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Monday, April 3, 2017

The Copyist Program: Washington D.C.

I had a dream and then I had an adventure. I met new people, faced new challenges and worked hard to accomplish my goal. And through it all I learned so much.

Let me back up a bit and say that for years, each time I had the privilege of visiting the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. I would see the empty easels in some of the gallery rooms neatly placed out of the way but still very noticeable. Each one looked like they were waiting for someone. Curious, I asked at the information desk what the easels were for. That question was the first of many that eventually led me through the application process for their Copyist Program. Once accepted my excitement grew as I anticipated the portrait I had requested to paint. There were so many paintings to choose from but I had always admired and studied the work of John Singer Sargent. In the art world he has long been someone I respected because of his strong brush strokes and ability to confidently paint the likeness of fabric with such efficiency. I knew his portrait of Mrs. Henry White would be a difficult challenge (her life size portrait was quite intimidating) but I decided that I might as well go for it and see what happens.

Setting up my canvas made my heart beat faster. I was surrounded by greatness. To paint in this atmosphere where the walls were adorned with actual historical masterpieces almost took my breath away. My dream was about to come true.

I worked quickly sketching in her likeness with a thin wash of paint.

Once the sketch was done I began painting her face -- using her features as my reference for the rest of the painting. 

My excitement grew as I began studying her dress by laying down paint with values, colors and strokes as Sargent had. My goal was to copy it as closely as possible so that I could learn from Sargent's method. He was my instructor speaking to me through this painting; I tried to pay attention to everything he said.

Time was running out. By this stage I was at the beginning of the last day of my extraordinary adventure. When I chose this portrait my goal was not to do a complete the copy but to see how far I could go with a portion of it. 

Each hour in front of that easel seemed like ten minutes. Visitors from all over the world would come and go, occasionally asking questions and taking photos of me and my progress. I especially enjoyed the groups of school children who politely asked me about my work and the Copyist program.

I was allowed to paint from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. each day. Four o'clock came quickly on my fifth and final day. I wasn't expecting to even begin to paint her right hand so that was an extra treat. Her gold bracelet on her left wrist was also a lot of fun. I loved Sargent's attention to detail when he applied it to her face and jewelry and then surprised me with the light and contrast that brought out the beauty of her satin and tulle dress.

What a an absolute blessing and privilege this was! I can hardly wait to go back and apply what I have been taught to a new painting. Perhaps another Sargent?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Wine Bottles Commission

Painting commissions are always an adventure. The adventure becomes even more interesting when the subject matter is something that I have not painted a lot of before. This was one of those adventures.

I have always enjoyed and often admired some of the art on wine bottle labels. They can add so much drama and appeal to the wine. The challenge in composing this painting was to arrange the chosen bottles in a way in which they would enhance and compliment each other. It reminded me of curating an art show -- deciding which paintings would go well "hanging" side by side on a gallery wall.

It was not only a challenging commission but a fun one as well. The canvas was 24 inches high by 36 inches wide which gave me the opportunity to add extra drama by enlarging the bottles beyond life size. Painting the light and shadows on each bottle along with the art on the labels seemed a bit overwhelming at first and so I decided to remain calm and break it down to painting one bottle at a time.
Stages 1 and 2: Drawing the composition with a thin mixture of paint and mineral spirits allowed me the freedom to play around with the placement of the bottles without feeling too committed to the plan. As it turned out, I arranged and rearranged a couple of times as you can see by my lines. From there I went on to my first wine bottle (stage 2), painting it as efficiently as possible. Accuracy of the Opus logo reminded me of the accuracy necessary in a portrait. Either it looks like the subject or it doesn't.

Stage 3:  Graceland. With this purple and gold lined label and the tiny house in the center, I had to bring out my smallest brush that I bought specifically for this painting.

Stage 4:  1981. This eagle and its numerous twigs and branches along with the detail in the bird itself kept me on my toes. I didn't try to replicate every single detail but squinted my eyes to see and paint the general idea of it. The small lettering on each of the bottles was approached the same way. 

Stage 5: CAYMUS.  This CAYMUS bottle was the intended focal point, front and (almost) center. It was pulled forward to give it even more attention. There is something attractive about a tall, slender bottle of wine with a gold, artsy label and red cursive. (Once again, my tiny brush saved the day!)

Stage 6: 1982. Another eagle to compliment and frame the CAYMUS bottle. These eagles were detailed but fun. As you can see, this painting had miniature paintings within the painting. And then it was on to a golden chardonnay...

Stage 7: Aubert and Proper. Time was running out. This was a Christmas commission and Christmas was just two weeks away. I was so thankful that these last two bottles were a bit simpler in label design. I was also grateful for my past experience as a professional calligrapher. You just never know when past experiences are going to come back to help you.

Stage 8: The background. David Leffel taught me that if you want the focus to be entirely on the subject, keep the background simple. I used Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber to create this warm black.

Wine Still Life
24 x 36", Oil on canvas
Rita Salazar Dickerson (c) 2016

Stage 9: Completing the painting. Once the background was done it was time to paint the foreground. I kept it simple. Adding the light hints of the bottles' reflections in the wood was the effect I was looking for. Because this was a commission, I intentionally chose a wood color that would go well with the new owner's home.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Baby Isla

This sweet little portrait was a long time in coming. I started it months before it was eventually completed. In between the beginning and the end was a flurry of commissions that demanded my attention. At last I was finally able to give it the attention that was required to finish it.
Baby Isla
14 x 18", Oil on canvas
Rita Salazar Dickerson
Stage 1: Sketching in the composition.  I tinted the canvas first and then with the same thinned paint I loosely painted in the figure.
Stage 2: Painting the head and shoulders.  Knowing that this was the first layer, I blocked in the major shapes and colors -- painting wet-on-wet, or alla prima.
Stage 3: The body, arms and legs were next. 

Stage 4: Painting the foreground, background, fabric and basin. My biggest challenge was to paint just enough information to make the cloth and basin believable. I also paid attention to my edges as I painted the background and foreground. 
Stage 5: Adding more details to the background. My goal was to keep this composition simple but I kept feeling like she was so alone in this big, empty room. After much deliberation, I added the shower curtain along with the corner wall and bottom portion of the bathtub.
Final Stage: Completing the painting. One of the many final touches was the baseboard on the wall behind her. It seemed to complete the "frame" around her. From there I checked values, edges and color and made necessary adjustments. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Standard Poodle Portrait

This standard poodle portrait commission gave me the fun opportunity to use lots of thick, rich paint in the subject as well as the background. It is such a beautiful breed -- he already had a lot to offer the portrait: textures, expression and interesting features that translate well in a painting.

10 x 8 inches, Oil on canvas
Rita Salazar Dickerson

Stage 1: The sketch. I loosely painted in the features with contour lines that would be easy to follow. My goal was to capture the likeness of Trio at this stage which made the rest of the painting so much easier. It was time well spent.

Stage 2: Blocking in. It helped to squint my eyes as I looked at the subject at this stage so that I could simplify what I saw and block in all the major shapes and values with a relatively large brush.
Stage 3: Completing the portrait. From here on out it was time to let loose and enjoy the creative process.  Using lots of paint and coarse brushes I wanted to communicate to the viewer Trio's gorgeous coat and contrasting marble-like eyes. He was a joy to paint.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Pastel Portrait Commission

I'm comfortable painting portraits in oil. Even though learning and growing as an artist is a never ending journey, I realize its easy to slip into a rut and do the creative process the same way every time. Therefore it was a nice challenge for me to work in pastel again. My brain had to wake up, look around and be alert. It was refreshing to pick up chalk instead of a press and rub and play with layers of color on paper.

Baby Girl Portrait Commission
14 x 11 inches, Pastel on Paper
Rita Salazar Dickerson

Painting a portrait with pastels seemed so appropriate for this beautiful baby girl. I was able to create soft lines and edges that matched the mood of this commission.

After lightly laying my first contour lines down, I began working with her eyes before moving down to her nose and then the rest of her face. It's so much easier not to smudge this way. I try to complete as much as possible the first time around so that I don't have to keep going in and reworking it.

 My client kindly sent this photo to me of the portrait matted and framed. A well chosen frame is such an important part of the completed pastel. I was so happy with the results.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

My Art Diary: August - December, 2016, Part 4

I like fun surprises and as a commissioned artist each Christmas season never lets me down. As I look back on this last holiday season I have sweet memories of painting on stage at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort. Traditional Christmas carols were played on a baby grand piano as I painted in front of a live audience. The event was a women's brunch; the air was filled with anticipation and excitement for the season.
Madonna and Child
36 x 48", Acrylic on canvas
Rita Salazar Dickerson

From this painting performance someone in the audience commissioned me to paint a second image of the Madonna and Child. The client wanted it to decorate her mantel at home and requested a smaller size. My challenge was to paint it with the same feeling and freshness that I painted the original.

Madonna and Child, II
30 x 24", Acrylic on canvas
Rita Salazar Dickerson

In The Shadow of His Wings
48 x 36", Acrylic on canvas
Rita Salazar Dickerson
This was my third year of having the privilege of painting at the Remembrance Service held at Woodmen Valley Chapel. Each December the pastoral care staff hosts this event for the community allowing those who have lost a loved one to grieve and remember. It is always a somber yet positive and comforting service. My challenge was to paint an image that everyone could relate to and take comfort from. I was asked to visualize Psalm 57:1, "...I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings..." Those in attendance were invited to come forward and write their loved one's name in the shadow of the wings.

I love my job.

Monday, January 25, 2016

My Art Diary: August - December, Part 3

One of the enjoyable aspects to creating commissioned paintings is the variety and wide range of work that comes my way. Though I do like painting my own dreams I also like the challenge of painting the dreams of someone else. Oftentimes it takes sketches, emails, conversations and more emails to land on that final vision that satisfies the dreamer. It's such a great feeling when everyone walks away happy. Mission accomplished.

In this post I'd like to share a variety of works that came my way because someone in each instance was inspired to give art as a special gift.

The following two acrylic paintings were given as personalized baby gifts. Isn't it fun to think about a newborn entering the world who is greeted with original art that honors him?        
16 x 20", Acrylic on canvas
Rita Salazar Dickerson

16 x 20, Acrylic on canvas
Rita Salazar Dickerson
 This next project was a birthday gift to a cadet pilot instructor. Who knew that one day I would be painting a flight jacket?
Custom Personalized Flight Jacket
18 x 18", Acrylic on leather
Rita Salazar Dickerson

Cedaredge Peach
6 x 8", Oil on panel
Rita Salazar Dickerson
This last piece was a gift to myself. After spending the day picking tree ripened peaches, my next desire was to paint one.