Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Five Minutes with Duluth Painter Dale Lucas

Beaners Central here in Duluth has one of the nicer venues for showing art in the Twin Ports here, so I make it a habit to check out whose work is on display each month. In January, they featured works by painter Dale Lucas. I was immediately struck by what I saw, which led me to return the next day with my camera. Our paths unexpectedly crossed Saturday at the Pineapple Arts art supply store downtown... Here are some things you will find interesting about Dale's work.

Ennyman: Many of your paintings show references to the classical masters. Who are your favorites from the past?
DL: There are a number of them. Here are a few: John Singer Sargent, Velasquez, Whistler, Klimt, Rembrandt, and Vermeer. I've copied works of all of these great artists, sometimes several of their works. My former teachers encouraged this as a learning experience, and I totally agreed.

E: In what way do they inform your own work?
DL: Many of the masters used an underpainting, which I often do, especially for portraits. This allows for more control of value, which may be the most important aspect of painting in my opinion. It also permits me to do a better drawing.

E: How do you decide what you want to paint next?
DL: Since I spend so much time painting, it is important for me to be inspired by my subject. If I am perusing an art book something may excite me. Portraits of animals and children always inspire me. We get the New York Times, and often a photo of a dancer or performer lost in his music will get me going.

I always start with a sketch using a brush directly on the canvas. Some artists I know start with a detailed drawing and one of my former teachers almost insisted on making a transfer of a detailed drawing on the canvas, but this doesn't work so well with me; it seems to impede the freedom of my drawing. If I do an underpainting, I start with a "bistre" drawing of raw umber on a toned canvas of lead white and raw umber. Although I've painted in the past mostly with oil I've recently been painting alla prima using acrylics, which seems to work for me, although it took awhile to get used to the fast drying and for that reason the difficulty in painting wet on wet.

E: How would you describe the process of painting for you and how do decide when a piece is finished?
DL: As with everyone, sometimes it is difficult for me to determine when to leave well enough alone. I weekly attend what we call an "open studio" drawing a live model, and have for many years. We start with two-minute warmups and progress to twenty minute poses, which makes fast work on figures and portraits a requirement. I've learned that sometimes "less is more", and hope this carries over to my painting.

E: What are you currently working on and why?
DL: Right now I'm working on two baby portraits and a pre-wedding portrait. Just completed a portrait of our border collie Kirby for a neighbor boy, who is Kirby's best friend. Gave it to him as a valentine gift. I'm doing a collage using an acrylic painting of Natalie Portman as the Black Swan, because the ads show her eyes drilling right through you.

E: What does a typical day look like for you?
DL: I paint several hours every day--if I don't I miss it. We walk the dogs, and I like to work in the gardens in the summer or go canoeing or visit our cabin.

E: What are your strengths and weaknesses as an artist?
DL: If I'm trying to be too precise I can overwork a painting. It's more satisfying to me if I'm relatively accurate, say what I want to say, and get out. I believe my drawing ability is perhaps my strong point; understanding color is maybe my weakest, but I'm working on getting better.

E: Thank you for sharing your insights and experience here. The best to you in 2011.

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