Working on a variety of paintings at the same time can be beneficial

Thanks for the positive feedback re “New Stuff!!!”. Took a look at your blog and noted the piece on working more than one project at a time. Couldn’t agree more. It helps sometimes to step back so you can objectively determine where a painting is and where it needs to go!


by Robert Conway

    I have been finding out through years of trial and error that sometimes you are just not going to be able to finish one a painting all in one shot, focusing on completing on a single painting at a time can mire you down towards the end and when this happens I find that it is a healthy thing for your psyche to be working on a few paintings all at the same time. One of the traps I used to fall into in my earlier days was that all my energies would be so focused on one painting it would be like tunnel vision, I would be so driven with the idea of finishing the work I would most of the time get so frustrated and I would eventually end up destroying it due to a sense of urgency to complete it.


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New Stuff!!!

The sculpture, Gethsemane, is done and posted. I can now concentrate on an upcoming show I’m helping organize where Gethsemane along with the works of five other area artists will be shown. I will report in more detail on that project when it’s further along. Suffice to say, I am so glad the sculpture made it through firing intact so I did not need to start over to meet a March 5 deadline!

I can also report an upcoming show with the Hill Country Collective at the historic Old Bakery Emporium from March 6 through April 7. The reception for this show will be March 7 at 5 pm, 1006 Congress Ave., Austin, Texas. I am excited to be showing with a this group of talented artists whose mediums range from sculpture, to painting, pastels and photography. My contributions to this show will be in watercolor. I urge you to check out the following link to see what’s in store! The Old Bakery Emporium is a great venue and offers an opportunity to try a new restaurant in downtown Austin.

Back in the studio, I’ve cleared a couple of acrylics projects I had started, one which has already been posted, Blue Hole Reflections. The other, Santa Monica Palm II, is posted here. As I may have said in an earlier post, this project was me revisiting a watercolor I had completed last  year. Here are both of those side by side.Santa Monica Palm I just had the urge to try it in a different medium.                                        Santa Monica Palm

Personally, I prefer the watercolor but enjoyed the exercise. You’ve got to keep learning and challenging yourself or you’re nor growing!

I finished up the watercolor, South Congress Coffeebreak, and posted it last week as well.  All three watercolors discussed here have been sent in as my entries for this year’s Texas Watercolor Society Show. We’ll see how they fare. I also need to think about the upcoming National Watercolor Society submission next month.  I’ve made a decision to cut back on the number of shows I enter and focus on regional, national, SWS, TWS and Capitol Art Society venues. It just takes so much time to do the local shows and I’ve gotten involved with several art related projects in Wimberley that demand time.

I’ve straightened up the studio and I’m about to lay out my palette to get working on Arezzo Lancer. To a large degree this will be a closure post. I need to get back into a routine and start closing out some of the other projects begging for attention. I’ve got some new stuff I’m fleshing out but its way too early to discuss. That said, it’s time to clear the decks and get ready!


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Sculpture Update: Finished!

At some point, every artist must come to the decision that it is time to declare a piece finished. I’m there. Unlike Salvadore Dali, who would pull paintings down from a patron’s wall, to make a very late adjustment, I’m ready to move on to the next project. I have to admit though, this one was fun and rekindled my love of ceramic sculpture. I do not think it will be eight years before my next head! I will get back to work on Aezzo Lancer as soon as I clean up a thoroughly trashed studio. I’m anxious to see how Gethsemane informs my work on Lancer. Here are the final images for Gethsemane, along with corresponding narrative.With Test Tiles

Once out of the kiln, it was time for decisions on patina. I elected to go with a more brownish mixture. You can see the test tiles arrayed in the foreground. These are tiles of Longhorn White clay that I fired with the head. I had duplicated the textures used in the head on these test tiles so I could get an idea how they would look on the head. The mixtures I developed use a heavy cream base mixed with dry pigment I picked up in Rousillion on the last trip to France. The version I used for the head was a 60/40 mixture of red ochre and ultramarine blue.Final Finish pre Mount I let the head sit in the studio for a day or two before proceeding as I was not satisfied with a monotone approach. Finally, I added a healthy dose of lamp black pigment to the basic mix to darken the hair and beard. Here is the result of that adjustment.

Next, it was time to anchor the 3/8th inch threaded rod in the channel I had built in the base of the head. you can see the rod and the clay form I built around the rod. The next image shows the same area but the plaster of paris has been poured. Twenty-four hours later the rod will be anchored securely.

Setting the Rod Poured Plaster

I used this time to fabricate the base out of the 1-1/2″ hickory plank I had purchased in East Austin at Fine Lumber.  Truth be told, I used only a fraction of the lumber purchased. I did several rough sketches for the base and they all were too heavy, taking away from the sculpture. So, I decided less was more and went for a single segment of plank supported by three feet. I then gave the finished base a good sanding and applied two coats  of MinWax Warm Pecan finishing stain followed by a couple of coats of MinWax semi-gloss polyurethane.

And that, as they say, is a wrap. I will, of course, follow-up with feedback from when the piece goes on display in March at St. Stephen Episcopal Church. Here is the completed piece……..hope you like it!


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Sculpture Update: We’re Firing

Well, it’s time to ask Saint Spyridon for an assist. (That reference probably sent a few of you to Wikipedia! He’s the patron saint of potters.) Gethsemane was looking pretty dry so, to add a little insurance, I put the sculpture in the Skutt kiln and candled the piece for six hours at 150 degrees F to drive out any remaining moisture. Once that was done I programmed for a slow ramp to Cone 04 (1,940 F). Hopefully, that’s enough to ensure the piece doesn’t explode in the kiln. We’ll see after about eight hrs. firing and about the same in cool down. I’ve also loaded a few Longhorn White test tiles so I can try out a few approaches to patina. Other than the kiln work, I made a run to Lowe’s to pick up plaster of paris, 3/8 ” threaded rod, washers and nuts to mount the sculpture assuming all goes well. If the weather cooperates, I hope to make it over to Fine Lumber in East Austin to pick up the wood for the base. Assuming everything comes together, I could have the piece completed this week.

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Sling’in Paint Again

The sculpture, Gethsemane, that has dominated the posts of late is drying in the studio, so it was time to pick up a brush again. I did make a quick run into Austin to pick out some wood for the base, however. I found some very nice Hickory at Fine Lumber and they are doing some mill work on the 2 inch planks I dug out of the lumber racks. It should be ready early next week and I’ll start fabricating the base for the piece. But, today, I can report that I wrapped up an acrylic and a watercolor that have been sitting in the studio for a bit.

First up is Blue Hole Reflections which started as a watercolor that I was unhappy with and had sat aside. Last year, I had done a plein air oil of the Blue Hole in Wimberley that won the People’s Choice Award at Art Fest.Blue Hole Refelections Final That piece was sold at auction and I decided to start a watercolor version back in the studio. It was a turkey but I kept the it and thought I might give it another go at some point. My desire to pull out the acrylics and revisit this medium gave me an opportunity to resurrect the project. Frankly, I was about to surrender and finally toss this one in the trash bin a few times as I was just not getting anything “painterly” to happen as I worked the acrylics. Acrylics are not quite oils (they dry out a lot quicker) and not quite watercolor (not as transparent or fluid).  But acrylic is similar to oils in one respect, you can cover stuff up and build upon what went before creating some depth and or texture. Such was the case with this effort.

The second painting is South Congress Coffee Break, which completes a series of South Congress paintings I have worked on over the last year or two. This one had sat around for a bit as well. I had been debating how to handle some accent work to finish things up and simply had not made a decision.South Congress Coffee Break I happened to have my water soluble pencils out working on a sketch or something and said, “What the heck”. A little accent here and there followed by a wet brush to release the color and I pronounced it “done”. Of course, “done” is a relative term until I get something matted and under plexi! I’m always revisiting a piece if I happen to walk by it and see something that just doesn’t read right but both pieces are signed and that’s progress.

I’ve got maybe two or three days before I put Gethsemane in the kiln and mount it to the base, so I am about to lay out my oils on the palette and spend some time in Tuscany with Santa Chiara and Arezzo Lancer. Hopefully, I’ll have something to post in a few days! Ciao!

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Day 9: Sculpture Update

I usually try to post same day while things are still fresh in my mind but yesterday I was one tired puppy. Got started early and thought I would have a day to paint (got a few show deadlines pending). I opened the studio and unwrapped the sculpture to check the set-up process and “lo and behold” the clay said it was ready to be worked! That’s the issue during the winter months with furnaces sucking moisture and low humidity with the weather coming out of the north. Drying is accelerated and if you are not vigilant it can create problems. So, the best laid plans went awry and six hours later the piece had been removed from the armature, hollowed out and put back together. Aches and pains in the back from being hunching over but you don’t care about that! I’ve got lot’s of pics and technique to discuss so let’s get started.

The first order of business was to mark the centerline on all sides. The picture here shows the centerline from the front. Centerline FrontI marked similar lines on the other three sides. These reference marks will make placement of the main support channel easier. Once you get the head off the armature it can become difficult to find the centerline as you build the channel to hold the threaded post that will enable you to bolt the piece securely to a base. And, I just realized that. as things began to happen quickly, I failed to take a picture of the channel. No problem, I’ll just manually show where the channel was eventually placed.

I had mapped out cut lines in the previous post and you can see the results of that cut  with the wire tool in the foreground.  Cut Head w tool Note the red arrow pointing out the lower section of the armature. Looks like I estimated the position of the armature pretty well.

The next picture shows the scoring I did to indicate the wall thickness of the piece.
Scored Head

Next, you can see that the hollowing out, with various size ribbon tools, has progressed to the point where the upper sections of the armature support system can be seen. We’ll need to expose all the armature to free the head from its support. Exposed ArmatureTo make an obvious point, the head needs to be dry enough so that the walls are self-supporting yet pliant enough to be worked. At this point, we’re looking good. I use a needle tool ( you can see it sticking up in the picture of the sliced head pieces) to continually gauge the thickness of the walls. Not real complicated, you stick the needle point through the wall until you feel it on the other side and note the thickness. The needle holes actually serve another purpose as they provide escape ports for trapped steam if your piece is not totally dry when it’s fired. Those trapped pockets can cause the piece to explode in the kiln. I will actually do a lot of stippling with the needle tool before I re-assemble the head. It’s not fool-proof, however. I cut too deep in an area where there was a deeply recessed cut of hair on the heead.Not to worry, a simple repair takes care of the issue.

Once the armature is exposed, a gentle wiggle here and there and the main head piece can be positioned on a bed of foam to be worked until the thickness is fairly uniform. Hollowed Head w channel Note that I have indicated where the channel for the threaded support was positioned. As noted above, this channel will accept a threaded rod that will be anchored in the channel with plaster so that the piece can be bolted to the base.

Once everything has been hollowed out and the anchoring channel has been built, it’s time to reassemble the head.

First, the edges where the pieces will be joined are scored/cross-hatched to ensure a good bond and are then coated with a slip or mixture of water and liquified clay.


Then, the pieces are rejoined and the seams are worked to make the cuts invisible. One reason the cuts were made to the rear of the head is that it’s much easier to make the repairs in an area of hair texture. After re-assembly, I move the piece to a rotating platform very similar to a lazy-susan. Holllowed FrontAfter cleaning up seams and any other areas distorted from working with the piece (I had to work the nose a little) it’s time to bag the head and give it a day to re-stabilize the moisture levels. After that, I will open it up for longer and longer periods of drying. Within a few days it will be left uncovered until it is bone dry and ready for firing.

So, that’s about it until we get ready to fire. I’ll get back to a few painting projects and be reporting after some progress has been made!

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Day 8: Sculpture Update and other Stuff

Worked a couple of hours on “Gethsemane” before getting ready for church. I spent most of that time working the hair but looking at the photos for the post I may need to take another stab at it.FrontRight ProfileLeft ProfileRear If you take a look at the rear view of the four images posted, the hair relief areas do not appear natural, even though it looked pretty good when I stopped work.

The  problem could be the harsh side lighting I use when I work on sculpture projects. Hopefully, that is the case here and I can move forward.

If so, I will be shifting to the next phase, allowing the piece to dry to a “leather hard” level where I can handle the surface without marring  the finish easily. Once “leather hard”, I will take a wire tool and cut  the back of the head, eventually, freeing the sculpture from the armature. I’ll be hollowing out the interior, working my way back to the armature. Once the head is free, probably in 2-3 pieces, I will hollow out the interior to a consistent thickness, about a half-inch, and reassemble the head. Cut Plan

The image here will give you an idea what is required. The black line indicates the position of the pipe armature inside the sculpture. The red broken line indicates where I will make my cut(s).  My previous heads were all vertically aligned making the cut-a-way process considerably easier. I wanted a head inclined in prayer making the armature a bit tricky. Make the plan…..execute the plan. It should be fine.

While things are drying I’m beginning to think about a base for the sculpture. I may have mentioned that I would really like to use olive wood. There are several reasons: First is the obvious reference to Gethsemane and Jesus among the olive trees. Second, olive is a lighter colored wood that will contrast nicely with the darker patina I have mentioned as being my preference for the sculpture. Finally, a figured or burled piece of olive wood has beautiful grain. I’ve sent inquiries to a supplier in Israel that may be able to get me a suitable piece from the Holy Land (that would be cool). I’ve also contacted a dealer in Pennsylvania (really???) that has Italian Olive. The challenge becomes one of size, availability and cost. Olive tree typically do not get much bigger than twenty-five feet in height and most of that height is small caliper branches (due to pruning for olive production). I’m hoping I can get an unfinished/uncut stump fairly cheap and fashion into something interesting…..something gnarly!

While waiting, I have also revisited a couple of acrylic projects that have been languishing in the studio. One is a new, acrylic version of an earlier watercolor, Santa Monica Palm. The other is a project involving the Blue Hole in Wimberley (may call it Blue Hole Reflections),  that started off as an abandoned watercolor (alas, a failed effort).Blue Hole Refelections Santa Monica Palm Acrylic is not my favorite medium. It’s not quite oil, not quite watercolor and , frankly, I struggle with it. There is some really vibrant, interesting acrylic work out there. I would love to develop some level of skill that I can add to my repertoire. Just got to keep trying! Both are fairly early in the process, so cut me some slack. We’ll see what develops!

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Day 7: Sculpture Update

We’re making progress, a little at a time. We’ve gone into the fine tuning stage. Today the hair got attention as did the lips. I’m still struggling with the lips, trying to get the right expression. I’m getting close but still not quite there. At one point,  I stripped it out and rebuilt the structure. I also worked a little on the area under the eyes adding a hint of bags under the eyes indicating some fatigue and stress. After about three hours I was wasted. Time to step back and give it a rest. I usually need fresh eyes to evaluate where I might need to direct some attention but I think the nose may need a little less volume. I think the eyes are lacking something and I wonder if the area around the cheeks is too full? The hair still needs work as well, particularly the view from the rear. Front Left Profile Rear Right Profile

I have to say though, I walk by the framed and matted picture of the short hair version every day and still feel it captured a more “real” vision of what Jesus probably looked like. Don’t get me wrong, it still needed a lot of fine tuning but I think it had the proper “feel” to it.

I’m beginning to think about the axis I will use to cut the completed sculpture from the armature to hollow it out and working out the patina I will use. More on that later but it could be something as simple as shoe polish or another color agent. Once I have  hollowed out the piece, put it back together, built the mounting structure and bisque fired the completed sculpture, it will be time to decide on the final color scheme. In this case monotone, I suspect. I doubt I will fire it with a glaze, but we’ll see. Oh, and there is also the issue of the base. I had hoped to find an old olive tree stump I could fashion into a base but after canvasing area olive ranches learned that their trees are too young to sport a suitable stump. Perhaps a field trip to Italy, Spain or Greece is in order?!? I wish.

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Days 5 & 6 : Sculpture Update

I have delayed posting for a few days as I worked out some issues regarding the direction I wanted to take with Gethsemane. In a nut shell, the issue was hair and whether or not my preferred approach, short hair, would be received well by the audience or if I would hear ” Great sculpture……who is it???” Here’s where we stood on Day 5. Short, wiry hair, as per the University of Manchester model. I decided to hedge my bet and offer up a 3D long hair sculpture and a 2D, framed and matted short hair version accompanied by an Artist’s Statement outlining my arguement. 
 Left ProfileRight Profile







The Day 6 images show the progress made to date establishing hair volume. My process involves analyzing the hair mass/shapes and roughing those out. Day 7 will involve fine tuning the hair mass and creating a three dimensional feel. Texture and softening the transition of face to hair comes last.

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Day 4 – Sculpture Update

Took a day off to do other stuff and opened the studio early this morning, putting in a little over three hours on Gethsemane. I’m happy to report that it’s coming along nicely. I worked on the nose, eyes, lips and facial hair. Made a start on the ears as well, though they need a bit of work.Front When Lonnie sat for me I was thinking long hair and did not focus on the ears at all as they would have been covered. As indicated in an earlier post, I think I will go with the Apostle Paul and the University of Manchester and go with shorter hair. Consequently, I need ears! Good news is, I have two, so I took pictures of said ears and will use them, structure wise, on this project.  Not sure everyone is aware of this fact but ears are almost as unique as fingerprints. Hopefully my Celtic ancestry will not confuse matters too much on this semitic head.  As you can tell from the profiles posted here, the ears are currently too big and will need to be cropped a bit. Also, a lot of modelling will need to be done. I also have detail work to do on other key facial features.
Left Profile
   Right ProfileHere’s where it gets tricky. I like the general “feel” and “freshness” of the piece and the challenge is knowing when to say “enough” so it doesn’t get overworked. Nothing new with this concept. Artists struggle with this issue be it sculpture. oils, watercolor or whatever the medium.Quarter View

I am also thinking texture at this point. For instance, when I think of Jesus’ clothing I think the rough fabric of a carpenter or other common Israelite of the time. I used a small whisk broom to punch at the tunic and then sweep the fabric area in multiple directions to get a rough texture that I think may work. This will contrast against the relative smoothness of the neck and chest area. I’m building texture with the facial and head hair and have a good start. With the exception of the aforementioned ears we are pretty much in fine tune stage. Model, step back and model some more. I wetted the sculpture pretty heavily before re-bagging it for the day as it was beginning to dry out a bit. By tomorrow the moisture level should stabilize and the ears will be ready to model. Front Wet 2

As this is a Tips & Techniques blog, it might be a good time to say a word about safety. I try to sweep and mop my studio regularly and did so after today’s session. Clay dust does not belong in your lungs! I usually mix my own glazes and wear a respirator when mixing ingredients (some are very toxic and require gloves as well). When it comes to painting, I also have a pretty good, fan driven ventilation set-up for working with oils. Most of the oil pigments, mediums and solvents I use are Gamblin which also helps control toxicity. Also under the Tips & Techniques banner is something I am re-learning as Gethsemane develops, is the benefit this exercise will have on my two dimensional work such as Arezzo Lancer. Working in 3D I am forced to pay more attention to anatomy and how everything is interconnected. I am certain this will make for a better 2D painting!

Enough for this session/post!

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