Friday, January 11, 2013


My second course this past fall semester was also an oil painting course: "Situation and Environment" under the tutorship of Warren Chang - an impressive artist who worked several years as illustrator and then turned to fine arts, specializing in autobiographical interiors and field worker scenes - basically genre paintings. The title and course description suggest also this type of painting, with a treatment of the figure in setting, atmosphere, mood, narrative and the like. In reality, unless you are prepared to go the extra mile of inventing the environment for your figures (which is optional), this is basically a figure painting course, not very much different from Figure Painting or Sustained Figurative Concepts. Every week you had a choice of 4-5 model poses to paint from and you could create an environment fitting the figure if you felt thus inclined. For example by doing something like this:



The fun part were the three extra big projects that you had to plan, design and reference yourself - that was a  fantastic learning experience, and my first shot at calling in a model. I finally gathered the courage to ask a friend of mine to pose for me - with instruction, direction, lighting, etc....I was very surprised by how willing and flattered she was. Not only that, but many other friends who caught wind of this asked if they could pose too. So, what Jeannie Brunnick was telling last semester is right: it is easy to find models among your friends and aquaintances! For the second and third projects I used myself and my family as models, mainly for time reason. Stil, it was great fun to direct them and to organize mock-up costumes, props, maquettes, lighting schemes, etc...I could fully enjoy my passion for drapery by designing each scene to include unusual materials and a variety of textures. The stressful part was that these projects, although they span four weeks each, were on top of the weekly figure paintings, which used beween 8 and 12 hours studio time. The last project I painted during a lonely weekend, basically without interrumption for 40 hours or so.
The course itself is incomplete in that nothing in the course material really prepares you to the task of fitting a figure in an environment, especially if you are making it up or combining different references, as I chose to do most of the time. There is nothing on determining the horizon on the figures, nothing on consistency of light and color scheme, very little on mood and narrative, nothing on shadow consistency, etc.. etc. In fact, I relied on several of the topics I learned in ILL - 625 "Drawing from Imagination" (now called with understatement "Perspective for Illustrators"): so much that I think it was the first time that I really understood the power of what I learned in that course. So my advice is, if you want to be able to create full scenes using multiple unrelated reference, take "Situation and Environment" after "Drawing from Imagination". If you are only interested in an advanced form or figure painting, then this course is fine as a standalone.
Warren Chang´s critics are on the succint side and sometimes I missed the answers to specific questions. He is a knowledgeable painter and a tough but fair grader and I have learnt a lot from his comments - yet, not what I had expected to learn. It was a similar experience as with Jeannie last semester - I really understood her only after the semester was over. 
Overall a useful course, though not for the reasons I thought. And I feel myself a big step further in the direction I am aiming at, which is realistic fantasy illustration.

Here are some of the weekly exercises - all oils in an approximate 16" x 24"  (40 x 60 cm) format. 
I will discuss two of the three big assignments in a future blog on technique.

We also had exercises on the environment only: this was for exterior environment. To  my utter surprise, it was the only piece to make it into the Winter Show. Fine Artists are strange.... (the winter show is a purely FA show).
This was my first 4-week assignment, for which my friend generously posed. It took me 7 hours just to paint the window, but it was a great experience. The clothing, books and dragon came from improvised maquettes and one of my daughter's toys. I got a B for this one, on the accounts that is too dark and the figure is a bit overworked. Indeed, the original (and the first photo I sent in) are very dark. But then, thanks to Photoshop, I changed it to this version, which I actually somewhat like. Oh, it's nice to be an illustrator in the 21st Century!
And then, should not dungeons at night be dark places??!

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