Monday, February 20, 2012

Painting Wheels & Maps

Children of (Montsanto) Corn
by Dana Ellyn
acrylic on canvas

Today I attended my first-ever painting class. I loved it - and not just because the studio has cats in residence (although that is a bonus). 

Dana Ellyn ( teaches classes out of her home in Mather Studios downtown. She is a full-time artist whose work I first encountered through Artomatic and last saw when attending the "Dystopia" opening (a joint exhibit with Matt Sesow's work) at The Dunes. Aside from her distinctive style, the sharp-edged humor and emotional content of her work has long drawn me in. Her website bio notes that "from childhood until about the age of 30, Ellyn was quiet and reserved. She has now found her voice and she is making up for lost time."  Hell, yeah.   

All of which is to say, I've been on the painting class waiting list for a while now. 

So when a cancellation came in that gave me a spot, I zipped myself down to the Gallery Place Metro and (because I was overly zippy and early) spent some time at the National Portrait Gallery basking in an arty groove. (Side note: the Portrait Gallery has a copy of the Adams Memorial there, which I found startling, given that I didn't realize others existed outside of the original at the Rock Creek Church Yard; having it indoors feels...not quite right).

Classes are informal with Dana, as she meets the artist wherever he or she is on the learning curve. Some of the other students in the class were immersed in projects now well under way, each exhibiting a particular style and point of view. Since I've been largely painting in a vacuum (an interesting image if taken literally), the hum of communal right-brain activity sounded a happy tone for me.

Given that my painting knowledge is, umm, spotty at best, Dana started me out with the basics. While creating a color wheel, we touched on a variety of topics, including: brushes (flat for lines, rounds for more brushstroke emphasis); paint types (opaque, translucent); mediums (fluid medium, used to thin paints without making them all watery and streaky, is my new best friend; I'm still not huge on gel medium); color mixing and blending; scrumbling (dry brush); and palette knife painting. We covered a lot of ground in just six colored wedges.  

From there, I dug through her many books and chose a photograph as a model for my painting.  To get a handle on tonalities, I'll be creating a version in black & white (original photo is also, conveniently, black & white). After getting a base background of a gray going, I spent some time sketching things out with a soft pencil (now also on the shopping list).   

Of course, being me, I ended up changed the cropping so that I could focus more on the face in the photograph, and may end up changing other details, as the balance is now a little screwy.  I started getting just the roughest bits of light and dark paint shading in before running out of time. Two hours goes quickly.

Typing away here, with paint flecks still stuck to my fingernails, I'm thrilled to have landed in a flexible place where I can ask all the questions that come up while I'm twiddling around with paints. I feel like I've spent the last two years driving around town, and now suddenly someone has handed me a map. I'd hit some good spots and some weird neighborhoods in my travels, but missed whole areas and major attractions, failed to see the shortcuts and connections and commonalities that, once known, make getting where I want to go much, much easier. 

So yes, I'm very much looking forward to my next class and working on how to make make people look like people not mannequins, and giving Peanut the cat another scritch behind the ear .

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