October 26, 2020

Sargent Portraits in Charcoal

One art exhibit I was really looking forward to visiting this year was the exhibit of portraits in charcoal by John Singer Sargent at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. Covid 19 ruined that for me, but I recently purchased the exhibition catalogue. While it is no substitute for seeing the originals, the book is still great to have. Thankfully the beautiful catalogue totally does justice to Sargent's work.

Sargent's highly finished charcoal drawings and quick sketches are just as sumptuous as his oil paintings, which I have seen in person many times. I can only imagine what it must be like to be the owner of one of these original drawings, having it handed down to you from earlier family generations.

Like many exhibition catalogues the print quality is exceptional. Book reproductions of oil paintings can sometimes lose the impact of the originals, as far as brush work details and textures go. You do not really have that problem with reproductions of charcoal drawings, so that makes missing the actual exhibit a bit less painful. 

I own a Dover publication of John Singer Sargent drawings, and just purchased a book of his drawings from another publisher as well, and neither are reproduced in full color - which you would think would not matter since the originals are done with charcoal - but it does matter.

The exhibition catalogue is printed in full color and the detail is superior. Also you get to see the varied shades of paper Sargent used and how that effects the tones and the overall look of each piece. Plus the catalogue shows details of select images, probably enlarged to the same size as his originals (he did most within an 18x24 inch area) so those blown up details are always interesting.Image

Finally, aside from the fantastic images, it was fun to read about each of Sargent's sitters and their families reactions to the finished work. Hard to believe, but some of them were not pleased with the results! It was also interesting to read that Sargent used pieces of bread to lift out areas of tone to create highlights. I really have to try that one.








April 27, 2020

Michelangelo: Mind of the Master

This Covid world we now live in has me thinking of happier times - one recent time was at the Cleveland Museum of Art, where I enjoyed the Michelangelo: Mind of the Master exhibit. What a fantastic weekend.
Seeing these Michelangelo drawings up close for the first time after studying some of them in books for so long was, to say the least, a thrill. After the initial walk through the exhibit I went back and spent time in front of my favorite pieces.
The museum did a great job of putting the original drawings in context by showing them among  large reproductions of the finished paintings these drawings were studies for.
It was also fun to watch people try to find the matching figure in the large reproductions.
The exhibit catalogue is an interesting read because it tells the provenance of these drawings and points out specific items of historic and artistic interest about them.
Could not help feel that Michelangelo cheated us all by destroying so many of his drawings after seeing these few.














March 10, 2020

Three Swiss Guards - Aged Effect

This new piece was inspired by a past visit to the Vatican, and by the drawings of Michelangelo. On an early Wednesday morning in St. Peter's Square while waiting with the rest of the crowd for the arrival of the pope, I was taking in the scenery with my 300mm lens.
The Swiss Guards, along with the sculptures adorning St. Peter's Basicalla (above) were among the images I captured for artistic reference. Below is the initial mixed-media painting I created in 2016 from my main shot of the Swiss Guard.
A while after completing this painting, I was inspired to revisit this subject in either graphite or charcoal after seeing an interesting "aged-paper" technique in one of my fine-art books.
I had the initial drawing worked up on a nice piece of watercolor paper, but then put it aside to work on other projects. The drawing sat in my studio for over a year. What fired me up to finally complete the piece was a trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art to see the fantastic exhibit, Michelangelo: Mind of the Master.
After seeing so many of Michelangelo's original drawings and how beautiful they were on the 500 year old stained, pockmarked, and torn paper, I could not wait to finish my new Swiss Guard piece!

After spraying the final drawing with workable fix, I poured some instant coffee over it, crushed it, and tore it. After it dried, I took a piece of an apple and smashed it onto the surface of the piece, rubbing it in different directions, unevenly over the surface. I did the same thing with a carrot too. Finally I put the piece on a section of aluminum foil, lit a candle, and carefully burned sections of the edges.
To finish, I drew on top of that, adding a few details to the piece and darkening the darks. I tried to frame it as close as I could to the look of the way the original Michelangelo drawings were presented in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

March 4, 2020

Black and White

I like black and white images in various media. In photography especially, there is a wide rage of techniques you can use to realize your own unique vision. Below are a few I did from some of my London photos.

I was pleased with the above shot after I retouched some junk out and color corrected it. Then after awhile I realized that if I did this up in black and white it would go from good, to much better. The focal point is now Big Ben  instead of all those reds and pinks.

Black and white photos have a timeless elegance to them. It works better on some images than others. Here are a couple more black and whites that I did.


In Photoshop, one of the best ways to go from color to black and white is to duplicate the image layer, convert to RGB (if not already) and use the Image, Adjustments, Black and White command.

Then play with the color sliders that come up to get the desired look.

Way more control this way than just automatically converting to black and white.

August 23, 2019

Postcards from Britain - Blenheim Palace, Part 5

The interior of Blenheim palace is as beautiful as the countryside surrounding it. One of my favorite rooms is the red drawing room.


In This opulent room is a portrait by one of my favorite artists, John Singer Sargent. It depicts the dour 9th Duke of Marlborough and his not so loving bride, the million dollar American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt, and their children (the heir and the spare).


John Singer Sargent was such a sublime talent, that his rich and gentrified sitters let him depict them however he pleased. In this painting Sargent cunningly puts the Duke a step down giving us the impression that if he were to step up, he would be the same height as the lovely Duchess.


In reality, she was much taller than he was. It was probably fairly radical in those days to depict the lady above the gentleman in a formal portrait like this. Sargent had the freedom to do it. He was a master of composition along with every other aspect painting.

A place like Blenheim Palace, in Oxfordshire England, is great for seeing treasures from private collection - works of art you will not see in the great public museums of the world.

For the first of my Blenheim Palace series of posts click HERE or just keep scrolling.