A Country Girl Near the Dream City (revised – 2012)

I’ve been taking some previously completed paintings that I wasn’t happy with and making some changes to them when I thought that spending the time would be worth it. I recently made some big but fairly quick changes to “A Country Girl Near the Dream City”:

A Country Girl near the Dream City (2012)

A Country Girl near the Dream City (2012)

The way I see it, if I have something that I am almost happy with, it’s worth the risk of making it worse and it’s worth the extra time (let’s say an additional 15%) to try and make it better. I have been forcing myself to just focus on the key aspects that will improve the painting the most and have been pretty good about not letting myself start changing too much. I also ensure that I have a good plan of attack and have done studies so that I know how exactly to alter the painting once I get started. In this case I had been thinking about changes since last year, and did some tests in Photoshop to make sure that if I did alter stuff that it would look the way I wanted, rather than just employing trial and error which could end in frustration and an at least temporarily ruined painting.

This one went smoothly and I’m really glad that I took the extra couple hours so that now I have a painting I am much happier about.

A Country Girl near the Dream City

Update: I revised this painting later, new version is here

OK, I finished this a while ago but didn’t post it partly cuz I have been planning for a big Europe trip which I just came back from. I got to see lots of amazing art and scenery and stuff and am now fully inspired and ready to start on some new projects :)

I wanted this one to be a fairly quick project and I succeeded in that respect, this took me only about 12 hours to paint – that’s very short for me. It’s 11 x 14 inches, oil on canvas. I call it “A Country girl near the Dream City”:

A Country Girl near the Dream City

A Country Girl near the Dream City

A main goal was to use some atmospheric perspective in the landscape background and to use canvas instead of wood panel to try to get a nice soft feel, especially in the background. I am really happy with the way the landscape turned out and also had fun with the hair, which I did a bit differently this time. Some influences on this one were Tamara de Lempicka, Albrecht Dürer, and Leonardo da Vinci.

I used cobalt blue in the sky, landscape, and clothing. The landscape is mostly yellow ochre and other yellows plus cobalt blue.

I’m not sure how long I spent on the drawing and planning but I started painting on  March 2, 2011 and was done on April 3. I had a show I wanted this to be in so I didn’t putz around – it’s funny how much faster and smarter I work when I have a deadline. Looking back over my notes I had a good time painting this and it went very smoothly with minimal frustration – very nice after a couple recent projects that I kept changing over and over.

Here is the drawing:

Country Girl drawing

Country Girl drawing

 

After I completed the drawing I xeroxed it in order to preserve the original and rubbed graphite on the back of the copy. I then taped it to the canvas and went over it with a ballpoint pen to transfer the lines onto the canvas. I then went over those faint lines with a fine sepia sharpie and put a thin wash of transparent olive-green (black combined with yellow) acrylic to wash away the graphite and lock everything into place. I then painted everything directly with oils, no glazing or monochromatic underpainting on this one.

 

Transferring the drawing to canvas

Transferring the drawing to canvas

 

 

Dream City Girl 2 – WIP 2

This painting is moving along quickly, which is good because I am trying to finish it by next week if possible…in time for my art show. I don’t want to rush it though, so I might decide it’s not gunna happen. Hmm….

Oil on canvas, 11×14 inches.

dcg2-wip-03-23-2011-2

Dream City Girl 2 – WIP

Here’s a detail of a new painting I am working on. Right now I am calling it “Dream City Girl 2″ since it’s kinda like my Graveyard Girl from the Dream City painting.

It’s 11 x 14 inches, oil on canvas and I’m hoping to finish it within a couple weeks – a super-fast project for me, since most usually end up taking several months.

DCG2 WIP detail

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City completed

I just finished this painting, which I started in late November 2008. It’s called Graveyard Girl from the Dream City and is 11×14 inches, oil on panel. It’s a kind of surreal portrait of an imaginary girl in ornate finery standing in front of a tombstone-strewn night landscape with a dream city background.

For all posts about this painting, see the dream city category. I have a lot more info about this project in the earlier posts.

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City by Airn LeBus. Oil on panel, 11x14 inches, 2009.

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City by Airn LeBus. Oil on panel, 11x14 inches, 2009.

I’m pretty happy with how this turned out, it has a kind of shining dark clarity which I think is unique. Painting on panel and leaving a lot of hard edges yielded a crispness which contrasts with the surreal nature of the painting. It took “too long”, but I learned a lot. A lot of time was spent on the face fixing some issues, and a lot on the clothing which I had not planned out properly and which I changed halfway through. So like many of my paintings, much time was spent re-doing stuff or experimenting / figuring things out. I think painting on panel is more difficult for me than canvas, but I can’t glaze in the same way on canvas so I have been using panel when I am going for harder edges and lots of glazing.

Total time spent on this: about 40 hours painting and 14 hours drawing and planning.

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City (detail)

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City (detail)

On the clothing, I suffered from lack of reference material and the small size of the details. I wanted to do some gold embroidery like in the Ghent Altarpiece but after trying it for a few hours / sessions, I ended up painting over it and adopting a simpler approach. The gems in the middle ended up looking cool but part of the effect was accidental — I wiped off some paint and removed some lower layers by mistake. It made a kind of glow-effect that I kept and built on.

I like the final glazed-over face, even though I initially painted a dead layer that was too dark and it took me many careful sessions to lighten it. I left some parts “too dark” since she looks kind of corpse-like and it fits with the graveyard scene. I’m not quite sure if she is undead, or a ghost, or what. Her eyes follow you around the room though, so that must mean she is still alive :)

I glazed vermillion (hue) and yellow ochre over the raw umber dead layer underpainting to get the flesh tone. I also put more opaque white/yellow/vermillion for highlights and to lighten up the underpainting.

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City (background detail)

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City (background detail)

Once I finished this, I didn’t using retouching varnish. Varnish in general can really unify and deepen a painting and just overall make it look way better, but you can’t use a final varnish on an oil painting until it is truly dry; a general rule of thumb seems to be a year. You can put retouching varnish on when it is only touch-dry though, like maybe a week or two after your painting is done. I used to do that with all my paintings but a few of them are still sticky months later so I am going to stop using it. This one would be at major risk for the same thing, since many parts are thick with many fairly oily layers so I am already concerned about drying times.

Switching to mars black has helped, since it dries much faster than ivory black which I was using before. I also started ‘oiling out’ much more lightly after parts were sticky for many days due to too much oil in the oiling out and glazing process. Dust is also a major concern when the painting is sticky like that. Now I very lightly apply oil with my fingers and wipe as much off as possible, again with fingers or very gently putting a paper towel against the painting and running a finger over it to get the excess oil up. Even after a week of drying, rubbing a paper towel over the oiled-out painting seems to remove paint. I usually try to paint very thinly so depending on the color used and oil amount, a week is usually enough time for me to oil out and do another session. I use bleached linseed oil which I understand dries faster than normal linseed and also yellows less.

Who knows about all this stuff though, because scouring the web or books gives conflicting info, and there are so many different combinations of technique and materials which can yield different results. I just read books and search on the web, take everything I read with a grain of salt, and try stuff and if it seems to work I keep doing it.

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City – work in progress

I’ve been working on this painting since late November 2008, this is tentatively called Graveyard Girl From The Dream City and is oil on 11×14 inch panel.

For all posts about this painting, see the dream city category.

You can also jump to just the finished version here: graveyard-girl-from-the-dream-city-completed

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City (work in progress)

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City (work in progress)

Detail view:

Graveyard Gurl from the Dream City

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City (detail) - work in progress

Planning, transferring the drawing, imprimatura

I initially wanted to paint something like a combination of my old painting Pigtail Gurl and Dream City in a larger format and with the idea that I can do a better job now that I have more experience. I wanted to experiment more with the “dead layer” technique too, especially after trying it with my Christmas Angel painting and having some success with it there. As I was planning it out the drawing got more complicated and the buildings and such ending up being a bit less weird than the Dream City, although I will still use a similar palette and the skyline and sky will be similar.

I used Poser software to create a model of the girl that I lit and posed as I had envisioned and then used that as I would a normal photo reference. I did the line drawing all in Photoshop, and then printed it out at Kinko’s. I also did some color study stuff in Photoshop. I used graphite transfer paper to get it on the panel (tracing over my printed-out drawing). This is the first time I’ve tried this technique and it worked well, but I dislike the overall process and aesthetic of digital art so on projects I have been going back to traditional media (pencil/paper/etc) for everything, including the planning and initial drawing. After recently looking at some Albrecht Dürer stuff I’m even more inspired to get better at drawing and to generally eschew digital techniques. I ended up changing the drawing considerably later, I will post that later as a comparison to the final painting.

I went over the drawing on the panel in sepia ink (ultra fine Sharpie) and put a thin wash of olive greenish color over everything (imprimatura) using Turpenoid, a little Galkyd Light, tiny bit of red ochre, yellow ochre light, and ivory black. It really didn’t need to be that complex…a couple times recently I have used a few transparent coats of acrylic, very thin to keep it smooth, just black and yellow, for an olive green color. The imprimatura is partly to wash away the graphite and seal the pen, and partly as a ground for the next layer since the panel I was using was too smooth and shiny. You can also let the brush strokes show through to add variety and texture, although in this one I didn’t do that. I made sure not to use too much turps as it will cause the paint to lose cohesion, that happened to me on my Two Mushrooms painting. Using Turpenoid in the paint is not my favorite thing, that’s another reason for me to use acrylic for the imprimatura.

Dead layer underpainting

With the girl’s face, I am again glazing over a raw umber dead layer underpainting. It is very nice to just focus on the tonal values and such without worrying about color initially.

My first session of underpainting for the face ended up being way too dark, partly cause I had a rather bright light on my easel and it was too close to the painting, duh. I’m getting better about physically stepping back from the painting a lot, moving the light around and viewing under other lights, looking at the painting in a mirror, upside down, etc. I also know from reading and my experience with “failed” glazing attempts that the underpainting should be rather lighter that desired for the final result, since I will be glazing onto the shadows as well as the lighter areas later, darkening most of it except the highlights.

Here’s a photo close to the end of the dead layer stage (although this was too dark!) and then a pic of the work-in-progress after I had glazed on some color:

Dead layer version of Graveyard Girl from the Dream City

Dead layer version of Graveyard Girl from the Dream City

In the first dead layer underpainting session I spent about 3 hours mostly on the face. I used raw umber and titanium white with no turpentine, oil, or other medium. I mixed up 4 shades on my palette and was happy at first to have a fairly nice reference (for a change) from my Poser rendering. Later I bemoaned the poser reference for the lack of realistic details, a real photo would have been superior.

I used several of the same-sized flat and filbert / tapered brushes so that I could use one for each value of umber…I painted all the darkest areas, then moved up in lightness and painted a bit wet-into-wet, doing a little blending afterward with clean dry brushes.

After that I spent several more sessions working on the face, lightening further and defining features, etc. It seems generally better to err on the side of it being too light rather than too dark…as long as you don’t lose the drawing and definition between elements, it’s easier to go back and darken shadows than to lighten everything up. It can take several sessions to cover up a dark area with light since I paint thinly, and it can look funky and chalky putting white over a darker color when the dark shows through.

Palette and glazing over the dead layer

I used cadmium yellow light (hue) + mars black for the greens so far, and have been using fairly fine bristle brushes a lot lately. Pthalho blue for water and sky, french ultramarine in the sky too. Clothing is prussian blue. For black I use mars and white is titanium.

The flesh tone glazing has been vermillion and yellow ochre with bleached linseed oil. Before I glaze I “oil out” the skin area by rubbing on the oil with my finger, letting it sit briefly and rubbing off the excess with a finger or very carefully with a paper towel. Dust has been a major issue with glazing, I constantly need to check for and remove dust from the painting as I am working on it. Storing the painting in between sessions face down carefully leaning against a wall helps. Dust on big brushes is probably the biggest culprit.

So far I have spent about 24 hours total painting this with another 10 or so drawing and planning.

The next post on this will probably be in a few weeks and will be the completed painting.

I am going to do a separate post later about what I have learned so far about glazing and using a dead layer.

Dream City #1 completed

Multiform clouds of mist obscure unearthly blue pools and strange lichened structures loom over crumbling tombstones. Anubis watches over an arcane garden with its odd flora and steaming central pool…eroded, swampy cemeteries adjoin surreal towers. A silently staring eye peers down upon the city…a floating aqueduct hovers above a Scarab-shaped building and the glowing water tumbles down through another peculiar edifice.

I finished my Dream City #1 painting after many months and a plethora of major revisions…paint over a building here, add a channel of glowing water there, slap in an Eye of Horus here, a tombstone there…

Dream City 1 by Airn LeBus, oil on canvas, 14x18 inches, 2008

Dream City 1 by Airn LeBus, oil on canvas board, 14x18 inches, 2008

(I updated the picture above on 03-18-09 to a more accurate one, especially color-wise, and without the frame)

Really happy with the frame I had made for this one. I got it at Craft Essentials in Goleta…the color and distressed texture look great with the painting and I think the gold design around the edge fits well with the Egyptian motif.

I compiled some of the various stages and revisions this went through…it looks so much different now than the initial sketch and early versions!

Early versions of Dream City #1

Early versions of Dream City #1

Later versions of Dream City #1

Later versions of Dream City #1

Definitely going to do another Dream City, next time I will plan it better and do it on smooth panel rather than canvas so I can do details better…it was rough to try smaller details with the heavy canvas texture. Much like the Cracky-Chan painting, I have been working on this so long I have become a better painter whilst working on different paintings in the interim, so when I came back to this one it was tempting to try to “fix” a ton of stuff that I think I could do “better” now. I generally resisted that urge, although I did modify some buildings and clouds/smoke/fog and water and such on my final night of painting this, 11/05/08. It always takes me at least a week to post a finished painting cause I let it dry a while then put retouching varnish before I take a picture.

Overall I am happy with the look and feeling of this painting; my three favorites I have done so far are this one, The Well III, and Jovial Jack O’ Lantern. The next painting I will start is related…another odd girl kinda like Pigtail Gurl but I want to include part of this cityscape behind her so that she is sitting for the portrait in the Dream City.

Dream-City #1 (update 5)

Here’s the latest update to my Dream-City oil painting…actually about a week old but I got a good pic of it in outside lighting with dry paint today so I’m able to post a picture where you can actually see the sky and such :) This is still a work in progress.

Dream-City work in progress 09-10-08

Dream-City work in progress 09-10-08

Look at the Dream City category to see all posts on this topic where I talk more about the painting and such.

Dream-City #1 (update 4)

I made a ton of changes to this one tonight and over the past week. I started a bunch of Egyptian stuff including a giant scarab building, Eye of Horus, and a building with the head of Anubis. I altered many other parts, my painting has improved a bit since starting this in April so I’m going back over some stuff I was not happy with. I am really having fun with this one, once it’s done I plan on doing more along these lines for sure!

I really like doing the vegetation and grassy bits, I’ve been using yellow ochre/cad yellow light/viridian/raw umber/titanium white/terre verte. I’m mostly using a splayed out cheap round brush for the flora and it works great! The water is also super fun and it’s mostly phthalo blue and white, maybe with some lamp black and raw umber which I use a lot in general. I really like the way it looks to have the earth/grass sinking into and decaying into the water like on the left where the tombstones and crosses are…also the parts where you can see stone and stuff under the water like in the lower left…I dunno why but I really love that :)

Dream City as of 08-07-08

Dream City as of 08-07-08

Dream-City #1 (update 3)

Here’s the latest version of Dream City #1. Dunno how much more I’m going to do on this, but I expect several more sessions till I’m done.

Look at the Dream City category for all versions.

06-28-08:

06-24-08::