The Spit. I didn’t anticipate going to Manly to draw a landscape, but a peaceful, seated spot suited me. For its part, the East Esplanade was excellent for boats close to shore as well as sea bathers and seagulls. At an expected 27C degrees, it was warm but not at all humid. The Town Hall with its liver-coloured brickwork and bright yellow woodwork was another interesting subject, behind massive Moreton Bay fig trees. The crowds appear around 10.30am so working before then is obviously ideal. The main beach proper was busy with a surf carnival which might have been worthwhile were it not for being in the open in the sun. Of course I’m wary about mixing Art and Sport; there was that controversy about photographing surf carnival participants and there was a sense that the beach and boardwalks had been thoroughly taken over for the day. I put a spot of yellow into the sketch of the merry-go-round as my concession to Piero della Francesca’s use of spot primary colours, though red would have better linked the black and sepia penwork.

I was able to very briefly take in the John Guppy painting exhibition at the Manly Art Gallery & Museum with its juxatposition of disparate objects and people – a fitting commentary on my own art-making process today. I would have liked to have flipped through a book on sale there devoted to drawing Manly, “Drawn to Manly”.

   

Managed to use a variety of pencils for the ‘long’ study; aimed too much to copy Nature rather than simplifying it perhaps. I’m still coming to grips with the logistics of plein air work. No problem with public seating on this occasion; the upcoming NRMA MotorFest with no public seating will however be a challenge! I’m fast learning that wearing the Right Clothes is important, as is taking the Right Waterbottle.

I felt very privileged to be part of long conversations at lunch with colleagues about life drawing, weights of paper, media, journalling, tone and contour. The variety of approaches by the participants was astonishing – virtually no two in the Sydney Sketch Group seem to have at all similar styles. There was none of the fevered quality of Darling Harbour setting of last weekend and it was great to break my normal routine of resting at home on weekends after a busy work week. If I don’t get out on the weekends, I might as well opt for living in a small country town!

On this bright and sunny note, I finish The Artist’s Notebook Project! I have been contemplating this week’s online sketching challenges: Every Day Matter (some bow ties in watercolour pencils?); Urban Sketchers (May Street St Peters with its renowned graffitti as an example of Alleys) and Illustration Friday (last week would have called up a drawing of some homemade chicken stock for “Chicken” and this week’s “Dusty” surely calls for  some blind contour portraiture of Dusty Springfield!