Last week I went into quite a bit of detail about an egg tempera I did while at UC Berkeley. It took me a bit of time to find it in my many portfolios and while I was looking I came across this study. I think what intrigued me most about her is that I have absolutely no memory of creating it, while my memories of the egg tempera were so real and complete. But I can’t picture the art room, where I was when I painted it or anything else for this one. During my time at UCB I did many acrylic paintings, so maybe there was nothing special about it. What I do remember about making such creations is standing at a huge metal sink off one of the art rooms in Krober Hall, cleaning out my mixing trays and brushes. I have since figured out that all you really need to do is clean the brushes and let the acrylic dry in the tray. Then you can easily scrape it out with a razor blade. But I do remember standing there, visiting with the other neophyte painters as we endlessly rinsed and scrubbed out our brushes.
What struck about this one is that I kind of remember being surprised that it came out kind of nice. Not so sure about her skin—looks a little dirty I think. Since it appears she is only in a robe, maybe she was about to jump in the bath. I don’t know. Maybe her head is a little big and her breasts a little flat and oddly placed. Maybe it’s a little like the question, “Besides that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? But I really like her intense stare in profile, with her hand covering her mouth, as if she is really contemplating something important. (Maybe she’s looking at the bathroom door, hoping her roommate has not used all the hot water so she can take a bath?) I also like the way I rendered the print on her robe. Wish I had such a robe with those colors. I can actually say that I don’t remember if I did this from a live model or a photo of an existing painting. But I sure don’t remember doing this in a figure drawing class, so it’s probably the latter.
Doing sketches or paintings of other painters work is actually encouraged when in art school or taking a painting class. I think such exercises have always been encouraged for artists of today and long ago. It gives us a chance to study the masters, looking at their rendering of fabric, skin or hair. It is also good to look closely at how another painter uses proportion, depth and foreshortening. For this week’s blog, I thought it noteworthy to write about drawing faces, and how a painter uses angles, facial expressions and even where the subject’s eyes are looking to give you some kind of message or emotion.
Here is a sketch I did of a Rembrandt at the Norton Simon a couple years ago. For this one I remember noticing that the child was looking straight out at the viewer. Such a straight on angle is not all that common for portrait paintings, not really sure why. But somehow it seems appropriate for a child to be looking out at the viewer so clearly, as children don’t really know they’re not supposed to do certain things until they get older. I loved noticing the plump round features that tell us it is a child. Of course the hat that kid is wearing is actually kind of big and strange. It looks like one that maybe he got out his dad’s closet. I don’t know anything about the young boy, but I don’t think children were often painted alone, so he must have come from a wealthy family. It was fun to imagine that Rembrandt himself had probably started the painting with a similar sketch, or two, or ten.
This face is none other than Rembrandt van Rijn. I’ve always been fascinated by self-portraits. If you think about it, it means that you are looking at yourself in a mirror for hours. And every time you look away to mix a color or add some pigment to a canvas, you have to get your face back to where it was, so you can keep going. In a way, it’s probably simpler than finding a patron and/or paying for a model in the hopes of finding a buyer. However, I am guessing no patron would be buying such a painting as it’s not a member of his family. So, I think this kind of work was done when a painter had down time, or it was winter and too cold and rainy to go outside and look for a model or a patron. I just Googled Rembrandt to find out how many self-portraits he did in his 40 years of painting. Wikipedia says he did almost 100, and that included: paintings, etchings and drawings. I think it’s lovely to see what he saw when he looked in the mirror. This piece shows him as maybe a middle-aged man and I like that he captured a more adult self in a three-quarter view—not looking straight at the viewer. For this one I remember thinking it was fun to imagine he was sitting for me and I was drawing a sketch of the great Rembrandt van Rijn. He seems to be wearing the same hat as the boy and it somehow looks more appropriate. And if you haven’t figured out by now, all of my ramblings about sketching/painting someone else’s art can give you possible insight into what you are looking at. Of course I made up everything I wrote about today, except all the self-portraits of Rembrandt. I am guessing he couldn’t have sold a single one in his day, and I believe he died poor. But I wonder what just one would sell for today. Or what would be the total value of 100 of his self-portraits? I have never even attempted one. I guess I had better get busy…
Final note about copying a painting or photograph
I have seen a number of sketches/paintings of photographs taken of famous people, or not so famous people. That’s kind of dangerous territory for a painter. If you paint something from life or from a photo you took, it’s OK to frame it and try to sell it. (I think I have even seen that people send sketches/painting to the famous people they have depicted. I guess that’s OK because they are not asking for money.) If I had done Woman in Profile looking at a live model and I liked it well enough, I could have put it in a frame and maybe sell it. But, if I did it while looking at someone else’s photo, or copying another’s work, there should be no framing and selling. Right? That would actually mean you stole someone else’s idea and claimed it as your own. Oh, and if you do decide to frame a piece of your art, pay a couple bucks for it and get a nice one. One thing you can steal from the old masters is the importance of a good frame. OK?