Painting number 7 is a big step away from what I had envisioned originally for this series. I have gotten away from the pure portraits of the ladies, which were taken from their health registration photo IDs, and I now want to show them in context of their life. The more I study this subject, the more fascinated I am by the daily life and social position of these women.
When I began painting them, I felt sorry for the shady ladies of San Miguel’s past. However, a book I’ve been listening to (audiobook style while I paint, a big time addiction for me) documents the lives of 1860s-1930s harlots from Colorado, and it has introduced me to a new concept of these women’s life. The book, Brothels, Bordellos, and Bad Girls, talks about how many of the ladies of the night were not victims, but wild child types who did not want to live the formulaic, oppressive life of pious mothers with a hoard of children to support. They wanted to get drunk and dance and sleep around, be independent and make their own money. In many ways, the average female U.S. college student has a lifestyle more similar to the bordello girl’s than to the proper social lady’s life a century back.
Anywho, here I used a reference photo from the infamous prostitute shots from Storyville, a 1912 New Orlean’s brothel where photographer E.J. Bellocq got intimate with the madame and was able to peek inside the lives of his muses when they were working, playing, and relaxing.
I’m having so much fun putting the ladies in context–although the scene is from 1912 New Orleans I will be using a face from the San Miguel girls, and with Mexico being a little bit behind the fashion the states I think it is still very fitting. More importantly, these girls shared the connection of their profession, their status, and in this photo in particular, one might imagined that there were times that they enjoyed their job.
Painting this gave me a much bigger appreciation for the composition. Although I loved the photo at first glance, only after I took the time to look deeply as an artist did I notice just how MANY patterns and designs liven up this image. The stockings are the focal point, of course. Love it!
It pays off to be in love with your art.
Especially when you live in a town where there are about 10 gringa women for every man, and most of the men are 50+!
Still, staying single CAN be a good thing when you hibernate in the studio for 10 days and do nothing but paint, which is what I was doing when I fell a little bit in love with my painting from day 6 of my 10 paintings in 10 days challenge:
I started painting with the mid morning sun coming in through the bamboo slats in the roof (above). Kind of lovely and infuriating for drawing.
This time I was set on learning from my last painting, where I felt like I overdid it with too much paint on my White Lady piece. This time I would go really light on the amount of oil on the brush in order to achieve a soft-edge, dry brush technique on the skin.
As for the composition, I had a vision of this particular lady of the night in regal purple, with Klimt-like vertical lines and linear decor, along with string vertical lines.
I started out with a palette knife to create a choppy, vertically-lined background in shades of indigo and deep purple. Alizarin crimson and phthalo blue were combined with a little bit of white and a lot of Liquin fast-drying medium. I cursed myself later for forgetting to use my Oleopasto Liquin, which would have given more texture to the palette knife.
Next came yellow ochre mixed with a touch of white for the skin, and I LOVED how the dry brush skimmed the surface of the canvas in order to create rosy skin tones with the pink-hued canvas. I played around with some metallic Klimt-like gold, and enjoyed how it set off the colors of the skin and background.
I really hate to use black-black in a painting. By that I mean, while I might want to achieve the effect of blackness, I would do my best NOT to use black paint. Mars or ivory black and most others neutralize and deaden a painting, sucking the eye into a hole on the canvas where you use them. No one wants that! Here I used a mis of ultramarine blue and raw umber, which gave me a deep cool black-ishness that brought out the blues in the purple background.
I wanted to bring more patterns in, as well as up the sexy vibe I was getting from this lady of the lamplight. I decided the plunging neckline underneath her luxurious robe was covered in elaborate lace. I thought it a nice transition from the dry brush skin underneath. The scant amount of paint over her face and body really made her seem more naked under her lingerie than if I had painted each inch with glaze after glaze of color.
Her face begins to come into focus. I carry the white, which is actually mixed with a healthy dose of lavender and liquin but appears white on the canvas, to her earrings.
And in this state she waits until her final unveiling at the September 12th art opening at Casa de la Noche, her former workplace. I just love her, and, let me tell you, it’s rare that an artist loves their work. My mom was telling me how much she was enjoying this blog series so far (isn’t that what moms are for? ;)) and I mentioned what pain and intensity accompany almost every day of speedy painting.
“What?? But you make it look so effortless!”
Well, let me assure you now my friends, the process goes something like: AgonyAgonyAgonyAgonyAgonyAgonyJOY!!!!
Still, I hope that the subject of this painting, who would have gone by a fake name at work, would think of this portrait.
I’ve been reading a book documenting the lives of prostitutes in 1860s-1930s Colorado, USA, and there are certainly tons of interesting connections to be made between then and the 1937 damas de la vida feliz, ladies of the happy life.
I originally thought of these women as desperate souls who were shamefully driven to prostitution because of dire circumstances, trying to make a living for their family. But, there were others who got into the oldest profession on the world because they didn’t want to settle for the pious life of a mother supporting a growing brood in nice (or boring?) society. Some of the girls were wild, just wanting to be free of people telling them how to live their life so they could go have fun, make their own money, get drunk and dance all night. Still others were entrepreneurial, women who wanted to be in charge of their own money, where it went to, and how they made it. This really shattered my naive and innocent ideas of the subculture of prosititution around the turn of the century.
This women, I think, is one of the proud ones.
I had no idea how much I would enjoy today’s painting process, even though there are a few lil things I still want to tinker with, as usual.
I knew I wanted all white for this portrait, with the features of the woman coming through almost as if from a fog, ghostly pale, all but for her dark hair and eyes.
Of all the women who once worked at the bordello on San Miguel de Allende, I thought this woman’s innocent visage seemed the most unsuspecting. Her white dress in her photo inspired me to turn up the blanca and use as little of the other colors as possible.
As I began, I feel in love with how the white paint interacted with the sienna toned background. Instead of adding coming to make a shade for the contours of her face, I could just apply LESS white and scrumble the brush into the canvas for the mid tones (scrumbling is when you use very little paint on a stiff bristle brush and rub it into the canvas in a circular motion).
The effect was very soft and lovely, just what I had sensed from the lady of the night’s sad sweet face.
After adding a raw umber (dark dark brown), I was less enchanted. Even the mouth on this lady is turned up like she’s less than pleased. However, after going in to add some light peachy tones and enhancing her eyes, I think she’s coming along rather prettily, as you see below.
I think I might have hints of a subtle rose playing in the layers of white, and I’m debating whether or not to give her deep crimson red lipstick, just on the top lip. Please do comment with your thoughts below, or like on Facebook!
See you tomorrow with another San Miguel de Allende damsel on the easel.
And now, drumroll please…. painting number 4!
Today’s painting really took on a life of its own. It began with a simple concept for the composition, a more of less exact rendering of the photo of a striking woman with fierce eyes but a girlish white bow in her hair, looking through her lashes at the camera.
All of the photos in this series come from the health department credentials the women kept up with once-weekly visits to the doctor’s office to ensure their cleanliness and availability to work. While most of the faces are drawn, this saucy face captured my attention.
I began with an ultramarine blue layout on a dark grey toned canvas.
Next I added in big areas of color. Although I was originally thinking of painting her in creamy white with navy blue and deep red accents, the Mexican flag colors snuck their way onto the canvas. The complementary colors and steamy effect the red had on her face reminded me of the jungle.
The jungle colors reminded me of a photo I took not so long ago in the jardin, the main plaza and heart of San Miguel de Allende, where the Parroquia church is perched like a fanciful sandcastle in the middle of the city. Under the shade of manicured trees, locals and tourists alike sit opposite the church and watch each other coming and going in the flamboyant colors of Mexico. This one particular day, the shows of the trees played like lace on the stones of the jardin square.
I thought that this would be a perfect complement to the portrait of a woman who undoubtedly strolled through the jardin all her life in San Miguel. A source from the documentary on the bordello said that most of the girls had pseudonyms at work, so that they wouldn’t be bothered or known by name when they were out and about in town.
I like how the red creates a sultriness to her personality. A sunset beauty in the shade of the jardin trees.
This canvas might get some lime green and pink added before the night of the opening, but I like the direction so far. Hope you do too!
May I present a composition I completed today for a commission: Abuelo con Ninos.
I struggled for ages with this piece. The concept is poignant, my Spanish teacher told me months ago how her father died of pancreatic cancer only 2 days before she gave birth to her first child, Juan Pablo, who is now my 5 year old art student. Funny how things loop around that way in Mexico.
She wanted me to paint her father with her 2 children, so she could feel that on some level, they were all together.
Unfortunately, she only had one photo for me to work with: her dad, face completely covered in shadows, then separate shots of the kids.
Painting this scene was tricky. I prefer to be very literal in my portraits, but with so little information to go on with this piece I kind of had to make things up.
Tomorrow, worry not, you will see a prostitute, so if your questionable morality was disappointed tonight, worry not! More ladies coming soon. Please do comment below, and thanks for keeping track during this 10 day challenge!
It’s day one, and I’m diving into all kinds of loopholes in my approach to finishing 10 paintings in 10 days.
Loophole 1: To begin with, my first painting (singular) is composed of 6 small canvases, about 5×7 inches more or less, which will be framed together on a dark grey mat. So, woohoo! Bonus paintings and it’s just day one!
Loophole 2: Maybe painting 6 mini-portraits will get help me get away with the fact that this whole process did not happen all in one day.
In fact, let me set the stage for the next 10 days: I will be working on paintings that I will be preparing in advance!
To be fair, only 2 of the other portraits for the Ladies of the Night art opening coming up have got some of the under-paintings begun, so I will paint in the beginning compositions for the others in the coming days. Let’s not make it too easy on me, right?
I so super enjoyed playing with this funky-hued, stencil-like style for the first painting of the challenge.
The playfulness of it allowed me to really feel joyful coming into the studio, which is an excellent way to start things off. I also got a chance to practice painting these particular women, some of whom I am going to paint on a much larger scale. The more I paint and draw a subject, the better I get at capturing them. With these subjects, it’s also been fascinating to imagine their world.
Please comment below to let me know what you think of the piece! I am thinking of re-arranging the 6 ladies as shown in the above shot so that the far left ladies switch places. Thoughts?
I have always loved the striking textures and unique way that oil paint mixes when applied to the canvas with a palette knife, so I decided to give it a go and experiment in this portrait of one of the working girls from Casa de la Noche, a bordello that was active here in San Miguel in the last century.
Here is the original photo I was working from.
Or to be clear, I used my nascent skills in PhotoShop (I know, I should have learned it 10 years ago!) to adjust the colors in the above photo so that I could choose a combination I liked without wasting real paint.
Here’s the color animation that I created to help me choose my palette:
Once I saw the color combination I liked best, I simply pause my video and used these colors for my palette knife painting.
What do you like better, the oil painted version or the digital art? Comment below!
Also, stay tuned for some exciting insider art announcements for those interested in taking classes in San Miguel! There’s a Studio Antonelli exclusive coming your way soon.
Just wanted to share with you the steps I took to paint a quick self portrait.
All in all I was super-pleased by what happened when I let go and loosened up with oil.
1) My first recommendation is to mix a flesh palette with strong warm red and green undertones. I like playing with variations if this recipe from Terry Stricklan.
2) Your next step is to use a medium tone for the background of your canvas. Since this is more of a study/practice piece, I’m working on a sheet of canvas pad mounted on board. My background is a thin yellow ochre–smudged on with a rag with a good dose of turpentine.
3) Then, I used a thick bristle brush and raw umber mixed with a generous dose of turpentine to lay in an underpainting. This is big and general and because I’m using oil I can smudge it around in my next layers.
4) Next, I looked for shapes of color around my face. I painted in the lightest flesh tone with a naples yellow at the forehead. I saw a blueish highlight, just a tinge of coolness around the eyes, and painted it in knowing I can lighten it up later.
It was at this point that my painting class saw the piece and got excited–this was so fresh and loose that my usual time-consuming meticulousness.
Once they said they liked it, I didn’t want to change it and mess it up! Still:
5) I knew I needed to have a full range of values, so I added the whites of the eyes and a hint of teeth. I blended the white, more naples yellow, and blended to make a more realistic flesh tone in the face and neck.
6) The final version blended the green and red undertones around eyes and mouth. A loose, suggestive white brushstroke, painted on thickly with just a touch of Liquin** medium for fluidity, helped better illustrate the double light source, coming in from behind and the right.
7) I also finally adjusted the nostrils into their proper places (was that bettering you too?), and brightened and simplified the teeth. The fewer lines you paint when you paint teeth, the better.
All in all the painting took 2 about hours, with just a little less than an hour of prep: the palette, toning the background, and taking a reference photo to paint of myself. I took it using my laptop in the bright afternoon light on the patio.
Comment below if you’re curious about any of the steps I took painting this quick loose painting, or what your own method is for alla-prima portraiture.
**I am a Liquin junkie.
I’m going to tell you the story of how falling off a ladder trying to get up to a roof in San Miguel de Allende finally helped me to understand the worst cuss-word there is in Mexican spanish: hijo de la chingada.
Along the way, I learned the value of suffering in art through reflections of la chingada in Mexican art, and you can’t talk about women and suffering and Mexico and art without the holy visage of Frida ascending her way into the conversation.
To illustrate, I have 2 Before and After shots to put before you today.
Before and After #1… The Artist on Tuesday.
This was an exciting self portrait, done in less than 2 hours, and much looser than my usual tight, realistic style. I was so excited at the breakthrough in brushstrokes I went out with friends that night. With a mezcalito too many in me, I decided I’d brave a ladder leading up to a scenic roof that I’d been too weenie to climb up before.
But that weenie-ness was wiseness in disguise. I crashed down to the tile floor, landing mostly on my wrist, secondly on my face.
Which leads us to the Artist After the Fall…
I was never as bloody as this intimates with the magenta slipping down the canvas like that, but I was desperate to get some of that raw emotion out of me and note the canvas before I lost the opportunity to catch it in oil instead of bottling it up inside. Frida has a great quote on that:
I couldn’t help googling the wheezy out of Frida while I was recuperating. Mexico is rather famous for it’s suffering females, and Frida Kahlo reached icon status after a lifetime spent suffering from everything from polio, to a spine-crunching trolly accident, to a philandering spouse–the world-famous Diego Rivera, whose betrayals were so devastating he even had an affair with Frida’s sister.
But it wasn’t just Frida who led me to understand one of the worse spanish cuss words. I’ve been hanging out with enough local good influences in Mexico, that after the fall I thought to myself se chingo, that arm got fucked up. Perhaps it was the influence of the anesthesia that had me dreamily wonder about something or other I’d heard about Mexico herself being referred to as la chingada, or the fucked over.
I did some intensive research by typing the question into google.
Please, please, if you have time and any interest in the complexity of Mexican culture and gender and vulgarities and identity crisis, read this excerpt from Octovio Paz’s The Labryrinth of Solitude.
The title in the pdf is Sons of La Malinche, Hijos de la Chingada, and the story of La Malinche came back to me from an early spanish class here in San Miguel de Allende.
La Malinche was in the nobility in her native indian Atzec people when Cortez and his Spaniards arrived with conquest on their minds. The trilingual La Malinche helped translate her native Nahuatl language into Spanish, much to Cortes’s advantage.
Not only did Cortes take advantage of La Malinche’s language skills, he violently opposed and brought down her home nation, had a son by her, and then abandoned it all. No small wonder that her experience of being fucked, being aggressively used and screwed over in both micro and meta ways, have led her to be known as la chingada, the Mexican Eve, and the mother of all Mexicans who call themselves hijos de la chingada.
Octavio Paz says it so much better than me. Here’s another link to read that article, seriously now.
I mentioned I was in an anesthesia haze during all of this, but here’s another Before and After to prove I’m a suffering artist, in case the portraiture didn’t convince you:
Before …The Artist’s LEFT (thank God) Wrist on Tuesday
I will have this apparatus on for the next 6 weeks, and tonight I’m feeling rather grateful that the suffering of a broken wrist has led me to a deeper understanding of Mexican culture and cussing. Without this horrifying clamp in my arm I never would’ve seen Orozco’s haunting and powerful mural image of La Malinche and Cortes, or painted out my feelings in that self-portrait I finished today that exhausted my energy reserves, but still left me feeling stronger.
More importantly I must thank my family and friends who helped me get to the right hospital in Mexico, or immediately flew into San Miguel to nurse me back to health, or were so stinkin’ worried about where I’d disappeared to they filed a missing persons report on me while I was having surgery. Love you guys. Muchas. Muchas. Gracias.