Monday, January 26, 2015

Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, A Fusion of Art and Architecture

The Seaport Center by the marina on the Potomac River

Old Town and Historic Architecture

A couple of weeks ago I was in the DC area for business and spent time in one of my favorite places, exploring and having funWhen traveling, for whatever purpose, certain parts of a city call to me and I soon find myself in the historic district. Old Town Alexandria, a charming historic port town, is one such place. 

Le Pain Quotidien
Situated on the Potomac River, walking through Old Town is a feast for the eyes, as it takes you on an architectural journey through time, without sacrificing any of the modern conveniences. The warmth, the heritage, craftsmanship, and attention to detail all draw me in like a bee to honey. When visiting the local shops and restaurants it's easy to experience Alexandria's distinctive flavor.

Frank Lloyd Wright said, "The mother of all art is architecture.  Without an architecture of our own, we have no soul of our own civilization."

Art and architecture share a special relationship or bond. Historical builders and architects were often artists, and integrated craftsmanship, skilled artisanship, and sculpture with the idea of building something that would stand the test of time. Their techniques and processes were often passed down through the centuries.

Prince Street looking towards the Potomac
Alexandria, founded around 1749, is a melting pot of architectural styles including Colonial, Federal, and Georgian just to name a few. Row homes were built or knitted into one another using what was called a brick party wall. Building homes in rows was a more economical use of space and the party wall created a more stable manner of construction and helped to control fires. We don't have to know all of this, to appreciate their beauty. Somehow wknow they are they are endowed with something special.

In our time, Architectural buildings are all too often swept away by "progress".  Each time we lose one we lose a part of our heritage. Fortunately, Alexandria was saved from complete modernization around the 1960's. Approximately 200 historical structures remain and are protected by the city's architectural board. 

Today, Old Town is a much desired area to shop, dine, and live.  You can enjoy the outdoors on foot, by bike, or relaxing in a waterfront park.

The Torpedo Factory Art Center and The Art League

Galleries at the Art Center
My first trip to the Washington DC area was courtesy of the Army. I was on temporary assignment and working at a now decommissioned Army Base outside of the DC area. While there, a few of my colleagues familiar with the area suggested exploring the local sites. This past week I had the opportunity to retrace some of my steps including Old Town and the Torpedo Factory

The Torpedo Factory Art Center, one of our stops -  a unique place with an interesting history -  sits on the Potomac riverfront.  The Art Center, centrally located in Old Town, was originally constructed in 1918 by the Navy. The building served as a torpedo manufacturer, munitions storage, and general storage until the City of Alexandria bought the building from the federal government.

Robert Liberace Class at the Art League School
In 1974 the building was transformed into The Torpedo Factory Art Center and has become one of the most visited sites in Alexandria. The center houses a community of 82 artists studios, the Art League Gallery, The Art League School and store. In the studios which also serve as shops, you can talk with the artist, and browse the wide array of work from ceramics, paintings, sculpture and much more. It's always fun to bring something new home.

"By nurturing the artist, we enrich the community.  The Art League develops the artist through education, exhibition, and a stimulating, supportive environment, while sharing the experience of the visual arts with the community." - The Art League's mission statement.

Robert Liberace painting a demo
The Art League School offers classes for all levels of artist of every age and open to everyone. Many  years after my first visit, I returned to the art center to take lessons at the Art League School. It was here that I took my first portrait painting class a little over a year ago with Robert Liberace. I had followed Rob's work for quite a while. Upon learning that he was one of the many teacher/artist offering classes at the Art League I signed up. It was a great experience.

Current Exhibition at the Gallery
The School offers on going classes and workshops such as the one I attended. The classes range from fine art to a wide variety of crafts. 

The Art League Gallery is a non profit membership organization and offers monthly shows featuring member artists.  Membership again is open to everyone.  Shows are on going and exhibitions vary from solo artist shows to faculty shows and more.

Whether in Old Town or in your home town, see if you can find a way to immerse yourself in the architecture, art and soul of the area.

Thanks for joining me and please send me your comments.  I'd love hear your ideas, questions or input. Please leave responses in the comments section below or on Facebook. If you like this article please feel free to share this post with your friends or on Facebook. 

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Artfully Yours,

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Additional websites with information about Alexandria.,_Virginia

Monday, January 5, 2015

5 Steps to Beginning a Conte Charcoal Portrait

Conte Process
Recently I've been asked about the process of creating a conte/charcoal portrait. To answer some of those questions and give others a better idea of how a portrait comes to life this article shows the evolution of a portrait.

In this article, I'll share my process and discuss some of the drawing tools used while making a portrait of a young man. (In future articles, I'll discuss values and measuring in more detail.) This is a companion portrait. His sister's portrait had been completed, and I would use her portrait to ensure both portraits were visually similar.

As part of my process, I've included a photo timeline showing various stages of the portrait. Warning: sometimes the process is not pretty. Some of the stages are referred to as "the ugly stage".  As with the creation anything, you have to develop a knowing or a vision to get to the other side.


Before starting the life drawing session, I measured the sister's portrait for general size and placement. I then lightly marked guidelines onto the paper being used for the brothers portrait. This helps to denote the approximate placement on the paper and size for compatibility with the companion portrait.  

2 Hour Life Drawing Session
Life Drawing
For me, the first step is to have a life drawing session with the person. The life drawing session last normally 2-3 hours.  

This allows me the opportunity to learn more about the person and their likes. This young man is a musician and will soon be on his way to college. A time in his life of transition and I wanted to capture this in the portrait.

The life drawing session also gives me time to study, understand or read a person's features. This time is important because it helps me determine distinguishing features or characteristics. During the session I learned he has a cleft chin, something I had not noticed prior to the session.

First, I asked him to sit in a loose or general position. As I drew (and after breaks), I watched and waited for him to relax into a comfortable position, one more reflective of his personal body dynamics.

At the point when he looked to be relaxed and "in his zone", I set the pose and took photographs. Then I continued the drawing process until I had completed a rough sketch of him.

After two hours, I had his features sketched onto the paper and he left the session.  It was a good start with a long way to go.

Whenever we look at someone, part of what we recognize about them are their gestures and their body language. This is so important in a portrait. Capturing this essence helps to create a better likeness of the person.

Companion Portraits
My Studio
As mentioned earlier the portrait is companion portrait. In the photograph of my studio, you will see his sister portrait on the wall. While working on this portrait, I positioned his sisters portrait so I could observe it and keep it fresh in my mind. 

The siblings have slightly different coloring. The sister is a brunette with blue eyes and he has sandy blonde hair with blue eyes. My goal was that each portrait should reflect the individual. It was also important that the portraits be harmonious and provide a reflection of one another.

Drawing Process
There's a story by Zig Zigler about a pilot and an airplane and how the plane is off course most of the time. The pilot keeps making corrections all the way until they land. For me working on a portrait is similar to the pilot/airplane analogy. 

In this stage of my work, one of my favorite tools is accurate measuring. The time spent measuring and measuring again helps me ensure the person's features are aligned, in proportion and reflects an accurate version of the person. 

During the life drawing session, as I drew, I measured to get his features. There are several ways to measure, and over time, many artists develop their "eye" or natural sense for measuring. Sometimes I use a proportional divider, or my thumb, a plumb line or whatever's handy. One of my favorite tools is a bamboo shish kabob skewer because it's thin, portable and easy to use.

Transitioning to Conte
Next I loaded the photos onto the computer and after the likeness to be used was chosen it was time to switch from graphite to Conte. 

I set up at my larger easel and workstation as seen in the photo and switched from life drawing to working with a photo as reference material. 

After switching from life drawing to the image on my computer screen, I began to measure once again using a proportional divider. Once you set your proportional divider remember the zoom percentage on your screen. If you have a good monitor this method allows you to feel as if the person is still sitting with you for the portrait.

Glimpses into the Process
This is a snapshot into the process to create a conte portrait. Please pardon the variations in the photo quality. The lighting conditions and the use of 2 cameras created the contrast. It is however, the same portrait. 

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Until next time...

Artfully Yours,

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Annette Goings Fine Art Website

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