Bret Blevins

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More Chalk Drawings

The Aesthetic Invitation
For the last few weeks I've been preoccupied with the challenge of working through a change in my approach to making images, and have neglected the blog--I also owe responses to several of you who have been kind enough to comment. I apologize for my flighty behavior! I'll catch up to my ambitions of prompt and steady blogging soon--it's been an unexpectedly busy summer, not least because our son begins college in August. A big change for the family!The prior string of posts discussing the merits of life drawing coincided with a burst of intense and frequent sessions of working from the live model--more than I've done in years. Over the last several months of steady driving effort I've felt I was pushing beyond a plateau and within the last two weeks I suddenly (it seemed) reached the crest I was searching for. This continuous period of intentional and progressively more instinctive and intuitive experimentation gelled as I pushed, pushed, pushed through hundreds of drawings and dozens of paintings--and eventually lifted my efforts to a new level of awareness that I've been after (not always consciously) for many years.This shift is difficult to describe in words and I haven't written about it here before now because I wasn't sure I'd climbed within sight of a new horizon I could hold in view, or merely struck a pleasant spell of heightened perception that would slip away from me when other schedule pressures and distractions began to crowd my time. (A regrettably familiar pattern). I'm confident I'm onto a new path though, after an unbroken chain of art-making sessions devoid of an unsure step--a delightful experience!I've titled this entry "The Aesthetic Invitation" because that phrase best describes the new attitude that seems to be responsible for the fresh (and more importantly, consistent) energy and resonance I'm discovering in my work. I've found a way of shifting my mind toward a distinct, aesthetic assessment of possibilities that are evident in the subject I'm contemplating--before I put a mark down. This can be an almost intangible effect that is outside my habitual spectrum of observation; instead of immediately beginning to mentally measure proportions or locate the placement of contours, shapes and space relationships, I may decide to attempt a visual impression of the fleshy mass of a model's body pressing into the atmosphere around her or him--a subtle essence of a perceived quality that is more than just accurate observation of physical dimensions and form. Or perhaps I might focus on conveying, by means difficult to exactly label or describe, a sense of the person's mood, or an expression of languor, or contained nervous energy.The resulting process is a flow of largely subconscious intimations that continuously suggests a series of spontanteous yet specific expressive marks; a twist or smearing of a line, smudge, tone or stroke that conveys the impression my mind is responding to, all building and coalescing in harmony as the work reveals itself. This is a real contrast to my familiar typical method of making drawings, or at least the method I'm usually conscious of as I work.I see now that this semi-awareness I'm attempting to explain is responsible for every "especially good session" I've ever had, but in the past I had no reliable "technique" for "bringing the spell on"--accessing this mental zone of heightened acuity. I now possess an excited confidence that I've unraveled an old and difficult impediment, often described in many creative endeavors as the problem of "getting in your own way", "over-thinking", "trying too hard", and so on. Or more simply and poetically phrased, I've found a way to draw primarily from my heart instead of my head. Hard-won knowledge and skill are indispensable, but in art they must support emotion, not dictate or overpower it.These portraits of my friend and fellow artist Fred Pooreare examples of the expressive intensity and clarity I've beenwriting about--they are made with Cretacolor chalks, a mediumnew to me that seems to be a perfect fit for my naturalinclinations. I felt a new and and wonderfully comfortable"easy insight" as I drew these--I was confident of the merit ofmy perceptions and was sure I could express them--aworking condition I am not accustomed to!This was the last pose of the session--Fred is holdingthe model's timer, posing because our scheduled modeldidn't show. I think this is the best drawing I did that day, as each piece fed the next and I grew simultaneouslymore relaxed and focused with each pose.Although the above drawings are accurate in form and contour, that correctness is not the strength of the images--an intangible quality of human consciousness, expressed here with a new (to me) confident grace and vitality is the appeal. I've been trying to consistently achieve this gestalt of seemingly effortless spontaneity and emotional precision in my work for thirty years--I can't tell you how much fun it is to be so pleasantly surprised by these drawings when I stop my hand and take an objective look at what's emerged. It feels like the welcome end of long hard trek!

Why Draw from Life? (Part Three)
(Photo by Bruce Fee)The artist at work and the result.Today I’ve posted more images drawn or painted directly from life, done in several mediums; pencil, colored pencil, graphite and Prismacolor on toned paper, oil paint, and the most charmingly spontaneous of all (to my eyes), watercolor touches over a simple fluid pencil contour line.Oil on canvas panelPrismacolor on toned paperGraphite pencilPencil and watercolorMany of these images may seem slight in technique and detail, but they are the result of over 30 years of serious effort toward mastering the art of drawing—at age 46 I’ve devoted more than three quarters of my life to an almost daily obsession with training my eyes and hand to express my impressions—and also anything I can imagine. This history is on my mind lately as I spend more and more time facing an easel and a physically present subject rather than hunching over a drawing table, lightbox or Wacom Tablet creating worlds directly from my imagination.A few years ago I began to carve time away from my commercial deadlines and return to an idea of creating paintings for myself—an idea I had pushed aside when I moved into drawing comic books full time in 1981. I can’t say I intended to virtually abandon painting, but the demands of monthly comic book cartooning/illustrating soon reduced my non-hired art-making pursuits to private sketchbooks and occasional life drawing sessions.I quickly grew to love the challenges of visualizing scripts or plots though, in both comic books and later animation storyboards—the demands are staggering, really—at least as I approached it. I know of no other art forms that are so demanding—you must be able to draw anything—under tight deadline pressure—that you or a writer can imagine, and possess an intricate understanding of drama, directing, staging, lighting, timing, cutting, editing, acting, set design, costume design, all the technical rules that make film storytelling work, in addition to the vast demands of visual art itself—composition, form, perspective, anatomy, etc…. the list goes on and on. Add the tenets of painting—color, value, texture, learning to handle various mediums—the challenges are literally endless.I stubbornly kept my dream and ambition intact though—to become a great draftsman was always the distant gleam of promise that kept me slogging through the dreary bouts of exhaustion, frustration, failures, disenchantments, vast workloads, crushing stress of deadlines, and often indifferent and occasionally hostile reception to my work. (I’ve had my share of praise too, for which I am grateful.)I never worked for recognition though—I was after experience and knowledge, and used my assignments as a laboratory in which to test myself. I fought against developing comfortable habits and though I was often prompted by exhaustion to try, I was never able to devise effective “shortcuts”—I was compelled to stretch and push in some particular way on every assignment. This doesn’t mean I created an unbroken chain of masterpieces—far from it! The harsh deadlines forced countless compromises and constant all-night bleary-eyed coffee-soaked grind sessions to get a job out the door, but I held on to my ambitions to keep learning and growing, and now feel I’ve reached a harvest time.Because I decided early on to treat my commercial career as an opportunity to educate myself rather than gain notoriety or use the subject matter of assigned work as a vehicle for personal expression, I can’t deny I’ve often felt lost in an avalanche of hired work that seemed a world away from my own nature and interests. In spite of this I’ve somehow made it to this point with all my enthusiasm intact, which rounds this ramble back toward my central topic; why draw from life?The discipline of making thousands of studies like those above lead to the ability to invent believable fantasy characters with convincing weight, gesture and anatomy such as these excerpted figures from commissions in progress;As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, since beginning this blog I’ve received numerous inquiries about the non-fantasy images—some flattering and enthusiastic, some perplexed and even disappointed. To many fantasy art fans, prosaic subject matter such as still lifes or realistic figure drawings are inherently uninteresting. I understand this reaction, but do not share it. After more than two decades of straining to render outrageous fantasy characters and environments believable and entertaining, I find I am now most excited by the prospect of capturing a subtle and honest essence of some aspect of the natural, real world I (and you) live in.I’m sure I will always love and invent fantasy, but my particular fascination is to create, by achieving a convincing portrayal of human (or superhuman) consciousness, an illusion of living, thinking, feeling personalities. The only source for this inspiration is the real thing.So I find that I have been after one essential quality all along and throughout all my various endeavors as an artist—an illusion of life, animation, a spirit of reality that calls forth an emotional recognition in the viewer or reader. When I work from life, I want to convey the spontaneous empathy I feel with the model as a fellow human being—I don’t want to draw a body, an assemblage of anatomy—I want to portray a person, always. When I paint a still life or landscape, the objects exist only as expressions of their use or creation by human touch, or as a place where people have lived, walked, worked, fought, loved.As odd (even to myself, in certain moods) as it may sound, these days I am as incited to enthusiasm by the prospect of painting a stained broken teacup in a dusty shaft of light as I am by the challenge of portraying a horde of lost souls tumbling through an afterlife dimension into my wildest fantasies of Hell.An artist’s life is full of surprises!

Why Draw from Life? (Part Two)
I believe drawing from life with sincere observation (not a mechanical, unmindful or borrowed procedure or set of expectations) will inevitably reveal a visual reflection of your distinct identity, or what is vaguely termed your "personal vision". It may take time to work through the difficulties of drawing on the spot under the pressure of time, and escape mannerisms you may have absorbed from the study of other artists, but the rewards of perseverance are worth the trouble.It's true that not every artist is interested in making artwork that attempts to convey a realistic appearance--an abstract expressionist may find life drawing an inhibition, but many other non-literal forms of realistic image-making are deepened by accumulating a storehouse of natural-world observation drawing and painting experience. Constant recording of the reality around you trains your mind and hand to quickly discern the essence of your attraction to a subject, which filters down into your subconscious and creates a rich source of information that will help you invent convincing characters and scenes from imagination.Here are a few recent quick sketches I made during a trip to Disneyland, in celebration of our daughter's 13th birthday. Occasionally I would pass on a ride, find a comfortable spot and relax by drawing for a few minutes, in a 5" x 7" sketchbook.Drawn across two pages, from a shady spot near theIndiana Jones Adventure ride. People were streamingpast constantly so I had to choose paused figures toinclude and scrawl them down fast.I sat out an early morning raft ride and drew this imposinggiant cartoon grizzly bear figure. I intended to include peoplefor scale but it was too early for much traffic, I guess. The wallbehind the bear in the lower left of the frame is around five orsix feet high. It's a BIG bear!These two fellows are part of the decorations acrossthe walkway from the Enchanted Tiki Room.This large bird was on the shore of a pond at the baseof the Thunder Mountain Railroad.This is a quick sketch of my tired daughter Katyas we waited for the shuttle to run us back to ourhotel for a short late afternoon nap, to strengthen usfor adventures in Disneyland After Dark. I've done countless thousands of quick sketches like those above, which enables me to invent characters and scenes such as these;Without a large store of observed natural information to call uponI could never have satisfied my ambitions here--most of thepersonality-revealing elements of the drawings are directcaricatures or distilled, carefully composed exaggerations ofgestures and expressions I've logged away in memory. So I encourage anyone interested in creating believable personalities in their fantasy artwork to do as much observation drawing from life as possible. It's not only valuable, it's great fun--and making the practice a habit will develop an addiction you won't regret!

Babs and Lydia
I was knocked off my intended blog-posting schedule for most of May byunexpected animation and illustration jobs, but they are comingto a close and I'll be posting regularly again beginning nextweekend, and I should also have a completely revamped websiteup by midsummer. I have many projects to share and many ideasto discuss over the next few months--changes are rife for me latelyand almost all of them are welcome and long awaited!Below are two recent experiments; fantasyportraits done with watercolor and casein, 5 x 7 inches.I attempted to blend caricature, the spontaneous design ofa good sketch, an essence of personality, and a playfultreatment of the paint in these tiny images.Babs Lydia

More May '07 Life Drawings

Why Draw from Life? (Part One)
I've received questions from several readers about thepurpose of life drawing in the creation of fantasy art, andindeed this seems to be a common theme--over the yearsI've been asked this many times, and some of these inquirieshave been from fellow fantasy artists, who see the realism of lifedrawing as a detriment to flights of invented fancy.I obviously don't agree, and will have a lot to say on the subject inupcoming posts--in the meantime here a few recent examplesfrom our local weekly sessions.

New Acrylic Genre Paintings
Below are two acrylic paintings on matboard coatedwith gesso. After many attempts to find a comfortablemethod of working with acrylic paints I may have finallyfound an approach that feels natural to me. I dislike thebehavior of acrylic over canvas--the semi-dry paint isscraped from the raised weave too easily while thework is in progress, and the vivid color is too brightand flat compared to oil. In these pieces I obtaineda warmer, more subtle effect of color by buildingup thin layers of glazing and scumbling over theabsorbant, slightly textured surface.The images are fun cartoony stylizations createdespecially for the Arts Prescott Co-op Gallery.PercyMoonRaven

Nudes with Cats
I've been overwhelmed with work for the past few weeks (a storyboard for Warner Bros Animation), but have a store of images and ideas I'll be posting soon--in the meantime here's a couple of cute watercolors from a life drawing group. Our host Jody Bell's cat Peaches liked to get into the act with the model.

Sarah Study
The painting at the end of the live session with the model.The final image, finished and embellished from memory.Our return engagement of the pose seen in the prior post "Life Painting 4-15-07" took place yesterday morning--I chose another viewpoint and did a small study on a square canvas panel. I decided to try a quiet, flat decorative approach--this is really a colored drawing more than a rich layered oil painting. I don't know why, but I felt an impulse to make a pleasant design rather than strive for the intense optical observation of Sarah existing alive in space that I chose to pursue in the earlier life painting sessions of the front view of this pose.I took a snapshot of the painting at the end of the modeling session, then worked on it from memory for another hour or two. I concentrated on the figure, and abstracted the background and chair into pleasant shapes. The result is a decoration image of slightly stylized forms, very light in emotional content.It's odd how various your moods can be in almost identical situations, and surprising how directly the act of painting will reveal them. I didn't want to struggle with this piece, I wanted to relax and amuse myself--so I made a painting devoid of much psychological resonance. It's just a pretty picture, but there seems to be room in my personality for many levels of expression--in fact my head feels pretty crowded at times!

Dr Syn, Alias the Scarecrow
The rough pencil and final color versions of theintroductory image that began the painted Scarecrow series--the gallows was deemed a bittoo grim, so we replaced it with Scarecrow'scompatriot Curlew. These costumes are fun to paint!On page six the first two panels have been combined intoone in the final art, which improves the clarity and flow.I strengthened the watercolor and gouache with Dr Martin'sTech Inks on this story--evident here in the intense yellowaround the candle flame.As you scroll up, the small pencil layouts for eachpage are followed by the final painted art. I changedthe splash (first) page considerably from the roughlayout because the shape relationships seemed toostatic--the contour of the Scarecrow's shoulders istoo similar to the horizontal lines of the house and cliff.A snapshot of the story pages near completion in my studio.A few years ago Disney Adventures Magazine comics editor Steve Behling approached me about illustrating Pirates of the Caribbean stories, and I began collaborating with writer Michael Stewart on one of the delights of my career as a visual storyteller. We created a string of a dozen or more short stories full of rollicking adventure laced with humor, featuring everybody's favorite pirate Jack Sparrow. Michael never failed to strike just the right balance of wit, whimsy and excitement in these little gems of entertainment suitable for comic readers of every age.Along the way I suggested we bring another colorful Disney swashbuckler into our Jack Sparrow adventures--the marvelous Scarecrow of Romney Marsh as portrayed by Patrick McGoohan in the terrific three-part television series from 1963, Dr Syn, Alias the Scarecrow.We introduced the Scarecrow into our Sparrow storyline just before a decision was made to generate all Pirates of the Caribbean comic book material from European studios--but thanks to the determination and efforts of Steve and fellow editorial true believer Jesse Post, Michael and I were soon reunited on new Scarecrow solo adventures. My affection for the character demanded a special treatment to present him to a fresh audience--I realized I had to paint the pages! Steve indulged me and it's been so much fun visualizing Michael's inspiring stories, I still find it hard to believe Dr Syn and his heroic alter ego are looking back at me from my drawing board--it's a lucky project!I've scanned the layouts and final art from one of the stories, along with the splash page from the first story of the series.

Life Painting 4-15-07 (Part 2)
Here is the final stage of today's session. Thepainting isn't finished, but I have repositionedher right foot and refined the forms, color andtone over most of the figure. The group is meetingagain for the same pose next Sunday, but I may adda few final touches to the above painting in myown studio, choose a different viewpoint nextweek and start a new painting.I worked on her left leg, right arm and facefor about three quarters of the session todayand then remembered to take a snapshotof the progression.We met this morning at Whisky Row Artist's Trio for another three hour painting session of this beautiful figure pose. I was a little slow hitting my stride at the outset but after 30 minutes or so I began to feel engaged, and am pleased with the results. It always difficult to return to a painting in progress--your mood, focus and energy have shifted and you must decide if you will attempt to preserve the feeling and attitude of what you've already put on the canvas or follow your fresh mood and discover what direction the painting will take. I usually choose the second path and did so today.I did quite a bit of work with the palette knife, though I applied the paint thinly, creating a syrup-like consistency by dipping the knife in walnut oil and stirring it into the paint on the palette. By using knives of various sizes it's possible to paint a very smooth finish and create soft edges this way, dragging the paint along the canvas and pressing it into the surface to obtain a flat application.

Life Painting 4-14-07 (Part 1)
A snapshot of the painting so far--thisstate represents about two hours ofphysically moving paint on the canvas. A snapshot of the painting-in-progressand studio/model stand setup. I began an oil painting from a model today at the atelier of three fellow artists, Bruce Fee, Fred Poore and Gary Melvin, known collectively as the Whiskey Row Artist Trio. One of our favorite models curled into a lovely pose she recreated from an earlier gesture/short pose session held months ago. I brought in my original drawing of this pose to use as a guide, every artist attending today found a viewpoint they favored---and away we went!I started this piece slowly, using burnt umber to streak in large masses of tone, then wiping them back out and restating the large shapes until I felt both the gesture and the composition were working well. I then mixed a batch of a cool blue-tinted gray on my palette and blended this as needed with the warmer colors to lower the tones and keep the hues quiet and harmonious as I began refining the forms and light and dark shapes. After painting for several years with student grade Daler Rowney Georgian oils, I've switched to artist's quality M. Graham Oils, which contain much finer and stronger pigments. The unaccustomed strength of the Graham paints requires careful mixing on the palette to control the tonal values of the colors and avoid an (in this case) unwanted circus poster intensity. The rich luster of the Graham pigments aren't muddied or dimmed by this mixing though, they retain a subtle radiance even in very low tonal harmonies.We meet again tomorrow morning for another three hour session--I'll post the results.

Adam & Eve Progression
After a few doodles,this composition sketchseemed to express the idea best.In the initial block-in I drew the figures, tree and backgroundwith loose washy strokes of diluted oil paint, over a canvaspanel pre-toned a cold turquoise blue . The main goal herewas capturing the telling attitudes and gestures of the "actors"and arranging the shapes of the composition effectively.Here details of form, structure and modeling have beenadded--the snake's gesture has been sharpened, and a bitof anatomy built up in the figures. The tree structure isvague, and the color and tonal scheme is still undecided.Now the entire picture has been lowered in tone and thecontrast heightened to focus attention on the characters,especially Eve and the Snake. I've adjusted details of acting,anatomy and pose; the snake's hands and body, Adam's rightarm, Eve's face and hands, and I've repositioned Eve's legsslightly. The structure of the tree is better. One more goodpainting session may finish this piece--it needs a final passto harmonize tones and color, and add subtle finishing details.A while ago I was invited by my friend Bill Wray to join him in a show of cartoony humorous animal paintings at Lunar Boy Gallery in Astoria, Oregon. I did seven pieces (view images here), but didn't complete this Adam and Eve picture because I decided to exclude human animals from this set of paintings.Above are snapshots of this fantasy image in progress--I need another session or two to finish it, I'll post them as I proceed.

Casein Still Lifes of Dolls
In my studies of the history of illustration I often saw casein paintings, including many originals in the cavernous attic of my friends Walt and Roger Reed's old Illustration House headquarters on Water St. in Norwalk , Conn.. I was eager to try this milk emulsion based medium, but it was obsolete and could no longer be found in art stores by the time I came along.Recently this medium was reintroduced by the Jack Richeson Co. under their Shiva brand, and I immediately purchased a set of colors and began to play. I love the peculiar handling characteristics and warm matte surface of this medium!For the past several years I've done an image or two of spooky character dolls for the Halloween window of the Arts Prescott Co-op Gallery . I love the designs of the Tim Burton stop motion characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride films and usually paint still lifes of one or more of the articulated dolls I have. Above are a few of them.

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