Sunday, March 15, 2009

Golden Cowboy (Painting)

Golden Cowboy (2009)

Well that took a while. Started late January, just finished today. It's always a risk to become bored with what you're working on and cut corners to get done sooner (and then onto the Bigger Better Ideas you have that you know will be twenty times better). There probably is a bit of that in every painting and even today I started to feel it... but I gave this painting two months so it can't be said that I cut too many corners. There can always be more: more detail, more parts worked over, colors balanced, etc. But at some point you just need to let a painting stand on its own and then move onto the next one. Especially since I'm looking to build a bit of quantity in the next year (since last year I did... three? Five?)

One issue about this one is how much larger it is than all the others. 40" x 30" where the next one is 22" x 28". There is just more. Also it's the first time I have had multiple figures which might explain the gulfs between working: once you "complete" a figure, it's hard to get started on the next one. But when you do, it's enough of an annoyance to not have it done to go back and knock on it. One issue is I usually start with a person's face... and if you mess that up, it can be a lot of work to get it back into something you like. Sure, this is paint and you can always paint over it... but it can be annoying. But that can also be a crutch an easy excuse to procrastinate (e.g. "I'm too bushed from work, no reason to start painting as I'll just need to go over it again"). So setting a goal (I've got a conference at the end of March so I wanted to be done by this week) is really key.

So what drew me to this image? Well it really comes down to texture. I decided to not get playful with the colors because I really liked a lot of the stuff in this one. And this is a reason why the Japanese make interesting subjects: there is no problem finding folks dressing classically next to those of a more contemporary vibe. It all starts with the woman in the middle, she of big Wookie hair, camo baseball hat, torn jeans and cowboy boots. Even now I'm not sure if the patch on her hat says 'Night Sure' or 'Night Surf'. I guess WFour is a Japanese surf lifestyle company so I'm pretty sure its the former. You can see some of their styles here (it also makes me feel good she's wearing WFour and not Barf Ait :P). Now I'm interested to check out the Japanese surf scene 'cause I gotta know if cowboy boots are the new hotness.

The next bit that really got me about the image was the purses (can't be sure with the middle one). Chicks dig their purses and these three have definitely underlined their personal character with theirs. They all coordinate and, interestingly, provided a perfect opportunity to provide depth to the image. The one on the left, with its flat bottom is the obvious example (nothing like strong shadows to make it all easy for your boy) as does the one on the right (with its vinyl/leather crosshatching which catches the light just so). As you can see I started with surfer girl so the effect I was able to get with hers, specifically the straps over her legs, really punches out the third dimension. I also made an artistic choice there: originally the straps on her surfer purse were a fine lace... but I wasn't in the mood to paint that. This is one of the first places where brush technique let me get an effect that A) approximated the original while B) was interesting in its own right.

Similar with her hair, and mimicking the denim of her jeans. A lot of that comes from trying to work wet-on-wet as much as possible. This is more difficult with acrylic as it dries so quickly that either you have to get a new mix on your palette and just coat it over or try to go wet-on-dry' by using watered down washes. I have been reluctant to use washes as twice I've gotten burned by them (maybe using off-white wasn't the best choice in either case. But the result was to only flatten the result). So trying to get paint onto not-yet-dry paint meant having a calculated Oceans 11 approach where I'm in and out as fast as possible. There a lot of benefits to this: being able to work up from the back, not needing to mix so much on the palette and instead of on the piece itself (all reasons why oil is so popular). I guess that's one benefit of experience- the confidence to work fast and so you get more time to play around with something.

Sometimes though you are constrained: the area is too small and the shape so detailed you end up going over it again and again. Flesh tones are big on that and hands in particular (high detail and a lot of variation) and sometimes I think I need high zoom sources so I can get a level of representation that I like. Since that probably won't happen, my plan to move onto oils at some point and then probably bigger canvases would work just as well.

The flowers on the kimono were a difficult bit to figure... I didn't want to get bogged down in the trenches on a finite design and there just is only so much return on such a thing. Again the key was to get the essence of the design (like the textures of the other clothing) without doing a strand by strand recreation. I liked the silk effect I got on her kimono jacket around her shoulders (a bit of dry-on-dry using a flat brush) and so getting the waterfall of flowers on her kimono was key.

Another bit I discovered while painting was that the kimono woman's eyes aren't closed or looking at the floor: she's actually looking at the audience. And even a slight arch has gotten into her eyebrows and a bit of a grin too. How very crafty of her :P It's nice because so many of these IRL source photographs only work because the photographer is able to get a woman standing still who hasn't noticed them; and that probably involves them looking down or away at something (by my estimation 99% of the women in Japan are looking at a cellphone right now).

The last girl was a treat because of the muff collar of leopard fur. She was also the only woman to not have dyed hair and must have just rushed onto the train because her face was all red (either that or I'm very interested in what text she's reading). The size of the canvas means the resolution of my little pocket digital camera isn't enough to capture everything so the fur doesn't pop as much as it does ont he real painting. I also realized that this was the first time I painted a woman's legs and I'm quite pleased with the results (don't expect me to go all DJ Assault though). The Harajuku woman I painted before gave me a chance to work on the crosshatched leather purse stuff so I think the result here too was quite successful.

I'm mixed on the window reflections. This is really where the limits of my patience came in and it was really a no win situation for me: without the reflections the image lacked a definite realness but the result here seems to be too... I dunno, it seems to force itself into the foreground more than I would like. I'd rather just have it be something you could ignore and only realize later than something that irks me now.

Still I'm pretty happy with this. I think the result is probably more primary color that the original and I probably could have done more to spice up the color selection. But there are always future chances to fiddle with color. And any one choice can throw off the whole balance of an image. Here I think the equilibrium works.

To help simplify things, I threw all the intermediate images into a video for y'all:

Hattip to Neimo for this. When I hit about five weeks on this one, I knew trying to space out the page with text was going to be tough. One video makes it all a bit easier.