‘Glimpse of the Desert’; Oil painting from start to finish

It started with a square canvas which I built from wood. One of the first panels I ever made. It was the summer vacation in my Art school in Seattle and some of the students hired a model to pose for us for a long pose. 6 hours a day for 4 days.

I brought the canvas with me not knowing what the pose will be. When I finished the painting, working from life, it had an abstract background. I placed the figure in the center and I had no idea of what environment she might belong to.


I was really inspired by the pose but I felt that an abstract background did not fit it at all. A few months later, I realized what the right background for this figure is: It needed to be the inside of a tent, overlooking the desert at sunset, because the woman reminded me of some kind of Arabian royalty. The pose was very organic, and communicated confidence and relaxation at the same time. I imagined her being on a journey of some kind, and being royalty, the tent would naturally be luxurious and private.

So I decided to take the pose from the 4 walls of an art studio into a setting closer to a fancy bedouin tent. Having been in those a few times in Israel in the Negev desert, and getting a glimpse of that very simple, slow lifestyle, I wanted to paint something with that warm, slow atmosphere, something that adjusts itself to the pace of the desert where life moves slowly at the end of the day.

That new aspiration presented a challenge, because I had to invent the background and have it match the studio light – the light under which the model was standing.  At that point I started searching for references for different bedouin tent elements online. I tried to get an idea of how a fancy Bedouin tent might look like and what kind of items would be in it. I used photoshop to try to arrange them together to get an idea of an environment. After a while of doing that I realized the complexity of the scene requires a much more realistic model to paint from, if I wanted the background to match the degree of detail of the figure.
I went to a craft store, where I shopped around for a few hours, gathering items and getting ideas. When I left the store I had almost everything I needed and I sat down to build the tent.

I made a tiny little sculpture of the women to “calibrate” the light. Used a clamp-on book light to replace the studio light and used a candle for a lantern. Overall there were 3 light sources in the painting.

Tent Setup

I sewed the little pillows from various fabrics I bought wrapped around tiny pieces of sponge. I made the tent by sticking some wooden sticks into a corkscrew board. It was like building a tiny dollhouse.

I did a small value study to try to figure out the composition.

Once I had the tent, I was ready to paint. The first step was to do a perspective drawing. The strange thing is that here, I had to decide what the eye level is rather than it being decided for me, because I had to identify the original eye level according to the rendering of the figure.

Fast forward, I finished the background.

Lastly, I decided I had to change the direction of her head because to me, the meaning of the painting and the moment was in having this woman look outside, to the last remnant of light on the desert sand. So I drew a little diagram of the new angle:

Then, because I couldn’t have the original model posing for me again with the original light (though believe me, I have dreamt of it!!), I recreated the new angle based on the colors and values of the painting combined with this drawing (which was drawn with the aid of pictures). A note to myself was to always take notes of what colors I used in my paintings so that I can easily go back to them if needed.
Here is the study for the head. It involved a lot of interpolation since I did not have a model to paint from.
Head Study

Lastly I needed to seam the edges of the figure with the new background and to add hints of light to match the new environment. Add little objects, like the teapot and the carpet, a little thorn to decorate the table.

It was a difficult painting but I gave this lady the environment she belongs to, as I saw it and now the painting is complete. 🙂
‘Glimpse of the Desert’, 23”x24”, oil painting on board.


Current Painting: Mermaid listening to a Harpist

I am currently busy with 4 paintings, which I am trying to finish in time for my graduation from Georgetown Atelier in 4 weeks.

Indeed. I will be done with atelier education. Caplawza! For lack of a better word.
Here are the beginning stages of one of the paintings. It started with a little tiny drawing for the concept:

Mermaid Thumbnail

Continue reading

Self-built miniature model for a painting!

2 Years ago I painted this painting from a live model over the summer:

'Katrina', Oil on Board

After the painting was done, I felt restless about the background, which I did not like at all.

I realized what this model and pose really remind me of are a solitary moment of an Arabian princess, as she’s getting dressed in private, standing in a tent, catching a glimpse of the desert sunset through a crack in the tent opening.
From the moment I thought of that idea, I was sold on it. Continue reading

Current work in progress

'Observing', Drawing

I’ve prepared several studies for it trying to decide what exactly I want to paint and how to crop it. I spent several hours cropping, re-cropping, painting and repainting this small figure until I made up my mind.

Today I’ve transferred and fixed it onto a canvas, did an underpainting (which is a single-color, transparent painting which helps guide the placement of the main layer of paint). Tomorrow and next week I’ll do the painting itself.


My Weekly post #21

As usual it’s the end of the week and I am without time to write a long post. Between work and school I am not left with much time over the weekend.

First I’d like to share the progress I’ve made with my summer painting. I it nearly finished and just required a few final touches. This photo was taken in august:

I painted this more loosely than how I paint at the atelier and using a different method. Here I first did a warm under painting:

Then I painted the cool colors thinly on top. I like this method and I will try to use it more in my paintings at the atelier.
On to another painting… actually it is more of a painting idea. I got it as I was walking down the street during lunch time; it was sunny and the trees were in autumn colors, the road full of red and golden leaves, swept in the wind. I had this image of this figure standing there with her hair flowing in the wind, giving a sculpture-like interpretation of how I felt about this autumn scene.
I took a photo of the scene to use as a reference and sketched out the figure from imagination. And while there is a lot of time until I start working on it, I thought it’d be fun to share this initial stage:



Intense Eyes

As part of a commissioned drawing I am working on, I’m studying what makes a gaze appear intense. Here are some sketches and drawings:



An Evening of painting outside

This first step in what will become an oil painting is about light, Forest light.
That’s also the name I will give it.
Objective: Make this a short painting for inspiration and study. Let’s see if I can keep it this way. Short and simple, that is 🙂

I started painting this tonight, at dusk, enclosed in my green backyard. Music flowing free in the evening air, feeling absolutely amazing.

I started the evening with the following song [Link], which, to me, feels like it’s capturing the feeling pretty well.

I want to describe just how I feel because, really, if I can ever capture it in a painting, fully and completely, I will know I have achieved my goal as an artist.

The way I feel is – absolutely invincible. Not a victory over anyone specific or any particular problem – but a sense of uncontested freedom and victory over life’s obstacles as a whole. More than that – it’s as if life is pure joy. I feel self confidence so absolute, it doesn’t even feel like it relates specifically to me as an individual, but as if I am that feeling and there is nothing left but to bless life.
I was thinking to myself… feeling the way I did is the reason I am an artist, so that I can communicate it through art.

People often wonder in today’s culture, what reason a man has for staying loyal to one’s conscience. This is my answer; To be able to feel like this, despite all of life’s problems, struggles to figure out right from wrong and all the stuff that brings one down to the point of wanting to give up one’s goals. Personally, I’ve had my share of those and still do. I’m not gonna lie about it.
But so long as I can feel the way I did tonight, life is worth living and the struggle for your goals is worth having, no matter the hardships. Bring it on.


My weekly post #14

This weeks was a rather frustrating painting experience for me. I hit a road block and spend part of this weekend searching for answers.

The painting I’m working on is of the study I shared in the past 2 weeks. I selected a large canvas for this one so I don’t feel “crammed”, but that turned out to be a bit more than I can swallow for this period of time. I run into a lot of problems. For one, working on a large scale makes it impossible to see the whole picture all at once while working on one particular area, unless you step back.
It is easy to become so involved with the painting process and forget to do it, resulting in a well painted area that does not match the rest of the painting.
Yes, big bummer.

Secondly this size introduced me up close to a problem I was having all year long: the style or method of applying paint.
See, oil paint, is by nature a very “blendy” substance. It is rather easy, in my opinion, to make a seamless smooth transition between two paints on a canvas by smooshing them into one another with a brush. However, that creates a surface that is unnatural since most surfaces in real life are not stiff and perfectly smooth. They have small variations in them. This raises the question, how should one use paint, a might mooshy substance but achieve that slighty rough effect?

Here is a painting by William Adolf Bouguereau, a masterful painter (1825-1905):

(Click to enlarge)

You may think it is perfectly blended, but you’d be wrong. Take a look at this digital model to see how a truly seamless blend looks like (Link to the artist’s Deviant Art page):

It looks like plastic (though in this case it was probably intended).

In contrast look closely at the shadow on the neck in Bouguereau’s painting:

You’d notice that the shadow does not have one color, but actually 2: it seems like the darker one is on top of the lighter one without covering it uniformly. This repeats throughout the entire figure. This is what I want to learn to do. I’m not quite sure how he actually achieved this, but I would guess that he softly scumbled the darker paint on top of the lighter one after the lighter one was dry or nearly dry.

Here is an example of a painting that I find very “smooshy” (by a contemporary artist named David Kassan).

This is what oil paints will naturally do for you if you don’t learn to manipulate them to meet your goal.

Working on a large scale, every patch of skin is huge, making it harder than normal to achieve a play of color throughout. But my little research has helped and I hope to overcome the time pressure and other issues and produce a painting that matches my vision, because this one, I really like and want to see done.

Finally, as I mentioned last week, 2 weeks from now my Atelier will have a graduation party. If you live in the Seattle area, please come and feel free to bring friends and family. It is a very nice event & don’t forget to introduce yourself to me.
Here is an invitation featuring my painting on it!


Current project and thought on Anatomy (weekly #13)

I am now working on the final painting of the year. It is a long, 4 week pose, from a live model, as always.

I showed the color study for it last week:

It is now transferred to a big canvas (linen on wood panel), 18” X 32.5”
Pretty much life-size. I’ve never worked so big before, this should be interesting (or at least, a very humbling experience to go through in the 2 weeks remaining).

This one is my favorite subject matter from the 2 years I’ve been studying at Georgetown Atelier.
A second close would be This one, with a third fourth and fifth for This, This and This.

In fact I like this one so much I already picked a frame for it, which is pretty unusual for me.
If I am satisfied with my painting when I’m done with it, I will be displaying it at my school’s end of the year party, June 30th (in Seattle).
More about this party at the end of the post.

I recently bought an excellent anatomy book by Elliot Goldfinger, which I’m using to study the underlying anatomy for this current pose.

I’ve asked myself yesterday what is the point of studying anatomy?  My initial answer is that I have natural curiosity to understand why something appears the way it is: what’s under the skin that makes the skin look a certain way. Then I thought to myself, “is it really necessary? After all, you can see that there is a bump here, skin fold there – is it really important to know what’s under it to be able to describe it?” And I answered myself “yes”. Because knowing the underlying elements (muscles and bones) help the artist see connections that he wouldn’t otherwise notice, as well as allowing him to notice subtle yet important changes in the skin’s curvature because knowing that a muscle is there helps the artist know to look for it via value difference or something like that.

For example, look at a shoulder:

For someone who doesn’t know anatomy, it would be mighty intuitive to describe it like this:

Then, if they had to replicate that line from memory it might look something like this:

Yes. The notorious Mr. Noodleman.

However, the shoulder area is composed of several main structures which give it a more specific form:

The spine of the scapula, to which the deltoid muscle is attached, and the trapezius muscle, which forms that diagonal shoulder line coming out of the neck. If one looks closely, there is an angle break where I drew the arrow, between the trapezius and the deltoid (link to illustrate).

This is so subtle and can easily be missed without knowing that it’s there. And once you know it’s there, you can no longer draw noodleman anymore, because you know that that curve should be broken down into more segments than 1. 🙂

The more I know anatomy, the more it will free me to be able to work from imagination and the faster I can draw and focus on more important things, like what inspires me about a subject.
I don’t mean “knowing anatomy” in the sense of memorizing every bone and muscle under the skin, but rather knowing practical anatomy – practical for artists, that is, not for doctors.


Now a bit about where I’m at with my education: I am now finishing my second year of training, after which I will have one more year to go.
I study at Georgetown Atelier in Seattle.
Next year I will be the senior student and the only one in my year, painting in full palette.
Other than me there will be two more painters in the school, which are just starting out and the rest of the students (9 of them) will be drawing.
I am a little nervous about that. Up until this point I always had more senior students to consult and learn from, but no more.
All 6 of them will be graduating in 2 weeks after 3 years of hard work.

Our graduation party showing everyone’s work, including mine, will be held at the school, on June 30th, 5-9pm.
It will have lots of art, music, refreshments, people and a really neat ” busy art studio” environment.
If you are in the area I would be happy to meet you and show you around, everyone are invited to the party and I will be very happy to see anyone who has interest in my art. Feel free to invite whoever you’d like. Here is the event on Facebook: Link. I would be delighted to see you there.