Monday, January 7, 2013

Encounter: Casey Baugh

Casey Baugh at Work

I had an opportunity this weekend to visit Scottsdale, Arizona, to enjoy a three-hour portrait demonstration by Casey Baugh.  The demonstration, which was sponsored by Scottsdale Artists' School and hosted by Legacy Gallery, took place on a Sunday evening.  Although some 60 people attended, a video camera and big projection screen allowed spectators in the back rows to see clearly; I, however, had the catbird seat in the second row with a clear shot of Baugh's palette and canvas.

Baugh started by noting that he doesn't "draw" the portrait first but rather just blocks in shapes, keeping in mind that drawing will be adjusted toward the end.  During the evening, he gave the audience a number of practical tips.  Here are some notes that I took:
Painting is like following a recipe.  You can't stop a third of the way through to taste it, because you haven't added everything yet and it'll taste terrible.  You have to trust the recipe and know that it will be great.

Casey's Setup
I'll do two or three preliminary alla prima sketches before doing the final piece.  These are rough drafts.  How do you sustain interest this way?  That's why I work fast.  If I spend more than a few days, I'll go crazy.
Do those three drafts - and they may be mediocre - and then throw them away.  No one cares about them.  People just want to see the final, perfect painting.
Take as long as you need to make a painting.  No one cares if you spent three hours on a painting or six months.  Don't rush through the painting.
I work starting with value, then color, followed by edges and, finally, drawing.  I don't worry about drawing until the end.  Breaking down the process into simple steps makes things easier.  I can always adjust my drawing later.
I start with the easiest shapes first.  These are the ones I can see first.  (He started with the shape of the hair and then the eyes.)

Phase 1

I work in three stages.  First, I just want to get something going on the canvas.  Second, I adjust - and this is the hardest part.  The third stage is having fun by applying finishing strokes.  In that third stage, I try to make everything look like it was done in just two strokes.
Don't be afraid to go for the full value right off the bat.
I save the mouth for last.  It's the hardest part.
If I have a choice, I'd rather paint under a cool light than warm light.  Whether you paint cool or warm, both look good under a cool light.  (Baugh did the demo under a 5000°K full-spectrum lamp.)

Phase 2

Just because you're painting with a small brush, it doesn't mean the painting has to look like it was done with a small brush.  With multiple strokes, you can make it look like it was done with one stroke with a big brush.  (A lot of the work around the eyes, nose and mouth were done with a very small brush.)
Painting is like making a movie.  Hundreds of hours of footage are edited down to just two hours.  The movie is edited to make it look like it was shot effortlessly.  This is the way painting should be.

Phase 3

Trust your instinct.  Trust yourself with art as you would with music.  With music, you know whether you like it or not.   The same should go for art.  If it looks right to you, then go with it.   Don't listen to the opinions of others.  And you can make your instinct better over time by looking at lots of art.
Everything in the visual world can be described with seven things:  Content (what the painting is about), composition, drawing, value, edges, color and texture.  
I always place my signature before I am finished.  The signature is, after all, part of the composition.  Also, we have a hard time seeing when a painting is finished.  So, if you sign it - sometimes that's all the painting needs.  It helps us see the painting as being finished.

Final Phase
(During the course of the demo, Baugh played some background music from his smartphone through a wireless speaker.  Sometimes he stopped to fiddle with his smartphone to get just the right Pandora playlist going.)  Half of painting is just finding the right music!

I've posted here some steps of the demonstration.  I apologize if any of the pictures seem somewhat fuzzy; it's the result of a cell phone camera, which actually takes pretty good photos, being used in a a low light situation with many spectators crowding in to take photos!

Casey's Palette
All in all, it was an awesome demonstration.  Baugh is a good teacher.  I'm unable to take his workshop this week at Scottsdale Artists' School, but I'd like to plan on one in the future.


John Fleck said...

Thanks for posting this!
You may also enjoy a video someone made of one of Casey's demos:
(He goes over some of the same points you mention)

Regards - John

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks, John! I'll check it out.

Barb Allen said...

Michael -

I had the great fortune to take two workshops with Casey and he is truly a phenomenal teacher. Loved your notes from the demo. I have many of the same notes and read them over and over.

Barb Allen