Monthly Archives: January 2017

pastel painting of a smiling man

No. 94, smiling guy

Smiling faces. I can say one thing about this series and that is, I’ve never studied so many smiling faces in my life!

You know, with life model studies the model is never smiling. It’s too hard for them to maintain an expression like that during a long pose. That’s one of the advantages to working with photos. It can be any expression at all, including the manic grin on the face of today’s portrait.

There’s something nice about working on smiling faces all the time. No matter what’s going on elsewhere in the world, right in the moment that I’m working, the person whose face it is that I’m studying is in a happy place. It probably has an effect on me, too, now that I think about it. It’s probably got something to do with science. I don’t know why or how it works, but if it’s science, I approve.

 

pastel painting of a smiling man

No. 94, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, 6×9″ pastel on Canson mi-teintes paper by Marie Marfia

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Pastel portait of a grumpy tortoise

No. 88, Mr. Grumpy Pants

Actually, I have no idea if this tortoise is feeling grumpy or not. This might just be his resting tortoise face. Maybe he’s feeling ecstatically happy right now. I bet tortoises would make excellent poker players.

This morning I attended an artist’s critique get together and signed up for membership in the Ludington Area Center for the Arts while I was there. Then I had an enjoyable lunch with five other artists. This is so much fun, meeting arty people and doing arty things. It’s hard to believe that I lived so long without any of this in my life.

I feel like I want to live as long as this tortoise guy, just so I can catch up on everything I’ve been missing, you know?

Pastel portait of a grumpy tortoise

Mr. Grumpy Pants, No. 88, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, 6×9″ pastel portrait on gessoed mat board by Marie Marfia.

Thank you to Eric Kilby for contributing the photo reference for this piece. Here’s a link to the Creative Commons Flickr group where I found it.

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old man portrait in pastels

No. 87, Nonagenarian

My mom is always telling me she doesn’t know why she’s lived so long. I usually tell her she gives the rest of us hope of living out our lives without going batshit crazy. My dad died too long after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. My siblings and I are are basically terrified that it’s going to happen to us, too.

But then there’s this guy, 95 years old according to the notes on the reference photo (thanks again, WetCanvas.org library), and still bathing himself and giving the hairy eyeball to young pipsqueaks who have the unmitigated gall to snap photos of him in his loincloth without so much as a by your leave.

Here’s the time lapse of the early part of this piece. And here’s the middle part. Apologies for the lighting. I’ll try to sit somewhere with better light next time. Enjoy.

old man portrait in pastels

No. 87, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, 6×9″ pastel on gessoed mat board by Marie Marfia

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pastel painting of a young woman

No. 86, Arielle

This woman. She is full of ideas, and mischief, which is kind of the same thing. I wanted to paint her in the style of an artist I only just found out about this morning, Richard Suckling. His plein aire landscapes are full of big marks and squiggly lines and I want my art to be like that, so today I did a more gestural drawing to start with and then I made sure I stopped before I’d completely covered it up. I like the lines! I think they give my work a more dynamic feel. And Arielle is the perfect subject for this, because she’s all about movement. She wants to do things, to change things, to make things better. She’s a mover and a shaker and this is what I see reflected in this portrait. Aahh! Love it.

pastel portrait of a young woman with red hair

Ariel, No. 23, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, 6×9″ pastel on paper by Marie Marfia

You may remember Arielle as this skull painting (No. 23 in this series), as well. She’s awesome on the inside, too.

pastel painting of a young woman

Arielle, No. 86, 100 Portratis in 100 Days, 6×9″ pastel on gessoed mat board by Marie Marfia

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pastel painting of a dachshund puppy dog

No. 84, Kippy

I made a few new furry friends over the weekend when Steve and I went to visit his mom. She lives in an assisted living facility in Flint, Michigan. As soon as we arrived we hustled her down to the lobby because there were puppies!

Well, they’re probably grown dogs, but they’re miniature dachshunds so they look tiny and are so much fun to pet and hold! Miss Diana likes to pet them a little but she’s mostly there to spend time with Johanna, her friend. Johanna loves the dogs and she makes a point of coming to see them whenever they visit. She has a particular favorite, Shelby, who sits on her lap like a little queen and allows herself to be petted by no one but Johanna for the entire hour. It’s cute and sweet and makes Johanna so happy.

Kippy, the puppy I painted today, was off being held by someone else. I snuck in a picture of him to paint later and here it is.

pastel painting of a dachshund puppy dog

Kippy, No. 84, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, 6×9″ pastel on gessoed mat board by Marie Marfia. Available here.

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pastel painting of a couple

No. 80-81, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, Mary and Jonathan

You know why I like this picture? Because my sister is in it and she’s got a little bit of white fuzz on her head. This means she’s still alive, the cancer didn’t kill her and her hair is coming back. Also, I love that her partner Jonathan is right there with her, that they’re leaning into each other, supporting each other.

It was fun to paint, too, at first. And then it sucked. And then it was fun again towards the end. And then it went wrong and I decided to quit before it all blew up.

I never know what I’m going to get when I start one of these. And when the subject is important to me, it makes it tougher. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself that nothing is precious, that a painting is just a painting, that if I drew it once I can draw it again. It still feels as if each one is the only one I’m ever going to do. I still find myself angry and frustrated when it’s not going well.

When that happens, I go for a walk, or I read something inspiring, or I write and try to figure out why I’m so upset. You’d think it would be obvious. I mean, I’m me, who better to know what’s bugging me, right? But sometimes I’m the last to know.

pastel painting of a couple

No. 80-81, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, Mary and Jonathan, 8×10″ pastel on sanded paper by Marie Marfia

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Pastel portrait of Steve with a beard.

Happy New Year!

Okay, I’m a little late, but it’s okay. I’m the only one here and I’m not going to tell.

Along that line, I have a confession to make. I left my dogs home again.

Is it wrong? It’s so cold here at the Maker’s Market anyway. I know they’re fine at home with Steve. I just feel guilty leaving them behind every morning when I take off for the studio. But I’m also interested in how my brain works without being interrupted by the needs of my pets all day.

Back when my kids were small I used to take one weekend off a year to go camp with my girlfriends. I would have a wonderful time just being me for three or four days. No one called me Mom, or asked me to do anything for them, or needed to be nursed or changed or rocked. It was bliss.

Then, when I arrived back home, I noticed that my kids were smaller than I remembered.

I think that all the worrying and caregiving that I do and did made my charges grow to enormous sizes in my head. All it took to shrink them back to normal was some time away from them.

It’s the same with world problems and pet problems and any kind of problems. The more I worry and fret, the bigger they get. But all I have to do is turn off the radio, or get some distance away from them, even if it’s just for a few hours, and poof! they are reduced to manageable sizes again. It’s magical.

Here’s today’s portrait, No. 79, Steve with a Beard. Still slogging toward the finish of 100 Portraits in 100 Days.

I like this portrait because it was quick, about 20 minutes, and the strokes are expressive and loose. I got a likeness without belaboring the point. That’s all I really wanted.

Pastel portrait of Steve with a beard.

Steve with a Beard, No. 79, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, 6×9″ pastel on gessoed mat board by Marie Marfia.

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pastel portrait of my husband

Steve

pastel portrait of my husband

No. 76, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, 6×9″ pastel on mat board with pumice ground by Marie Marfia

There are days when I just don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to paint, I don’t want to do yoga, I don’t want to do my job.

The whole thing just feels overwhelming. So, since I usually can’t skip whatever it is because hey, I’m a grown up and grown ups just carry on, I try to break it down into small, bite-sized pieces.

Today, for instance, I decided not to think about how hard portraits can be, and how much time they take to do, and instead I concentrated on just getting a board ready to paint. Sometimes just doing the stuff that leads up to the painting can help me feel better.

So I found a piece of mat board and cut it to the right size and taped it to my easel. Then I mixed up some acrylic pumice ground with a little water and brushed it on the board. While I let it dry, I opened my photo reference in Photoshop and cropped it and then printed out three references, one black and white, one posterized and one regular.

I took the regular photo reference and made pencil lines on it using a ruler, marking the picture into quarters and then putting lines in for where the eyes were, where the chin and top of the head fell, the edges of the face. I drew plumb lines from the corners of the eyes and the mouth and the nostrils.

When I got that done I decided to go ahead and begin the preliminary sketch using a blue pastel pencil and measuring as I went along. Once that I was done I took a break.

I like to sit and think about the painting and what kind of underpainting I’m going to do, what colors are in the photo, what kind of day it was when I took the picture, what color the light is and what the colors of the shadows should be.

After a little while I get out my pastels and start blocking in the shadows and the lights using the black and white reference. I generally use four values for the underpainting. In this case, I used 4 warm blues for the face and some purples for the background. Then I rub in the color with foam pipe insulation.

After the block in I use the posterized reference to put in some colors over the underpainting, keeping mostly the same values.

Another break and then I taped up the regular photo and began to put color in, trying to marry the sections together and bring what was already there more in line with what I saw in the photo. This is the hardest part and where I’m most likely to have a melt down. The trick is to squint a lot and be patient. Sometimes the painting doesn’t want to cooperate, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own. Those are the best days.

Today was a very good day. I’m glad I painted today.

 

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Pastel portrait of a young woman.

Sam

pastel portrait of a trans gender person

No. 75, 100 Portraits in 100 Days

I like this one because it’s on mat board with pumice ground applied with a brush and you can see the lines and whorls of the brush strokes behind the color. I like it because it’s Sam just on the cusp of deciding whether or not to be pissed off or scared.

Sam is my middle child.

Sam is a writer. She likes to make up fantasy and science fiction stories. She’s also a pretty good dungeon mistress, or so I’m told. I tried to play D & D with Sam once but I couldn’t get into it. Probably I’m just not a very good team player. The other reason has to do with me hating to fail at anything. It’s another sort of failing, which is hilarious on the one hand, and kinda sad on the other.

One of the things that happens when you create stuff is that you fail. A lot. But sometimes you end up with something quite wonderful. I think of it as a type of conditioning. You know how you teach lab rats to push a green button by giving them a treat every so often? I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s what keeps me painting. I never know when I start what I’m going to end up with. I’m hoping for a treat, but lots of times it’s just not what I wanted.

I’ve read of methods where you visualize what you want before you start, but this isn’t how I work. I like to feel my way as I go. I have some methods that I use, sure, but I’m still learning this as I go, so they’re not foolproof. I can spend way too much time on a portrait and end up with nothing very good.

So today I’m pretty happy, because this happened. I’m glad I decided (again) to paint.

 

 

 

 

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