Why the long face? Get a face-lift!

Cheer up! A new and improved site is coming! - Early Rendering from 'All Grown-up With No Where to Go' 2009 by Ryan G. Williams
You learn a lot about subjects just by observing them. This is certainly true in painting and it is true about web design. While I was happy to get my website finally online last October, I knew when I put it online that it would require some maintenance and some creativity. With the exception of an annoying Internet Explore bug, don’t view my site in Internet Explorer, the site meets my minimum functional requirements: display the gallery, options to purchase works, and view my blog entries. While I will resolve the Explorer problem soon, I have turned my attention to the aesthetics of my website.

This past Christmas my wife gifted me a Bamboo Pen & Touch system. With this device I can sketch on my computer with a control level near that of a real pencil. I intend on using this pen for digital sketches and maybe even a full digital painting. However, for the moment, I plan on improving the look of my site with this pen. One thing I find when I view other websites is the clever use of color schemes, efficient layout of imagery, and the ease of navigation. I have gathered many ideas while surfing the web (does anyone still use that phrase?) and I’m now in the design stages of the next version of my site.

First, I plan on incorporating many videos into my site and thus I need a well laid out video page. When complete, you will be able to quickly select a video from my site as each video will have a brief description of the contents. I am also debating whether to trim the frame element from my existing video “My Bonny” because I think that as more videos are added to the page the extra graphics could look garish. Second, the image gallery is in need of some work. I have been teaching myself Flash and this gallery represents my first complete project in it. I would like to add a feature where the user can click on a painting and get an expanded or close-up view of that painting – right now the experience is limited to the size of your browser. Because there is no substitute for walking into a gallery and viewing actual paintings up close, the virtual gallery must be more flexible. Finally, the site is drenched in black with a green accent. This will probably change because I want to make the site warm and inviting to my viewers. The new color scheme is a work in progress.

As for the easel, the pirates painting is progressing as expected. I’ve been having some issues with rendering a likeness of a character, but other than that the work is progressing as normal; I‘m targeting completion by mid February. I have already begun planning for the next painting which you will see more of in the coming posts. Until then…..paint on!

Gaining Momentum

It has been a productive week for me – artistically. I have been working hard on my latest project, which is a Pirates of the Caribbean theme, and I really like where it is going. Because this is another gift for someone, I will have to hold off on showing you some progression photos, but I will have those up when the painting is complete. I am also in the process of creating another short movie about creating this painting.

I have spent the last year or two educating myself on the various techniques of still-life and figurative painting. When I finally went back to a landscape painting last year (The Runoff), I was disappointed in the results. I felt that my landscape skills had stalled and I realized I needed to balance my skills better to accommodate the various aspects of my current projects. For example, my current project is a mixture of figurative, landscape, and portraiture work. If two of the elements appear strong, they will still be overwhelmed by a weak third element. As nice a face I might paint, if the tree is a formless blob then the viewers eyes will just focus on that. So I have been working hard on my landscape skills and I hope it shows in this next project.

Thomas Gainsborough
Thomas Gainsborough

I guess I figured I had achieved a sense of accomplishment with landscape works or perhaps I just got a little bored with landscapes – or both. I entered the oil painting realm with the desire to paint landscapes, but then I realized that there was so much more I could cover that I got lost in my explorations. I can now say that figurative works are my favorite. I love depicting people in scenes that tell stories, however I still have a great love for landscapes. It’s funny that my feelings on these genres are completely opposite of my favorite oil painter – Thomas Gainsborough.

Gainsborough (1727-1788), was from England and was a tremendous portrait and figure artist. Even if you think you have never heard his name, you are most likely familiar with his most famous work The Blue Boy. Not only could he convincingly render emotions in his faces, but he could bring out the fine details of the clothing his subjects were wearing. In the Blue Boy for example, I don’t think it’s the youthful skin tones he rendered, but the blue satin on the boy that makes this a classic. Light seems to pour off the canvas from his costume even without the bright gallery lighting. I’ve been fortunate enough to see this painting in person (it sits in San Marino at the Huntington Library) and I was in awe of it. The eyes of the boy seem to penetrate his viewers and leave you pondering why he appears so confident. The boy gives off such confidence that you might suspect he has just won something. The background is so understated that you don’t even notice it. It’s a very serene landscape with earth tones to complement the cool blue satin of the costume. The funny thing here is that Gainsborough actually didn’t like doing portraits. He only painted them out of financial necessity. Commissions for portraits came in constantly which gave him a comfortable living. In his early years however, he was trying to sell his real passion – landscapes. They didn’t sell well though, not because people thought they were substandard, but because oil portraits were the rage in those times. So he continued the portraits to make his living and it wasn’t until his later years, after he made his mark on portraiture, that he returned to his first love.

The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough
The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough

While my first love was landscapes, it has since shifted to rendering people. Since I don’t have to rely on my art sales exclusively; I don’t have to target my works at a particular audience. I certainly appreciate the various genres of oil painting as they have their own inherit challenges. In my mind, a good artist can specialize in one genre, but since many paintings include faces, still objects, animals, and landscape elements (sometimes all of these in one), it is important to be competent in all of these areas. That is my goal now and that is why I am working on my landscape skills.

See you next post.

Prepare for Pirates!

Sometimes the hardest part about solving a problem is getting started. Where does this problem come from? Perhaps we see the problem and only think about the multitude of hurdles that could impede us as we work to completion. Perhaps we worry that we’ll invest laborious hours and heavy emotion into a project only to find us left wanting in the end. Or perhaps we are simply trying to put the horse before the cart – we have no attack plan. I’ve experienced all of these problems in painting and in other aspects of my life. I’ve learned through my failures that a good plan is required to solve any complex problem. No architect lays concrete or erects beams of steel before drafting a blue print. The same principles apply to the artist. For any subject with multiple characters or objects, we must conceive of the compositional sketch before we touch the canvas.

The Luncheon on the Grass c. 1865 - Claude Monet
The Luncheon on the Grass c. 1865 - Claude Monet. This shows the level of detail Monet put into his sketches so he knew what he wanted when he hit the canvas.

When I started painting in oils back in 2005, I never really sketched out my ideas. I simply had a vague idea about a scene I wanted to render and I went about doing it on canvas. In my mind, I was never going to make a mistake and my imagination was going to transfer to the canvas perfectly. Then I learned that what you expect to happen often doesn’t. I made many mistakes as I painted – both in form and composition. The results were paintings that disappointed me so much that I have them laying in a dark closet to only see the light of day when I need a harsh reminder about the dangers of impatience. Six years later, I sketch my ideas for days if not weeks before I even look at the canvas.

I think the best choice I’ve ever made in my little art career is carrying a sketch book. This book keeps everything from 60 second doodles to full pencil renderings of projects I want to pursue. Thanks to my wife, I now have two avenues with which to create my preliminary sketches. I was gifted a digital pen and pad so that I can now render simple sketches or full color digital paintings on the computer. Nothing can replace the pencil and paper, but this digital pen can do some great things. For example, I can draw a quick sketch, select a few colors for the sketch, and then move around the elements just to get a rough idea on what might work in the painting. I can also simulate oil painting in my sketches by clicking the mouse and changing from pencil mark to brush stroke. I admit that this system does take some getting used to. I’ve been training my eye to not look at my hand and focus instead on the screen. I’m practicing almost everyday so I’m making progress. I’ve completed some sketches of multiple projects that I plan on completing this year and I want to share with you the project I’m working on now.

Composition Sketch for upcoming Pirate painting.
Pirates Compositional Sketch - This was done with the Bamboo Pen & Touch program and adobe illustrator.

Based on the Pirates of the Caribbean films, this painting will depict pirate ships, a sea monster, and some familiar characters. With all of these elements in mind, I simply couldn’t jump on the canvas and try to sort it out as I went – the results would be a mess. So I’ve been sketching on paper and on the computer. You notice in this sketch that it’s a compositional sketch only. This means there are no details, no faces, no waves, no boards, and no puffs of clouds. This sketch is only to get the layout of the main elements – pirate, ships, and the monster. I then plunked in a few basic colors to get a quick idea of the color scheme. I’ve since settled more or less on this layout and so I printed this out as a reference for the duration of the work. The sketch is to scale so I can place markers on the actual canvas of where the subjects will be. I love this pen and pad. The product is the Bamboo Pen & Touch if you are interested in purchasing it. It only retails for about $100 so it is certainly affordable. You can expect to see more of these digital sketches on my blog and my website. Remember that preparation is crucial to the problem-solving process. This applies to every aspect of life and not just art – think before you leap and sketch before you paint.

In other news, I’ve just created a YouTube account and will start posting small videos of my painting projects for everyone to see. Anything on this channel will also reside on my website. I’ll have more information on this in the near future.

In my next posting, I’ll be talking about one of my favorite artists. Stay tuned and subscribe! Thanks!

It’s a Mad-Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone! I hope everyone had an enjoyable holiday season. I certainly did as I was able to visit family and friends over the last 2 weeks. One of my favorite things about the holidays is reminiscing over old stories of the silly things you did when you were younger. I got a few laughs out this holiday season and I hope you did as well.

With all of the visiting I was doing, I took time away from the easel. With the year closing, I looked back at my goal from New Years 2010 and realized I did not even come close to my goal of completing 12 paintings during the year. I managed 6 paintings though and that is still better then in recent years when I was only completing 4 or 5. My favorite painting of 2010 is easily “An Early Memory.” I love that work so much because I spent many hours glazing the bear to get the soft fur look of the teddy bear. I also think the warm light helped to convey a sense of affection in the scene.

Mad to the Bone
Alice is relying on this mad cat for assistance? All ways are the Queen's ways! Copyright 2010 Ryan G. Williams

My 6th painting you have not seen until now. That’s because it was a Christmas gift for my Sister-in-law and I didn’t want her to see it before then. She loves the Cheshire cat from the “Alice in Wonderland” story and so I decided on a scene that focuses on the cat and his “mad” guidance. In the scene, Alice is wandering through Tulgey Wood and is about to breakdown in tears of frustration when the Cheshire cat appears and offers some suggestions. Unfortunately for Alice, there is no clear path home and she will have to encounter even more mad characters before she escapes. The signs tease her about this way and that way and even a path home, but she is utterly lost because ultimately, “all ways are the Queen’s ways.”

The color scheme was made to emulate the Disney version of the story as is the cat himself. I did embellish the size of the cat though to give it more prominence in the painting. I wanted to capture the soft light in the distance of the paths to create a strong spatial relationship between the forest and the figures. Alice has her back to us to remind us that the focus is the cat and not her. You will notice on the main tree where the cat sits is a carving. The carving reads: “CW + NT” which is a reference to my Sister-in-law’s and my Brother’s upcoming wedding this year (Congratulations guys!). The original is not available but this painting is available as a reproduction on canvas and paper.

As the New Year begins, I have hopes of completing more paintings this year than last. I set a goal of 12 last year. I realize this just won’t happen this year as I am planning a move in the summer. So my time is limited to work on new projects. Still, I am setting a lofty goal of 8 paintings to complete this year. What do my plans include? My top priority is to complete a Disneyland painting I started in 2005. I simply lost my confidence in the layout when I started and decided to put it on the shelf for a while. I think I can rectify the problems with it if I change my approach so I am going to give it another shot. Also in the works is another movie-inspired painting – this one will be from Pirates of the Caribbean. I will also be tackling another landscape or two, a still life, and perhaps a portrait of a loved one. For the rest of the works you will have to keep checking my blog.

I would like to thank those people who purchased works of my art in 2010 including Brian Lacey, Tracy Cook, and Bob Weston. I thank you for supporting my art and I hope my works bring you enjoyment throughout the years.

Have a great and inspired 2011!

alice in wonderland art