Artists from across the country submitted their work for consideration in the 2009 American Artist Cover Competition. After an extensive selection process Suzanne Eisler’s Still Life With Butterfly was chosen as the winning image. It is presented here, along with artwork from the nine other finalists.
|The Winning Work:
Still Life With Butterfly
by Suzanne Eisler, 2007, oil, 13 x 14.Collection the artist.
The Winner: Suzanne Eisler
With her painting, Suzanne Eisler says she is trying to achieve “a quiet simplicity.” Although she enjoys the challenge of complex shapes and textures, she tries to use only the minimal amount of objects needed to ensure balance in a composition. “The key for me is the light,” the artist says. “The lightest object becomes the dominant element. I’m also moved by the beauty of halftones and shadows with their lost and found edges. Perhaps it is this selectivity and the differing degrees of finish between dominant and subordinate objects that give my paintings depth and make my approach work.”
Eisler says she works hard to follow the methods and techniques of the classical tradition, with inspiration coming from such artists as Pieter Claesz, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Anne Vallayer-Coster, and Henri Fantin-Latour. She has studied at the Ridgewood Art Institute, in New Jersey, and at the School of Visual Arts, the Arts Students League of New York, the New York Academy of Art, the Aviano Academy of Fine Arts, and the Grand Central Academy of Art, all in New York City. She has also studied privately with Michael Aviano, Jon deMartin, John Osborne, and Ted Seth Jacobs, crediting Aviano and deMartin with having the greatest influence on her.
According to Eisler, Still Life With Butterfly is somewhat allegorical. “It started with the butterfly, and then I began adding and arranging,” she says. “It reflects the idea of change, coming about at a time when I was making life-altering decisions, moving in new directions personally and professionally.”
Born and raised on Long Island, New York, Eisler spent most of her professional life as an illustrator doing fashion, product, and architectural rendering in New York City. She now lives in Poughkeepsie, New York, and devotes herself full time to painting. “I didn’t pick up a brush until I was about 40 years old,” she says. “It was something I never thought I could achieve. But doing it helped me realize that even in times of great change, there are opportunities—to learn, to set new goals, to achieve new heights. It’s important to remember that the idea of reinventing oneself is not just an important tool for coping but also the quintessential American ideal. Maybe this is what it means to be an American artist.”
For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Casey Baugh, 2009, oil on linen,
24 x 16. CourtesyWendt Gallery,
Laguna Beach, California.
“I have wanted to paint a dual temperature scene for a while, and this painting gave me the perfect opportunity,” says Casey Baugh. “It also gave me the chance to paint one of my red carpets.” When creating a painting, the Massachusetts artist first comes up with an idea and then spends a day with the model setting up many different scenes. “I usually have something in mind before the model arrives, and I try to start with that idea and work from there,” he says. “I inevitably end up doing something a little different, but the result is always better than what I had originally envisioned.”
Baugh usually paints with Rembrandt oils on white lead-primed linen and always completes one or more practice paintings before executing a finished piece. For Ambience, he made several practice sketches prior to the finished painting and also worked from reference photographs.
Baugh has been painting professionally for more than 10 years. His artwork has appeared on the cover of Drawing, American Art Collector, and The Artist’s Magazine, and one of his pieces won an exceptional merit award in the 2008 Portrait Society of America show.
by David Beal, 2008, oil, 36 x 36.
Collection the artist.
David Beal enjoys painting people. “I attempt to capture a moment in time—a glance or look that begins to tell a story,” says this Kansas artist. Beal typically begins with pencil sketches and color notations from a live model. With children, he also takes numerous digital images so he can fully develop the drawing and composition later in his studio. He then prepares his canvas with multiple coats of primer, sanding lightly in between coats.
Beal starts the painting by coating the entire surface with raw umber thinned with turpentine and then uses cheesecloth to remove some paint from the surface. After completing a value study in raw umber, he premixes his colors and lays out his palette. He uses primarily Winsor & Newton and Old Holland oils, adding small amounts of clove and linseed oil to extend the drying time. Once the raw umber value study is dry, he begins laying in the mid-range flesh tones with broad strokes. He then moves to the darks, being careful to keep them thin and transparent. He builds the lights over multiple sittings, re-establishing the drawing each time using raw umber line work.
“With this painting I knew I wanted a study contrasting Tayler’s youthful and subtle skin tones against a bright pattern,” Beal says. “She also has interesting eyes that I knew would be a challenge. Only when I got into my studio did I decide on the white, heavily applied background. I was looking for graphic impact, and I wanted the subject off-center right, with lots of space behind her. I considered adding foliage in the near foreground but decided I liked the simplicity of the figure on white.”
by David A. N. Cheifetz, 2008,
oil on panel, 12 x 9. Courtesy
Foxhall Gallery, Washington, DC.
David A. N. Cheifetz
When choosing subject matter, Washington, DC, artist David A. N. Cheifetz looks for objects that speak of age and hard use, and for sizes, shapes, textures, and colors that can be combined to form a pleasing composition. “My concept is formed while I rummage through potential objects, imagining in my mind’s eye how I could paint and compose them,” Cheifetz says. “I then set up my objects and adjust the light until I’m happy with the composition. I think still-life setups inevitably look boring and ordinary—the trick is to see beyond that and decide where you want to create focus, drama, and mystery.”
For The Teapot, he wanted to create a pleasing and balanced composition with only two objects. “I was excited about the blue detailing of the teapot and the reflected light that was coming off the red cloth,” he explains. Cheifetz likes to use an alla prima approach, and he strives to paint loosely but with precision. He started this painting with a drawing in umber to block in the shadow shapes. He then placed the lightest light and darkest dark. In his first three-hour sitting, he covered the panel. In the second three-hour sitting, he refined the rounded form of the teapot and put in the blue detailing, the delicate handle, and the silver-dollar plant. After darkening the turning shadow on the brown bottle, he considered the painting complete.
For more information, visit www.davidcheifetz.com.
|Artist at Work, Taos, New Mexico
by Emily Hirn, 2008, oil, 30 x 40.
Courtesy Frameworks Gallery,
Georgia artist Emily Hirn painted Artist at Work in her studio from a series of reference photographs she took while on a break during a plein air workshop given by Albert Handell in New Mexico. “Toby, a fellow workshop participant, was utterly lost in concentration, which is what was so attractive to me,” Hirn recalls. “More than a portrait or a representation of an idyllic scene, the painting became a statement about the act of creating.”
Hirn says she relies heavily on accurate drawing and strong compositions for her oil paintings. “I seldom choose a symmetrical composition, preferring to throw the focal point off center and balance it with other elements,” she states. “I find that creating areas of tension and then resolving them results in a more interesting composition and painting.”
She first makes a line drawing of the subject in a combination of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. Hirn then gets rid of the white by blocking in washes of transparent solvent-thinned oil color with loose brushstrokes. Next, she works on defining a focus area. She goes back and forth, adding and subtracting color, blurring or sharpening edges as needed, laying one color edge next to another in one small area and working out from there. “The overall goal is to keep a fresh and sketchy quality in the finished piece by not saying too much,” she says.
Hirn mainly chooses Sennelier oil paints for their buttery texture but also uses some Old Holland, Holbein, and Winsor & Newton colors. Her preferred brushes are Escoda 4050 Series and Silver Bristlon 1903 Series. She likes Holbein palette knives and uses Gamsol for a solvent.
|Roses on Silk
by Varvara Harmon, 2008–2009,
oil, 24 x 30. Collection the artist.
“I don’t really have to search hard for my subjects,” says Varvara Harmon. “I see beauty everywhere. Any object around my home might become the subject for my next painting.” She gave the roses in this oil painting to her daughter because she was in a musical performance. Harmon works in a variety of media, and the draped silk was a fabric she planned to use as the surface of a painting.
When beginning an oil painting, Harmon always establishes the composition and the direction of the light source first. She then applies a layer of dark and midtone colors. Next, she adds many layers of glazing. “Each painting might have a different number of layers, depending on the effect I’m trying to achieve,” Harmon explains. “For transparent and translucent effects, I usually need many thin layers of glazing. However, for more opaque objects, I use fewer layers but focus on more of the fine details from the outset.” She adds the highlights last. Harmon paints with Winsor & Newton oils mixed with walnut oil and alkyd resin medium on Creative Mark primed and stretched cotton canvas with a paintable edge.
Born in Russia, Harmon immigrated to the United States in 2001 and now lives in Maine. Her painting Roses on Silk was chosen as a finalist for “Salon International 2009,” a juried exhibition of the International Museum of Contemporary Masters of Fine Art, at Greenhouse Gallery of Fine Art, in San Antonio.
by Timothy W. Jahn, 2008, charcoal,
22 x 19. Private collection.
Timothy W. Jahn
For New Jersey artist Timothy W. Jahn, each drawing presents a unique set of obstacles to overcome. “With The Conjuring, the first hurdle was finding a model that was both powerfully beautiful and innocent,” Jahn says. “I chose Danielle because she had an intoxicating gaze that allowed me to create a powerful heroine who at the same time possessed a youthful innocence.”
Jahn prefers to work mostly from life, but for this drawing he worked from preliminary compositional sketches and photographs because of logistics with the model. “After taking the photos, I used Photoshop to explore multiple variations of the formal elements within the pictorial image,” he says. “In Photoshop each element has an assigned layer that can be adjusted an infinite number of times throughout the development of an idea. This allows me to determine my final composition quickly without wasting time making major changes to the drawing. Then as I execute the piece, all of the information goes through my internal artistic filter once more.”
Jahn created this drawing with General’s charcoal and General’s charcoal white on Canson Mi-Teintes paper. “All of the values were made by mixing the black and white charcoal,” he explains. “The entire surface of the paper was blanketed with the subsequent tones that were created. This allowed for a broad range of values and an even finish.”
For more information, e-mail email@example.com.
|Girl With Noodle Bowl
by Chung Ae Kim, 2008, oil, 24 x 30.
Collection the artist.
Chung Ae Kim
“I like all manner of subjects: a corner of my house, a garden, people, a street, memories from trips,” says California oil painter Chung Ae Kim, who was born in Korea and came to the United States in 1977. The artist based this painting on a photograph she took while traveling in Lijiang, China, in 2008. “I saw my own childhood memories of 50 years ago in this ancient city,” she recalls. “I used the photograph as the basis of the painting, but the details and my nostalgic feeling were improvised.”
Kim generally works from photos or watercolor sketches made at the scene. She begins a painting by sketching the image on canvas and then drawing over it with Liquitex dark acrylics. Next, she tones the canvas with tinted transparent gesso. After premixing all of her oil colors by value, she applies them in large areas, working from background to foreground. “Detail work is usually a fairly small effort at the end,” the artist says. “I execute 90 percent of the painting very fast, to keep the inspiration I had from the subject. Then I take time to study it before making final improvements. I like my paintings to seem detailed, but without the intense labor of small brushwork.”
Kim is a member of the Fourth Street Studio, in Berkeley, California. Her work is in numerous private collections.
|Rods and Reels
by Rick Kroninger. 2008, oil, 60 x 40.
Courtesy Felder Gallery, Port Aransas,
Texas artist Rick Kroninger says he has been visually interested in deep-sea fishing gear for some time. “The beauty of these old rods and reels continually fascinates me, and it’s a subject I’ve never seen painted before,” he says. To make this painting, Kroninger worked from photographs of the still life, which he set up on a portable fold-out table mounted to his easel. “I arranged the rods and reels on the table outside, rotating them toward the natural sunlight to give me the exact light/shadow placement I wanted for the painting,” he says.
Kroninger paints exclusively with Old Holland oils for their richness and brilliance. His medium of choice is Taubes Copal Concentrate, which is no longer available in stores. “This medium gives the paint a jewellike glow,” he says. “Fortunately, I purchased a lot of it in the 1970s.” While painting this large, detailed piece, Kroninger developed a jointed mahlstick with a small palette attached to it that made it easier for him to work close to the surface of the canvas.
Kroninger worked as a commercial photographer for 40 years and has mostly created artwork in the medium of wood sculpture. He is represented by Felder Gallery, in Port Aransas, Texas.
For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
|In the Stillness…
by Denise LaRue Mahlke, 2008, pastel,
24 x 18. Courtesy InSight Gallery,
Denise LaRue Mahlke
According to Texas landscape artist Denise LaRue Mahlke, design is key to a painting’s success. Mahlke says she enjoys making many thumbnail sketches and value studies in the process of planning, drawing, and experimenting with different compositions for her pastel paintings. Whether working outdoors or in her studio, she always makes time for this preliminary step. In her studio she might also work from photographs, but she says these are secondary to her sketches and any other reference material she has gathered outdoors.
“My inspiration for In the Stillness… was the warm golden glow of late afternoon light on the grasses and trees and the contrasting cool tones of sky reflecting in the water,” Mahlke says. Working from photos in her studio, she used a soft-leaded pencil to make several thumbnail sketches of the scene in various formats and values before deciding on her design.
Mahlke likes to experiment, using different brands of pastel papers and making her own surfaces, but lately she has been using UART sanded pastel paper, preferring the 500-grit variety. For larger paintings, she has her paper mounted to Gatorfoam board. She starts a painting by indicating the large shapes with a neutral Nupastel stick or charcoal and blocking in her middle- and dark-value shapes with 1-to-½-inch pieces of Nupastels and Rembrandts in warm and cool colors. She then uses a wash of Gamsol odorless mineral spirits to dissolve the pastel and establish the underpainting. When this is dry, she re-establishes the darks and mid-darks with the same pastels and then starts working with other brands, including Art Spectrum, Unison, Schmincke, Sennelier, and Terry Ludwig. She works on all areas simultaneously to develop the painting as a whole before focusing on details, using the sides of her pastel sticks as opposed to the tips.
To see the Table of Contents for the June 2009 issue of American Artist, click here.