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Old 02-10-2005, 12:42 PM   #1
Rob Sullivan Rob Sullivan is offline
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Rachel, Early Spring




Oil on linen, 22" x 17 1/2". [As with my other post here, done from life.]

This is an important piece for me in that it was a kind of "breakthrough" in my figurative work. In this case, "breakthrough" is a nice euphemism for "I made a whole lot of mistakes doing this!"

This actually started out as an alla prima but it quickly went south. I loved the pose and setup, though, and I felt I had at least captured the gestural quality of Rachel. She is a great model: she's very comfortable posing; she has a lovely and limber figure, enhanced by her devotion to yoga; and her features are distinctly unique with her aquiline nose and bow lips. I decided to "save" the painting because of these factors.

Little did I know how long this would take. My shadows got too opaque, for one (this is something I have striven to change as the years pass). Also, I had the figure and head rendered when I realized that I had altered the position of her head as it related to her shoulders. Try as I might, no amount of fancy painting could fix this. I wasted a 3-hour session in total denial. Rachel went home and I sat there looking at the thing, knowing it was wrong. What to do.

I remembered Sargent's painting, Mr. and Mrs. John Phelps Stokes. He painted Mrs. Stokes' head something like 12 times, scraping it out with each unsuccessful try. At that moment I thought myself arrrogant and stupid to think that I couldn't or wouldn't do the same at least once! I let her head dry, and I sanded it off. I'm glad I did.

Rachel models for a few painters here in Maine, as well as various drawing groups, and is a painter herself. As I'd said - her features are unique, so capturing her character took a lot of careful study. Towards the end of what I thought may be our last session, Rachel looked at it and told me that out of all the paintings and drawings people have done of her, this painting looked the most like her. So I stopped, because that's what I was going for.
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Old 02-10-2005, 11:33 PM   #2
Cynthia Daniel Cynthia Daniel is offline
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Images are now approved.
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Old 02-11-2005, 02:03 AM   #3
Kimberly Dow Kimberly Dow is offline
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Rob,
This is beautiful and graceful. I liked hearing about your initial difficulties - inspiring! I'm glad you worked it out - this is a pleasure to view.
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Old 02-11-2005, 09:29 AM   #4
Sharon Knettell Sharon Knettell is offline
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Rob,

Thank you for sharing the obvious success of this painting, but the difficulties behind it.

I have done a head over many times to achieve the expression or subtle angle I was looking for.

This extra effort was worth it as it showcases the unusual and refreshing beauty of your model.

I love the background, it gives it a personal sense of place.
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Old 02-11-2005, 11:55 AM   #5
Linda Brandon Linda Brandon is offline
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Questions, questions!

Gosh, Rob, this is really very beautiful. I really like these skin tones.

I especially like the tacked-up drawings behind her and also the unzipped dress on the hanger. In fact I like them so much I plan to steal your ideas in future paintings.

About the diagonal lines on the right side of the painting: to what extent did you paint what was there or did you manipulate reality to create a better compositional solution? And did you include the drawings and the dress for similar reasons?
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Old 02-11-2005, 12:56 PM   #6
Rob Sullivan Rob Sullivan is offline
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Kimberly - Gracias. I suppose it is inspirational to come through difficulties like these, but at the moment they happened, I didn't feel inspired, I felt like a guy stuck in an avalanche with only a teaspoon.

Sharon - I very much appreciate your inclusion of this work in the section. I hoped it would fit, for the intent of my figurative work is to go beyond the academic study and portray character, just like a portrait (although sometimes I go for narrative). Therefore, I'm so happy that you perceived the surroundings as "personal" - for that was a big part of my intent in this piece.

Well I'm flattered by your willingness to pilfer not only my teaching ideas, but my painting ideas as well, Linda! Oh, I'm kidding. Actually, I really am flattered if you feel that it works so well that you'd want to try it.
It may be your monitor, or it may be the fact that the bottom third of this painting experienced blotchy reflections from a bad retouch varnish job by me , but those are leather pants on the hanger, not a dress.

The pants on the hanger, the drawings tacked to the wall, and even the outlet on the lower left were all added after the fact. The manipulated reality here is the fact that she was posed to the left of the window for the sake of my eyes (the contrast of the light outside right behind her would have totally confused my eyes), but for better balance, I moved her over in the painting. Also, the rooflines mimicked her pose, so I hung the hanger just so to keep that flow going.

The drawings and electrical outlet were also compositional, but the drawings are 10 minute life studies of Rachel, so it becomes like a triple portrait (Rachel loved this idea). The pants are Rachel's. If you can believe it, Rachel is actually very shy - a strange irony for a nude model, but true nonetheless. She rarely wears clothes at all, actually - so her wardrobe is relatively unimportant to her. Since she modeled for me often, she opened up around me and I got to know her well. So, when she showed up one morning in leather pants (second hand; she couldn't resist at $10), I had a little fun with her, saying, "Look at you in your rock star pants! Can I have an autograph?" She was a little embarrassed, but she thought it was funny, too - the irony of this shy woman in tight leather. I included them in the painting not only because they were hers, but when she was not wearing them, she was truly herself.

Hope you don't mind the long anecdote. To make up for it visually, I'm including a "skin detail". I wanted to crop in to the bellybutton ring because I saw Jimmie Arroyo's pastel piece w/ the nose ring
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Old 02-11-2005, 01:45 PM   #7
Maria Nemchuk Maria Nemchuk is offline
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Rob,

Very beautiful! Thanks for sharing the story - I love stories behind paintings. They make everything even more intriguing


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Old 02-11-2005, 04:22 PM   #8
Jimmie Arroyo Jimmie Arroyo is offline
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I like everything about this. It's not just a study of the figure, but elements personal to her, and what's going on in your studio giving a peak into your life. Great that you stuck to it, there are plenty of times I've wanted to scrap work, but am happy that I kept going. It should work to your benefit twice, one that you have a great piece, and two that you've gone through a learning experience. Congrats!
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Old 02-11-2005, 04:54 PM   #9
Garth Herrick Garth Herrick is offline
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Dear Rob,

This is such a solidly painted and graceful figure. The contextual background enhances and graces her like an added dimension. Just beautiful to enjoy and study!

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Old 02-12-2005, 09:50 PM   #10
Rob Sullivan Rob Sullivan is offline
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Thank you, Maria. I'm glad that you like the "inside view". But, I should tell you - being Irish, I have a long-winded story for everything. This is not always as charming as I sometimes think it is

Jimmie - very nice to hear the kind words. Well, I should be honest in telling you that it sometimes takes a few tough paintings for me to finally learn what not to do. I'm a little thick like that.

Garth - It's very gratifying that my work might give you pause to enjoy. My only hope is that I can deliver that consistently.

I see now that the closeup posted. There's some "fingerpainting" in here that can be seen. I dry scumble lighter (and fairly saturated) values over the top and use my fingers to smooth and push the paint into the linen texture. Because of this "burnishing", it gives the light tones a porcelain-like effect. I don't know who else does this, but I was influenced by the texture of Brett Bigbee's work. I couldn't figure out how he got that high sheen, so I experimented.
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