Beautiful Basics of Pencil and Paper

Roz with Guitar - Curtis Green
Roz with Guitar, 2018

For the longest time, perhaps too long, I stuck with acrylic painting for several reasons that I thought was beneficial at the time.  They are cleaner than oil, they don’t smell, they are water based so clean up is easy, relatively non-toxic and can be used safely in what was my living space without too much risk of damaging carpets or furniture or my lungs.   However, my desire for the flat, plastic character of acrylics gave way to the desire for the luster and juiciness of oil paint.  Thus began my quest to untangle the mystery of the fabled “medium of the masters”.

Oil paints often intimidate those starting with them for the first time.  It’s a medium that has a rich history and seems to shroud its secrets in a multiplicity of methods, recipes, anecdotes and lore.  Eager students often will hear that to handle oil paint one must have mastery, and to have mastery one must dedicate years manipulating and handling before the canvas, seek tutelage and fail and fail until the day comes when failure eludes.   Then there are those that say oil is the easiest medium to choose for its forgiving nature.  Books, and DVD’s, workshops, mentorships, trial and error, and the always mythical “Secrets of the Masters” .. OOoooohh!

And then, … there is the pencil.  The good ol’ pencil that everyone has used at least once to draw even a simple doodle and be satisfied.  As basic and humble the pencil seems to be, most really good artists and teachers that tend toward classic proficiency will say that only by drawing can painting be accomplished; Line, form, color, in that order.   When I go back and do drawings on paper, it is like going back to the most primary requirements for any artist, that is the connection between the eye and the hand.  The freedom to charge a guiding line across the paper, or to flail the wrist during the immediate action of shading the roundness of something, analyzing the subject then gesturing the hand, delivering the mark through the pencil onto the paper, producing the image.

A simple stick, made of wood and graphite.   No mystery here, except perhaps in how we revere the final rendering.

Perfectly Dull

Aycil with Orange Chair Unfinished - Curtis Green
Aycil with Orange Chair Unfinished

I was at the studio of a  good friend and sculptor the other day.  Surrounded by all of his maquettes, sketches, half finished studies, client portraits, public projects, and books upon books, and several flat file drawers full of tools, giant easels and modelling stands, it was the classic example of a full time, hard working and well known artist, complete with skylights softly providing the perfect light into his converted warehouse building.

We were having a stimulating conversation that somehow landed on the idea of extremes; perfect technique versus an intentionally naïve  approach.  Perfection in technique, we seemed to be surmising, especially in the age of the camera, is pointless.  The humorous opinion developed that, nowhere in art does dullness shine brighter, than from the lamp of perfection.  Perhaps, an artist’s technique can get so good and so perfect, that it could become necessary to “pull it back” to allow for the art to exist.   We were jumping off a previous idea that the little actions that are left as they are and not “corrected” can do several things.  One thing is that the so called “dithers” of tool or brush handling adds a certain life to the work, it can add interest that compels us to want to look closer or understand the image more.

Another aspect of “pulling back perfection” is the decision or choice of the artist needing to do so for some reason.   A certain exaggeration, exclusion or purposeful distortion may drive home an excitable energy; or quiet a mood.   Artistic intention can better allow the poetic idea or message to be communicated to the viewer.  In other words, these are the things that turn a perfect rendering, into a work of art.  They are those “certain things” that somehow make an artwork, as we say, resonate.   These choices are given other names in other disciplines as well.  For instance, the term hierarchy may be used in architecture to describe the one thing that is out of the typical pattern that draws our interest.  A composer may need to add minor key against a major key to create some compelling tension in the song or composition.

Ultimately it seems, that it is in our human nature to share our experiences.  The embellishment within the telling of the story is what is really captivating, but of course one must first learn to speak before exercising  artistic license.  Oh, but that certainly, would be another and perhaps very long conversation.

Note: This painting is of my friend and good working partner, Aycil Yeltan who is an actress and art model.  In no way could she be described as dull or uninteresting!  Thanks to her again for posing,  What would we artists do without our hard working models?


Immeasurable Details

A Sketch of Aycil Yeltan - Curtis Green
A Sketch of Aycil Yeltan – Curtis Green, 2017

Landscape paintings are easy; a tree is a tree, some say, as a landscape may be rendered any old way and still describe what it is.  Eh … yes and no.  A tree, it is true, does not usually have the familiar given proportions like that of the human body, so some freedom of the so called “artistic license” is understood when looking at a tree in a painting.  So here perhaps, is a large point  to consider when it comes to looking at art.  It is a point often discussed; is it necessary to render a thing so exact for the rendering to be considered art?

The human face, for example, requires more exacting observation in that we are built to intuitively understand the basic proportions and placement of our features.  We may look at ourselves in the mirror and lament that our forehead is too high or our ears are small or too large.  These are little moments of micro analysis, as we instantly determine how our features measure in relation to other things.  How much of this analytical critique is actually necessary in  regarding the essence or character of the face or for that matter, the landscape?

A common remark about paintings is about its detail.  Yet, many artists often remind themselves not to get hung up on the details.  If I may use an example, The Mona Lisa by none other than DaVinci, the most famous and possibly greatest portraits of all time, captures the sitters mystery that beguiles us to this day some six hundred years later, yet the portrait itself may only be a contemporaneous characterization of the woman?  For that matter, consider the lonely yet moving work of Edward Hopper, famous for his painting “Nighthawks“.  A lot of importance is placed on determining the quality of a work of art by how accurate it is in the rendering of the scene.  However, it is possible that the intrinsic impact toward the appeal of our emotion may be the real power behind a work deemed as great art, a quantity that often cannot be measured.


Feeling Le Brun

Self Portrait in a Straw Hat, - Elisabeth Le Brun
Self Portrait in a Straw Hat, – Elisabeth Le Brun

One of my most favorite painters is a woman named Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun.  She was born in 1755 and died in 1842.  She was born a French citizen.  As a teenager, she was already gaining recognition from prominent artists, aristocrats and even royalty.  She painted a portrait of none other than Marie Antoinette.  During the French Revolution she left the country, which led her French citizen status to be revoked and she was forced to divorce her husband.  She eventually returned to Paris and her citizenship (including her marriage) were renewed after some petitioning from fellow artists.

Aside from her life story, I just absolutely love her paintings. Considering the time she was alive, she clearly made enough of an impression to be invited into the mostly male circle of reputable artists. And how can I not see why? Every self portrait I’ve seen of her provides the allusion that she must have been having a blast.  Her moods are usually light but not too dainty. Her self portraits seem honest enough to make one believe that she must have painted herself as she really was.  She clearly was quite beautiful also.

This portrait of her is amazing in that it shows her many sides. A socially upward woman who also possesses some humor and humility, her palette being very important to her in life and spirit.  I don’t know if she was aloof to the rigors of life or not.  I prefer to imagine that she simply negotiated herself away from conflict to focus on simply creating beautiful things as being important enough to not be set aside. That perhaps was her breastplate and her triumph.

Getting Aquainted

Portrait of a Young Woman - Curtis Green
Portrait of a Young Woman

I remember the lesson in speaking about an artwork that seemingly has no meaning.  Begin with what you know about the piece.  Start with the obvious stuff like describing the physical properties of the artwork.  The dialogue might begin with its dimensions or materials and whether or not it is framed.  This method is similar to a first introduction to someone whom you’ve never met before.  Following an initial introduction, more insightful aspects begin to reveal themselves.

Sometimes, making art is similar.  The motivation to start something may be quite large or even perhaps unknown.  If this is the case, then a deliberate crossing of the threshold must be made for something to begin.  A brush mark, placed anywhere, initiates and introduces the obvious framework of the construction of forms.  This the “what”, and is in this case, the head of a young woman.

As the process of making the “what” continues, the sense of the idea, as mysterious or out of reach it seems to be, also begins to articulate itself.  This is the part that connects with something far more compelling than a simple rendering.  Now, the translation of the subject starts to communicate a mood as the artwork then, hopefully, takes on the curious properties that compel us not only analytically but also emotionally.

Note: This painting was made while referencing an earlier study done with a professional studio model, the incomparable Toni Czechorosky, who posed for it. I sincerely appreciated the time working with her.


Progress on a New Study

In Studio Progress - Curtis Green
In Studio Progress

New work is beginning to happen in the direction of made up images of portraits depicting fictional characters. Here is a progress shot of a painting that is based on an earlier piece called “The Heiress”. The original Heiress painting was made from studies done with a live model. In turn, that painting became the basis for the new one shown here, which will probably be given the same title.
Each iteration has improved and I like the direction these are going in. I’m starting to develop a story line that inspires new ideas for new paintings that will probably tie in together as one whole body of work at some point. It’s exciting right now as I start to see it come to fruition.

Portrait of a Violinist

Violinist - Curtis Green


The violin is an instrument that is as beautiful looking as the sounds it makes in the hands of a talented musician.  The range of instrument is from festive to mournful and everything in between.  The dramatic volume it makes all together in a powerful symphony delivers the wild storms of Wagner for example.  Yet, in the hands of a soloist, the sounds can be like a suspension of the breath to something contemplative and soothing like a pastoral painting.  The connection made between the performer and the instrument can at times be transcendent, thus the common understanding that the violin is considered a very emotional instrument.

I have a feeling that the violin may start being a regular feature in some future paintings, this one is the first.   This painting was at first a quick oil sketch done from life, while working with Aycil Yeltan.  The pose was something we both liked and the pose and the painting was continued and finished later from memory and imagination.

Restful Reading on a Sunday Afternoon

Restful Reading on a Sunday Afternoon - Curtis Green
Restful Reading on a Sunday Afternoon

Interior scenes are sometimes tricky.  Backlighting or bounced light can make reading form and color a great challenge.  Also, some interiors are full of objects and nick-naks, therefore forcing one to make choices about what to select or omit.  Then, there’s the logistics of painting in the living room, which may be a “bull in the china shop” type of set-up.  However, when all of this comes together, some really nice things can come about.  I hope this painting is one.

This was a spontaneous set up one Sunday afternoon.   There was no plan to do this at the time and I simply worked with what I had.  It shows the figure from the shoulders up, as was intended given the size of the board available which is nine inches by twelve inches.   Roz is shown immersed in a book she was reading at the time.  She agreed to let me do some studies of her, so long as she could rest and read.   So, I laid down a sheet, set up my small easel, put out three colors on my palette with a white and in almost an hour I had this painting worked to the point shown here.