Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bench Portrait By The Grand Canyon

A Bench Portrait By The Grand Canyon

This is an acrylic painting by Stan Levine (me) 18"x 14." I have painted with acrylics on a variety of sizes, but I am most confident painting on this size of canvas. I always use a photo reference when I paint, because it helps me to create the illusion of realism. While some aspects of my work are photo-realistic, others are more impressionistic. The couple sitting on this bench is my wife and I on our honeymoon. We met in high school when we were very young. I was only 17, and she was 15. We fell in love, and we wanted to get married, but our parents thought it was too soon. Our relationship continued to intensify until our parents were forced to break us up. We each went on our own separate paths. I went to the California College to the Arts in Oakland California to study film, video and performance art, while Ronda, my wife studied philosophy. It was later on in our lives when we re-connected online, and later rekindled our relationship when I had to honor of flying out across the country to see my true love for her 30th birthday.
Sparks flew, and a year later we got married. We went to the Grand Canyon of Arizona from Las Vegas using a hired tour guide. It was a very strenuous 6 hour drive with very little stops except one at McDonnolds for breakfast. Lunch was not until we actually got to the canyon. Ronda was feeling faint. Then it got cold fast as the sun set. It was beautiful, but a very exhausting trek. The Grand Canyon is a very dangerous place to stand. Many people have died and continue to die at this tourist hot spot. The canyon itself is so beautiful, that many people seem to be drawn to its edge to get a good photo and for the adrenaline rush of having that human experience of standing as close as possible to the edge of what would seem life itself; a mystical and spiritual place where life ends and something else begins.
Ronda took many photos of the Grand Canyon, and I really like the subject matter because it deals with something that is very beautiful and deadly at the same time.

Before I begin a painting, I like to start by drawing a pen and ink illustration. This process helps me to plan out the composition, and make decisions about value that I will later use in the painting when I mix the colors. In this painting, the background is far away, against the horizon. The colors are desaturated by adding gray to the orange, and cobalt blue. The foreground consists of the bench and my wife and I. The colors used for these elements must be sharp and in focus. This is achieved by keeping a high level of contrast. Light colors are accompanied by dark colors and shadows to help the forms to pop out in 3 dimensions, and there is more detail placed here as well. The hardest part of painting is knowing when its finished. Sometimes less is more. In the photo reference, and in the pen and ink illustration, the bench is chained into the ground, but I chose not to show this in the painting because I thought it would crowd up the composition too much. Paint is powerful in that it expresses energy with color and texture with brush strokes. If it gets too busy, it can be disturbing to look at which is ok if that is the intention. In this painting I was looking for a sense of balance. I want to show you a glimpse of the canyon's beauty, while holding you back by putting my wife and I on the bench as the center of focus. My wife's posture conveys warning, while my posture conveys protection and safety. The space on the right gives us a way out, so we do not get the feeling like we are trapped. There is a great flow of elements, color, and value in the composition. I have another photo reference lined up for another Grand Canyon painting that I hope to get started on in the near future.

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