The Human Figure by John H. Vanderpoel



The Human Figure by John H. Vanderpoel

When I was still an architect, the majority of my focus in art was the figurative genre. This is because most of the classes I took then were figurative, and to me there is nothing more challenging or rewarding than drawing the human form and capturing a modicum of likeness and accuracy.

And being the diver that I am, when I was on my own I would take time to practice drawing the human form by copying out of books, and one of my favorite books to copy from was Vanderpoel’s The Human Figure.

So this summer when I needed to bone up on facial features again, I returned to copying from this book. But instead of using charcoal or graphite, I used oil paint. I switched my practice to oil paint because when you are painting, you are using masses to create form, where when you are drawing, you typically rely on contour and line to create form, and I wanted to practice my paint handling at the same time as I was practicing the human form.

Here are some photos of how I used this book to practice.

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Using a limited palette of titanium white, burnt sienna and ultramarine blue, I would copy out each small drawing that graces the margins of this book. These were all fast studies, I would set a timer for thirty minutes and try to complete each page of images in that time frame. The goal was to quickly discern the important shapes and try to capture it with speed and accuracy.

Nothing too precious, in fact I would take a photo of each session with my iphone and then wipe the studies down and start over.


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The text is extremely helpful in reinforcing what you learn from the act of copying out. So I encourage you to read each chapter at the same time you are copying the images.

The Human Figure


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Preparing for the FaceOff Event

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{14 of the 16 completed portrait oil sketches}

Preparing for the FaceOff event was a real stretch for me. I had not focused on portraiture for well over three years, so when I agreed to participate in the event, I immediately hit up friends to sit for me.

I scheduled as many 2-hour portrait sessions as I could. My goal was to cut my time down by half of the three hours allotted during the actual event, only once was I able to complete the sketch in 1-1/2 hours. However setting my practice time limit to 2 hours maximum was helpful in that I forced me to paint quickly and to always strive to be efficient with the time I had.

My first two painting sessions did not go well and were scraped down, but after that I started to fall into a good pattern. I began to remember how to paint a portrait, and when I did not have anyone to sit for me, I would still practice painting facial features and heads. Overall, the more I practiced, the more things began to fall into place.

In preparation for the event, 16 individuals posed for me, for a total of 18 2-hour portrait sessions. With each session, I would try to improve my speed and technique. And a funny thing I experienced was that it was during my 13th portrait session when I made a major breakthrough with my process. Prior to this session, I had been struggling with my desire to draft everything out and paint around my drawing and my desire to lay in the big shapes of color and value that carried the overall foundation of the facial structure. I cannot place my finger on what I specifically changed in my process, I just know that it did change and all of the sudden painting in the detailed areas became easier.

So if you are also facing a particularly challenging area in your paintings, I encourage you to keep at it, practice often, everyday if you can, and just try a bunch of different things each time until something works. Then try it again, see where you can improve upon it, and do so.

What I learned most from the preparation for this event is that practice really makes a difference, but things really began to take off when I was able to schedule several days of portrait sessions in a row. Each session became better, because I would apply what I had learned from the prior session, I would know what to look out for and how to prevent the mistakes from the day before.

I want to thank everyone who helped me during this intense period, for sitting for me, for supporting me, and for overall just being there.

Thank you!

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2014 FaceOff Event at the Principle Gallery

Hello my friends,

I want to share with you one of the art-centered activities that has been keeping me so busy summer…

On Friday, August 8th, I participated in a three-hour live portrait painting demonstration with the talented artists, Mia Bergeron and Cindy Procious. So to say I was excited and REALLY nervous, would be a BIG understatement. I mean these girls are fantastic at their craft!

In anticipation of last Friday night, I prepared like a maniac… practicing alla prima portraits on anybody who would volunteer. (more on the preparation process to come in another blog post or two…) but just know I put in a lot of time to make sure I did not fall flat on my face, and in public :)

Here is a photo at about 1-1/2 to 2 hours into the three-hour pose.

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We were so lucky to have the dashing Franco Landini to model for us. He was just magnificent to paint, so much color and life to capture.

And here is my completed oil portrait at the end of the night.

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At the end of the night, I felt very good about what was accomplished. All the preparation had paid off and I really think I was able to express what I wanted in the amount of time we had to work in. Again, I feel so honored to have been a part of this event and really love how it pushed me to go back and revisit figurative work.

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Painting the Still Life by Olga Zaferatos


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Painting the Still Life by Olga Zaferatos

I fell in love with the variety of still-life examples gathered in one place.

This book is a nice survey of the variety of styles and interpretations of still life being utilized by contemporary artists, the book is a little old, but it does not seem trapped in its era. If you want to explore this genre more, this is a gem to keep in your library for reference and inspiration.

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Painting the Still Life


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Vincent’s Trees and Vincent’s Gardens by Ralph Skea



If you are a Facebook friend, you may have noticed all the Van Gogh paintings I have been sharing on my feed. This is because I have become fascinated with Van Gogh’s mark making ever since I was commissioned to copy the painting of Roses by Vincent Van Gogh at the NGA.

Being primarily an artist that favors a highly rendered finish with a lot of emphasis on the nuanced transitions in my own work, I get mesmerized by the thick and choppy paint handling Van Gogh favored. I am boggled by his ability to express three dimensional form with stark transitions and minimal modeling. As a result, I have been devouring his work lately, online and in books.

So I was especially happy to stumble upon these two books on his paintings of gardens and trees at the NGA bookstore.

Vincent’s Trees and Vincent’s Gardens
by Ralph Skea

In Vincent’s Trees: Paintings and Drawings by Van Gogh the focus of the book is all about how he depicted trees throughout his art career.  The book is broken down into chapters of his life and what I find remarkable is how he employed trees in his work to define distance in the landscape.

By emphasizing the diminishing size of the trees, he was quickly able to convey a sense of distance.

fav-art-books-van-gogh-02-03 It was in this book that I also realized how throughout his career he would paint orchards.  They are a reoccurring theme in his work.  In the Dutch Trees section, I feel as if there is an overpowering sense of loneliness while in his paintings from Provence, the trees seem to always be flowering, like this painting above.  There is a whimsy in the Provencal trees that the Dutch trees lack.

Because I am fascinated with how Van Gogh interpreted the world around him, I especially appreciate the examples that show how he would capture the scene in a pen and ink drawing and then go on to paint it with oil.  He kept the hatchmarks in the drawings as much as he did in his paintings.

Until getting this book on his depictions of trees, I never realized how he well he used them to frame and define the center of interest in his work.  His skies will always be remembered, but he often framed or emphasized the sky by trees that were included into his work.

In the book, Vincent’s Gardens: Paintings and Drawings by Van Gogh, I was fascinated to see how he went about capturing the variety of green space he observed.  On the table of contents spread, you are introduced to a busy composition where you, the viewer, are peering in through an allee of trees.  It is early spring, so the trees are still somewhat bare, but the cultivated plots beyond are beginning to awake.  This is where Van Gogh’s skill of creating a believable environment with such direct marks boggles my mind.  Color, brushstroke direction, and paint texture all come together in a compelling way.

To me his ability to draw and paint are fascinating.  I am riveted how he is able to make a meadow of different grasses so interesting.

Whether Van Gogh was working with oils, watercolors, or pen and ink, the interest he had in growing plants is evident.

This pen and ink drawing of a fountain has got to be my most favorite drawing of his in these two books, I am enthralled by his use of contour and hatch marks to convey the stone basin, the craggy feeling of the trees and their bark, and then how he uses watered down ink to draw in the background structures.

Both books are full of eye candy and inspiration.

Vincent’s Trees: Paintings and Drawings by Van Gogh
Vincent’s Gardens: Paintings and Drawings by Van Gogh


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