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Art Renewal Center 2011/2012 Salon Finalists

I just learned that my self portrait was selected as a finalist in the ARC’s 2011/2012 Salon.

Visit the Art Renewal Center here:

and view past Salon exhibitions here.

Winners are announced sometime next month (I think?).
Pretty neat!

Self Portrait with Mahl Stick

Once in a while someone will ask me if it’s difficult to sell a painting, knowing I’ll probably never see it again. Surprisingly, the answer is no. (And of course not, I’m grateful for the sale!) More often than not, I don’t feel a sentimental connection to my paintings. That is — once they’re finished.

With some work, the really hard part, for me, is finishing. When I’m working, I see the picture daily for months or years. It’s always with me, whether in my mind or my hands; all the whileThomas Kenneth Conway analyzing different steps and going back to check my work, like wrestling with a complicated equation.

At a certain point, the picture develops its own momentum and carries on as if independent from me. I feel as though I’m watching, not doing. Once I see the painting headed for resolution, a kind of fearful surprise comes over me. It’s like a prelude to loss — the dread felt when you recognize you’re about to drop something, knowing it will break when it hits the ground and you can’t do anything to stop it. It can be frightening. I’ve caught myself avoiding this moment, seeing that a picture is just about finished. I have often run from it, sometimes just turning the panel to the wall (and ignoring it for days or months) or committing some drastic change which delays the end.

I’ve struggled with this for as long as I can remember. Part of it might be that fear of loss, thinking about sending the picture away… But more than that, I think it’s a kind of loneliness, knowing my relationship with the painting is about to end. More than any other subject, I find these feelings in self-portraits. It seems obvious, but they’re very personal paintings, often painted in the pursuit of some theory or technical issue. But above all, they’re driven by the simple pleasure of painting, unaffected by pressures of sales and exhibitions. To tell the truth, it saddens me to finish these paintings.

Click this image (below) for a high-resolution detail.

Thomas Kenneth Conway

Self Portrait (cont.) 13th sitting (2)

Here’s another update… I’m still considering this the 13th sitting, just after a little break.

I’m working on a large trompe l’oeil painting of a Rembrandt painting (no, that’s not a riddle) and have been studying Rembrandt very closely lately. Confident mark making is one of my main points of study and I’m trying to implement some of that here. I’m also trying not to compare my work directly to Rembrandt, as I already have enough problems getting out of bed in the morning, but I think the study has been very productive.

Comparing this image to the previous one, you can see that I’m still refining details and working with opaque color. Once a satisfactory level of finish is achieved in this fashion, I’ll step back to evaluate the whole and use glazes and scumbles to make any necessary corrections. But… that’s a few sittings off; there’s still lots more to do here.

Click the thumbnail for a high-res image (290kb).

Self Portrait (cont.) 13th sitting

This photo is from the 13th sitting. Thirteen seems like a lot, but it’s moving quickly now. Part of the reason this painting has taken so long is the number of changes I made in the beginning. So… I’m not really as slow as I seem, I’m just really indecisive… especially in the beginning. I have a little project planned to help me overcome this (more on that later). Since the composition and drawing is pretty sound at this point, real painting is taking place (I’d call most of the stuff from before ‘drawing’ instead of ‘painting’). While the surface is wet, it’s very difficult to photograph. The best way to show the color accurately at this point is to use the flash and take the picture at an angle (hence the distortion in this image). As a bonus, paint texture reads very well this way– which is a quality of painting that is lost in most reproductions, sadly. Click the thumbnail for a high-res image (700kb).

In other news… I purchased a new palette from Green & Stone in London. It’s beautiful and functions very well. My only complaint is, as with all mass produced palettes, I find the thumb hole far too small. I enlarged mine already– but with use I’ve discovered that I need it to be even larger. Even so– If you’re in the market for a new palette, I recommend it. Mine is the ‘Diaz’ palette No. 1, it’s lead-balanced and double-stacked at the bottom. I also ordered a couple of their small oval palettes… which were shipped separately and are currently lost in the mail. The man at the post office ensures me that they’re here somewhere, he just can’t locate the package. I’ve got my fingers crossed. (My crossed fingers may be another reason I needed to make the thumb-hole bigger… Did you know I’m also a comedian?)

Self Portrait (cont.) 11th sitting

Apologies for the down time here. I ran into a few problems with this portrait and felt obliged to get them straightened out before posting images. I found myself getting distracted with details and forgetting to check things in relation to the whole…. which is, really one of the worst mistakes to make. Suffice it to say that I was too embarrassed to take any photographs.

But, we’re moving right along now. The portrait still needs a lot of work, including some proportional corrections, but I feel a lot better.

And I’ve been busy with other paintings: I have a show coming up soon. [Along with this portrait] I’ll have a selection of new paintings, including my trompe l’oeil master-copies, amongst a group of so called “contemporary realist painters”. (Mostly folks I know, but it’s fun to alienate them with the label.) Details will follow.

Self Portrait (cont.) 8th sitting

Tonight I cleaned up the background a little and started painting the shirt. There’s lots more to do but I’m happy with where it’s going so far. Next I’ll define the mahl stick and then bring detail to everything. Normally I’d be inclined to stop here (or, 1 or 2 sittings away from here) but my intention with this painting was to sort of go all out in terms of the level of finish.

So, on we go.

The color in this photograph is pretty accurate, by the way.

Self Portrait (cont.) 7th sitting

More progress here, and another small design change: I’ve changed my expression (or rather… I’m in the process of changing it).

As the painting progresses, color in these photographs becomes more of a problem. My work lights are sufficient while painting but wildly inadequate for capturing accurate color in photographs. I’m tinkering with color a little in post and you’ll have to forgive me for the crude results.

Self Portrait (cont.)

After an extended [and unintended] break, I have returned to the self portrait. In the process of re-acquainting myself with this painting, I opted for another change. Trying to include the palette made that bottom corner too cramped and busy. I think this will be better, despite the significant finger cramps I had to endure while holding the position. Assuming I feel the same way in the morning, I’m just about finished composing and will begin actual painting soon.

I’m going to try to regain the momentum I had earlier. I have been busy with a few other projects, including a portrait commission and a landscape for an upcoming group show, but the worst is behind me… as they say.

Self Portrait (Continued)

I have been busy with a few other projects and after some time away from this painting I decided to make a couple changes: most significantly, the position of the right arm. The previous positioning of the hand was too contrived. Instead, I opted for something much more natural (in that, it’s literally what I see in the mirror). Because this is a posture I’ve done before, my initial inclination was to avoid it, but after wrestling with a few ideas I decided it’s the best fit for the picture.

Better painters would tell you these are the kinds of problems that need to be worked out on paper before starting the painting, and I’m inclined to agree with them. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t always work out that way. Plus, I feel like too much pre-painting planning takes some of the romance out of it. Frustrating as it may be, moving the composition around feels sort of like a dance; clumsily stepping on my own feet until I find the right rhythm. Then again… I’m not much of a dancer.

A Self Portrait

Here is a look at tonight’s progress on my recent self portrait. I’m still figuring out the composition, as you can see with the three different mahl stick heights–of which I’ve settled on the highest (I think). The gesture of the hand is a bit of an homage to Egon Schiele, who was largely responsible for my initial interest in painting. Awkward or unusual hand gestures–especially the outstretched pinky finger– were a kind of trademark in his work.

For this painting I’m using the same palette as that of the Caravaggio, which I’m really rather enjoying. And that red shirt I’m wearing… That’s the wonderful Winter Silence Nightshirt by J. Peterman. It’s a fun piece of clothing (which fetches some strange looks when worn out to the mailbox).

Also, I’ve put together a step-by-step animation of this painting to date. I’ll add additional sittings as it progresses. Seeing it this way, I noticed I lost a bit of likeness from the 3rd to 4th sitting. Not to worry though, I’ll get it back.