Category Archives: contemporary impressionism

Figure drawing. How to improve your work.

A typical selection of notebooks or sketchbooks. From 4 x 6 up to 11 x 14, I use these to captures moments of everyday life no matter where I may be. I try to remember to make a note of the date and location as my memory is poor after time passes.

There are so many artists who really excel at figure drawing that I’m always envious of their talent and the ease at which they seem to be able to capture the human figure.  I’m not one of them.

For me, drawing the human figure is mostly a matter of hard work.  Draw. Draw. Draw.  That is my MO.

I was pulling out some notebooks in my studio this week.  In a career of over 30 years, I have a lot of notebooks!

I noticed that I seem to be attracted to figures of all types and sizes, all ages and venues.  I don’t concentrate on one “type” of figure.  Not the big eyed children nor the beautiful sylph models, but the old and the gnarled, the fat and the thin, children doing what children do, people doing what they do when they think nobody is watching.  I don’t think I have a type but others may disagree.

One thing that I noticed when I was pulling notebooks out of my flat files is that I’ve been consistent over the years with my drawing.  I draw a lot. This, more than practically anything else, has probably led to my ability to capture figures.  And I’ll admit right up front that not everything I’ve drawn has hit the mark.  But practice is the best way to develop a skill.

I have small notebooks (4 x 6) which I can squirrel away in a purse or bag.  I’ve been able to amuse myself at airports and museums, restaurants and beaches.  Nearly anywhere people gather.

This is a situational sketch in my small notebook. The location is Topaz Thai Restaurant in mid-town Manhattan. I did this while I was eating lunch. Toned markers were used for quick shading.

Macy Gray at the Iridium Jazz Club near Times Square. Using pen and toned markers.

It was late evening on Times Square. I found that if I leaned up against a wall, I could draw street vendors and other passersby without any notice. It’s a fun challenge.

Audience members at Birdland. I think we were waiting for Rita Moreno but can’t remember exactly. Should have written it down.

Some of my sketchbooks range up to 18 x 24 or larger, which are not always easy for transporting, but great for working on larger compositions.

For drawing instruments, I use everything from pencils to pastels, gel pens to markers to charcoal.  Each has a special characteristic but I suggest that you try many different types of instruments.

Some life drawing sketches. The model is Ron whom I’ve drawn for over thirty years. He can hold a pose for a long time and entertains the artists with stories in his southern drawl.

I’ve taken life drawing classes.  Yes, the models are naked but you get used to it.  I’ve drawn one male model, Ron, for over thirty years.  He’s not a Mr. America by any means but he’s a really great model with inventive poses which he can hold for a long time.  He’s in his 70s now!

Another typical life drawing sketch. If you look closely, you can see where I’ve made initial marks for the model’s trunk. Pencil is the medium.

These are quick sketches in life drawing class. Typically the artist is only given 2 – 4 minutes before the model changes poses.

We don’t get too many opportunities to draw two models together so this was fun. Also, nice to be drawing some real bodies with all the lumps and bumps.

And then when I’m working from photographs, I do several preliminary drawings of the subjects.  This helps me get acquainted with their shapes and postures.  I can work out problems before I even begin to tackle anything in paint.

This is one of several preliminary sketches that I made from photos for a painting I just completed. It’s good to work out problems before I tackle the final subject.

This is an older sketch of my son and granddaughter as a preliminary drawing for a large painting. I love the way his hands dwarf her tiny body.

More preliminary drawings from photos. The granddaughter and her tiny hand grasping her father’s shirt.

So my best advice is to get a notebook, any size but you might be more comfortable with a small one to start with, and a pen or some toned markers, and get to work.  You will be surprised but most people don’t even notice that you’re drawing.  I’ve drawn in restaurants and theatres, at musical venues and just along the street.  I’ve even drawn while in line waiting for a theatre to open!  Yes, really.

Asymmetrical composition

Beach Readers, Intimate Spaces series, acrylic on linen, 24 x 30, Kit Miracle The whole attraction of this subject was the irony of the two young women who are reading and totally ignoring the beautiful day at the beach. I also love the way the red beach chairs draw the viewer’s eye into the scene.

There are many rules of painting composition which I have discussed in previous blogs (search: composition).  These are usually conventional and are designed to lead the eye through the picture.  But one of my favorites is an asymmetrical composition, that is, not even or necessarily balanced.  I liken this somewhat to whether you are a candlesticks at each end of the fireplace mantle kind of person or you feel comfortable placing both candlesticks at one end (usually balanced by some other object at the other end.)  It’s just a matter of personal preference.

The painting above, Beach Readers in the Intimate Spaces series, is a good example of asymmetrical composition. The bright red chairs on the right lead the eye into the scene to the two girls who are reading.  Most of the other action is in that quadrant of the painting.  However, the small figure playing in the surf at the far left is able to balance the scene.  If you don’t believe me, cover the figure with your hand and see what a difference that makes to the feel of the painting.

Asymmetrical composition came into vogue in the 1880s and 1890s as the Impressionist artists were influenced by the import of Japanese prints.  These prints not only led to some experimentation in composition, but to flattened colors and situational composition.  This would be similar to a photograph that is just cut off at strange places.  This could include people looking out of the picture plane, cutting off the head or legs of horses, or even figures exiting the frame.

Below are several examples of paintings by Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet which illustrate this influence.  The first two artists collaborated for years with their printmaking but as you can see, the Japanese influence directly appeared in their work.

Mary Cassatt, Woman and Child in the Driving Seat.

Degas, more race horses running out of the picture plane. Lots of empty space but it works.

One of many Degas racing scenes. Notice how some people are only partially shown in the picture plane. This is a similar composition to my Beach Readers in that there is a big blank space in the lower left side of the painting, with the action on the right leading into the main subject.

Degas. Another very unusual composition of race horses and jockeys.

Degas, Place de la Concorde. Notice how everyone seems to be looking off in a different direction. And why are the little girls cut off at the waist?

Edouard Manet, Portrait of Gillaudin on a Horse. You can only infer the horse in this painting although the main subject is centered.

Exodus

Exodus, Intimate Spaces – Beach Series, acrylic on linen, 50 x 34, Kit Miracle

When I first planned this series of paintings back in January, it was in order to drill down and challenge myself to sticking with a theme.  In this case, Intimate Spaces – Beach Series, was meant to depict how people seem to stake out their territories at the beach, and then to presume that they are invisible to the outside world.  They aren’t, of course.  The Artist’s eye is one of observation, especially of the human animal, and how we go about our lives in public spaces.

There are sixteen paintings planned in this series.  I planned each one back in January, including doing preliminary drawings, NOTAN studies, and approximate sizes.  Some are fun or humorous, some relay my quirky sense of humor in observation, but some are more serious.

I am painting each work in the order that I’ve planned them.  However, as I drew closer to working on the painting Exodus, it seemed as if my thoughts turned to more serious matters.  That is due in part to the turmoil that our country has faced in recent months regarding the influx of people seeking sanctuary here.  This led me to reflect upon the Bible and the story of the flight of the Israelites from Egypt. (Exodus is the second book of the Bible.) Even up to the past few centuries when our country was populated by people seeking a better life than where they were from.  My mother immigrated to the United States when she was only nineteen.  I can’t begin to imagine the courage it took to leave everything and everyone she had ever known for the promise of a better life.  It still gives me pause to think about.

Exodus – Intimate Spaces, Beach Series, detail 1, Kit Miracle

So while this painting actually depicts a family leaving the beach at the end of a long day of sun and surf, with the young boy looking back wistfully at the ocean, it seems to hold so much more meaning.

Exodus – Intimate Spaces, Beach Series, detail 2, Kit Miracle

The actual painting is 50 x 34, the largest of the series.  No faces are revealed except that of the young boy.  And the family seems to be marching off into the sunset.

The sky ended up with multiple layers and the beach sand is heavily textured.  However, the figures are meticulously painted in a manner reminiscent of Renaissance religious paintings.  Even the children have slight halos.  I haven’t totally examined all my reasons for choosing such a method of painting but I’m sure it will dawn on me later.

To actually view the step-by-step painting of this piece, click on this link or go to the tab marked Artwork and scroll down to Exodus.

Thanks for stopping by.  Your comments are always welcome.

Alley View, Plein Air Painting, Jasper, Indiana

Alley View, Plein Air Painting, final, 16 x 20, acrylic, Kit Miracle. This shows the final view of the scene. I might tweak it sometime later after I live with it for awhile, but so far, I’m satisfied.

Although I do a fair amount of plein air painting, I don’t do too many competitions.  Today I participated in a local event which is always fun.  I’m familiar with the area so it’s always a challenge to find new and interesting things to paint.  Yesterday I scouted out a few locations. I don’t like to do what everyone else is doing but seek to highlight a vista that might make people see their own space in a new way.

Alley view, initial scene, very early in the morning.

So this morning found me sitting in an alley. I was drawn to this blue garage and the alternating light and shadows as I looked up the alley.  It was very peaceful on a Saturday morning at daybreak.

Alley View, 1st step. Using a red-toned canvas, I painted in the basic shadows and main shapes.

Alley View, second level. Here you can see more added colors. This is the point in a painting that everything looks like a real mess. But I’ve learned to just keep pressing on and it will come together.

As you can see, I started with a red-toned canvas, 16 x 20.  First I blocked in the main shapes and the darks.  Then I started to lay in the markers for the greens.  The last colors to go in were the lightest colors – whites, off whites, and the sky.  I don’t always work in this order but usually.

Alley View after two hours. Notice how the shadows have changed. Usually 2 – 3 hours is the most time I have for a plein air painting.

Despite the heat and humidity, my acrylic paints kept drying out quickly.  I didn’t bring a retarder with me so I kept having to spray the paint and add layer after layer.

But I enjoyed the peace of the scene.  A few dog walkers, a couple of interested passersby, the occasional bunny rabbit, and inevitably, the Saturday morning lawn mowers all created the peaceful atmosphere.

I might review the painting later to see if I need to tighten it up, but actually, I like the feel of a warm summer morning. How about you?

Alley View, Plein Air Painting, final, 16 x 20, acrylic, Kit Miracle. This shows the final view of the scene. I might tweak it sometime later after I live with it for awhile, but so far, I’m satisfied.

Family at the Beach

Intimate Spaces Series – Family at the Beach, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30, Kit Miracle

This is the twelfth painting in the Intimate Spaces Series.  Family Day at the Beach reminds me of the many beach scenes by Sargent, Sorolla, and even Mary Cassatt.  There is nothing really extraordinary about the scene and that is what I like about it.

If you look closely at the mother in the painting (click to zoom in), you will notice that she is very pregnant.  The son will soon have a sibling.  Dad is painted with a slight paunch.  Not all scenery at the beach is magazine perfect. This is real life.

Family at the Beach, detail. Notice how abstract the sand is painted. Layer upon layer.

Again, another detail of the sand in the foreground.  This is painted very abstractly.  There are many layers but the whole point is that the focus should be on the family and not necessarily anything else in the painting.

Settling In

Intimate Spaces Series – Settling In, acrylic on canvas, 28 x 38, Kit Miracle

This painting is number seven in the Intimate Spaces Series.  It is titled Settling In which is where the beach-goers begin to stake out their territories.  In this case, the woman in red is being helped by the beach attendant.

Intimate Spaces Series – Settling In detail 1, Kit Miracle

I was attracted to the complexity of the chairs and umbrellas, to the figures and the contrast with the brilliant blue sky.

Intimate Space Series – Settling In, detail 2, Kit Miracle This detail shows the abstract brush strokes I have used for the sand.

As you can see in the detail photo, I have painted the wet sand in a very abstract manner.  It is important to not be concerned about trying to depict every little detail, but to let the viewer’s eyes fill in the details.  The entire painting is a study in contrasts, between details and abstracts, light and dark, near and far.

More series, Intimate Spaces – Beach Series

Go! Number 11 in the Intimate Spaces – Beach Series. Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 16. Kit Miracle

I completed the twelfth painting in my Intimate Spaces series this week.  My thoughts behind painting this series of beach paintings is that when people go to the beach, they carve out their little spaces, arrange their belongings, and then seem to act as if they are invisible within their own little territories.  They’re not.

Maybe I’m just a voyeur, or just have an artist’s eye for observing, but I have always been drawn to people-watching.  The beach, of course, is a great place to be an observer of the human animal, but there are many other places to do that, too.  More thoughts for future series.

Many artists have created series of paintings around themes in the past century and a half.  Most notably are Monet and his haystack paintings or Van Gogh and his sunflowers.  Some artists work the same theme for their entire lives like still life painter Gorgio Morandi who essentially painted the same objects over and over.

And what is the point of painting the same thing over and over? you might ask. For some artists, like Monet, it’s to study the object or scene in different lighting conditions.  For instance, he would often have several canvases at different points of completion, and then work on them when the same lighting and conditions presented themselves.  Most notably, his Rouen Cathedral series, but he was known for this throughout his life.

For me, it is the challenge to drill down into the subject. I like to paint the human figure in situ, or it’s natural, unposed state.  How do people interact when they think no one is watching them?  With each other, or with their surroundings?

My series of beach paintings, I have sixteen planned in all, does exactly that.  Children, families, individuals, seagulls, the landscape – all of the interactions within a limited scope of place.  If it were a different beach or place, there would be different subjects and activities.

But I am surely getting tired of painting sand and sea and sky.  Not doing the beach for the next series, for sure but I already have ideas rolling around.  First, however, will be a little plein air painting for a change of pace.

Mixed Bouquet

Mixed Bouquet, original painting, 20 x 16, impressionistic style, Kit Miracle

Spring is finally ready to pop here in Southern Indiana.  The early daffodils and crocuses are out in force.  The tulips are up but not yet blooming.  I’m not sure if the narcissus will make it after the deep freeze  a week ago but the forsythias are ready to pop.

Meanwhile I’m still in the mood to paint flowers which finds me scouring my old photos.  This painting was based on a small bouquet of mixed zinnias from my garden.  I think the greens are sprigs of coriander with added bits of phlox and sweet peas.

Painting flowers is much more challenging than most people realize.  Some artists are so talented in painting every pistol and stamen but that is not my style. I prefer to capture the feel of the flower.  This is called impressionism.

As you can see if you view the detail photos, brush strokes are a mix of bold and soft.  It takes some practice to achieve this effect but all I can advise is to keep at it.  Or, wipe it off or paint over any less than desirable areas.

Mixed Bouquet, detail 1. Another closeup of the flowers. Loosely painted in impressionistic style.

Mixed Bouquet, detail 2. Notice the loose strokes and variegated painting.

Mixed Bouquet, original painting, Kit Miracle

This painting can be viewed on my Etsy shop here.

When you take a flower into your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else.  Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower.  I want them to see it, whether they want to or not. 

      Georgia O’Keeffe

Yearning for Spring

Yearning for Spring, framed, 16 x 20, acrylic on canvas, Kit Miracle, contemporary impressionist

I am just so ready for spring.  Living here in southern Indiana, the winters are usually rather mild, at least compared to my years in Michigan.  We will often get a little snow but not much to worry about.  I think winter here is really like a long fall.

However, this year Mother Nature seems to have taken a fit.  Warm one week just enough to tease the early bulbs out of the ground.  Then the next week, temperatures diving for the bottom of the thermometer.  Last week we saw lows of 10 degrees which meant our wood furnace (The Beast) was doing its best to keep up.  Yesterday we saw a high of 62 with some 70s predicted for next week.  Last evening the peepers could be heard in chorus in the bottoms.  Did I mention that I am really ready for spring?

I felt an irresistible urge to paint some spring flowers. With few early flowers out yet except a couple of bedraggled crocuses and some hardy daffodils, I turned to my photos of some spring bouquets.  And to step outside my usual style.  Same old, same old, gets boring in my opinion.

Yearning for Spring, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20, contemporary impressionist, Kit Miracle

The first bouquet consists of forsythia, double fancy daffodils and some branches of flowering quince.  I like the subtle colors here and aimed at coordinating the background to the flowers but to subjugate it to the foreground.

Dancing Tulips, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20, contemporary impressionist, Kit Miracle

The second flower painting took me in a different direction.  I aimed for bold colors and lively strokes.  This painting certainly accomplished that.  It almost looks as if the tulips are dancing.  To see the step by step for this painting, click here or go the Artworks tab and click on Dancing Tulips.

With the warming temps coming this week, my real tulips might be blooming. They’re already up several inches and it will just need old Sol to entice them out.  I’m ready!

Of course, both paintings are for sale at my Etsy shop.

Thanks for stopping by.

Spring is Nature’s way of saying, “Let’s Party!”       Robin Williams

Yearning for Spring, detail 1

Yearning for Spring, detail 2

Dancing Tulips, detail 1, Kit Miracle

Dancing Tulips, framed, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle

Afternoon Shadows – another painting beyond the photograph

Afternoon Shadows, acrylic, original painting, 14 x 18, contemporary impressionism, Kit Miracle

I thought I’d post another painting created from a photograph for my class. This photo was taken of our patio and arbor with the fire pit on sunny autumn afternoon.  I like outdoor scenes with a human element.  This will often include at least some kind of man-made item whether a building, fence post, road or path.  In this case, the setting gives the feeling of comfort and ease.  The chairs, the smoke from the fire, the dappled sun and shade all contribute to the atmosphere.  The turtle sandbox adds a touch of whimsy.

When using a photo as inspiration for a painting, it’s important to remember that it is a tool and a road map.  Take inspiration but don’t be afraid to change things.

Afternoon Shadows, detail 1. Click and enlarge the photos to see the brush strokes. Notice the background tree is just painted with a few strokes. And the smoke is just a glaze on top of the background. See the indication of the sun and shadows on the chair.

In this painting, I was trying to capture the feel of the afternoon sun. The smoke and fire indicates that there could be a chill in the air with a slight breeze.  The location and setting are inviting; it looks as if someone has just left the area.

Afternoon Shadows, detail 2. Zoom in on the vines and leaves to see just how loosely they were painted. The sandbox turtle adds a note of whimsy.

My style is not photo-realist but contemporary impressionist which works well for conveying the feeling of this scene.  The chairs beckon the viewer to sit in the sun or warm themselves by the fire.  Will a child come walking into the area to play in the sandbox? I love paintings that tell a story.

Afternoon shadows, detail 3. Zoom in on the posts and the background trees to see the brushstrokes.

As you can see by the detail images, I use loose strokes to indicate the branches and leaves.  From a distance, the painting appears to be much more detailed than it actually is.  It takes some practice and confidence to make just the right stroke to indicate a branch.  Or, if you make a mistake, just scrape it off and try again.

Afternoon Shadows, original photo. If you compare this photo to the painting, you can see areas that I have emphasized, changed or deemphasized.

Normally I would have painted a scene like this in plein air but I was busy that afternoon and only had time to capture the view with my camera.  That is one of the benefits of using photographs as inspiration.

Afternoon Shadows for sale

Peace is the beauty of life.  It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth.  Menachem Begin